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 3979 ]
Expansion of ferry fleet. Mr. Lovick –– 3979
Long-term-care user fees. Ms. A. Hagen –– 3980
Admission fees to provincial museums. Ms. Edwards –– 3981
Tabling Documents –– 3981
Committee of Supply: Ministry of Labour and Consumer Services estimates.
(Hon. L. Hanson)
On vote 48: minister's office –– 3981
The House met at 2:07 p.m.
HON. MR. REID: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to introduce, from the great community of Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, representing the United Mobile Home Owners' Association: Mr. At Bain, Met Carrico, Lou Pavelick and Chet Crellin. Mr. Crellin also serves my ministry on the society for the Historic Transportation Centre in Cloverdale. Would the House please make these gentlemen welcome.
MR. HARCOURT: May I take this opportunity to extend best wishes and success to the many British Columbians who will be involved this weekend on the many Walks for Peace. I'm sure that members of this Legislature will join me in congratulating the thousands involved, given our mutual desires to see the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons in British Columbia as part of the nuclear weapons–free zone.
HON. MR. SAVAGE: I rise this afternoon to ask the assembly to honour the fact that the B.C. Federation of Agriculture and its directors are in the precincts today. Would the assembly please make them welcome.
MRS. GRAN: Visiting the Legislature today are members of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association: Bill Kennedy, David Dreyer, Willis Graham and Doug McLean. Would the House please make them welcome.
MR. SIHOTA: Speaking of mobile homes, in the gallery today are Mrs. Margaret Williams, Mrs. Lynn Williams, and Mr. and Mrs. Naylor, from the riding of Esquimalt–Port Renfrew. They are active in aspects dealing with mobile homes, and hopefully they'll come back tomorrow when we're debating mobile homes. Would the House please join me in welcoming them all to the members' gallery.
MR. LOENEN: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great delight to welcome the clerk of the municipality of Richmond, who is up in your gallery. As an alderman, I relied on his wisdom and counsel, and I really appreciate the service and contribution he has made over the years to my municipality. I'd ask the House to please welcome Rod Drennan.
MR. BLENCOE: Today marks the start of the great Victoria jazz festival, which is becoming a national event, if not international. I would like, on behalf of this side and I'm sure on behalf of all my colleagues, in particular the member for Kamloops, to welcome all the bands that are arriving in Victoria. It's a great event in the city of Victoria. I know many of my colleagues will be participating in or viewing the activities. I certainly would like to wish the festival all the best luck for this year and for the years ahead.
MR. RABBITT: Mr. Speaker, it's with great pleasure today that I have three guests in the members' gallery who have come down from the great little riding of Yale-Lillooet; all three reside in Merritt. Before I introduce them, I'd like to say that it's very fitting they're here, because two of them are seniors who volunteer and keep our fantastic little regional tourist centre going 12 months of the year. We have with us Vi Cressy and her granddaughter Susan MacDonald, along with her friend Mrs. Joan Law. I would ask the House to give them a warm welcome.
Also, Mr. Speaker, we have with us today, from the village of Anmore, Mayor Weinberg. Would the House also give Mayor Weinberg a good welcome.
MR. ROSE: I'd like to welcome my constituent Mayor Hal Weinberg, the mayor of the newest municipality in British Columbia. We're pleased to see him here. I don't know where he is, but I hope he'll come and see me in a little while.
MR. CASHORE: I would like to welcome two young women, residents of Coquitlam. One is a constituent of the hon. opposition House Leader (Mr. Rose) and the other is a constituent of mine, the first person being Kim Nazaroff and the second person being my daughter Judith Cashore. They have just completed their first year at Simon Fraser University, and they're here to celebrate by watching democracy in action. Would you join me in welcoming them.
MR. MESSMER: 1 would like the House to welcome a constituent of mine from Boundary-Similkameen, Sue Irvine, who is in the House today. She is the past chairman of the school board, an active orchardist and an active grape grower. Would the House please welcome her.
MRS. GRAN: Mr. Speaker, also visiting Victoria today and seated in the gallery, is the president of the B.C. Social Credit Party, Hope Wotherspoon.
EXPANSION OF FERRY FLEET
MR. LOVICK: My question is to the Minister of Transportation and Highways. I was delighted to learn, as I'm sure most British Columbians were, that the B.C. Ferry Corporation is apparently going to expand its ferry fleet. I was somewhat concerned that less than seven weeks ago the minister said: "Presently, there are no plans either within my ministry or within the British Columbia Ferry Corporation to acquire additional capacity...."
My question is: can the minister assure this House that any new vessels for the B.C. Ferries fleet will indeed be built in British Columbia by British Columbia workers?
HON. MR. ROGERS: I will take the opportunity to answer a couple of questions I took as notice yesterday. The first is about the Squamish Highway. I was just going to say that the answers are yes and no and refer members to the Blues. The simple answer to the Squamish Highway question which you put to me yesterday was that, because of the construction that has gone on and the concerns expressed by people in Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and further up the road, we are having a study done about the major construction work that still has to be completed on that section between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish. When we have an idea of how extensive that will be, we might be able to better coordinate the times when we have to close the highway because of the very nature of that highway.
My remarks about B.C. Ferries are about replacement — not additional — fleets. We have to retire some of the vessels. We have retired vessels that we had previously purchased from Quebec and the United States — the case of one of the vessels. I guess there are five or six vessels for purchase that we've retired.
[ Page 3980 ]
We are now looking at retirement of the first British Columbia-built vessels, and to that end we are in the process of designing new vessels for replacement of the fleet — not to increase the frequency of service, but to increase the uplift capacity. If we go through a regular retirement program, that should amount to one keel a year being laid. This is a little further along: seven weeks isn't what's changed the timeframe here. It will probably be a year and a half or two years before we would get into that process, and it would be a new design.
Your specific question is whether I can guarantee that it would be built in British Columbia. All of our other vessels have been built in British Columbia, and all of the other eastern Canadian shipyards are busy building what I would call Meech Lake destroyers; that is, destroyers that help convince the local House to vote for Meech Lake — one or the other. So I'd hardly think that it would be appropriate to have them built in eastern Canada, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility that we'll go to tender.
MR. LOVICK: I'm sure that very crisp and succinct answer will satisfy everybody's concerns.
I want to ask the minister a supplementary to that if I might. I'm wondering whether the minister can tell us whether any consideration has been given by his ministry, as part of that more elaborate planning timetable that has already been hinted at, to presenting the people with a timetable for construction, so that we can do something to prevent that feast-or-famine existence that shipyards and shipyard workers now undergo.
HON. MR. ROGERS: That's the very reason we want to get into the process. If you draw a parallel with the airline industry, which five years ago wasn't buying any aircraft and now is lining up, and the manufacturers are into a two-year backlog, and the national airline is in trouble because of its fleet age.... We don't want to get into that with the Ferry Corporation. Quite frankly, if we had a nice, healthy shipbuilding industry that perhaps got 15 or 20 percent of its annual business from the Ferry Corporation on a regular basis, I think we'd all be better off.
But that's evolved as part of our planning: the same age category that the companies.... When you consider the number of employees who came on very early in age, we're now getting an employee group that is getting close to retirement. We're going to get a bump there; we're going to get that kind of bump in fleet utilization and fleet age too. But on the main runs, routes 1 and 2, we're going to have to have greater uplift capacity, because the loads continue to grow. I expect that if not this year, maybe next year we will get pretty close to Expo peak loads again, and we had not expected that level of growth to come that quickly.
MR. LOVICK: The question, of course, still remains: when? I appreciate the fact that it's difficult to be more specific.
A supplementary to the minister if I might. I am pleased to learn from the answers and the other statements emanating from the minister that indeed there is a clear recognition of a need for good and adequate service on the ferry routes. However, the focus has been — needless to add — on the main routes. My question concerns the inland ferry system. I'm wondering whether the minister can provide us with any assurances that those communities presently serviced by and dependent on inland ferry routes will continue to have that service.
HON. MR. ROGERS: Certainly any community where the only method of access is by ferry will get that. There are some communities that have alternative methods of access. In some cases that alternative method of access is very convenient; in some cases it is very inconvenient. The subject is now being considered by government. No decision has yet been made.
MR. GABELMANN: A supplementary to the minister. Given the continuing crisis on the Campbell River–Quadra run, is one of the new vessels being considered one that will be permanently established on that particular run?
HON. MR. ROGERS: I think we're going to do my estimates in a couple of days; we might wait until we do that.
That specific run is an interesting run. Our senior captain has tried another vessel that's not specifically designed for that run, and it doesn't work. The currents in that particular water create special problems. It's something the engineering division of B.C. Ferry Corporation is examining at this very moment. Certainly we can't use other vessels designed for the lower Gulf islands, or other vessels from the former B.C. Highways fleet on that run. The amount of power required to get into Quathiaski Cove — in fact, to get on either end — is very substantial. So one of the things we'll be considering is a replacement for that particular vessel. But I didn't think we'd be dealing with those constituency problems now.
LONG-TERM-CARE USER FEES
MS. A. HAGEN: Mr. Speaker, to the Minister of Health. I'm sure the minister is aware of rising concern among seniors and their families about the government's announcements about new user fees. Can the minister assure the House and B.C. seniors that it's the government's policy that longterm-care fees will be based on income and not on assets?
HON. MR. DUECK: Mr. Speaker, I think I've said this in the House a number of times: we will be looking at income and not assets.
MS. A. HAGEN: To the minister. The minister has continued to refuse information about the basis for the new fees. There is a very persistent perception among seniors that 50 percent of the income of the senior in care over $705 a month will be charged in an additional user fee. Will the minister now confirm that that is not the case and that no senior who is in receipt of guaranteed income supplement will be paying any additional user fee for their per diems in care?
HON. MR. DUECK: The policy has not yet been developed of how much the seniors that have income will pay. I think I've mentioned to the member on a couple of occasions that when this policy is developed, which will be in effect October 1, we will certainly inform you at that time.
MS. A. HAGEN: This question I have raised again and again because of the concern among seniors. The minister's answer — which has to do with a very basic policy on exempting people whose incomes entitle them to GIS — that that policy is not established is not reassuring.
[ Page 3981 ]
Let me go up the scale a little bit in terms of income and see if the minister can reassure another group of seniors. Long-term-care residents have concerns that the spouse who lives at home, often the spouse of an Alzheimer's patient, the spouse that has been the caregiver for many years at additional stress and cost, will pay 25 percent of income over approximately $ 1,100 a month in addition to the fee that is charged her spouse. Can the minister reassure our seniors about that matter and give them some information about what fees they will be facing in the near future?
HON. MR. DUECK: Again I cannot comment on something that is not yet policy. I'm not sure where the hon. members get their information from, but if we have not yet got a policy that will indicate how much seniors will pay on income, how can I answer a question that asks: will it not...? The policy has not yet been established so I cannot answer that question. I'm saying that when that policy is defined and established and cabinet has approved, at that point in time I will be very clear on what our policy is.
MS. A. HAGEN: A final and discouraged question to the minister. The minister's stalling tactics are causing concerns that are raised by his inability to get on with a policy that should have been set before the seniors were told that this was in store for them. When will the minister come clean and tell seniors in this province factually and accurately what faces them in terms of their health and long-term-care needs? When will the minister come clean?
HON. MR. DUECK: It is well known that this information came down in the budget speech, and therefore it was announced that on October I there will be income testing. That information was put to everyone — to the opposition and to the seniors — giving them the information in advance. Had we done it the other way and said, "As of today this is the policy," we would probably have been criticized more than we are criticized now. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? I'm telling you that we have not yet developed that policy. I have said it a number of times and I'll make it very clear: when the policy is established, we will let you know.
MS. A. HAGEN: Mr. Minister, will you confirm that the policy will be in effect on October 1 and, in fact, the homemaker policy may be in effect before that time? We're not talking about something that's going to start then; we're talking about something that's going to be in effect at that time. When do you plan to effect this change, even if you will not tell seniors what the change is going to be?
HON. MR. DUECK: I suppose one can go on fencing like this, and I suppose if I were on that side I'd use the same tactics, because somehow it makes a good question period. It's very interesting when you try and stump another minister, or say he should have done something else. Someday, perhaps, when you are a minister you will have those questions too.
However, what I am saying is yes, we plan on having the startup date for homemakers August 1 and for facilities October 1. Again, the information as to policy will be well in advance of that date. And again, I will let you know when that policy is in place.
ADMISSION FEES TO PROVINCIAL MUSEUMS
MS. EDWARDS: My question is for the Minister of Tourism, Recreation and Culture. Last summer when the minister introduced admission fees for the provincial heritage attractions, he promised the people of British Columbia that the funds gathered from the admission fees would be used to maintain and develop our heritage resources in the province.
This week the minister was quoted as saying that only one-quarter of the $1 million collected at the Royal British Columbia Museum would be returned to the museum for capital improvements. Will the minister explain why he broke his promise, and why he has allowed British Columbia's heritage to be used as just another source of general revenue?
HON. MR. REID: I thank the member for that question. I wanted the opportunity to explain to the members of this House the program of collecting fees around the province at the heritage sites, including the museum; how successful it was in 1987; how the customers who came to British Columbia from outside were happy to pay for the component; and that we even got the concurrence of the Attorney-General's mother for the fee attached to the museums. To that hon. member, let me make it abundantly clear that she's very happy with her son, but not very happy with his ministry. But she has been convinced that the program did work very well in '87, and it's going to be in effect in '88.
We did put more money into the facilities in '87 than we ever had.... The two in the periphery; not the one in Victoria. But....
MR. BLENCOE: Answer the question.
HON. MR. REID: I'm answering the question. We got responses from the people who did pay. On top of that, we also collected from people who were so satisfied with the product that they paid an additional $78,000 as a donation because of the quality of the product and the....
MS. EDWARDS: Considering the question and the non-answer, is that what your promise was worth, Mr. Minister?
HON. MR. REID: Mr. Speaker, I did promise to all the facilities under my ministry that I would make the best case I could for retaining the funds within the facilities. But because of the amount of money that I commissioned on behalf of the facilities to be spent on behalf of the attractions, I think I won the argument on behalf of the facilities.
Hon. Mr. Couvelier tabled a report listing the amounts of property tax remitted or refunded to taxpayers in the rural areas of the province in 1986.
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.
MR. GABELMANN: Mr. Chairman, I want to begin this afternoon's discussion on the minister's estimates with questions relating to the Workers' Compensation Board.
[ Page 3982 ]
First I want to ask the minister if he was quoted correctly in today's Times-Colonist. This is not a direct quote; this is how the reporters have summarized the minister in the lead: "A 23 percent jump in the number of B.C. workers killed on the job last year is misleading because disruptions in the forest and construction industries kept 1986 figures artificially low, Labour Minister" — blank blank — "said Wednesday." We can't use your name in the House, so I did it that way. Is that an accurate or a fair précis of what you said to the press, Mr. Minister?
MR. GABELMANN: The minister "said Wednesday." In order not to offend the rules of the House, I chose not to quote it entirely accurately.
HON. L. HANSON: In that particular case, if my recollection is correct.... As the member knows, we get a lot of requests for comments. In that particular case, the reporter asked me if the low number in 1986 could in any way be attributed to the number of days lost in the forest industry as a result of the work dispute. Because the forest industry, particularly the logging part of it, is one of the higher accident industries, I said it was a possibility. From that you have the comment that you have.
MR. GABELMANN: The comment is very clear. It's a headline in today's Times-Colonist, saying: "Disruptions in Forestry, Construction Distort Industry Death Rate..." — according to the minister. That's the story, and I'm glad to have the clarification of that.
In a CBC interview yesterday, the director of occupational health for the Workers' Compensation Board, in discussing the news-media-generated issue around the 190 fatalities in 1987, said that.... I'm not quoting directly here. I didn't hear the report; somebody else did, and they have given me the notes on what they thought he said. Nineteen eighty-six was an abnormally low year — the year before we had 154 fatalities as compared with 190 last year— for two reasons: one is that there was a forest industry strike, and secondly, the economics were not as good in 1987.
I just want to take a few minutes now to talk about this, and not in a sensational way. I must say that I think the media, in responding to the release of the annual report of the WCB, picked up on what was clearly a problem but left out some greater problems in terms of WCB activities. Because, in fact, the 190 fatalities last year continue a trend. Over the last decade we were sitting between 150 and 160 on into the low 200s in terms of fatalities every year. So we're not looking at an abnormal number of fatalities, given the trend over the years. In that sense, I think the media, unfortunately, left an impression that gave the wrong slant to this issue. The issue should be that we're killing a couple of hundred people every year. That should be the issue, not the rate of change between 1986 and 1987.
I wanted to clarify the numbers, because there appears to be a public interest in this subject. You can't do this precisely, but if you take the rate groups out of the statistical information, rate group 1 is forest product industries. In that rate group in 1987, we had 40 fatalities. In 1986, a year in which there was a strike and, according to the director of occupational health, a lower economic situation, we had 37. There was an increase of three fatalities in 1987 over a year in which the forest industry was not at full production.
Construction is even more difficult to extract from the rate categories because they're not comprehensive nor do they entirely cover a particular industry in the way we perceive the industry. But you can do year-to-year comparisons because the comparisons compare apples and apples.
In 1986, 33 fatalities were reported in rate group 7, which is heavy manufacturing and construction; in 1987 there were 34 — one more. So what we have in net terms between 1986 and 1987 is four additional people killed in forestry and construction, and overall we have 36 more killed in 1987. So from that perspective, there is clearly a problem out there in terms of other industries.
When you look at yet another rate group, the mining rate group, the fatalities doubled between 1986 and 1987 –– I think mining activity was roughly comparable. Employment levels were significantly higher in 1987 –– 25 percent higher. Assessments were not significantly higher; in fact, overall they're lower. Penalties were overall lower. But in mining we had double: instead of five deaths, as in 1986, we had ten in 1987.
I cite these numbers not to argue with the minister's response to the media questions, not to be sensational in any way about the numbers. If I wanted to be sensational, I would do what the media did, which was to pick on the 36 extra people killed this past year. But in historical terms that wouldn't be the issue; the issue is that we continue to kill up to 200 people every year in this province.
I made a comment to the press that I stand by, and that is that if at the Vancouver International Airport a Boeing 767 went down every year with the loss of 200 people, we would have inquiries coming out of our ears. That airplane would probably be grounded, and if it continued to happen, there would be a massive public outcry about that kind of destruction of human life. Yet for some reason we can't get our heads around the fact that we're killing these people in our industries.
This isn't to talk about the maiming that goes on, the number of paraplegics and quadriplegics, and other kinds of injuries that lead to permanent exclusion from the workforce and from a reasonable living. That's not to talk about all of that as well. We have in this province, in my view, a crisis that has existed for a long time. It's not one government or another, it's not one Workers' Compensation Board administration or another, and it's not one year or another; it is a continuing crisis in workplace health and safety.
A priority should be given to this like we would give if we had killed 200 people at the Vancouver International Airport every year. That's the kind of priority. I'm not suggesting that we can eliminate workplace fatalities. I hate to say they're inevitable, but to a certain extent there is nothing we can do that will eliminate them. But there is a heck of a lot we could do to ensure that those numbers start to go down, that the trend line is better. We have not had a good trend line. While we continue to have dramatic increases in claims — this year an 8 percent increase — and at the same time a 3 percent increase in employment in British Columbia.... Let me just run that by the minister again. In 1986 we had — and I use rough numbers –– 1.274 million people employed; in 1987, 1.306 million, a slight increase. These are figures the government trots out all the time when we talk about the unemployment levels.
It's true that there are more people employed, 3 percent more between '86 and '87. We've had 8 percent more claims.
[ Page 3983 ]
It went to 169,000-plus, almost 170,000, claims in 1987 from 156,000 in 1986. So we've got an 8 percent increase in the number of claims, a 23 percent increase in the number of deaths from one year to the next, assessments that have gone down, penalties that have gone down — it doesn't add up.
I'm attempting to make two points in these comments. The first is that we should be treating the accident rate, the death rate, as a major crisis; we should be responding in a way that we would to any crisis of this proportion. We should also took carefully at the board's decisions in respect of penalties, and I'm going to get to the whole question of funded liability a little later. In 1987, penalties are down to basically 2.4 million from 3.1 million, as shown on page 20 of the annual report tabled yesterday. Penalties are down considerably. Assessments are down even more significantly — in very rough terms, by more than $100 million, from roughly $400 million to $300 million.
We have a situation where more people are killed, more accidents are occurring, the cost of living is higher, penalties for violation of standards are reduced and assessments are reduced from, as I say, roughly $400 million to $300 million. In fact, it's $399 million to $296 million. What's that? A 25 percent reduction in one year. At the same time — and I repeat the point — we have more people killed and 8 percent more claims. Something doesn't ring true here except and unless workers are receiving less for their injuries or less is being paid out.
I'm going to be the first person in this House to say that I don't understand the complexities of the actuarial basis upon which a lot of this stuff is calculated. I've tried. I don't have that kind of mind, but I can figure out some basic things. I can see that there's less money available for current claims, because there are fewer assessments coming in and the revenue from investments is close to being the same: if I'm reading this correctly, up $16 million — $230 million to $246 million. It's the same in real terms, concerning what we're talking about.
In layman's terms, in my simple-minded view of what's going on, the board reduced its funded liability by $545 million between 1985 and 1987. If I add up what the annual statement says, they reduced their funded liability; they no longer have an unfunded liability. We talked seven or eight years ago in this House about an unfunded liability at the board of somewhere around half a billion dollars. We've now got that turned around to where the board says they don't have an unfunded liability. In fact, if my memory's correct, they have a $73 million surplus in their funding for future liabilities.
My understanding is that future liabilities are the costs incurred from claims that have been settled and have future costs attached to them — pensions and future payouts. We are now in a surplus position for that, having reduced the amount by $545 million in the last few years. These are rough numbers, but my understanding of the annual report is that they're accurate,
The board is saying it needs half a billion dollars less to pay out future claims. It says it needs $100 million dollars less, in rough terms, to pay out this year's current claims, in terms of the assessments it levies. These are really ballpark numbers, just to make it simple. Why? There are several answers, I guess. In terms of the funded liability, one of the answers is that it may have been calculated at a 10 percent inflation rate back in 1980, 1981 and the late 1970s, and they're now calculating at a 4 percent inflation rate. That's part of the answer, no doubt.
I would like to know — because these annual reports don't tell us — what the board uses for its actuarial tables in respect of its funded liability. There is an old line about accountants who, when adding two and two, will give you four. Actuarial people, when adding two and two, will say: "What answer would you like?" I suspect what we have here is: "What answer would you like?"
How much of the reduction has been achieved because of a different way of calculating and because of perhaps a different expectation about inflation, and how much of it is, in fact, because workers are getting less in pensions and in actual claim settlements from the board as a result of the tight-fisted administration of that board that really began under Walter Flesher and continued under Jim Nielsen. Since my time is almost up, I wonder if the minister would give me some general comments and some specific answers if he can.
HON. L. HANSON: The member has certainly covered a wide number of issues. Starting with the deaths: I don't think that anyone is suggesting there is an acceptable norm of deaths. I don't think any are acceptable, and I don't think anyone would argue with that. The comparison of a 747 crashing each year is not a fair comparison because, in effect, it's an apples-and-oranges situation in that each of the deaths that happened in the industrial community last year, as reported in there, were for various reasons.
Some were accidents of this type; some were accidents of another type. When you have the crash of a 747, it usually is a mechanical error or something like that. The cause of that total can be easily determined; it isn't as easy as it is in the case of a calamity like that. I think the member would admit that's the case.
His comment about the forest industry.... When I was asked by the reporter if that is a possibility, I said: "Yes, it is a possibility." The part the member has left out of the equation is the fact that when the forest industry did close down for a length of time, I think even the member, coming from a community that is so highly affected by that industry.... Because of the length of time of that closure, there certainly were effects that rippled out into the community and other areas of employment and industry. Far be it for me to say that that strike in 1986 is the reason there were less.
I was asked if that could have contributed to it, and it's a possibility that it could have contributed to it. I think if you look at it in a rational and practical way, you can see that the forest industry affected far more than employment directly in the forest industry.
The member is suggesting that the dollars involved in the number of penalties were less, and the facts are here to show that. You have to add to that equation that there was a considerable increase in the number of penalties, even though the total dollar amounts may not have been as high.
There is a figure in here that says that the occupational safety and health officers completed 37,736 workplace inspections in 1987; compliance orders issued went to 52,900 from 48,193 in 1986, and penalties assessed by the division increased to 568 from 428. So while the member is correct that the dollar amount is less, you have to add the other part into that equation, I think, in fairness.
The accident situation that we are talking about relates to the Workers' Compensation Board, and because I have some other responsibilities in the ministry, I'd just like to point out
[ Page 3984 ]
that we have a difficulty in the increase in traffic accidents in 1986 as opposed to 1987. If I remember the figures correctly, they were not quite 600 in 1986, and in 1987 there was something in excess of 600; that certainly is a problem that we are trying to deal with. I don't think that this government or any of the members on this side condone deaths in accidents in any manner, but unfortunately human nature is such that they are very difficult to eradicate completely.
I'm sorry, Mr. Member, if I have forgotten some of the questions that you raised in your presentation, but I do think that there is some correlation between less economic activity and fewer claims. Whether that is a total answer, I would not say without some pretty in-depth analysis of the figures.
In the area of future liability or the funded and unfunded liability, the member is quite correct that there was a reduction of about $500 million in the unfunded liability from 1982 to today. That isn't necessarily all of the story. The member is suggesting that the unfunded liability has dropped, which is quite correct. The liability didn't drop $500 million; the amount of funds that were available to fund liability matched the liability that the actuarial people.... And in 1982 it was $500 million short, roughly, in terms of dollars.
The actuarial situation is a little bit of a confusing thing to a layman, and I suffer from that same difficulty. I know that the people who the Workers' Compensation Board consult to do that are well recognized in the insurance industry, if you will, and from the information that I am able to obtain, the systems, procedures and standards that are set are well recognized and accepted standards in actuarial forecasts. But again, I can't get into the technical part of that actuarial assessment. I do place a fair amount of confidence in the consultants we use to do that. Their report is in the WCB annual report, and from as near as I am able to determine, it is an accepted and proper standard that they use for that evaluation, and I have to accept that as being a good....
I think the member is quite correct in saying that the liability area is a very complicated one. He's quite correct in saying that one of the reasons that there has been a reduction in the unfunded part is a reduction in the rate of inflation. I think that is probably a significant amount. There were some gains in investments that I understand had another influence on it.
The amount of money collected from the assessment in 1987 is another concern the member issued. I don't want to talk too much about it, but the $100 million or $99 million that was issued has raised some controversy and is being contested in court, as the member knows. I don't want to get involved in the correctness of that, but I would have to suggest that if those were credits to the assessment in the year, there would be a reduction in the amount of the assessment; it would make an arithmetical proper assumption.
I guess the last thing I would like to point out is that in the report, the auditor-general has audited the works of the Workers' Compensation Board and has in fact certified that, in his opinion, they are correct. To tell what the auditor-general has made of the actuarial assessment of the future liability I really couldn't answer, but it has been examined.
MR. GABELMANN: We'll get into the question of the $99 million.... I recognize the limitations that apply to us all in the House on that question, and I'll be careful about that.
First of all, I don't want to argue the point back and forth, because I don't think we disagree in respect of my analogy of the air crash, as compared to workplace fatalities. I'm only making the point that I don't think that we in this society in general — whether it's the Workers' Compensation Board itself, the government or the public at large — are paying enough attention to workplace fatalities. I don't think we give enough priority to finding ways to prevent them. There are a variety of things we and the board can do, but it will cost money. It might mean the employers can't get their $99 million back, as they did last year; it might mean they can't get the payback this year that I hear might be forthcoming. Whether it is or isn't I can't demonstrate, so I can't say it's going to happen, but I sure hear the rumours that there's another payback coming this year.
Whether there is or isn't, let's leave that aside for the moment. There was one of $99 million last year. This is at the same time that training programs for new, young workers coming into industries that have high fatality rates have been diminished. We have fewer and less effective training programs in a whole variety of industrial activities in which there should be comprehensive training programs. They have been reduced, and I make that as a general statement; I'm not being objective about it in the sense of giving you a detailed list of exactly how they've been reduced. But everybody out there in the community says to me that the training programs for new workers are not nearly effective enough and that people are actually doing jobs — particularly in the bush, but elsewhere too — that they are not fully prepared to do in terms of the safety requirements. People are going out to do dangerous work without knowing what the WCB rules are. That's just a fact of life. People are using pesticides without knowing the potential damage that herbicides and pesticides can wreak. That's a clear problem.
1 think there are questions of lack of enforcement too. The minister says there were 37,000-plus inspections last year. Last year the number of employers was 94,000. That means that just over a third of the employers had inspections. I realize this is a simple-minded way of getting at a point, because it's not as simple as that, but it makes a general point. Somewhat over a third of the employers registered with the board actually had their workplace inspected last year. This means that 60 percent did not have their workplace inspected, which means that if you are an employer and not drawing attention to yourself, one way or another, you're facing an inspection perhaps once every 33 or 34 months. That is not sufficient to ensure that equipment or other workplace hazards relating to environmental health are up to snuff; it doesn't ensure that training programs are being conducted in a way that's adequate. There just isn't enough attention being paid to prevention, and any one of us, as MLAs who spend some time in our constituencies, can at a moment's notice point out to a visitor the good and the bad employers in respect of safety. I can take the minister to logging contractors who almost never have a compensable claim — and it's not because they have walking wounded and they hide them; it's because they run a safe show — and others who are constantly running into problems with safety. That's true in logging; it's true in the mills; it's true in just about every area of our society.
To pick on another side of this issue, what kinds of programs are in place for hospital workers? It is one of the most serious areas of concern, not for fatalities here, but for claims, and most of those claims back-related. Very little appropriate training is being given to orderlies and others
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who are involved in lifting patients: nurses, practical nurses, RNs, orderlies, others in the hospital system who are lifting patients often — I was going to say almost always — incorrectly. Then they end up with back problems. And then, to digress entirely from my prepared notes, they end up at the board and they discover that they had a pre-existing condition and so their claim is only 5 percent. They can never work again, but they get a pension of $100 a month for the rest of their life. It's just a crazy system that we have here.
As MLAs, we all end up trying to help the poor worker who's getting that $105 a month for a pension because he can't work anymore. But let's spend more time trying to prevent the actual injury in the first place. I'm just asserting that this does not happen in sufficient measure at the present time.
I wonder if the minister can answer this question. This is back to funded liability, in which we have a $73 million surplus right now, as I understand it. When the board considers its future liabilities for payout, does it include the potential cost of a 45 percent success rate at the boards of review which are dealing with claims that predate the current year? Does the funded liability include a projection for that particular item? The minister may not know it off the top of his head; I'd appreciate it if he'd find out. I just wonder what the potential cost to the board is for all claims before the review boards; in other words, backdated claims. I think the board refers to them as "unfinalled" claims.
I wonder if the minister would comment on the rumour — nothing more than that; I don't have any source that says it's going to happen — that there will be another payback to the employers this year. If the minister doesn't like my term "payback," it’s just a reduction of the ongoing assessments; I think that is the way the government likes to characterize these amounts. But another equivalent to the $99 million of last year — I wonder if in fact we are going to see that.
I'll just see if there are any comments from the minister at this point.
HON. L. HANSON: First of all, I can assure the member opposite that at this point there are absolutely no plans to reimburse any surplus that may be there in the WCB.
As to an answer to his question of whether any consideration is given to those cases that are before the review board, I honestly can't answer that, but we will deliver that answer to the member as soon as we are able to get it.
I guess the only other comment I would like to make at this time is that the member referred to the inspections. We could have a complete inspection to the degree of.... Everyone has seven inspections a year or whatever. I don't know what level the member is really looking for. I do know that the members of the board do pay attention to any particular operation where there is an aberration from the averages of the industry as to accidents reported or reports of inefficient or unsafe practices in the workplace. In fact, special attention is paid to those. There is a system — although it may not be the total answer — the claims-rated type of assessment, where, if there are a number of claims that are paid out, there is an adjustment to the assessment rate for that individual company. It isn't something where a company would like to totally ignore the safety procedures and regulations, because there is a penalty involved for them if they do that. Many of the firms that I have knowledge of do have safety committees and they have them for that very practical reason. The numbers of skilled or other people who are not able to come to work as a result of accidents are not only a moral problem as far as society is concerned in having these injured people in our society, but also there is a cost to the actual operation. So it is not in the best interest of business not to look at safety and be very conscious of safety, and so on.
I know that we will continue to have inspections. We will continue to monitor situations where there are unsafe practices being either pointed out to us, or the numbers of claims point out to us that it is a difficulty; and we will continue to encourage the employers to pay recognition to that difficulty if it is in one particular operation or one particular employer. Actually, if you listen to the other jurisdictions.... I would not stand here and say to the member opposite that anything but perfect is good enough. British Columbia's safety record and British Columbia's inspection methods, our regulations as far as workers' compensation is concerned, are looked at quite often as the best in Canada; they are looked at as the example that a number of other jurisdictions would like to emulate. I would not say to the member that there isn't room for improvement; always we continue to strive for that.
MR. GABELMANN: In general terms, the concern that the public and those of us who keep an eye on WCB issues have is twofold: first, that there are too many accidents, too many deaths; and secondly, there is too much of a bureaucratic maze for workers to go through to get their claim finalled — to use the board's word. Together with that second point, there is a real problem in terms of pension levels for people who have effectively ended their working life as a result of being injured, simply because of the pre-existing-condition argument that the board uses all the time.
In face of that, in face of the deaths, in face of the continued cripplings and the trauma that many people.... And I agree it's 3 percent or thereabouts; 2, 3, 4 percent of the claims are problematical. Most are resolved easily and I don't quarrel with those figures. But 3 percent of 170,000 is what, 5,400, to do it quickly. That's 5,400 people who have problems.
Now sometimes the problem and the claim were not legitimate. Fair enough; some of them are in that category. Sometimes they are incredibly grey and sometimes they're not; the review board says they should have been paid in the first place. But the trauma that occurs for a good number of those 5,400 people in the '87 year who are in that 3 percent and have problems is just immense for too many of those people. We're not talking about a huge proportion of British Columbia's population; we're talking about a few thousand people. But a few thousand people is too many people who have that kind of problem with the WCB.
My argument about the $99 million, the payback to the employers, is that there is much left to be done by the WCB that will cost some money, including stronger standards, including additional inspection and including a more sympathetic administration. The $99 million could be well spent in that area, as opposed to having been spent on giving it back to the employers.
We have no problem in this province having as part of government policy a sympathetic administration when it comes to forestry policy, in terms of meeting the annual allowable cut, or meeting the percentage of wood you have to actually take out of the woods. No problem with sympathetic administration there. When it comes to the hard, bottom-line dollars for the forestry companies, no problem with
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sympathetic administration. But we haven't had any sympathetic administration in the Workers' Compensation Board for so many years now that it's about time the government adopted as a matter of government policy some sympathetic administration, and we don't have that at the present time.
Any member of this House who deals with casework, or any member of this House who checks with their constituency assistant regularly to see the casework they are dealing with, or any member of this House who chats with the staff at the workers' adviser's office about claims as they come up, will know that there are too many people going through too many hoops and being hassled to the point where their lives and their emotional state are, if not threatened.... In many cases it's worse. In many cases, as I said last year in these estimates I think it was, marriages are actually being destroyed. I say that knowing an individual whom I tried to help. His whole personal life was lost solely as a result of a continuing battle with the WCB. That's just not good enough. In the face of that kind of trauma, we have $99 million paybacks. I just think that our priorities are backwards.
1 grant that many employers were in hard economic times during this last half-dozen years or so — nobody questions that. And I grant that WCB assessments are a major cost of doing business in this province — there's no question about that. And I grant that they would like to have had a payback. But we also need to look at the other side of this coin, and that's those people whose lives are being further damaged. There's enough damage in the trauma of the accident, much less to have to go through three, four or five years of trauma dealing with an unsympathetic administration.
That's why I've been, among many others, calling for the early retirement of the chairman of the Workers' Compensation Board. He would have done the workers of this province a favour if he'd opted into that early retirement program, if he were eligible.
I'll get to that question of the commissioners in a minute. But while we're on the whole question of safety and prevention and those issues, I want to refer the minister to some comments he made last year in the estimates on June 18, 1987. We were talking about R and D at the board, and the minister said: "Certainly one of the issues is research development, further preventive research, and that is a particularly appropriate project at this time because of the financial position of the WCB." He was making reference then to the fact that the WCB was in better financial shape; therefore research would be appropriate. He went on to say: "I can say to the member that yes, I am pursuing that" — research — "although I haven't spent as much time with it recently as I should have. "
A year ago or more — and I don't know the date for this — at least one of the players in this research field, the Federation of Labour, gave a list to the ministry or the WCB, I'm not sure which, of members for a committee to oversee a research program. Apparently nothing has happened. The minister said a year ago June that he hadn't been spending enough time on it then. People have responded to the question for more research on prevention. But unless I've missed it, there doesn't appear to be very much happening in research.
I wonder, as well, about another research request that has been made and apparently not dealt with, the whole question of cedar dust. UBC is prepared to do research into the whole question of cedar dust, which is a real problem in cedar mills — obviously — and there's a question about whether or not the WCB funding for this research will be continued. I know it's a minor question in the scheme of things, but it's an important question for people affected by it. I wonder if the minister can tell me about the status of that research project. Just a few comments, if the minister will, before we move on to another area of the whole research question.
HON. L. HANSON: I certainly would not be one to stand here and argue with the trauma that people face as a result of accidents. That applies to more than just the industrial scene; it applies in the everyday walk of life, which may have nothing to do with the Workers' Compensation Board, and also to motor vehicles and all of the other things that go along with that.
The member referred to a case he had attempted to work on personally, and said that it wasn't resolved and the trauma associated with that has caused a separation or a family difficulty. I recognize those problems and I recognize them with great seriousness. I don't want to get into an argument here about the determination of whether the man or woman — I don't know what the case was — was hurt as a result of an industrial accident. There's no question of the accident or the disability that has occurred; there's a question of where it happened and what the dispute is. The member is saying that that trauma has ruined someone. I wouldn't argue with that; I've also seen cases where that is the difficulty. Unfortunately, the determination of whether it is a compensable injury as a result of an industrial accident is where the key comes in.
I also would acknowledge that the weight that has been and is still not completely answered as a result of applications for review of decisions has been another contribution to the emotional disturbance, and so on, of the individual. It isn't always the fact that the determination is not positive to the individual; it's the fact that it hangs there for so many months before a decision is made, and that that person can't get on with his life. Because he can't do that, the emotional problems related to it make it that much more difficult.
But I have to say to the member that we have made what I consider to be progress in that area. We were somewhere up in the 24- to 30-month range for a determination before the Workers' Compensation Review Board. Depending on where the claims originate, we're now down to 10 or 11 months. We now have 3,700 in the system, as opposed to something in excess of 5,000 that we had previously.
We are doing something else which I think will have some effect on the emotional status of these claims or appeals: we are advising the appellant, upon the filing of the claim, of the date of the hearing, so that there isn't an uncertainty hanging there for six months, a year or a year and a half; at least the individual knows. But we are down now to something less than a year.
Some of the things that we have in place: on the filing of an appeal, there are some waiting periods for a counter-claim to be filed, and so on. We don't anticipate that we will ever get them down to a ten-day or a 30-day hearing period, say, but we'll get them down to a reasonable figure, we hope.
I certainly can't argue with the member opposite that we do need to take a long look at our research. One million dollars in 1987 is not an awful lot. I have to admit to the member that I had been under the impression that the cedar dust research funding had been resolved, but I'll check that further and let the member know.
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Talking about the review board, we've had an internal group working at the Compensation Board, with the new chairman in place, at things that we can use to speed up the process even more and make it more efficient. I hope that by next year at this time we will have the appeal process down to what everyone would consider to be an acceptable standard.
If I didn't agree that there weren't some improvements needed, I wouldn't have recognized that need by appointing the advisory board that we have. I have great expectations of the recommendations that 1 hope will flow from that group as being a basis for a number of improvements in the system. I don't think the member opposite — who would be very aware of the names — could argue that we have anything but a pretty high profile and pretty highly motivated individuals serving on that committee. I look forward to some great or at least good recommendations that we can use as a basis for some improvements.
Labour is definitely involved with the profile of the individuals who are there. If I've heard any criticism, it's that maybe the only people represented are the unionized side of the labour force. I don't think that's a fair criticism, because I think that the concerns of the employee are the same whether he happens to be organized or not organized.
On the subject of the soft-tissue injuries, that is a very difficult area. We're facing it every day; the Insurance Corporation is facing it, as well as the Workers' Compensation Board. Determinations are less than absolutely clear for not only the problem but the cause of the problem, but we're hoping that we will have some improvements in diagnosing the causes of those injuries in the next months.
MR. GABELMANN: My next topic was this whole question of the review panel, and I will get to that in a minute.
I just wanted to make two additional points in response to the minister. It is my understanding — and this was confirmed in the last day or so — that approximately 42 percent of the appeals to the review boards are upheld; the appeal is successful.
HON. L. HANSON: It varies a little bit.
MR. GABELMANN: Yes. My memory was that it was 45 percent, but we're talking about 40 or 45 percent in rough terms. We're talking here about 5,000 appeals a year — at least that was back when we had 160,000 claims — so you're talking about 2,000, or maybe as many as 2,100, successful appeals. That seems to me an incredibly high proportion of successful appeals, given appeals in other areas where a comparable system would exist.
Let me make the point another way: I wonder about the decision-making about claims that leads to almost half of the appeals being turned over. I wonder what kind of analysis is being made in the adjudication process, so that adjudication officers and people above them in the ranks of the head office would in fact give instructions about how to determine a particular claim, based on the history of review board decisions that are overturned. No doubt there are patterns involved in the kinds of claims that get overturned.
My earlier comments about sympathetic administration.... I would have assumed that the percentage of successful appeals would go down, because the first level of judgment, the adjudication process, should be getting better. They should be getting closer to making correct decisions as they witness the decisions being made by the review boards. I know there's apparently no improvement in the number of claims that keep going to the review boards, and I wonder if.... I have no way of demonstrating this, because I can't analyze it; I don't have the capacity, obviously. You've at least got a couple of people around you; I'm here by myself. Nor do I have a computer, like the board has. I don't have the capacity to do an analysis of the decisions overturned by review boards. But the WCB has that ability, and I wonder if the adjudication process couldn't be improved as a result of some study of that decision-making process.
The other thing I want to raise — and this is back to the funded liability question — is that it seems to me that the financial statements of the board were finalized prior to the decision of the courts on the Guadagni case. The implications of the Guadagni case are several, but one is that the board has to pay out immediately the review board makes a decision. They can rehear, reconsider and re-determine later if they wish, but they have to pay out right away. That has financial implications that won't have been considered in this annual report in the financial statements currently available to us.
I don't expect that the minister could do this off the top of his head at all, and I don't even know whether the board has really looked at the financial implications of the Guadagni decision. I'm sure they are significant. I'd be interested to know — not today, obviously, but at some point — what the board's thinking is on these lines.
1 want to move on, because time is always a pressure in this House, to the question of the review panel announced by the minister: the WCB advisory committee.
First of all, I guess I should say that it's certainly a highpowered committee. You've got the leaders, a good, carefully chosen and, I might say, representative cross-section of the leaders of both business and labour in this province, there is no question about that. I don't want to criticize — I'm going to be very careful how I choose my words on this — the establishment of this committee, nor do I want to criticize the personnel on the committee, but I want to just remind the minister that we may end up committeeing ourselves to death here.
We've had several ombudsman's reports, particularly including one of last July which I have somewhere in my files — I won't try to reach it right now; ombudsman report No. 7, if my memory is correct — to which the minister invited response. Among others. I gave the minister, as the minister remembers, a lengthy five or six pages of response to that particular report. So did many others in the field. No apparent action seems to have followed that process.
We are now in April; we're at least about a year and a half into the term of this minister, and no real activity has taken place in terms of cleaning up the board or demonstrating that it doesn't need cleaning up. The minister may want to demonstrate that. But there has been no real activity in this year and a half other than solicitation of views, about which nothing seems to happen, and the employment of yet another committee, a committee which has an August 31 deadline. I gather that's a rubber-wall deadline and we can be flexible, so I'm not going to be critical about that because if I'm critical of the shortness of the deadline then I argue against myself in terms of the need to get on with the job. But I do want to make some comments about this kind of committee without making any negative comments about the people involved. These are busy people. This is a busy year in industrial relations in this province. As everybody knows, most of the contracts are
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up. There are people on this committee who are now involved and who will continue to be involved in negotiations and for whom negotiations are a priority.
There is almost no one — and I'll be careful how I phrase this — on this committee who works day-to-day with WCB. The significant exception to that is the chairman of the Workers' Compensation Board, who is on the committee. He works daily on the issue. The others have much else to do. I would hope that this process would be flexible enough that this group, the minister's committee, will be able to establish subcommittees on any number of topics that they feel require some in-depth analysis, and that those subcommittees can be made up of people who are not on this committee but rather are practitioners in the field.
In other words, if a particular subject needs to be examined, the representatives of these various organizations which are represented can be established.... Committees can be established from these organizations composed of people who work daily with the issues involved. Perhaps that's a given; perhaps that's just automatic and the committee has its mandate to do that. If so, I'd like to have the minister's assurance that that's the case.
Otherwise the only appropriate recommendation, one of a limited number of appropriate recommendations that this high-powered committee could make, would be to establish a royal commission, a full inquiry or some process to look at detail. This committee, with all the respect in the world to the individuals involved, does not have the time, the capacity or the knowledge to look at the details that require analysis.
The minister will have in his files a letter from — and this is one I pull again out of my memory — Cathy Walker, who, as the minister knows, is very involved in health and safety matters for the Confederation of Canadian Unions. It is a letter addressed to the minister's predecessor, Terry Segarty, but nevertheless it's a letter that's in the files and which contains page after page of subject material for an inquiry to consider. The need for an inquiry — and I made this point in question period a few weeks ago — is overwhelming, the variety of issues is almost unlimited and the complexity of some of those issues requires very careful analysis.
So we need to have that kind of study, and I trust that one of the recommendations this group will make is that such a study be undertaken, not to delay implementation of the needed improvements that can be made — and I think many on this committee can agree on what kinds of changes can be made. If this committee, for example, recommends an executive structure, and it's a recommendation that they all are happy about and the minister doesn't have any serious problems with, then let's not delay the implementation of such a recommendation for a full study, or any other comparable kinds of decisions; let's get on with making the necessary changes.
So I think it's a great committee. I'm delighted the minister was able to put it together the way he did and I commend him for that. But I hope it has enough ability to do the necessary detail work before August 31.
I'll leave that and go on to the next topic, which is the whole question of the minister's style of appointing commissioners. With all the respect in the world that I have for the two most recent appointments to the commission, Erik Wood and Vic Stusiak — I don't know Vic Stusiak, but Erik and I go back three decades.... At least, Vic had a week of appointment. One of the arguments many of us make about appointments to the position of commissioner on the Workers' Compensation Board is that the people appointed have to have the respect of the communities they represent. Clearly there is an assumption, which the minister is following — I question that now — that the chairperson of the board is theoretically neutral; and there are commissioners, normally a couple from each side, employer and employee. That's a general kind of rule of thumb of what we have.
But we've had commissioners appointed now for some years — not just these last two ones — who haven't been recommended by the people they're supposed to represent. They have come through some other process — which none of us can prove, but it isn't a proper process. When you don't follow a proper process, you run into the Vic Stusiak kind of problem, where the minister discovers.... A reporter phones him a week later and says: "Mr. Minister, did you know that Mr. Stusiak doesn't believe in workers' compensation in principle?" And the minister says: "Well, Valerie, are you going to run with that story today? I'd prefer you didn't." And then tomorrow the appointment's rescinded. I don't know if I have the story exactly right, but I'm close enough for it to be a way of demonstrating the point.
I think Erik Wood is a great appointment. But he too doesn't come from consultation with the parties. In this case that doesn't appear to have led to any problems and probably won't lead to any problems, because he's a conscientious guy and will do a good job for British Columbia. But the process leads to the kind of problems the minister had with Mr. Stusiak.
Let me just say clearly to the minister that instead of having the Provincial Secretary approach you in a cabinet meeting or in the hallway or something and say, "I've got this guy in my riding," or, "A guy I used to know in Burnaby needs a job and I would like an appointment," and the minister saying, "Well, I've got a vacancy on the WCB so I'll appoint him," let's put an end to that kind of appointment making and, for those key positions, have a process that leads to the appointment of people who have the respect of the parties they are ostensibly representing. The minister will gain from that because the politics will be good. The parties of interest — as a former minister used to always call them — will be delighted; and the minister won't have any political problems, because anything that might have been a problem will have been pointed out.
HON. L. HANSON: The comments the member made regarding the review board are, from my knowledge, a par in recent history that is appropriate. The percentage has varied between 40 and 44 percent over the last number of years. There's certainly nothing new in that.
I would point out to the member that a number of the reviews are heard a number of times and the determinations made by the review board are not always a monetary award in the sense that this should happen. They are usually a recommendation that there should be a review of the amount or the term or that sort of thing.
The new chairman of the WC Review Board is doing some research into and analysis of the process. Quite frankly, I think we're making excellent progress in the review board area, not only with the numbers but with the term of wait, and I also subscribe to the fact that the decisions coming forward are of excellent quality.
It's interesting to hear the member's concern about the review board. I know the member did respond to me on the ombudsman's report, and No. 7 is correct. But I'd have to say
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to the member that, of the responses I received — and I certainly received a number of them, because I canvassed a good cross-section of the labour and employers' community — there certainly was not any clear direction. As a matter of fact, I guess there was such a variety of responses that any clear-cut direction was very difficult to ascertain.
I still think that the best way to go is the way we're going with the committee. I have to acknowledge the fact that the committee members are all very busy people; I would also have to acknowledge that they are all volunteers. I didn't have to go to those members, twist their arms and say: "Please do this." They felt that the issue was of an importance that it was appropriate to spend their time on, as committed as their time was prior to that. I tried very hard to put together a committee that could look at things in a very factual manner, keeping the perspective in place. I certainly have no criticism.
There are a number of people working in the community who are advocates of the workers. They are there to ensure that the worker's claim is upheld. That is certainly a good and justifiable reason. I didn't want to have terribly biased approaches to this advisory committee from people who become very involved day to day with those claims. I'd also have to say to the member opposite that the people who have agreed to serve on that committee not only will have the resources that my ministry can provide as they need them, but they do have a lot of resources within their own organizations, which will be very beneficial in their serving on this committee.
I guess I should change that and say to the member that I think the man appointed as the chairman, Don Munroe, has the ability to make that committee work. I certainly will provide him with any resources he needs to make it work. I have to say to the member that given all the approvals, if there are — and I know there will be — a number of recommendations that come forward, this government will look very seriously at implementing very quickly the solutions they come up with or at least as quickly as is reasonable. We won't be treating those recommendations very lightly; I guess that's the assurance I have to give.
MR. GABELMANN: I appreciate what the minister is saying, and I don't disagree. The people on this committee certainly either know directly themselves, or have access to staff in their own organizations who do know directly, what the issues are. I guess what I'm hoping will come from this group is a series of recommendations about some of the critical issues facing compensation in this province right now, and a recommendation for a process that continues on beyond the terms of reference of this particular group. I don't believe this is a substitute for a royal commission or a full inquiry, and I just want to make that point. I too have full confidence in Don Munroe; I've worked with him on occasion as well, and I have full confidence in the committee. I hope that the resources the minister makes available to this committee don't all come from a defensive position within the WCB. I hope that if resources are made available to the committee, they are resources that don't have a position to defend, but resources that have some independence and neutrality in approaching some complex issues.
It's very easy and natural in an institution like the WCB — and, I'm sure, about any other fossilized institution, which I think that one is — for employees in that system to become defensive about what they do and about the decisions they make. So I'm delighted there's no more than one person from the board in there on the particular committee to adopt that predictably defensive role that will come. The assistance, I trust, will come through the office of another member of that committee, a member of the committee who happens to be sitting in the House at the moment. If the assistance comes through his office, as opposed to Mr. Nielsen's office, I think it will serve the committee much better. I just make that point, and I'll leave the issue.
I want to move on to the whole question of court cases and the procedure the board is using for implementation of review board decisions. I don't intend to take the time to do a review of the three or four cases that pertain to implementation of review board decisions. The Guadagni decision, the last in a series of Supreme Court judgments, finally appears to have prompted an appropriate response on the part of the board — or seemingly appropriate, and that's what I want to pursue.
I wasn't particularly impressed by Jim Nielsen's response to the Guadagni decision. He took the view that was almost.... He didn't say it, but he almost said that the courts are taking away from him and his commissioners the right to make decisions by adopting such a decision. What the courts have really done is to say to the commissioners: "You haven't been following the law. You might not like the law; you might not like the fact that Terry Segarty introduced an amendment in the House in February 1986 that changed the way in which review board decisions are implemented, and reduced the powers of the commissioners." That's what that amendment effectively did: enhance the power of the review board and reduce the power of the commissioners. Mr. Nielsen and his commissioners may not like that, but it's the law of the province. Why it should take three or four Supreme Court judges to tell that to him before they finally begin — and begin is the right word — to implement the judgments is beyond me.
[Mr. Rabbitt in the chair.]
Nielsen says in a Sun story that he disagrees with the court's interpretation of the law. Well, Mr. Nielsen's job is to follow the law, to obey the law and to put the law into practice. It's not his job to question Supreme Court judges in this province as to their interpretation of the law. If Mr. Nielsen doesn't like the law or doesn't like the way it's interpreted by the courts, his clear obligation is to discuss with the minister legislative amendments to design the law in a way that he wants it to be written, or to happen. But he doesn't do that. He goes on — typically, I might say.... I don't like to pick on public servants, but Jim's not quite a public servant. He is in a different category. and as a former member of this House I think he's in a different position than most public servants, who I will not criticize. But this one I will, because he's a political appointment in order that the Premier wouldn't have to run with him in a double-member riding in Richmond. That's why he's in that job. He does not have the right to be as arrogant about his interpretation of the law as he has been in the face of these Supreme Court judges. His continued presence in the WCB offices is a disgrace, in my view.
I'll take a minute just to describe what I understand the essential problem to be. The Workers' Compensation Board does not want review board decisions to violate Workers' Compensation Board policies. That's essentially the nub of the problem we have. The board has policies under which it
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operates, and on occasion it feels that review board decisions implement a different policy, in effect, and that the board wants the ability to review the decision that the review board makes, to be sure that it is consistent with policy. I understand that, and in the debate that we had on the amendments to the act, away back when, I made that point. I understood that, and that there needs to be a mechanism for dealing with the possible problem where a review board will unthinkingly or unwittingly — or perhaps deliberately, because it doesn't like the policy — make a decision that violates the policy of the board.
The ombudsman, in report No. 7, dealt with this problem, and he deals with it in recommendation 19. That would have been a simple decision to implement, I think, because the ombudsman recognized both sides of the problem and proposed a solution. I guess this goes to the committee, and they'll have to make some recommendation, but I don't understand why the minister, at the time of the report in July of last year, given the fact that there had already been court cases and given the fact that there had been subsequent court cases, couldn't have gone to the commissioners and said: "Implement recommendation 19. It's straightforward and clear." In the first place, I don't understand why the minister would have to do it; I don't know why the board didn't do it. But they didn't.
It is for me really crucial in terms of these estimates to find out what the process is now when a review board decision is made which overturns a WCB decision — in other words, when the claimant is successful in having a decision overturned, or, on the other side of the question, when the employer is successful, because that does happen too. Presumably, the review board decision is sent to the Workers' Compensation Board for implementation. Presumably, the decision of the review board — be it a payout, be it a recommendation that the board do something — immediately happens. That's what the Guadagni decision required.
The review board decision arrives at the WCB office. The staff look at the review board decision and they determine whether or not it's consistent or inconsistent with policies. They then implement the decision, effective the date of the claim or, if the review board determines, some other date. As I understand the process, they implement it effective whatever date it is the claim was filed or appropriately to be paid, or another date if the review board so determines. If the staff think the review board has made a mistake, they can refer the decision to the commissioners, and the benefits continue to flow. That's my understanding of what happens.
I'd like the minister's confirmation that what happens from here on in — just to summarize what I think I've said, from my own convoluted language here, because I was reading from notes as well as from my memory — is that the review board decision is made, it goes to the board, it's implemented, it's analyzed by the staff. If the staff feel it should go to the commissioners for review, it does, but the benefits continue to be paid. The commissioners can make a judgment later on, if they choose to, to upset the review board decision, and at that point the benefits stop — should they choose to do so.
What happens to the decisions prior to now — all of the review board decisions pre-Guadagni? How are those decisions of review boards in favour of workers turning over a WCB claim dealt with? If the minister can answer this now, I'll sit down and get the answer, because this is a very crucial point.
HON. L. HANSON: Just one short comment on some of the earlier remarks of the member. The advisory committee that was formed is a committee of the ministry, not a committee of the Workers' Compensation Board; so you're right that the resources will come through my ministry. The report will be to me rather than to the Workers' Compensation Board, so that's fairly clear.
Yes, you're correct that, as a result of the Guadagni case, the decision of the review board is implemented. I suppose in some decisions, where it calls for a review of something, the review is part of it. That doesn't necessarily mean that there is a monetary payment or something started immediately.
The Workers' Compensation Board is now in the process of reviewing the other cases of the review board that the Guadagni decision would affect. I'm sure that the member is aware that the effects of the Guadagni decision I have referred to the advisory committee as an immediate priority to assess. I'm not sure if the member is aware of that or not.
MR. GABELMANN: I'm going to ask the minister to do me a favour, and that is to extend his microphone a little bit so that I can hear too. We both have the same problem.
MR. LOVICK: Too gentle.
MR. GABELMANN: No, I was very unfair to the minister last year, and I'm still paying a penance for that on that question. For the member's benefit, I accused the minister of not listening to me when it was in fact a different problem. It wasn't a question of not listening at all; it was a question of my not clearly speaking into the microphone so that he could hear me.
Fair enough and good that the whole question of the implementation procedure is being referred to the review committee for some comment and discussion, and maybe they will come in with the same recommendation as the ombudsman, who knows? We'll wait to see, fair enough. But what about those workers who have had a favourable review board decision prior to Guadagni, who have had the review board decision not implemented because staff have said to the commissioners: "This should be reviewed"? My understanding of that situation now is: if the worker writes to the Workers' Compensation Board and refers to the Guadagni case, then the board will pay in the same way as they pay in Guadagni while the question is being considered. If the worker does not write to the Workers' Compensation Board, no payment or implementation of the decision.... Let's use that word, because it isn't always payment, and I acknowledge that. If the worker does not write to the board and refer to the Guadagni case in respect of his or her own claim, then the board does not automatically implement the decision as I think is required by Guadagni.
If I am correct in this understanding — and it has been my understanding since Guadagni or since the board dealt with how to implement Guadagni. I didn't do it directly myself; someone on my behalf confirmed with the board earlier today — or perhaps yesterday, but recently — that this is in fact the case: that workers who ask that the law as determined by the Guadagni case be applied to them, have it applied to them if they ask for it in writing. But workers who don't ask, or who don't know about it, don't have it applied. That's my understanding of what is currently happening, and I wonder if the minister would confirm or comment on that.
HON. L. HANSON: Yes, the member is correct. That is the position of the board: subject to an application, I guess,
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by an appellant who may have been affected, and subject to the circumstances of the decision, yes, they will pay it out. I have to say to the member that there is a continuing discussion between my ministry and the board on that subject.
MR. GABELMANN: I hope the continuing discussion is soon concluded, because it is appalling that justice, as determined by a Supreme Court judge, only applies to those people who are alert enough to know that they have to ask or who have representation. It should be automatic.
I have no way of knowing, and I don't ask the minister to tell me secrets between him and Jim Nielsen or whatever other communications are going on. But 1 just want to establish clearly and firmly that I think it is an appalling decision on the part of the WCB commissioners to say that, yes, if you find out about this Supreme Court judgment, we will pay what they require and we'll implement the decisions that the board is required to implement by law — but only if you find out. So the privileged ones are people who are astute enough to read the newspapers and figure this out.
I would maintain that not many people would have figured this out on their own. It took me a while to figure it out, and I've got some familiarity with the subject. The only people who, in fact, are going to find out about it are those who have a lawyer who happens to know, or a representative, a business agent or whatever who finds out about it. Let me tell you, most business agents working day to day with Workers' Compensation don't yet know about this.
It's appalling that those workers.... We're not talking about a lot of people. We're in the hundreds, not tens of thousands here; maybe a few more than hundreds, but not a lot of people.
MR. GABELMANN: Since 1986, I overhear. We're not talking about very many people, but we're talking about a fundamental principle in law, in my view, untrained as I am at the law. But it's pretty clear that if the judge says, "This is the law; this is what must happen," and it does happen from here on in to anybody who happens to find out about the law — and asks for it to be applied, but it doesn't happen to everybody else.... I think on this issue the minister could stand up and say that he intends to direct commissioners to implement the Guadagi decision in full, retroactively where it properly applies.
I don't very often, in estimates for this minister or in previous estimates over the years, insist that the minister make immediate declarations on policy or on my questions. I don't think it's fair for the most part, because the question of being government and of policy-making requires more than just sitting here and dealing across the floor with the cut and thrust of debate and making decisions. Bad decisions would be made, if that's the way they were made. But on this question the minister has had an opportunity to canvass it, to think about it and, I gather, even to have some discussions with the WCB about it. On this question I think the minister can make a declaration in this House now that he will instruct the Workers' Compensation Board to, on its own initiative, implement the Guadagni decision retroactively for those people to whom it applies. That is not too much to ask, is it?
HON. L. HANSON: It's an interesting comment. Certainly I have some sympathy for his position, but the direction to the commissioners.... I've already told you that I'm in discussions with them, and suffice it to say that those discussions haven't been completely resolved yet.
MR. GABELMANN: This issue, Mr. Chairman, symbolizes better for me the problems with Workers' Compensation than any other issue that has come up. I'm not here to beat up on the minister; that's not my style, anyway. I'd rather have an intelligent discussion leading to some improvements in the way things work, and that's what I see these estimates to be about, in large measure. But here we have a situation where it's clear from the chairman of the Workers' Compensation Board's — Jim Nielsen's — initial reaction to the Guadagni judgment that he doesn't like the judgment; he doesn't agree with it. Even after that clear and specific — and fairly harsh in some ways — judgment, we have the board still trying to find ways to get around it. They're not trying to get around it with claims that are coming in now — thank God. I guess they realize they could not possibly do that without being in contempt. But we now have a situation where, I think, if not on the merits of the case itself, then on symbolic grounds, the minister should say to the commissioners: "Either you implement this decision properly and fully, including retroactively, or you're gone. I'm going to find five other people to do this job."
This is not a question, Mr. Chairman, of the minister having discussions which are inconclusive to date, if I can put what I heard him say in my words. This is an important principle — affecting a small number of people, no question; but the law should not apply in one way to those who find out about it and in another to those who don't know. The law of the province today is that review board decisions are implemented in full when they're made, when the judgment comes down. That's the law of the province, and the board is getting around it. It continues to adopt this head-in-the-sand view about this issue in the face of four different Supreme Court justices, and in the face of what appear to be urgings even from the ministry if not the minister.
Fire them if they won't do it — all of them — and start from scratch. If you have problems finding a group of people to replace them, I can bet you that this review committee you've established, Mr. Minister, will be happy to provide half a dozen names for your consideration within the next few weeks, if not the next few days. I'm saying to you that this issue is too important in principle. The minister must say to Jim Nielsen and his friends over there: "Implement this decision fully or you're gone."
Well, I'll relax about it, but I'm not relaxed about the question. If the minister wants to comment further, I'd welcome that. But I've made my little speech about how important I think this particular issue is.
I want to move on to decision 320 of the board. Decision 320 is dated spring/summer 1980. This is a decision that I think the minister has had correspondence from various groups on.I don't know whether he has actually had an opportunity to deal directly with this correspondence. It comes from groups such as the Friends of Injured and Disabled Workers, for example, who have recently written a letter to the minister, with a copy to me. Others have also written recently. The letter I am referring to at the present time is dated January 28, 1988, and it's signed by Margaret Barlow, a registered nurse who is president of Friends of Injured and Disabled Workers. She wrote to the minister, as I say, on January 28, ten weeks or so ago.
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Decision 320 deals with the question of the time between your wage loss.... You're injured and the claim is accepted. You get your wage loss, and then your wage loss ends and you move onto pension. There's a gap of months; six or seven months is not uncommon. Decision 320, which was, as I say, rendered in 1980 is still not being implemented. When I first encountered the issue, I thought: wait a minute, it's a decision of the Workers' Compensation Board; it would be implemented. But I had to read more carefully. It's in fact a practice directive, issued by Adam Little and Sam Brown as commissioners at the time. It dealt with the whole question of eliminating the gap between the wage loss termination and the commencement of pension. I'm not going to make a big deal about this one, but it's something I want to draw to the minister's attention. It's something that, hopefully, the committee will have an opportunity to look at. I trust they'll have Hansard referred to them, to see whether or not some of these issues we're raising are relevant for their consideration. and I trust that decision 320 will be part of that consideration as well.
Decision 410. This one is October 8, 1987, just last fall. In this case, it's not a practice directive; it's a board directive. Therefore it is policy as opposed to the practice directive, which isn't policy. It is a curious anomaly which I don't understand. I haven't talked to anybody to find out how a board decision isn't a decision, but there it is. This one — 410 — is a decision. This is entitled "Disclosure of Board Files," and signed by Jim Nielsen, Bev Korman and Joan Nutter on October 8, 1987.
It deals with a complicated and difficult question which can't be dealt with in black-and-white terms, and I wouldn't pretend to try. It's the whole question of disclosure of files or access to files, which raises yet another question I won't get into: what's in the files and what isn't in the files, and whether there are two sets of files, and notes that suddenly appear which aren't part of the files, described as "personal" notes. Joan Nutter's name is a case in point there. There are so many of those issues which I don't intend to pursue, but they're there.
There's a more fundamental question: employer access to files. As the minister knows, decision 410 allows an expanded disclosure of information to employers. There's information in these files that can be used by employers in a way that would be to the detriment of employees. I'm not here to cite specific examples of that; I'm dealing with the theory and the principle involved in this particular issue. In Workers' Compensation Board files there is inevitably information that is totally relevant to the claim, but which could be prejudicial to the employee in the eyes of the employer. It's entirely inappropriate that employers have access to that kind of information.
In a letter dated January 5, 1988, which went to the Campbell River Courtenay and District Labour Council, the chairman of the board, Mr. Nielsen, said that the board "is actively considering ways of dealing with such cases, including denial or restriction of future disclosure to offending parties and proposals for amendment to the Workers Compensation Act."
Here again, we're getting a suggestion that there are a variety of amendments to the Workers Compensation Act being encouraged by the commissioners. I want to ask the minister if, in January, the chairman was saying that they were talking about proposals for amendments to the Workers Compensation Act in respect to access to files; whether or not the minister is considering that; whether or not he's had representation from the commissioners about amended legislation in respect to access to files; and what his values are in respect to the priority in determining who has a higher right to access to these files. Is it the employer, in dealing with a review of a claim? Or is an employee's file the employee's file and nobody else's, other than the people making decisions at the board? I'm curious to know what the minister's views are on this question, and whether or not the whole access question has been referred by the minister to the committee he has established. I note in his press release one line in which he says they'll have to consider issues that he refers to them.
So I wonder if, in these issues I've raised, the minister has some thoughts, and whether or not he has referred some of these questions to the review committee.
HON. L. HANSON: Yes, that issue has been raised; I am aware of it. There is a problem that the member would certainly be aware of. During the appeal process, when an employer learns information that he didn't have access to prior to that appeal, it isn't really a fair disclosure of information. I also recognize that there may be some things in the file that the employer could use in another context, in an unfair manner. I think that's recognized. And yes, there was some discussion of that by the commissioners. I chose not to look at any statutory amendments until we have the review by the advisory committee. It will be one of the things reviewed or referred to the advisory committee.
I have to say to the member that in part of the earlier discussion I neglected to mention that the review committee will be given those observations that the member, for one, made on the ombudsman's report. Along with all of the other briefs, they will be given that material for their benefit and use during their deliberations.
Yes, I understand the difficulty. No, we're not looking at legislation until we have this review process completed.
MR. GABELMANN: I have three issues left, and then I think other members will have some comments they want to make in WCB areas.
The next is the whole question of safety regulations for the fishing fleet on the west coast. Over the years, we've been told that it's inappropriate for the Workers' Compensation Board to do on the fishing fleet what it does for B.C. Ferries. With respect to B.C. Ferries, the Workers' Compensation Board establishes standards and enforces them and is responsible for compensation. They don't do the same thing with the fishing fleet, and I think it's about time that that did happen in this province.
There was an exchange in the House some time ago, and it indicated that other ministers — not this minister — didn't understand that compensation regulations don't apply to the fishery simply because the financial benefits do apply. Obviously, fishermen and fisherwomen are covered for injuries, but the board has no ability to deal with the problems in the industry, because it doesn't establish the regulations.
I recognize that it's a complicated problem, and I recognize that it's not simply answered. I raise the question because I'd like the minister to give some consideration to that question about regulations in the fishing industry, and ask that his advisory committee look at this one too. I feel a bit reluctant about pushing it all off to the committee, instead of
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having the minister just make some hard-nosed decisions, but we've got that committee, and that's the way it's going, and that's fine for the present time, I guess. I won't make a further speech on the subject at this point; perhaps I will later. But I would urge the minister to give serious consideration to the whole question of safety regulations in the fishing industry.
I would like him also to give consideration to the question of mine safety in this province. The Minister of Energy (Hon. Mr. Davis) announced a few weeks ago that the responsibility for governing mining is going to be partially privatized. That may not be the right word in this particular case; but rather than the ministry running the show, a board composed of people from the industry and government will be running management of mines, which includes the whole question of safety inspections.
The minister, in response to questions from the second member for Vancouver East (Mr. Clark) and me, indicated that he thought there were far more inspectors in mines now than there would be if the WCB had jurisdiction. But when you look at the actual work that these inspectors do, they do more than just health and safety regulation; they do a whole variety of other things as well.
I think it makes sense for the mining industry to be administered by the WCB. The reason there hasn't been a clamour for that in recent years is that people are so unhappy with the way the WCB is working, they don't want to have it come into the mines as well. But in principle it's appropriate that mine safety be regulated by the WCB, and I hope we get to that day before too long.
Another issue is the whole question of farm safety regulations. We've been going through a stalling exercise on farmworkers' safety for years now. I don't know which year I first raised in this House the issue of farm worker safety, but I felt then that I had to make a speech about the fact that I grew up on a farm and I have two brothers who operate farms in the Okanagan. I've operated tractors and other equipment and I understand the unique nature of the farming industry. I understand how many thousands of employers there are — I see the Minister of Agriculture (Hon. Mr. Savage), who has also driven a tractor in his life — is in the House now. I understand all of that.
The fact is, particularly with the use of pesticides in an increasing quantity and in increasingly heavy dosages, we've got some serious problems out there. The farming community's response has been to the perceived threat to have regulations imposed on them by the WCB. In fact, it doesn't work that way. The industry gets together with the WCB and works out the regulations. But they see it as the hand of big government imposing regulations on them. They have said. "Well, we'll do it ourselves," and they haven't done it properly.
Anybody who looks at the industry recognizes that, and I just think that the board has to move with a little bit more vigour with respect to getting proper health and safety standards on the farms in this province. I worry about the fact that in this province so-called pesticide legislation — in farm use, it's more often insecticides that we're dealing with — doesn't apply to private property.
The pesticide appeal board deals with its jurisdiction not very satisfactorily, in my view. It deals with its jurisdiction, but doesn't have jurisdiction over private property. It can't tell me not to use a particular spray that I can buy in a chemical shop on my potatoes. They don't have the right to say that to me as a home gardener. Nor do they have the say on a 200-acre farm in the Fraser Valley or a 20-acre orchard in the Okanagan. They don't have a say there either because it's private property — in the same way as they have no say over me as an individual.
Because of that, I see — and I'm sure other people who have spent time on farms see — incredible personal abuse of chemicals. I don't mean just by unthinking employers against poor workers who don't know any better; I'm talking about farmers to themselves. I hope the Minister of Agriculture is listening as well. I want to cite one particular case. I see my brother on an orchard in the Okanagan using weed killers that I can't buy in a store — systemic poisons for weeds, systemic poisons for control of other insect infestations — and without any training. He knows the stuff is deadly; he knows the litany of lung cancer deaths over the years in the Okanagan, of farmers in their forties, fifties and early sixties dying of lung cancer, unquestionably because they act out there with the spray gun and they zap these chemicals on their trees. I know this for a fact because I've done it too, and I watch people like my brother do it. I'll use personal examples so I can't be accused of attacking the farmers. They use chemicals in ways that are totally inappropriate, totally damaging to one's health.
This happens by farmers to themselves and it also happens — and here's where it's even more unforgivable — by farmers to their farmworkers, many of whom often cannot speak or read English and don't know what those prohibitions on those chemical products really mean or what those warning signs really mean.
People go out and use the chemical — and I don't think anybody in this House would disagree with this — almost indiscriminately in higher doses, because if a 10 percent solution is good for killing the bug then a 50 percent solution is going to be five times better. That's how people think. 1 see home gardeners thinking the same way, and it's totally wrong and inappropriate, and it's dangerous. We don't have an ability to educate people about these chemicals. We don't have a training program and we don't have regulations enforced by the WCB.
I guess you could say to the farmer who does it to himself: "Well. it's a free world; go and kill yourself with this particular systemic insecticide." I don't like that, but in the final analysis you can't stop stupidity when it comes to chemicals. But we can say something and we can do something about those kinds of chemicals and insecticides when they're being used, or when people have to deal with the crop or the trees or the plants, people who don't even read the language and don't know about these chemicals, and don't know to wash their hands before they have a sandwich or whatever else. We've got to do a heck of a lot more than we've done to date.
The B.C. Federation of Agriculture some years ago pledged that they would implement a program on their own that would be better than the board could do; it would be self directed, self-administered and effective. We aren't there yet. Year after year goes by and we're still not there in an effective way. I say that not to attack the farming industry. This in fact is in the best interest of the farming industry, if they could only see past their chemical-scarred lungs.
The final issue that I want to raise — unless there are some comments I want to make in respect of a response from the minister — is the continuing question of what I've been
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describing as the good Samaritan legislation. The minister may remember we've exchanged correspondence — it goes back some years to the minister's predecessor, Terry Segarty — about the need for compensation coverage for volunteers in rescue situations. The minister's last comments to me were on February 10 of this year, which I grant isn't very long ago in the scheme of things. The minister said to me in this letter: "My staff are currently preparing an option paper on this subject, and I will be in touch with you further when I have received my requested briefing from them."
The issue has been outstanding for a couple of years at least. The constituent in my riding who first raised the issue — whose name is on some of the correspondence, so the minister will know who it is — is, I think, baffled by how long this takes. It's not simple, but it is a problem that can be dealt with in a time-frame short of several years, I would think. I hope we can get on with this particular subject. I know another of my colleagues, who isn't in the House at the moment, wants to deal with a related subject, which is the whole question of volunteer firefighters quitting because of regulations. There is a whole series of questions that need to be addressed in respect of volunteers and coverage; but I ask that the minister put a bit of a higher priority on getting this particular issue resolved.
HON. L. HANSON: Certainly the issues that the member covered were quite numerous and require a lot of consideration. I just say to the member opposite that it is rather appropriate that at the moment I have a senior member of my staff in the Far East discussing with federal government people the fishery and coverage for them.
A comment on the ferries. We have put it in place. We are the employer in the case of the ferries, and when you are the employer you can do some things that are not always possible in the fishery.
The issue of the farmworkers. I have the Minister of Agriculture here beside me, but I can say that yes, we recognize the regulation problem has been discussed in this House for a number of years, certainly long before I arrived on the scene. All I can say is that we are working, and working vigorously, on that at the moment. I can't make much more of a comment, other than that I do accept that there is a requirement that has in the past been recognized in this House, and that we are working to put that in place. The situation is that most farmers — I don't know whether most, but certainly a number of the farmers — are not employees; they are owners. They are a mother-father type of operation and maybe a son or something like that. Farmers are a very independent group of people, as is good and appropriate, and it is a subject that I and the ministry will canvass further to seek a resolution for.
The only other one is that I will be discussing with my colleague the mining-inspection issue that the member raised.
MR. LOVICK: I think it's appropriate that my colleague from North Island ended his remarks concerning the WCB as part of the minister's estimates by making reference to the business of our use of chemicals. I want to ask the minister for an update on that matter of TCMTB that we talked about before. Just for practice's sake I think I'll state the word again, Mr. Minister. Okay? TCMTB, as we all affectionately know it otherwise, is 2-(thiocyanomethylthio) benzothiazole — as I work at this I get better all the time.
The minister will recall that on March 23 I posed the question regarding permissible levels of the concentration of that particular anti-sapstain chemical. The minister took my question on notice, and to his everlasting credit responded to my question on April 6 with a formal note informing me that the WCB is closely monitoring locations using TCMTB and has set a tentative permissible concentration level for TCMTB. He also mentioned to me that UBC's health care epidemiology department is presently working on a study.
We called UBC to find out a little bit more about that study — a study, I might emphasize, on the short-term health effects of TCMTB, and that's clearly the focus for today, because we're talking about the WCB and the responsibilities thereof. The answer I got from the University of British Columbia about the study that is being conducted is this. The study will not begin until the summer. The reason the study will not begin until the summer is apparently — and I'm quoting what the person said on the other end of the telephone line — that "not enough mills have been using TCMTB."
I wonder, first, whether that is an acceptable kind of logic. In other words, we're talking about using something we know is incredibly toxic. We know, at least on the basis of all the evidence we have at the Harmac mill in my constituency of Nanaimo, that it apparently is causing health problems for workers. Yet the epidemiology department study that is looking into short-term effects of using that chemical tells us that the study won't begin until we have more people using it. It seems to me there's a kind of perverse and bizarre sort of logic there. In other words, we're not sure it's good for you, and it's apparently hurting you, but until we discover that more people are being hurt we're not going to carry on the study. That's logic that is bizarre, to put it mildly.
The second part of the answer I received in response to our questions has to do with how long we have to wait for these results. I'm sure you share my concerns that ideally we ought to be getting answers as quickly as possible, knowing, of course, that these kinds of things — i.e. scientific studies, empirical evidence-gathering — take time. But having said that, I think we can both agree that we ought to get answers as quickly as humanly possible. Unfortunately, the information I received from UBC is that the study is estimated to take three to four months to gather data, another three months to analyze the data, and then the results are estimated — again according to the source at UBC — to be available by December, 1988.
With all due deference, Mr. Minister, that is quite a while to wait, given the apparent dimensions of the problem. I would just remind the minister again, if I could this read into the record, of the apparent dimensions of the problem. You will recall that when I first raised the question in the House, I talked about 27 alleged cases of discomfort and illness in workers caused by the use of this chemical at the Harmac mill. Let me quote you today's news, just in terms of an update. It's a longer story, but just one worker's story will do. I'm quoting now a story concerning one Harmac employee, a sawmill employee for 12 years, who said he had "a severe nosebleed a week after Harmac began using TCMTB in February. 'It took two weeks to get over, ' he said Tuesday. 'The next nosebleed was two days later, the same thing."'
I am prepared to acknowledge that we don't have a clear, scientifically-arrived-at, cause-and-effect relationship. I have enough of a scientific background to know that we can't make that instant leap and say: "TCMTB is the necessary and
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only possible conclusion and cause." But given the kind of evidence we have, Mr. Minister, it seems to me that we ought to be encouraging UBC to hurry up its process. We ought to be devoting a lot more of our attention and energy to establishing that TCMTB does not have a very devastating and, in a word, bad effect on workers.
I wonder if the minister can (1) give me some assurances that that study might indeed be sped up and that we can give assurances to workers that we are indeed looking after their interests; and (2) inform me whether the study results will perhaps serve as an appropriate framework for decisionmaking — in short, whether what the study tells us will become the basis for the new rules regarding permissible levels of TCMTB in mills throughout the province. I'm wondering if the minister would be kind enough to respond to those questions and concerns.
HON. L. HANSON: Yes, I have a bit more information on it, because I have been following up the concern. You have information about the UBC study that I was not aware of, and certainly we will look into the timing of it. The standard of permissible concentration — and I won't attempt to follow your example of pronouncing the chemical — has been at 0.5, as the member mentioned.
MR. LOVICK: Per cubic metre, 0.5 milligrams.
HON. L. HANSON: That's right. I said 0.5.
MR. LOVICK: Per what?
HON. L. HANSON: Oh, I'm sorry. Okay — milligrams per cubic metre.
A Workers' Compensation Board hygiene officer did test some airborne samples at Harmac and found that the concentration was measured at 0.01 milligrams per cubic metre, so the level was lower.
1 also learned that this particular chemical has been used in Wisconsin for about 15 years without any reported problems. It's being used in Finland, although I don't have any definite time for which it has been used. But my information is that it has been used for several years. I'm sure the member is aware, with his scientific background, that it has been used in the leather-tanning industry for a number of years without reported problems. But that certainly is not to say that we shouldn't be concerned and that we shouldn't follow up as closely as possible any difficulties, or even evidence of difficulties.
We also contacted Harmac in Nanaimo. They haven't seen any information on the new product — Ecobrite, I believe, is the trade name. Certainly they were interested when they saw the information on how effective it is in treating the lumber and so on. The statement was, I believe, that if it's safe and effective as a wood preservative, Harmac would be most willing to look quickly at the switch to that product. So we are aware of it. I wasn't aware of the UBC study; we will look into that.
MR. LOVICK: Just to follow up the minister's response ever so briefly, the argument about the use of TCMTB in the tanning industry, I think, Mr. Minister, with all due respect, is not really germane or relevant, simply because in the tanning industry, if we're talking about dipping hides, we can do so in a mechanical way and simply hang the things out there and leave them for as much time as we need to before we have to use them.
The predicament with TCMTB-treated lumber, of course, is that the process is done in the open, despite our efforts at ventilation, and that we then package that lumber for shipment overseas. It inevitably necessitates some handling. That's a problem.
Also, the predicament is that the job sites vary considerably throughout the province. Some mills are considerably cleaner than others, meaning that they are much more able to contain particular chemicals and their spraying facilities. I think it doesn't entirely hold up, but again I would simply ask the minister to perhaps check that information out a little.
The other thing is that I don't have the Wisconsin data, I'm sorry to say, I had some data from the United States — I believe it was from the International Woodworkers of America from the state of Washington — saying that yes, indeed, they had some concerns and were also paying close attention to what might be happening in British Columbia. I think the only conclusion to draw from all that is that we are clearly dealing with something that has the capacity, or the potential at least, to be very frightening, very alarming. Or it is alarming and has the potential, I should say, to be very dangerous and perhaps have long-term residual effects. We just don't know enough about it.
I recognize the exigencies of the marketplace and especially our export customers and so forth. I'm not saying we should stop the world and put an end to everything, but I hope we can get assurances from the minister that we will take whatever steps we can as quickly as we can to try to allay the fears and concerns of those people working with this stuff. Because they are concerned, and I think with every justification.
MR. CLARK: I want to raise a specific concern about one aspect of WCB. It has to do with how wage benefits are calculated. I gather that the member for North Island raised this last year.
I received a letter very recently from a constituent. Essentially, it's this: when someone is injured and has in the last year been on unemployment insurance benefits, they don't calculate the benefits as earnings for the purposes of calculating wage loss benefit.
This individual wrote to me, and I'll just run through it as an illustration of the kinds of problems people have with this aspect of board policy. This individual was an installation installer and had worked steadily at a good job for many years, was unemployed for five months and then went back to work. He worked for three days and had a very serious accident — he was burned extensively over 30 percent of his body. What happened was that the WCB did not take into consideration UIC earnings for the purpose of calculating wage loss benefits.
I'd like the minister to explain that policy, because it seems to me extremely unfair, particularly for building trades members or others who are working at jobs moving throughout the province and are on UIC periodically over the year, that the board uses zero as the earnings. They calculate it as zero. as having earned nothing. What it means is that their real loss of income is dramatic. In fact, if the UIC benefits were calculated as earnings — as I believe they should be — then it would be a more realistic assessment of the problem.
I might add, as this individual has written to me, that they have no legal right to pursue any other personal injury claim
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or anything like that against the employer. That's fine; that's the policy of the government. The board is supposed to replace that — board decisions replace the right to sue — and yet, by not calculating UIC earnings as earnings, it means that their wage loss benefit is dramatically reduced. I think it's really an injustice. I'm at a loss, and I hope the minister will explain why they would take this very stringent approach. Could the minister explain that policy?
HON. L. HANSON: Quite frankly, I was not aware that that was the case. I can't answer that, but I will investigate that. It would be wrong for me to comment on something where I don't know the background to the policy. I will investigate that, and we will correspond with you as soon as I have an answer.
MR. CLARK: It's hard for me to criticize that answer, and I certainly appreciate the minister's undertaking, but can none of your staff inform me? It seems to me that this is a policy.... This individual, for example, has appealed and appealed, and others have. I've been told by the member for North Island that this is a common and very serious problem, particularly with members that move around. It seems to me that it's a very stringent policy that's been reviewed at length, and the board has decided that unemployment insurance benefits are not earnings and they are to be calculated at zero. If the minister can give me some undertaking that we could get a fairly prompt response, at the very least, if not at least a cursory answer now, I'd appreciate it.
HON. L. HANSON: Yes, I'll give you the undertaking that we will be back to you very shortly.
MR. BLENCOE: I don't have any general comments to make about WCB. Most of them are being made in a very eloquent way by my colleague from North Island. I do, however, have a constituent on the steps of the Legislature currently who is on a hunger strike. I don't necessarily agree with her methodology, but I can understand her frustration. The constituent's name is Judy Kereszti, and she has a longstanding claim with the Workers' Compensation Board.
I believe the minister has met with Judy. I don't intend to go through the lengthy process she has been through over a number of years. Her case finally went to the review board in October of last year, and she now desperately needs a decision. I think the minister is aware of that. She is here every day. She is not alone, of course, but she is in pretty dire straits financially. It's been a long process. I believe the minister did say he would look into the case, and I'm wondering if on the floor today I may ask if he has indeed investigated, and whether there is any chance of expediting the review board's decision for this woman.
HON. L. HANSON: For the member's information, yes, I have looked into it, and it's my understanding that a decision is imminent within.... I don't have an hours or days sort of thing, but it's very close.
MR. BLENCOE: I thank the minister for the answer, and I will pass that on to the constituent who is waiting. Hopefully, once she gets a decision — hopefully it's a positive one — she will be able to resume her life in a fairly normal way. As you can imagine, for her and for thousands of others, the last few years, in terms of waiting for decisions, have been extremely difficult.
MR. CLARK: I just want to canvass very briefly with the minister the question of asbestos removal. I've had some correspondence with the minister in the past on this, particularly with respect to B.C. Ferries.
It's been brought to my attention on a number of occasions, and again very recently, that there are some problems associated with worker health and safety regarding asbestos removal. There are the obvious ones, in terms of asbestos being a hazardous substance, and the stringent requirements that the government essentially imposes on contractors. But what we're seeing is two levels of contractor, it seems to me. I don't want to sound parochial, but one class is more or less British Columbia contractors engaged in the business on an ongoing basis, and the other is an increasing use by the government — in the case of B.C. Ferry Corporation — of Alberta contractors. In the last two cases of ferries where asbestos has been removed, Alberta contractors have been awarded the contracts, and in both cases the contractor brings with him four or five people from Alberta and then hires people in British Columbia at very low wages. In one case he was fined by WCB; in another case he was fined by the employment standards branch and others.
I don't understand why the government would continually use contractors from Alberta who have violated labour standards as well as WCB regulations. That's a kind of broad question, but it seems to me that with respect to asbestos, because of at least these two instances I can cite in which there have been problems, your ministry should perhaps be developing stricter or stronger guidelines with respect to asbestos removal, in particular with respect to bonding contractors, listing contractors, etc.
I don't know if the minister is aware, but what happens now is that if I want to get asbestos removed from my building, the WCB will give me a list of contractors. The implication is that they are approved contractors, but of course, they are not; they are simply contractors engaged in asbestos removal. It seems to me that it might be possible, given the track record.... First of all, give some preference — in my view; I don't know if the government is sympathetic to this — to British Columbia contractors. It could be a 5 percent bidding preference, but that's almost a separate matter.
Secondly, the board could sort of review the record of the people engaged in that business, with a view to providing that information to prospective clients. For example, if I want to use one of the contractors on the list the board provides, it is apparently not possible for me to find out what the safety record is of those contractors. That might be something that could be provided to a prospective client. If B.C. Ferries, which I think has not had a great record with respect to at least two occasions, has used contractors that have not had a good record, that might be remedied if that information were available to the public.
I must say, before I castigate B.C. Ferries, that they have done some things to initiate change. They have on staff, as I understand it, a couple of in-house inspectors who have helped to ensure that things are standard. But because of strict adherence to a low-bid policy and because they're generally Alberta contractors and there's a huge turnover of personnel, there are these inevitable problems. It seems to me that the cost of inspection and all those other things now taking place to ensure that they comply — it should be done by the, board,
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but it's now also done by the B.C. Ferry Corporation — might be remedied in some part if the board were to provide on request at least the safety record of individual asbestos removal contractors. I wonder if the ministry has considered that at any time.
HON. L. HANSON: I think the instances that the member is talking about are two years old.
MR. CLARK: One and a half.
HON. L. HANSON: Okay. WCB is certainly watching asbestos removal very carefully. There are a number of organizations in British Columbia doing an excellent job of providing training. For example, the labourers' union joint training plan provides an excellent service, which was in fact used to train Ferries personnel.
I suppose the member's reference to the bidding process in consideration of the safety factor.... In the case of B.C. Ferries, that's under the Ministry of Highways and probably their bidding process. The member may address that when Highways estimates are in place.
But yes, the WCB does recognize the seriousness of the asbestos removal process. If the member has any knowledge of a contravention that we should investigate, we would certainly be prepared to.
MR. CLARK: I thank the minister for the answer, but specifically, if I want to have asbestos removed from my office building, why can't the WCB provide me with the safety record of prospective contractors? It seems to me that might help eliminate some of those with previous track records. It's not possible now. Maybe the minister could explain why that is not possible.
HON. L. HANSON: Again I'm saying to the member that I'll get back to him. There is confidentiality; that sort of information could be used in a manner that isn't appropriate.
But I will find out the actual reasoning behind it and let the member know. I have not, in my short time, addressed that situation. But it is a concern, and I will look into it and get the reasoning behind the policy that that isn't available.
MR. CLARK: I'd simply like to thank the minister on this occasion — and the last one — and undertake to send him a note on these subjects so that he can respond to them. I appreciate it.
MR. MILLER: My questions to the minister are regarding the situation in my constituency with the WCB. First of all, very simply, does the minister think that it is sufficient to have WCB people working out of their houses?
[Mr. Pelton in the chair.]
HON. L. HANSON: As a matter of fact, the offices I believe the member is referring to were closed a couple of years ago. People are working out of their houses and it does appear to be working very well. A number of the other inspectors we have are doing that same thing, which seems to be working very well. Maybe I could ask the member to elaborate on the problem he sees with that.
MR. MILLER: First of all, we've had a reduction in service to the area. The office was closed and shut down, and some of the staff moved out on the basis that there was a recession, that there were fewer activities taking place in some of the primary industries in the constituency. We've since had a return to more full employment in logging; we've seen a great deal of activity on the pulp side in terms of construction and increased employment in the pulp industry; we see a great deal of investment and increased employment in terms of port activities, longshoremen; we see greater construction activities in terms of a new school starting this year and some other related projects around town. The fishing industry is geared up over the last couple of years in terms of the maximum number of employees.
So we're back to where we were, yet the people in my constituency are faced with this reduced or cut back service from the WCB. I personally don't think it's sufficient to have employees working out of their homes. I think it's extremely difficult, particularly people who travel a great deal as the inspectors must do, at least one of them on the north coast. They're constantly flying. To have to work out of their house without having some kind of a central office that can coordinate their activities and respond to their inquiries....
I know that when I talk to the people in my constituency in the labour unions who are charged with the responsibility of those safety measures, it's been a sore point with them ever since that office was closed. So perhaps the minister could comment in terms of whether or not he has any plans, or whether WCB might have any plans, to restore the level of service that used to be in Prince Rupert, given the increased level of activity.
HON. L. HANSON: I guess it's almost impossible to please everyone all the time. I'm sure the member would recognize that there is no doubt that I have representation from almost every community in British Columbia that would like to have an office in it. I think he can recognize that that isn't possible.
I'd like to know from the member the specific problems. We've instituted an 800 line as a result of the closure of some of these offices. Usually in the community, if there was an office, there would be a secretary or someone there who would answer a query and then refer it to the person who is on the road for follow-up. I think that same thing is accomplished by the availability of the 800 line.
It appears to me that because of all of the travelling requirements, that would be an expense factor that wouldn't greatly improve the service with an office in almost every community. But if the member has some specific coverage problem that he can relate to me, I certainly would look at it.
MR. MILLER: First of all, when you talk about being on the road in Prince Rupert, really you're talking about being in the air. I have to listen to these professors at the university talking about combining my constituency with Atlin. It really annoys me that people down here don't really understand the nature of that country.
In fact, just to relate what happens to, in this case, the WCB inspector, bearing in mind the unfortunate demise of the previous member for Atlin.... Let me tell you that flying on the north coast in all kinds of weather is no fun at all. In fact, the inspector said to me one time that he was getting increasingly nervous because he thought the longer he flew safely, the more the odds were piling up. He figured: "My number's going to be up." You can take it lightly, but I know what he's talking about. I know what it's like to bounce around in a Goose in 40 km/h winds, and it is no fun.
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That's one thing. In terms of communication, quite often it's not a question of talking to somebody on a mobile telephone in a car. The person is across in the Queen Charlotte Islands and might be stuck there for two or three days because of weather. Then you end up going down to Terrace where the office is located.
1 don't think 800 numbers really.... There are lots of instances, and it's an efficiency trend these days that I find dismaying. If you want to catch a train in Prince Rupert, you've got to phone Winnipeg. If you want to get an ambulance in Prince Rupert, you've got to phone Kamloops. I think that this is being stretched a little bit too far. I don't think 800 numbers do the job.
In terms of appeals, it's very difficult because you have to go to Terrace. That's an expense that's been shifted, in many cases, to the union. I know the unemployment action centre co-ordinator.... There's reimbursement for the person who's appealing. In terms of communication, quite often things come up in an industrial setting where you need to have somebody on the job right now. We want somebody out here to straighten this situation out. That's gone if people are away and you can't reach them, if there is no office in the community. I just don't think, overall, that it's satisfactory.
I would ask the minister how extensive it is to have WCB inspectors working out of their homes. Are there six, ten, 20? How many do that in this province?
HON. L. HANSON: I have to plead again that I will get that information and give it to the member. I know that we have about eight or ten of the liquor inspectors doing that. I happen to be more familiar with that right at the moment. I can certainly get the number that are working out of their homes. I don't think that the fact that they are working out of their homes.... That in itself doesn't necessarily mean that the coverage is inappropriate or not enough. We could have an office in Prince Rupert that the man was away from all the time. You're suggesting a manned office so there's contact with a person.
I'm prepared to discuss with the member the particular situation that he has. He hasn't really given me any specifics other than saying that people shouldn't be working out of their homes, and it therefore translates into a lack of accessibility. I'm sure that a number of communities in the province would have that same thing, but I think the member would also appreciate that it's impossible to have that facility in every community.
MR. MILLER: I appreciate the response of the minister, and I also am realistic. I don't think it is possible to have a WCB office in every community in British Columbia. I'm not suggesting that. We had one in Prince Rupert. I'll repeat that the rationale for cutting it was that there was a decrease in industrial activity. We have since come back to at least the previous level, and probably beyond. It seems to me the case is there to have that office reopened in Prince Rupert.
I just think that working out of people's houses, you turn housewives into unofficial secretaries. I just don't think it's a satisfactory way to operate. I don't think there's really an analogy or comparison with liquor inspectors.
I appreciate that, and as I develop more statistics in terms of making a case, I will consult with you.
MR. SIHOTA: I guess I'm going to be a bit like some of my colleagues in bringing to the attention of the minister certain matters that have arisen in our respective ridings which cause us all to scratch our heads with respect to Workers' Compensation Board regulations, policies and, of course, the act.
I must say that my situation is no different from most other MLAs'. We run a community office, and well over 60 percent of our work relates to Workers' Compensation Board problems. It's not a slow office; it's an inundated office. We handle both federal and provincial problems, and like everybody else, it's always a source of great irritation and concern that there seems to be just a galaxy of WCB problems, and there's a feeling on the part of those who come into our office that we're dealing with an insensitive bureaucracy.
I will concede one thing to the minister: inevitably the people coming into our constituency office are those who have had difficulties with the administrative structure within the WCB, so we probably get more than our share of those cases that are frustrating and not easily dealt with. I'm sure there are all sorts of constituents who are integrated into the system and are well served by the system. One may argue that it's disproportionately high, the number we get into our offices, but the point remains that it's exceedingly frustrating and inevitably greater in percentage than any other area of concern.
I want to raise a number of files that have come to my attention. I'm not going to raise all of them; there are just too many to go through. In some ways and on some days, I think it would have been far better if my constituency assistant were here to talk to you than myself, because she has to deal with the trauma of those cases on a day-to-day basis and the effect they have on people's lives. I don't know what my predecessors have said before me with respect to the establishment of your inquiry to look into the issue, but let's hope that it comes up with something we can all work from and establishes some type of blueprint for the future.
One of the cases I'm sure the minister is aware of because it has garnered a fair bit of news coverage lately which emanates from my riding. I just met on Monday with a delegation of people affected by it, so it's somewhat timely that I'm standing here speaking about this whole matter of volunteer firefighters having beards, or those who wish to have beards, participating in volunteer firefighting activities.
It has caused a fair bit of concern in my riding because I have volunteer firefighters in View Royal, Colwood, Metchosin, Sooke and Langford. One could say that three quarters of my riding is covered by volunteer firefighters, a percentage of which are bearded. They are like a lot of other volunteers. I must say, particularly with respect to the volunteers in my riding who are engaged with the firefighting end of it, that they are really incredibly committed and certainly, as far as volunteers go, a very high-quality group of volunteers. They are always active in all sorts of community activities, whether it be Little League, fund-raising for disease prevention or in other fields of endeavour. It seems to attract those types of people who are real community leaders. They may be involved with the Kiwanis, the local council or whatever. So it's a special breed of people that I see in my riding that is involved in firefighting. Indeed, it takes a particular type of person who wants to give up such a large percentage of their "free time" away from their family and dedicate themselves to firefighting activities.
They take their responsibilities seriously, they attend the practices on a regular basis, they attend the training. In the case of Langford, we have people who have served in excess
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of a decade, and in some cases close to two decades, as voluntary firefighters.
It seems to me that the regulations that apply to those who must wear these masks and must have them sealed properly were probably drafted in contemplation of professional firefighting activities and professionals engaged in that as opposed to volunteers. I could be wrong on that, and I would be interested in what the minister has to say. But it seems to me that a different set of considerations ought to be applied to those who are volunteers than those who are professionals. You can see, in a sense, how professionals may be told that they have to shave, but volunteers.... Maybe certain items are above and beyond the call of duty when you consider that in some of the instances that I've got in my riding, the children of these firefighters have never seen their fathers without beards and it indeed would be quite a shock to them if they had to shave in order to live up to their commitment for their community.
It also occurs to me that there must be some way in which to accommodate people who have beards, without requiring them to engage in activities that require them to have properly sealed masks. For example, my information is — using the Langford example — that we have 64 volunteers, and yet only 16 masks, so the chances are nominal that you're going to get one of the individuals who has a beard required to be in a position where they have to enter. And indeed on occasions they have had to enter and things have luckily gone without incident.
There are, of course, competing interests here. We're dealing with a competing interest, on the one hand, of the Workers' Compensation Board to regulate and make sure that there's adequate health and safety, and on the other hand we have the particular interests of volunteers, and that's always a source of tension. It may seem strange that I'm standing on this side of the fence with respect to this issue, but it is an issue of concern in my riding, partially because those who have been bearded have now been released — fired, effectively, I think is the best way; "terminated" is perhaps the most diplomatic way of putting it — from activities with the fire department in Langford. That hasn't happened in Sooke, for example, although there's a lot of concern in Sooke that if the precedent has been established in Langford, it is going to carry to the other areas as well. But so far it appears as if not t only the rules have been applied strictly in Langford but, more importantly and regrettably, that the trustees of the local fire association have deemed that the only action they can take is to terminate these people from their activities. I think that's a loss to the community, and a regrettable one at that, and I'm sure the minister would agree with me on that point.
Having prefaced my comments so, and knowing that the minister is somewhat aware of the situation, I'm wondering if he could advise the House what consideration his ministry is giving to this matter and whether one can anticipate any reevaluation of these regulations so as to accommodate this — I'm sure — not peculiar situation. I'm just wondering where the ministry is on this, and if they're taking another I look at it to see if these competing interests could somehow be reconciled in a fashion more preferable than the way in which it has come out.
HON. L. HANSON: That certainly was an interesting presentation. It's particularly interesting to me, because I was a volunteer firefighter for about 11 years. As to the recognition of the volunteers in the community, particularly as it s relates to volunteer firefighters, I couldn't agree more with the member opposite. I do find it just a little curious, though, that my critic the member from North Island is suggesting that the Workers' Compensation Board do not enforce the regulations with inspections and various things as they should be doing, and now I hear the member opposite saying that there should be some consideration for the volunteer firefighter.
I certainly don't have, in all honesty, any difficulty in recognizing the contribution that the volunteer firefighters make. But it is a safety issue, and if the safety regulation requires a clean-shaven person to wear this mask — from a safety point of view and no other — then I think it shouldn't make any difference if it's a professional firefighter or a volunteer firefighter. Because I have heard the expression from the firefighters that a fire, whether it is fought by a volunteer or by a professional, is just as hot and just as dangerous.
The way we have the situation today, recognizing the complexities of industry and recognizing the chemicals and the different things that we use, if there is a factor where a firefighter may go into a burning building in a situation that is unsafe because he has a beard, I would have to say that the WCB regulation is correct. But I'm not here to comment on the correctness or incorrectness of the WCB regulations. 1 think it would be wrong for me, as minister, to even take a position on whether that should be or shouldn't be. The fact is that if there is a difficulty with the safety aspect of wearing a breathing apparatus with a beard, then it shouldn't be done. But the determination of whether there is a safety factor or not has to rest with the Workers' Compensation Board, which — I think we would all agree — is most appropriate.
MR. SIHOTA: I appreciate that this is not within the purview of the minister. What I found somewhat uncomfortable in this situation is.... For example, the mask doesn't seal properly on people who are shaven but have thin faces. What also concerns those involved in this field is that those who have thin faces and are shaven are not dismissed from activities by the fire trustees, whereas those who are bearded and may have full faces are dismissed. I appreciate that this is not within the purview of the minister, so he has no jurisdiction over it. It seems to me that in this case there was a punishment handed out that was a little extreme under the circumstances.
I want to thank the minister. But I hope that somewhere in the apparatus of bureaucracy, somebody would take a second look at that regulation to see whether people with beards can be accommodated. I don't know if that is being looked at, or if the minister can comment on whether that's being looked at.
HON. L. HANSON: I'm sure the member wouldn't disagree that if there is a safety factor, the regulation should be there. For the member's benefit and information, there is going to be a public review of the safety regulations in the Workers' Compensation Board starting in May, I believe. The opportunity for public input is there. I am sure that firefighters will take advantage of that opportunity in making those presentations.
Again, I don't think anyone on either side of the House would dispute that if there is a safety factor there, it should be recognized, and the regulation reviewed. If necessary, it should be enforced. I think we all agree to that.
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MR. GABELMANN: I want to raise two issues in employment standards in general, moving on from WCB; to some other consumer service areas, and then tomorrow into ICBC, which the minister should look forward to. Just so that people can make some plans, we should finish the minister's estimates tomorrow by adjournment time. I think we are well on our way.
As I said, I wanted to raise two employment standards questions. Before I do, I just want to say that when I consider dealing with estimates for the Minister of Labour — my responsibilities are narrower than his, obviously, because I'm dealing with just the labour question — I think of the areas that I have to concern myself with as essentially the IRC, the human rights legislation, employment standards and WCB.
This year I have not spent much time at all — virtually none — on human rights, simply because I think the council is doing a good job, and I just want to re-emphasize that. As I said the other day, I think that their legislation needs some improvement, but they as a council are doing good work. I know they peruse Hansard, so they will see that this is being said. When good work is being done, it should be said.
I should also say in that respect that the IROs, who have to do all of the employment standards stuff and are now working as well on human rights stuff, are coming along — not to be patronizing about it — quite nicely. That's working better than I thought it might.
In respect of the IRC, I'll just leave that whole discussion. We spent three months doing it last year, and that's enough on that.
In respect of employment standards, I think the branch works relatively well. There are some problems, but not of a monumental kind.
Really, when we're looking at the Ministry of Labour per se, we are really only looking at WCB as being a real crisis point and an area where immensely more attention needs to be paid.
I'll just make that general comment about the four basic areas. I recognize that there are other little things in terms of legislation, but those are the four important areas.
When we had the hour on Tuesday morning to discuss the ministry estimates, we talked a little bit about minimum wage. The minister indicated to me then that he couldn't say from whom he had sought some advice in respect of the minimum wage. He has subsequently announced an increase in the minimum wage, which was today's news, I guess, out of here. I wonder if the minister can tell us what processes he follows in order to determine what the minimum wage levels should be and how he would respond to a suggestion that an appropriate minimum wage level be determined after full and broad consultation — that an appropriate level be established, and from then on it be pegged to the consumer price index or to the industrial wage package or a combination of the two. I wonder what his reaction is to that, as well as the question — as much as he can tell me — of where he gets his information, who he contacts and who he confers with in respect of these periodic increases. Those are two questions on that one subject, and one other question relates to the employment standards branch itself.
There's one area that requires some attention. I know we can't call for legislation in estimates, so I'll skirt around that a little. If a person makes a complaint to the employment standards branch about something that's happened at work, some law not being enforced, that person can be subject to dismissal, and there's no recourse. At least under a union collective agreement there's an appropriate recourse. There isn't sufficient recourse or protection, and it might be that the employment standards branch should be given the authority, where it is determined that someone lost his job simply because he complained, to reinstate that individual. I don't expect a full answer, necessarily, at this point, but it's a concern that has been expressed) by a number of people about how people are vulnerable if they complain to an employment standards branch official.
HON. L. HANSON: I hope I haven't forgotten all three questions, but in any case, the first question that I wasn't able to answer in detail yesterday I can certainly provide some more information on today.
We did hold consultations with a number of the employer groups and individual employees, but we primarily looked at that sector of the community that would be most affected by a minimum wage standard. I think the member can recognize that there are segments of the community that really don't have the effect on the minimum wage. The service sector is the major one. We did contact both the employer and the individuals and in fact a number of organized labour organizations. The garment industry, I guess, was one; the fast food industry was another — like McDonald's and that sort of thing.
We also looked at what was happening in other provinces. I think the member mentioned that Alberta was planning — I think it has been announced just recently — a situation similar to ours. We did keep the 18-and-under level in place, or at least a differential, because there was information from the employer, and I guess from the employee community also, that there was a place where that fit into training and industry and so on. It wasn't a long-term process, but there was a training part that that did apply to, so we did do that.
I am planning an annual review, as the member knows, and will continue to do that each year and, if warranted, maybe more often than each year. I do have some concerns that pegging the minimum wage to cost of living could lead to some difficulties. It could lead to some increases being less than they really should be.
It was sort of interesting to me that the employers we contacted were very emphatic that there should be a minimum wage and that it should be continued. Consultation should be there on an annual basis. The process that we had used was really quite acceptable and quite appropriate.
I think the member asked me the other day what percentage of workers were in that category. As near as we were able to determine, maybe 4 percent or 5 percent of the workforce falls into that minimum. It's really an estimate as opposed to any factual figures we could determine from research, Also the member asked me, I believe, how many were supporting a family and how many weren't. I really would have difficulty in getting that information with any amount of accuracy. There may be some Canadian statistics that we could relate to British Columbia by estimating a portion of it. I really don't have a lot of information on that.
We do have within the employment standards branch a system where in theory a complaint can be made and it will be an anonymous complaint, and so on. But it's unfortunate that — not from the labour standards or an IRO — they would learn that information. There is no question that they are vulnerable. They do have some protection under the legislation for unjustified dismissal and that sort of thing, but it isn't a complete protection. There is that vulnerability.
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1 suppose that usually when an employee-employer relationship has deteriorated to the point where a complaint goes in about it, the employee-employer relationship is almost lost, anyway. But I recognize that it is a vulnerability and that it is a problem. Certainly we would encourage and do our best to keep in confidence any complaints that are made. If the member has any knowledge of where that has not happened, I certainly would like to know about it, because we recognize that as being a difficulty.
On the other side of the coin, looking at it more positively, the labour standards do perform a service that we would be less without.
I also appreciated the remarks of the member about the Council of Human Rights, because I subscribe to that theory too. The people who serve on that should be made aware that we do recognize their service and the job that they're doing for us.
MR. BLENCOE: In the time permitted me, I want to ask the minister to go back and put his Consumer Affairs hat on to deal with a matter that he knows I have been asking him to deal with and that he and 1 have talked about a number of times. It's the whole question of the offensive habit — which seems to be growing every day — of phone solicitation of high-pressure sales for cemetery services or funeral services. They're high-pressure salesmen for death services, if you will. Certainly in my riding — and I've got letters from all over the province, because people know that I've been asking this government to make some changes — more and more people find this extremely offensive and wish for some kind of control over phone solicitation for such services.
It's some years now, Mr. Chairman, that I have been presenting to the government — through letters, evidence and analysis, and through work with the Better Business Bureau here in Victoria — that people are shocked, dismayed and upset. Elderly people in particular who get these calls, with high-pressure sales.... Even, sometimes, there are $1.49-day sales for cemetery plots and all this sort of stuff. I know that in the marketplace, of course, telemarketing is a major issue, but 1 happen to believe, and I think the minister agrees with me, that the majority of British Columbians feel that there are some things that go beyond that process.
I have had numerous seniors in tears talking to me on the telephone. They've just had one of these calls, or the salesman has got into their home and they thought he was representing the Memorial Society rather than, here in Victoria, Hatley Memorial. They don't use the words Hatley Memorial, by the way. They call themselves Memorial Gardens, and elderly people think they are from the Memorial Society and let them in the door.
I'm going to show, if I have time, a very recent contract an 84-year-old woman signed for $1,100. She thought it was the Memorial Society. A friend saw that contract and said: "You've already taken care of yourself." "But it's the Memorial Society. I thought they came back to say I owed $ 1,100 more." She signed the contract. She didn't know; she was mixed up and confused. These people got her on the phone and convinced her she needed the service. She's not alone. Hundreds, thousands of elderly people are being harassed and offended by this activity every day.
I've asked the minister and the previous minister to look at it. I've been told on a number of occasions that it's being reviewed or studied, or there's a task force, but there's still no action on something which I think 99 percent of British Columbians find offensive and wish to have curtailed.
In Ontario they've had the guts to control it. Phone solicitation for cemetery services and funeral services has been curtailed. I applaud them, and I wish we could do the same thing in British Columbia. It's growing every day. Under the law — and some may not know this — cemeteries can do the phoning, but funeral homes can't. So what's happening is that funeral homes are affiliating themselves with cemeteries. A number in Victoria are doing that; it's a nice little number that's going on. The cemetery does the phoning. They've got a boiler-room operation: get those salesmen into the homes of those people, sign them up, and the funeral home that's affiliated gets a nice, fat contract for however many they can sign up weekly or daily.
I am going to try, if time permits, to read one of those contracts. This is just one file of letters; time doesn't permit to read them all.
MR. REE: What did the father say about it?
MR. BLENCOE: I'll tell you what the clergymen say. Let me tell you what the chancellor of the diocese of Victoria says, a letter from him:
"Thank you for your letter to Bishop J. Remi de Roo, dated January 29, 1987.... We too are concerned about telephone solicitations for funeral and cemetery services, and we are happy that someone like yourself is trying to slow down this unfortunate development in our society. Telephone solicitation for business is one of the annoyances we have put up with, along with junk mail. I guess we all feel it is inevitable in a society like our own. However, there are indeed sensitive areas where soliciting business by telephone is stepping beyond our public tolerance."
That's Rev. Ken Bernard, chancellor of the diocese of Victoria.
Rt. Rev. Ronald Shepherd, Bishop of British Columbia, to me last year:
"Thank you for your communication of January 29 with regard to your efforts to limit telephone solicitation in relation to funeral and cemetery goods and services. I am glad you are doing this. In my opinion, we would be better off without any kind of telephone solicitation whatsoever; and most of all, it is offensive in relation to concerns about the end of life."
The church community overwhelmingly wants this kind of offensive action to stop. A business bureau has worked with me in this community to stop it. Ontario has moved in that direction. I have been on numerous open-line shows, and I've never had one call in the hundreds I've received supporting such activity. Not one.
Let me read some letters:
"I am writing in response to your letter regarding telephone solicitation of funeral services. I have always been against such practices, especially in a city like Victoria where a large percent of the population is elderly. However, the pain such a phone call can cause a terminally ill person became apparent to me when my mother received one. Terminally ill with cancer, she got up off the couch where she was resting to answer the telephone. Later, when she told me of the nature of the telephone call, she cried.
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"My mother died of cancer one week ago, and in the nine months she knew of her condition, I only saw her cry four times. Therefore I think funeral establishments should refrain from using telephone solicitation, to spare terminally ill people and their families more sadness in an already difficult situation."
I'll read you another one:
"In response to your request regarding cemetery plot selling by phone, here's my story. I had been diagnosed with cancer in December 1985, age 39. I had had surgery and was going through chemotherapy; 19 days into chemotherapy; it was a rainy dull day. It was the first day that a handful of hair fell out, and you can imagine my total devastation when a sweet little voice called me at 9:30 a.m. to sell me a plot in a local cemetery. I was so distraught that I'm afraid I don't remember the name of the company. I've since heard that other cancer patients received similar calls around that time, and although the staff at the cancer clinic do an admirable job, is it possible that somehow our names are leaked out to cemetery plot sellers? What a gruesome thought. Happy to say I'm quite well now. Thanking you for your concern, as always."
I have another letter, Mr. Chairman, and I don't want to read the names into the record, for good reasons. But I can provide the minister with these letters.
"Ever since I had to enter one of the Victoria regional hospitals, we are receiving annoying phone solicitations from Hatley Memorial Gardens. This was especially distressing for my wife when, in June last year, I suffered a severe heart attack combined with cardiac arrest in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I was still in cardiac care when my wife was called on the phone by the above mentioned cemetery solicitor. Such calls have been repeated three times while I was in and out of hospital. Last week I had to enter" — hospital — "again and stayed in hospital for two days. Promptly my wife received another call from Hatley Memorial to solicit a plot at their place. What is most distressing" — is — "the fact that these eager solicitors seem to employ ambulance chasers or pay spotters in the various hospitals. "
I can't prove that, and I don't know if the minister knows that. Maybe one day we'll get to the bottom of it. Anyway, this person goes on to talk about the unethical practice. I'll read another one:
"A few days before my husband was due to be admitted to hospital for removal of a brain tumour, a phone call came concerning the purchasing of a plot. Thankfully, my husband was briefly out in the yard when the call came, and I was unable to get them off the line quickly. Later when he was out on a longer errand, I phoned them back and really tied into them for their selling procedures."
"I am 26 years old, and while I have not personally experienced telephone soliciting by cemeteries, my father, aged 66, received a phone call from Hatley Memorial in June of this year. He received this call at a time when he had recently lost three close friends...in a period of two weeks. Needless to say, this phone call inquiring whether my father had made appropriate arrangements came at a very inappropriate time."
Here's the one I mentioned a minute ago. An 84-year-old woman thought it was a memorial society, let them in the door, signed them up to $1,100 — she'd already been taken care of. She's now got a $1,100 contract. She was totally confused. These people got in the door. It's not unusual; there are many of them. They've got to be stopped, Mr. Chairman. Here's another letter.
"Unfortunately, I have been one of the victims of telephone soliciting on three different occasions, each coinciding with a particularly difficult time for me, with an acutely ill husband. The final distasteful solicitation was during the last six weeks of my husband's life when he was struggling to stay alive, and my already dreadful day was shattered by one of these "gentle sells," and my obvious disgust and anger was transferred in no uncertain terms to the caller."
I have literally tens — at least a hundred of these letters, Mr. Chairman.
MR. REE: Tell the truth now.
MR. BLENCOE: Well, let's not argue over numbers. The issue is there. If I had the time, I could read a lot more into the record. I want to ask the minister, as we close today: when is this government going to deal with this offensive issue and ban phone solicitation for such services?
HON. L. HANSON: I can respond to the member that we have had an extensive consultation process going on. It has involved the industries the member talked about, the public, the senior citizens' society and.... While I can't tell the member what it is, legislation will be introduced later in the House. We're in the process of drafting the cemetery and funeral legislation. Some of the act is quite old; we will be updating it. But the member will await the introduction of that, I would imagine, to see what the government policy is.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. Mr. Strachan moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.