1988 Legislative Session: 2nd Session, 34th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, JUNE 7, 1988
[ Page 4897 ]
Stumpage policies. Mr. Miller –– 4897
Lunch programs in schools. Mr. Harcourt –– 4898
Committee of Supply: Ministry of Municipal Affairs estimates. (Hon. Mrs. Johnston)
On vote 51: minister's office –– 4899
Hon. Mrs. Johnston
Mr. R. Fraser
Hon. Mr. Brummet
The House met at 2:08 p.m.
HON. MR. VEITCH: In the members' gallery today we have some very distinguished visitors. First, we have Mr. Narinder Dhir — who is the past president of the Hindu community in British Columbia and a director of the Burnaby–Willingdon Social Credit constituency association. We also have Mr. Jagmohan Kumar, who is president of the Rotary Club, Phagwara Southeast, in India; and Mr. Sat Pal Sethi. I would ask the House to bid them welcome.
MS. A. HAGEN: Visiting in the precincts today are Deryk Thomson, president; Michael Clague, executive director; and Michael Goldberg, senior researcher of SPARC. Would the House please join me in welcoming them to the buildings today.
MR. MOWAT: In the House today we have a number of friends from the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants' Association. Mr. King Wong, president, is also the president and general manager of Dollar Food Manufacturing Inc. We have also Mr. Edmond Lee, a director of the Chinatown Merchants' Association and director of Cathay International TV Inc., Mr. Hau-Cheong Chau, a director of the Chinatown Merchants' Association and president of Polex Manufacturing Ltd., and Al De Genova, project coordinator of the Chinatown Merchants' Association and a sales representative for Smith Paper. They are here to meet the Ministries of Tourism and Municipal Affairs regarding an exciting revitalization program for Vancouver's Chinatown. I would ask the House to make them extremely welcome.
MR. CLARK: I too rise to welcome the members from the Chinatown Merchants' Association on behalf of the members on this side of the House. They've done some excellent work over the years and have some very exciting proposals for Chinatown. We wish them well and encourage the government to support their endeavours.
MR. PELTON: Hon. members, in the gallery today we have visitors from our great neighbour to the south. Rick Rafael, his wife Teresa and their daughter Maria are here from Seattle, Washington. Mr. Rafael's parents, Peter and Joanie Perazzi, are here from Uhrichsville, Ohio. Let's give them all a very warm B.C. welcome.
MR. BLENCOE: In the gallery today is a very special member of my family, my father, who has come down from Maple Bay to watch the happenings of the House. Would the House please welcome him here today.
HON. L. HANSON: Held here in Victoria this past week was Theatre B.C.'s annual drama festival, Mainstage '88. I'm pleased to announce to the House that the winner was Powerhouse Theatre from Vernon in my home constituency. They are now the B.C. representatives and will be proceeding to Halifax to take part in the Great Canadian Theatre Festival on July 4-10. It's interesting to note that the winning play, called Play Memory, was written by a Canadian playwright, Joanna Glass. Powerhouse Theatre is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and I'm certain that members of the House will join me in congratulating them on their accomplishment.
MR. SIHOTA: In the gallery today is a resident of Metchosin, a constituent of the riding of Esquimalt–Port Renfrew and the youngest member on my executive — save, of course, myself.
MR. SIHOTA: You guys don't believe that, eh? David Howe is 19 years of age and he's here today to watch us in question period. I'm hoping that all of us will behave accordingly. Would the House please join me in welcoming David Howe.
HON. MR. RICHMOND: In the precincts today are about 40 grade 7 students from Raft River Elementary School in Clearwater, accompanied by their teacher, Donna Smith, and some of their parents. On behalf of the second member and myself, I would ask the House to make them all very welcome.
HON. MR. REID: I rise today to make a special tribute to all those people being introduced today, because they all reflect on my ministry and the success of the government: the Chinese community, representing the culture of that community; the tourism component from Iowa, Idaho and Seattle; and, exporting on behalf of the province of British Columbia to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the cultural component of British Columbia. What a success story this province is!
MR. HARCOURT: I would also like to extend welcome and greetings to the Chinatown Merchants' Association for the continuing beautification of Chinatown. I may say that the senior member for Vancouver Centre and I think that what is happening in Chinatown is of benefit to all of British Columbia. I'm just sorry that under the decentralization scheme we have now the MLAs are not told about these new initiatives. We would appreciate being told about that in the future.
MR. MILLER: Mr. Speaker, a question to the Minister of Forests with regard to the recently announced forest licence in the Takla–Sustut region. Is it the minister's intention to allow the $43 million cost of upgrading the B.C. Rail line to be deducted from the stumpage payable on the timber?
HON. MR. PARKER: No.
MR. MILLER: A supplementary, then, with regard to the lumber producers in the Smithers–Hazelton area, who also bid on the Takla–Sustut timber. What steps is the minister taking to ensure that these companies and producers will have a continuous supply of fibre for their mills?
HON. MR. PARKER: Mr. Speaker, all of those operators have forest licences.
MR. KEMPF: I too have a question for the Minister of Forests and Lands. Given the fact that small business people in the forest industry are on the verge of bankruptcy due to the upset stumpage rates on small business sales, has the minister
[ Page 4898 ]
decided to abandon his convoluted stumpage appraisal system and bring in one that makes sense in order that this segment of the industry may survive?
HON. MR. PARKER: The comparative value pricing system for stumpage appraisal in British Columbia will continue to be the system used for determining the upset values for competitive sales and will continue to be used in the non-competitive sales.
MR. KEMPF: A supplementary, Mr. Speaker.
MR. REE: If he was here during estimates. . . .
MR. KEMPF: I was here during estimates, Mr. Member, and then I was out supporting my constituents.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.
MR. KEMPF: Small business operators . . . . That's why I wasn't in the House during all of the minister's estimates. Small business operators in this province are having to resort to picketing Forest Service offices and picketing small business sales, because they can't afford to pick them up, to ensure that they weren't bought up through surrogate bidding by the forest giants in this province.
Has the minister no concern that these people in the small business program are losing their very livelihoods in this province?
HON. MR. PARKER: The small business timber sales are offered on a competitive basis. If a person feels he can't be competitive at the price that's being offered, then I guess his option is not to bid. It isn't a matter of after the fact; it's before the fact. They have to make that judgment call.
MR. KEMPF: Is the minister telling this House that regardless of what the upset prices are . . . ? They are out of reach; in fact, barely less than the price that the small operator can get for his end product. Is the minister saying he's not going to take a look at bringing in a means by which those small people in this industry can survive? Is this your policy, or is it the Premier's policy?
HON. MR. PARKER: The record shows that the prices bid are frequently far in excess of the upset prices currently realized on a comparative value pricing system for the small business program. That's homework done by our ministry. It's done by the same people who put the stumpage policy together, which is done by the Ministry of Forests and Lands. The allegation that it's the Premier making an attack on small businesses in this province is unfounded. The small business program in this province will be double what it was under the previous minister.
LUNCH PROGRAMS IN SCHOOLS
MR. HARCOURT: The Premier's response to children going hungry in the Vancouver school system is to counsel them. Mr. Premier, would you put food in their stomachs instead of stuffing counselling down their throats?
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: First of all, let me say that I am very proud of the people who are involved in the Ministry of Social Services. They are people who work under very difficult circumstances and certainly deal with very difficult situations. I think if we as a people are able to provide further assists to people who are in need of help within their family unit or for individuals by providing counsellors not just in a part of the province but throughout the province, that is a tremendous benefit and one which will pay enormous dividends. I am proud of the program that has been introduced. I commend the minister and the ministry for that initiative.
I think we're equally concerned with the fact that there are people who unfortunately are not able to provide the breakfast or the lunch for their children attending school. I am concerned for those people; I am concerned for those children. I am concerned for those children but not because they somehow provide us a political opportunity to make statements about introducing some program universally that will see the taxpayers provide a breakfast and a lunch, and not because we want to grandstand and play up that bit and say it's needed in Vancouver without mentioning what it is that might be required elsewhere in the province.
I am concerned because if these children are failing to get a breakfast and a lunch during the time they attend school, chances are they are not having a breakfast and a lunch when they're not in school. If we're concerned about children because they're not getting adequate nourishment, it shouldn't be because we can make political points talking about those five days that they're at school. We should be concerned about the weekends, about the Easter break, about the summer holidays, about the Christmas break — all of these are periods when these children ought to be provided with the care they deserve.
We shouldn't be concerned only about Johnny or Mary, ten years of age, at school, but also that they may have young brothers and sisters at home who are similarly going without breakfast or lunch. We can't just ignore that. We know that if there are those at school suffering from this, there's a likelihood that there's an equal or even larger number at home who are similarly suffering. For us to shut them out and say we don't see them — out of sight, out of mind; no political points to be made, so we won't speak out on their behalf . . . . I've not heard that from any member of the opposition.
If we do that, we're failing those families, those children and our responsibilities as leaders in this province. I say that we must — caringly, together with teachers, with people in the school system, with school board members, with principals, with our counsellors — work at providing the assist that is most appropriate to those families and make sure that these children are provided for adequately, as well as their younger brothers and sisters, not only while they are attending school but otherwise.
To do differently is to attempt to make political points at the expense of doing the right thing simply because you can't see it or it's not as visible as it is at school.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Before the Leader of the Opposition asks his question, I might just state that the past question and answer are a good example of an abuse of the rules of this House. The Leader of the Opposition's question was argumentative and more of a statement than a question and led right into a very long answer by the Premier. I would hope that the House could get back to shorter questions and shorter answers so that all members of the House have a chance to exercise their right.
[ Page 4899 ]
MR. HARCOURT: Mr. Speaker, we're here trying to feed hungry schoolchildren. We have a Premier who cut $50 from new mothers to feed their infant children. How dare he say what he just said. He's created a $2 million slush fund in his office, not the Minister of Social Services (Hon. Mr. Richmond). I'm asking the Premier if he'll take $200,000 of that money to feed those hungry schoolchildren in Vancouver and throughout this province.
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: Again, the Leader of the Opposition mentions $200,000. Mr. Denike, chairman of the school board in Vancouver, has talked about acquiring fridges and trucks and other equipment and hiring people. Two hundred thousand dollars would barely pay for the coordinator of this activity who would obviously be hired to provide a coordinating means throughout the whole of the province. As the opposition leader suggests, $200,000 would be a pittance to what might be required if we were to follow the approach mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition.
Again, he sees the responsibility of government providing breakfast and lunches to children at school. He said: "Aren't we here to provide for hungry schoolchildren?" I see our responsibility is to work with families through the system to provide assurance to families that help is available. It may be that it will require money. It may be that it requires another type of help not only for the children that are identifiable at school but for the children in the province who deserve help if somehow the family can't provide that.
Let's not take away from the family, Mr. Leader of the Opposition. Let's not say that because we are government or because you are opposition or because we're people chosen to sit here that we can somehow play God and take the place of the family and take the place of the community. That is not the role. I beg to differ with you. I think our role is to do the responsible thing and not to come up quickly with some socialistic approach which has failed in the past and would fail again.
MR. HARCOURT: The Premier has said that he will not deal with feeding the hungry schoolchildren. No, he will not make any of that $2 million available to feed them. SPARC and other experts have said the problem of the parents is a shortage of income, not of loving their children. The welfare rates haven't been raised since 1981. Mr. Premier, are you prepared to raise the welfare rates so there's money to put food on the tables of those families?
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: Again, there are several issues. One, I think when we talk about a program such as suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, when he's wishing to introduce a program of some sort within greater Vancouver, and he wishes to see $200,000 made available for that purpose, I think he has to recognize — and I repeat this; I've said it so often — that there is more to this province than downtown Vancouver. We have to consider the whole of the province and how we deal with people in similar circumstances elsewhere in the province. We must think beyond Vancouver — and I am pleased to say that our government certainly does. But I am saying this to the opposition: there's more to this province than just Vancouver. You are talking about a much greater program, but for the information of the Leader of the Opposition, he is absolutely wrong in his assertion that no increases have been provided to welfare recipients since 1981. That's hogwash. He is wrong. He should do his research more adequately before he asks such questions.
MR. SERWA: On behalf of the member from Shuswap–Revelstoke (Mr. Michael), I would like to introduce a group of students from Hillcrest Elementary School. They are grade 7 students from Salmon Arm. Would the House please make them welcome.
Orders of the Day
HON. MR. STRACHAN: Committee of Supply, Mr. Speaker.
The House in Committee of Supply: Mr. Pelton in the chair.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
On vote 51: minister's office, $280,605.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Before we proceed to examine the estimates of my ministry in detail, I would like to add my welcome to the businessmen attending today from Chinatown and to extend my apologies for not being able to fulfill my commitment to meet with them. A member of my staff will be meeting with them to continue discussing the good work they are doing with the revitalization of the Chinatown community.
I would like to express without any hesitation that we will be giving the members of the opposition ample opportunity to question the path we have chosen.
I would like to take a few moments to show how my ministry's estimates reflect our recent accomplishments and how they will support the ministry in its endeavours this fiscal year. I would like at this time to recognize staff that are present, particularly our acting deputy minister Ken MacLeod, and to publicly thank our former deputy Chris Woodward, who served very capably in the government service for 37 years.
To start, I would like to reaffirm that as far as this government is concerned, local government is without doubt the cornerstone of Canadian democracy. It is this basic assumption which shapes and directs the ministry. Therefore today's estimates must be seen as a program of investment in democracy, an investment which deserves the wholehearted commitment of this House. This year's program for Municipal Affairs offers ways to improve the democratic flow in British Columbia, including a process of self-assessment and strategic planning by the ministry. We have responded in a cogent, energetic fashion to the Premier's call for long-term planning. I'm glad to say it was something for which my ministry was already well prepared.
The approach we are taking will view the ministry from the outside in, as our clients in local government and the public see us. We are now in the process of assessing current strengths and weaknesses, developing a sharper understanding of our role in provincial affairs and formulating a strategic plan for a ten-year span, a five-year span and immediate implementation. We will be very happy to share the results with this House. It should go a long way toward improving our understanding of the ministry and its potential to improve
[ Page 4900 ]
the functioning of local democracy in British Columbia. Improved local autonomy is an essential aspect of our plan, and this implies increased decentralization. The work of the provincial-municipal committee on decentralization is progressing very well, moving the day-to-day government of our province closer to the people.
We are committed to an ongoing program of legislative reform and continuing high levels of financial and program support for local government. Consultation and consensus gathering are the primary means by which we have achieved this progress in municipal affairs. The most recent example of our provincial consultative approach has led to one of the main elements in an upcoming package of legislative adjustments. I'm talking, of course, about the regional district legislative review and the resounding round of legislation reform that will eventually come open to debate. You can be sure that these proposals are grounded in front-line reality. We have conducted an open review with regional district representatives right up to the final drafting. This will ensure clearly defined roles and powers and a streamlined regulatory approval process. The proposed legislative changes will establish regional districts as a permanent feature of local government in British Columbia. These improvements will be a sign that regional districts, after 20 years, have come of age, and the legislation is maturing with them.
On the side of the ministry which encourages local economic development, our downtown revitalization program has been stabilized through a $10 million revolving lottery fund. It is now set for many years of service. You will be pleased to know that the business improvement area initiative is moving forward smartly, with communities around the province starting their BlAs. This innovative approach to downtown revitalization allows businesses and specified commercial areas to voluntarily tax themselves in a structured manner in order to create a pool of funds with which to coordinate area management and promotion. It will be of great assistance in helping our downtown cores to become competitive with shopping centres and will be a positive unifying force within our business communities.
The provincial-municipal partnership program is also progressing, providing municipalities with the means to strategically apply tax relief, funding economic development strategies in communities around the province and assisting in their pursuit of investment. All of this adds substantially to an existing body of support for local government, proven programs which reflect this government's commitment to democracy and progress at the local level. A look at the estimates will reveal an enrichment of the revenue-sharing program to maintain and improve our municipal infrastructure and provide our municipalities with the unconditional finances they require.
Revenue-sharing grants for sewer, waterworks and roads have been pegged at more than $24 million this year, an increase of 38 percent. But since applications once again exceed the funding by two to one, we could not come close to servicing all municipal requests. As you know, Mr. Chairman, I am a fine advocate of the need to refurbish our municipal infrastructure, so please rest assured that I am doing what I can to look after the infrastructure needs of the province's communities. Planning grant support will also be sustained, including 12 comprehensive development planning projects. This approach reviews community plans, regulatory bylaws and financial programs, with an eye to more effective management of community growth in tune with the economic development strategies formulated under the partnership program.
We are recognizing that as our communities grow and develop, there is a need to restructure local government; we are thus providing restructure grants to facilitate the transition. Our organizational policy branch ensures that each municipality in the province has the type of local government best suited to its needs and its future. On this note, I would like to welcome new members to our local government family: the village of Anmore, the Fort Nelson–Liard and Peace River Regional Districts, and three new improvement districts. I am sure, Mr. Chairman, that the House offers its best wishes as new representatives take up their posts.
I want to confirm that the ministry will continue to play its traditional role in offering financial, administrative and development planning guidance to our municipalities. As you know, we have additional responsibilities. Safety engineering services, the office of the fire commissioner and the University Endowment Lands are now well and truly part of the ministry. And the province's transit system continues to be carefully planned and equitably financed, as does the work of the Provincial Capital Commission.
I am pleased to say that the new divisions are comfortable in their new home and are realizing benefits of their closer association with the municipalities with whom they regularly do business.
With building standards, safety engineering and the fire commissioner now under one roof, we have achieved a streamlined administration, with unified policies and leadership. These dedicated professionals play an integral part in the development process and exert a steady influence on the quality of local economic process — and they certainly deserve our support.
Our transit responsibility addresses one of the most pressing issues facing growing communities around the province. Local participation, once again, is the key ingredient of success in this area. System development must be responsive to urban growth and to the express needs of the community. Every year B.C. Transit moves over 115 million riders, and the demand is growing. Local residents, government and business people all want more transit. It is an invaluable service, touching all members of the community. It plays a vital role in moving people, while reducing noise, air pollution and traffic congestion.
In the lower mainland the integrated transit system carries 400,000 riders on a normal weekday, or about 196 million boardings a year. Compared to transit systems in other North American cities and regions of similar size, the Vancouver regional transit system has doubled and in some cases trebled the number of passengers boarding.
SkyTrain is currently carrying 60,000 riders a day and has the capacity to carry 100,000. SkyTrain, which one critic recently compared to a white elephant, has helped attract major developments, with a direct investment value totalling well over $5 billion. For every dollar in direct investment, there's another $3 in spinoff spending. That's worth $15 billion to the economy, Mr. Chairman, and I would suggest that that's some white elephant.
SkyTrain is performing well as the longest completely automated rapid transit system in North America. Since SkyTrain went into service over two years ago, some 2,800 transit specialists, commissioners, mayors, councillors, planners, engineers and specialist reporters from all over the world have toured the system.
[ Page 4901 ]
Following the disastrous fire in the London Underground, British television chose SkyTrain to show British viewers how tunnel safety systems work. Why? Because it is one of the safest automated rapid transit systems in the world — that's an acknowledged fact.
Last week was Access Awareness Week. You may have heard about our ministry's award for building accessibility. Demands on B.C. transit by disabled people continue to grow. In greater Vancouver handyDART carries over half a million people a year. In the Victoria region ridership jumped 30 percent in one year, to 82,500 people. In ten other cities and regions handyDART is currently transporting over 183,000 disabled passengers a year. A unique computer system developed by transit specialists, with assistance from the federal government, has increased productivity in this area, without — I am pleased to say — a corresponding increase in funding. That summarizes my transit responsibilities.
Meanwhile, here in Victoria another of our charges, the Provincial Capital Commission, has marked its progress over the years with many notable accomplishments: the upgrading of the Gorge waterway and the Dallas Road waterfront, and the Crystal Garden rehabilitation, to name but a few in its 22-year history; not to mention its excellent reputation as a manager and employer. They will continue in this tradition as they determine the alternatives for the rehabilitation of St. Ann's Academy this year. This assembly can rest assured that the citizens of the capital region will take great delight in the outcome of this process.
In closing, I would like to say a few words of praise for the men and women who stand behind this plan of expenditure for 1988-89. It is my firm conviction, after only a year in the portfolio, that they conduct the finest program of local government and community support in the country. I would like this House to offer them a vote of thanks and appreciation.
I can also confirm that a significant attribute of quality in the ministry is its budgetary and organizational efficiency. I can say once again that over 93 percent of our budget goes into our two major transfer programs: revenue-sharing and transit, which are the key links in the chain of relationships between the province and local governments. We realize it is up to us to keep them strong.
I present you, then, Mr. Chairman, with the budget requirements of a ministry that is committed to furthering the democratic ideal, a ministry that is putting this commitment into action through policies, consultation and consensus gathering at every turn. That concludes my commentary.
MR. BLENCOE: I thank the minister for her opening remarks and will start her estimates. I think it will take a few hours to canvass some of the issues. I first would also like, as the minister has done, to welcome those new communities who have joined the fraternity of being organized, of being part of the great structure of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. We always welcome it when citizens make a decision on their own to become organized — when they make that decision for themselves. We think that's a great part of the tradition of local government and local autonomy.
My opening remarks are in a serious vein, because my impression is that local government in the province is in serious trouble, not in terms of its ability to govern and make decisions for itself but in terms of the actions of this government over the last year and a half, and particularly over the last nine months, vis-à-vis the so-called decentralization that the Premier announced without consultation with the UBCM.
Indeed, after that announcement I can vividly recall the president of the day of the UBCM, Mr. Dan Cumming, saying when I asked him: "Have you heard about this great system . . . ?" He said: "It's the first I've heard about it." This afternoon the minister talked about consultation and local democracy. Quite frankly I think those words are hollow in terms of what's happening in the province today.
She talked about local government being the cornerstone of Canadian democracy. Indeed, I and this side of the House believe that, but the system that has been imposed on local government in terms of decentralization and the minister of state system, which has no mandate and no legitimacy in law, is a real threat to local democracy. We have spoken out about that process, and we have spoken up on behalf of local government having the ability to make decisions for itself without another costly level of bureaucracy imposed upon it.
We can only conclude, after nine months of operation of that minister of state system, seeing no result in terms of benefits to the community or to the residents of the province the system is supposed to serve, that there is another agenda, as the mayor of Kamloops suggested only a few weeks ago. He believes there is another agenda with decentralization.
We happen to believe that local government has the ability to run itself, to do its own job without Victoria imposing this level of bureaucracy that has been put upon it. That's why we have not endorsed it, we will not support it and we will not participate, because since Confederation local government has had the ability to do the very things this Premier supposedly says he wants to do through this minister of state system, these united states of the province of British Columbia — which is alien to our way of governing and has been alien for a long time.
Yes, we are committed to democracy at the local level. We are committed to those ideas and the structures coming from the grass roots, not being imposed from Victoria. I think it's telling that this minister, right in her opening remarks, talked about the cornerstone of local government and Canadian democracy, because I think this government is aware that British Columbians are very worried about what this government has been doing particularly over the last nine months.
I'll have more to say about this decentralization system, particularly as it pertains to this minister, because in my estimation, this minister is in conflict. She is a Minister of Municipal Affairs and is supposed to serve all the communities, all the municipalities and all the regional districts fairly and without bias. Unfortunately the Premier has given her another job: minister of state for Kootenay. I ask the question to the minister, and she may wish to respond later on: how can you serve all local government, all municipalities and all regional districts, being fair, unbiased and objective in serving and allocating resources, and at the same time have one of your jobs being to serve the Kootenays directly? It's a conflict of interest, and I think the minister should have seen that conflict right away and removed herself from that position. Unfortunately she has not done so.
There are questions in local government about the objectives of this minister, playing two games, holding two hats. Supposedly she's the Minister of Municipal Affairs — which I think should be a far more dynamic ministry — and at the same time she's been given the job of playing favourites for a
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select region of the province. It's a direct conflict with that minister's job, and she should have seen that.
I know that others have mentioned it to her, but thus far she has refused, or hasn't seen, or is trying to not deal with that as an issue. It is an issue, because the Minister of Municipal Affairs should not be playing favourites. She should be objective and fair, and we don't have that in British Columbia right now.
How can that minister deal with allocating resources or finances or grants and yet have a special job to do for the Kootenays? In my estimation — I've already said it to the Premier — and as the mayor of Kelowna has stated quite clearly, the confrontation and tension is mounting in British Columbia with this new bureaucracy. This minister is probably in the worst situation in creating confrontation and tension between all local governments, because she has put herself right in the middle of creating further tension and confrontation. The mayor of Kelowna was correct. This system is creating tension, and it's not in the long-term interest of or of benefit to British Columbia to maintain it.
I would hope that the minister will see that someday and recognize that she should clearly look at her role. Can she serve one particular region and at the same time retain objectivity in serving all the regions and communities of the province? I don't believe she can.
I want to comment also that I believe the minister of state system is a real threat to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and, as I've said, to local government, because there's no question that the minister of state system is a classic power grab on the part of this government and particularly on the part of the Premier.
We all recall vividly when the Premier left government some years ago. It was because of the Land Act, and he called his colleagues gutless, because the Land Act . . . . That was history. He's here now. He called his colleagues gutless. Now that same Premier has come back to reintroduce that system, because there were 50 ways in that Land Act that could overturn the decisions of local government.
Let's once and for all end the hypocrisy of this Premier and this government and see what this decentralization really is. It's nothing but a power grab on the part of the Premier and this government to control the agenda of local government. Remember what that Land Act would do under the current Premier today when he was Minister of Municipal Affairs. There were 50 ways that the minister of the day could overturn local government decisions.
What we have in the minister of state system and decentralization is another way for this Premier and this government to come back and say that not only are they going to centralize the operations of the provincial government into the Premier's office; the Premier wishes to ensure that he controls the agenda of local government by these inner sanctum ministers of state, these eight governors of the regions — control as much as possible the local government decision-making process. It has nothing to do with decentralization, nothing to do with devolution of power, nothing to do with protecting the autonomy of local government and nothing to do with what the minister tries to say today, that local government is the cornerstone of Canadian democracy.
It has been a political con job right from the start, and the people of the province of British Columbia have seen through it. Now, slowly but surely, mayors are beginning to speak up. We've had the mayor of Kelowna and the mayor of Kamloops. Even Jim Matkin has said he doesn't understand what this supposedly new system is supposed to do for the people of the province.
I believe the Ministry of Municipal Affairs has been downgraded. I think this ministry, which is supposed to serve, could be very innovative and challenging. Looking at long-range policies as our province urbanizes more and changes, growth and economic development happen, this ministry should be in the vanguard of preparing for that change. But it's not. We have a caretaker mentality currently incumbent in that ministry. We have no innovation in terms of putting forward ideas and suggestions for how local government can be in the vanguard of change. Its importance in the political scheme of things should be far higher, in my estimation, and unfortunately it now seems to be a minor play in the scheme of things with this government.
But it's not, Mr. Chairman. In my travels in this province I have heard many ideas that have come from local government but have been thwarted by this government. For instance, prior to this minister of state system being imposed on local government, many local councils and regional districts had prepared economic development strategies and were patiently waiting for legislation or policy initiatives that would allow them to move ahead into those areas: real devolution of power allowing local government to show the initiative in economic development, not a system imposed by the Premier and this government which is basically going to dictate to those regions what they're going to be doing. Suddenly, overnight, those ideas they had for economic development were scrapped and put aside — years of work. Suddenly there was a whole new ball game in town.
In my travels I find there's absolute frustration in local government, because under this system we have a bureaucracy that is mounting, multitudes of committees, council members and mayors being asked to go to various committee meetings of these new systems, and yet they don't know what the purpose is and what the end result will be.
Where else could this government, without another bureaucracy, achieve and hear ideas for economic development — free? We don't need another $16 million that you've currently got for the bureaucracy of the ministers of state. It's $16 million so far, another $16 million, supposedly, in small grants of $2 million for each minister of state. Why do we need all those millions of dollars to do what local government has been able to do for a long, long time?
I go back again to the mayor of Kamloops, who says he believes there's a hidden agenda. I think he's right. We don't need those multitudes of committees. We don't need the member for Surrey running around the MLAs and the local councils in the Kootenays and creating more work through 17 task forces and committees when local government has been able to do its job for a long, long time. Those ideas can be tapped with a phone call or a 37 cent stamp to the head of the regional districts of those areas, saying: "Please send us down your development ideas for your region." Why do you have to create another level of bureaucracy and spend $16 million to date to do the very thing that can be done very simply?
Eleven hundred politically astute, locally elected officials are the sense of what is really required in every region of this province. We need to go back to honouring those 1,100 people, go back to a system . . . . Go back to normalcy that puts some meaning in the minister's statement that local government is the cornerstone of Canadian democracy. That
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talent and those ideas for economic development have to be accessed in an honest and forthright manner, not in the political agenda that we have now from the Premier and this government in terms of the minister of state. Then we'd start to get things done in British Columbia. It's the Ministry of Municipal Affairs that should be leading real decentralization and devolution of power, looking at ways that local governments can have a greater say in the issues that face them in their regions.
Those are the challenges for this ministry, and what we've got is a minister who has been swamped and overtaken by the Premier in his gamble and his experiment in confrontation — this minister of state. This minister has, I think, rolled over and accepted the demise, in many respects, of the autonomy of local government. That's why in her opening remarks she tries to say that local government is the cornerstone of Canadian democracy. There is no meaning today behind those remarks in terms of how this government governs the province. This ministry is weaker than ever. You've only got to take a look at how many planners and people have retired, and I'll go through those in a minute.
I want to ask the minister some specific questions about the ministry staff. You can see that it's been downgraded, when it should be out there in the regions through an honest way, not through a new bureaucracy or minister of state. It should be out there accessing the ideas for regional development and bringing them back to the legitimate committees of this House, to the Legislature and the cabinet system. That's how we do it in a parliamentary democracy. That's how it has been done since Confederation in this country, not through some trumped-up system that came out of the Premier's mind — out of the Poole room. That's how we do it in the parliamentary system. This ministry, if this minister had been out to do it, should have been speaking up right from the start against this current system that we have in place in B.C. In my estimation, this minister of state system is a challenge or a threat to the very existence of the ministry in terms of how it has traditionally served the regions.
I want very quickly to talk about how a New Democrat government would approach real decentralization. A New Democrat government would be extremely different to the way this government has done it. First, we would consult before any major change. This minister talked about consultation. There was absolutely no consultation by the Premier when they introduced the presidential Republican-style system that's alien to our Canadian way of life. A New Democrat government would emphasize the value of what you have to say, not who you know. We believe it is fundamentally wrong when someone is given an unfair edge over the competition because they are a member of the Premier's inner circle. That's what is happening in B.C. today with this inner sanctum of eight ministers and the people who can access that through these unelected committees in the regions — not through local government, but through these unelected task forces or whatever. There is a real threat to the system that we have accepted in this country and this province for a very long time.
I recognize that when you talk about parliamentary systems and democracy, people on the street think only parliamentarians are interested in those issues. I disagree. I think very much of the treasured sacred system that we have inherited from our fathers and grandfathers in terms of how we govern ourselves in this province and this country. The Premier admitted in 1986 that the parliamentary system is somewhat antiquated, and now we know what he means. That's why we continue to speak. That's why I and the Leader of the Opposition continue to travel in the province: to speak up for local government and local democracy and allow them to have the systems that allow the policies and legislation that allow them to make the decisions in their region, not some system that the Premier has in his mind in terms of control from Victoria.
Real decentralization has nothing to do with the complex, costly elaborate structure that we have offered today, a structure that we all know the Premier can override at his whim. Real decentralization will provide our communities with statutory authority and access to the resources that let them get on with the job — laid out in law, in statute, clearly defined what the rights, privileges and responsibilities of local government are under real decentralization, and therefore the areas provided for under provincial jurisdiction. At the moment we don't have anything like that at all. It's our contention that under real decentralization — that's devolution of power and decision-making to the local level — economic growth can only happen when people have a real say in economic decisions affecting their local area.
What we're talking about across this province, in the communities, the towns and villages, is real economic control for local communities and government, not what this government is now well known for: providing for their friends — the powerful, the rich and the multinational corporations in this province. This government is not perceived as representing the ordinary British Columbian, the average British Columbian, what we call the ordinary Joe in the street. It has nothing to do with that at all. They are seen as taking care of their friends. We've had that for the last few months; we've all seen the shenanigans and what's gone on with the Premier and his friends. That's what this government represents today, Mr. Chairman.
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: On a point of order, I would like to have the hon. member explain what shenanigans.
MR. BLENCOE: I don't know if he really wants me to get into . . . .
MR. BLENCOE: I am referring, obviously, to the Premier's good friend Mr. Toigo and all the problems that have arisen over that, and the deals . . . .
MR. BLENCOE: That's the question, Mr. Chairman, and the Premier seems very defensive about it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps both hon. members would take their seats. I find it very difficult to associate the tone of the member's debate at this point with the estimates of the minister. I would certainly appreciate it if we could make these comments relevant. We're dealing with vote 51 in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
MR. BLENCOE: I am talking about real economic development and decentralization only coming when you have a government that believes in decision-making at the
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local level. I am saying that this government does not believe in real decentralization at all. What we have now, through the minister of state system set up by this Premier, is unelected bureaucracy and unelected committees supposedly going to start to make decisions in those regions, and it has nothing at all to do with local democracy. We can only conclude that the objective and the agenda is to start to make decisions on economic development that are not made at the local level by elected people, but by unelected officials on these committees.
As I was saying, there is a perception in British Columbia today that this government is not working in the interests of all British Columbians or ordinary British Columbians, the average working person in British Columbia. They're working for friends, for special interests, for the powerful.
HON. MR. VANDER ZALM: How do you know? You've never worked.
MR. BLENCOE: The Premier can start calling names, he can get nasty and he can get personal, but I can tell you, Mr. Chairman, the people of British Columbia have seen through this government in terms of the structures it's imposing on local government. We will stand up against it. We believe that we should give our communities the resources to put in place programs that will support economic development plans coming from the local area, resources that will, for example, put their education and health programs and their municipal infrastructure in solid shape.
What we've got so far in nine months is a multitude of committees and a bureaucracy that is doing something out there in all these regions, yet we have no report back to this Legislature. We have local councils wondering now what's going to happen when these committees and this minister of state system start to make decisions. Whose decision-making is going to be paramount? There is a crisis emerging in the province of British Columbia in terms of whose ability to make decisions for the regions is going to be supreme. Is it going to be the elected people, elected by their local people in their regions or in their councils, or is it going to be these new Ministers of state, this unelected bureaucracy? Are those committees going to start to make decisions? I will ask the Premier, and the minister can put this down as a question: whose decision-making authority is going to be number one? Is it going to be the ministers of state and the committees and the decisions they make, or is it going to be the elected councils and regional district officials?
We're starting to see that happen already. Questions begin to arise over that very issue. Real decentralization would not even have to have that question put, because we automatically believe that the people elected in their regions, in their councils, in their communities and in their towns are the ultimate decision-makers. Yet we have that kind of question being asked. Which bureaucracy level — the unelected bureaucracy or the democratically elected one — is going to be paramount in those regions?
We would establish economic development areas throughout the province where, for example, major land use decisions could be made through the right process; that is, local councils and regional districts. Many of those regions now have economic development commissions that have been working for a long time, and we believe they should carry on with their job. Unfortunately, all that has been suspended with this new system that's been introduced.
Effective decentralization will build a stable political environment, which we regard as one of our most valuable assets. Unfortunately we don't have a particularly stable political environment in British Columbia at this time. Under this Premier, this government seems determined to reduce and undermine that basic asset. Even though we disagree quite strongly with this government's policies, we want the government to be stable. Yet there is great instability in the province today because no one out in those regions really knows who is supposed to be making the decisions.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: They know. If you attend a meeting, you'll find out what happens there. You've been invited.
MR. BLENCOE: The minister says I've been invited to various meetings. Maybe the minister would like to respond to some of the general comments, and then I can carry on.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: It appears that most of the discussion to this point centres around the decentralization regionalization process. It is really unfortunate that the member opposite has not taken advantage of the opportunity to participate in the process. He might then have a little bit of knowledge of exactly what is going on and how it is being received by the communities. I can assure the member that it is being very well received by the communities in the Kootenay region.
Decentralization does not interfere with local government; it truly complements it. Decentralization is only intended to provide readier access to provincial programs, with a view to customizing provincial programs to the needs of the regions.
The question was put: whose decision will be number one? This question is certainly based on some false logic. It presupposes that there will be conflict between local government and the development regions, and we have not found this to be the case.
The focus of the regionalization initiative is broader-based than that of local or regional governments in attempting to identify the issues. This is a forum that was not previously available. You suggest that possibly there has been a "playing favourites" situation, to use your phrase. I will admit that prior to my appointment I spent very little time in the Kootenay region. I will also admit that each time I visit the region, I grow to enjoy and love it more and more.
I want to tell you, hon. member, that it is very important for members of this government to know and to deal with people from right across the province — not just from the lower mainland or Vancouver Island but from throughout the province. I'm finding this a very worthwhile and meaningful exchange of ideas as I travel across the Kootenay region.
When you suggest that there's a possible conflict of interest, I think you should maybe have a look at the revenue-sharing grants that have been issued this year. Very obviously, there is no bias being shown in programs in my ministry. We deal with them on a needs basis and on a very fair basis across the province, with no bias or any favouritism to any region, including the constituency that I represent. The experience is valuable not only to the ministers for the knowledge that I can take to cabinet, but to the people of the region as well.
For you to suggest that $16 million is somehow being wasted or thrown around to promote this program is just
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further reinforcing the fact that you have so little regard for small business. That $16 million program is to allow the ministers of state the initiative to secure financial assistance to people out in those regions who otherwise have no access to funding, no access to financial assistance, yet have a great idea that could be very beneficial to some small corner of this province. The $16 million, hon. member, that you've been speaking of with such disdain is to help small businesses. Members on this side of the House support small business and will do whatever they can to ensure that they not only become established but flourish and grow.
I think I've pretty well covered the points you mentioned. I look forward to some more serious questions coming from your side of the House.
MR. BLENCOE: I'm pleased that the minister is happy that she can visit the Kootenays and get to know it better; that's very nice. But you know, Mr. Chairman, we're not here to please the minister. We're here to serve all the people of British Columbia equally, fairly and justly. This minister has been given a duty that is in conflict with her position as Minister of Municipal Affairs. She's been asked to play governor of a region. She's been asked to play the czar of the Kootenays and at the same time deal with all the other towns and villages fairly, justly and equally. She is in direct conflict with that job, Mr. Chairman.
I happen to think the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and that minister have an extremely important role in government. It's somewhat different from the other portfolios because you have to deal with all those councils, regional districts, towns and villages, and be fair — and appear to be fair.
What we have is a minister who says she's happy to travel around the Kootenays. I'm pleased she likes it over there; that's fine. But I hope she puts in just as much time in other regions of this province. I hope she's putting in just as much time in trying to deal with the Prince George area or the Vancouver Island area.
Mr. Chairman, that minister knows very well that she's in conflict and that she should not be a minister of state.
The minister brought up the question of the $16 million I mentioned for seed capital funds — supposed to start May 1. She said I'm against small business. On the contrary, the reason I'm complaining about this new program, as the spokespersons for small business have already said, is that they are totally confused and frustrated by more bureaucracy in terms of accessing government loans or support.
MR. HARCOURT: More red tape.
MR. BLENCOE: More red tape. One gigantic hunk of red tape to frustrate local government and small business.
Let's make it clear first that that program was supposed to have started on May 1 and still hasn't started. Let's put the record straight. The procedures in place for accessing economic development funds — the procedures that the Ministry of Economic Development has — are still in place, plus we now have four other processes from the minister of state imposed on the procedure. We're bringing the province to an economic standstill.
We all know the first loan that was supposed to be given out by the governor of the mainland, the Provincial Secretary (Hon. Mr. Veitch) . . . . The red tape was so overwhelming that the company went broke before the minister of state could get the money to it. How much bureaucracy can small business stand in the province of British Columbia? How much interference can local government stand?
Mr. Chairman, when you do the research and you take a look at the procedure that this minister supposedly believes in for small business, in terms of the minister of state, guess what. When she or her colleagues as ministers of state go through this incredible task force and committees and everything else to get small business support, guess who has to authorize it after the whole process is finished: the Minister of Economic Development.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: The line ministry.
MR. BLENCOE: The minister has said that's the line ministry. You bet; that's the line ministry. That's the normal way of doing things in a parliamentary democracy.
We have another level of bureaucracy frustrating small business and local government. Yet every minister of state I've asked questions of in the last three or four months has not been able to defend this system one iota. They know, in the words of the mayor of Castlegar, Audrey Moore, who ran for Social Credit, who said to me and others: "If we wanted to introduce a system that would bring British Columbia to a standstill economically, we would introduce the minister of state system."
You take a look at the bureaucracy and the steps now that small business has to go through, the hurdles they have to jump over to access dollars for loans. No wonder the small business community is frustrated and fed up. As the mayor of Kelowna has said, tension and confrontation are building in British Columbia.
This government doesn't like to hear these things, but we will speak up for local government. We will speak up for efficiencies in government. We will speak up for small business being able to access support quickly and efficiently without another level of bureaucracy to go through.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Then you should support the program.
MR. BLENCOE: The minister says I should support the program. How can we support the program when every small business . . . ? Even Jim Matkin says he can't understand it. "What's it supposed to do?" he says. Why can't we work through line ministries? Why can't we work through cabinet committees? Why can't we work through local government? Why can't you send a 37-cent letter to the heads of the Kootenay regional districts and the local councils asking for their ideas on economic development, to meet you in Victoria within two months to go over that, instead of spending close to $2 million now?
MR. HARCOURT: What about the mayor of Kelowna? He doesn't understand it.
MR. BLENCOE: Oh, the mayor of Kelowna certainly doesn't understand it. The mayor of Kamloops has already said there's a hidden agenda. The conclusion that I started out with and that we still have — and we'll get into more of this when we question the minister directly about what she's doing in her region — is that it is a system to usurp the traditional role of local government and its autonomy by the Premier and this government. That's the only conclusion we
[ Page 4906 ]
can come to. It's a classic power grab on the part of this government to take over local government. We believe as New Democrats that we speak up for local government and its ability to make decisions without the minister of state system being imposed.
I'll come back to the minister of state system later on, but I want to turn now to issues of personnel in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
MR. BLENCOE: Do you want to say something?
I have some stats here from which I can only conclude that in 1986-87 there were 91 FTEs in the ministry; then it went up in 1987-88 to 448. 1 can only conclude that that's because there were extra departments brought in — fire and all those things. In 1988-89, it dropped from 448 to 418 FTEs — a drop of 7 percent between '87-88 and '88-89. I'm wondering if the minister can explain where those cuts came and what's been happening in the ministry with staff generally.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before we continue, hon. members, the member for Chilliwack has asked leave to make an introduction.
MR. JANSEN: In the precincts this afternoon are some visitors from the great neighbour to the south of us: Ms. Mary Faulk, director of the Department of General Administration from the state of Washington; Mr. John Nicholson, deputy director of state services, Department of General Administration; and one of their colleagues, Ms. Meredith Jennings. They are currently visiting Victoria, and I'd ask the members to make them welcome.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Mr. Chairman, under the old ministry we see a reduction of nine; under safety and standards we see a reduction of 15; and under the University Endowment Lands we see a reduction of six staff members — totalling 30.
MR. BLENCOE: Can the minister explain why there has been such a reduction?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: It corresponds to general cuts across government and general efficiencies in the overall ministry.
MR. BLENCOE: I understand that 47 people have taken advantage of the early retirement program; that is, about 10 percent of the ministry staff took advantage of the program — which is quite high, with the average around 5 percent. Can the minister indicate why so many people have been taking early retirement in her ministry?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: It appears to be a reflection of the age in the ministry. Many of the inspectors were in the 55-to-60 age bracket. So it's a reflection of the age of some of the employees.
MR. BLENCOE: It has nothing to do, of course, with the fact that working for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs these days is extremely frustrating.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: No, it has nothing to do with that.
MR. BLENCOE: Nothing to do with that at all.
Could the minister tell me how many of the people who have taken advantage of the retirement program were supervisors, directors or managers?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: It will take us a few minutes to get you that information, but we will get it for you. They have to be totalled. We have a list.
MR. BLENCOE: A supplementary question to that: how many of the positions vacated through early retirement will be refilled and how many will be made redundant?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: We'll get those figures for you as well.
MR. BLENCOE: I want to move on to the planning component of Municipal Affairs, and then we'll get back to some of these other things. I believe the planning branch of the ministry includes two sections. At the Islands Trust — and I am going to talk a little more about that specifically; according to the Islands Trust, they have a shortfall in staff there — the planners support the trustees and the manager. There's a manager, three planners and an administrative officer with clerical support.
There are also, in the program section, a manager and four planners to offer advice and assistance to local government. Each of the four planners in the program section has his own territory. My staff has been told that the emphasis in the last few years has been more on getting out in the field. However, prior to 1981 we had about five to seven planners, each with his own territory; there were regional offices and a headquarters in Victoria with its own staff. In 1983 regional staff were fired and the technical planning committee was lost. Staff have been lost through attrition, and there are no longer headquarters-based planners. The lack of staff has led to the headquarters staff dealing mostly with operational policy rather than the broader policy questions of the ministry, which are now dealt with in a separate branch. This is the very issue I was dealing with earlier on: this ministry has got to be looking at broader policy issues, not only for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs but also in terms of urbanization, growth and economic development in British Columbia.
I wonder if the minister can give us some reasons why we have had the downsizing of the planning component. Regional staff were fired, and the lack of staff has led to headquarters staff dealing with mainly operational policy. Maybe the minister can make some comments in that area.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I'm a wee bit confused on the specific area you are questioning — other than planning in general. We have certainly reduced our staff in those areas. As a result of Bill 62, as one example, there is less interference by the ministry in the day-to-day operations of local government. I'm led to believe that cuts are no more severe in this particular ministry than elsewhere in government. If you have a specific you would like to zero in on, I would be pleased to respond.
MR. BLENCOE: In my estimation, the planning component of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs is overworked, understaffed and cannot really do in-depth work at all.
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MR. BLENCOE: That's my opinion and that's the job of the opposition. That member may want to get to his feet rather than comment ignorantly from his seat.
I want to know if the minister has given any consideration to looking at regional planning components, regional staff, and maybe increasing the planning component so we can do more than just operational policy and also look at broader policy questions of the ministry. I think it's a very important area, and this again fits into the statements I've been making that this ministry should be doing a lot more in terms of being in the vanguard of some exciting innovation for our future. I know for Socreds the word "planner" sometimes is not a good word, but we believe that you have to plan if you're going to have a successful future.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: If I'm understanding the comments of the hon. member correctly, they're almost inconsistent with the arguments that he put forward concerning the decentralization and regionalization process. Is there a specific planning area that you are suggesting the ministry should be involved with? We do not do field planning per se, but the staff does examine plans to determine whether or not they're consistent with provincial interests.
We're certainly not there looking over the shoulders of local government planners or the people who are preparing these official community plans and the regional plans. If you feel that the ministry should be more involved with that, we're going to have to disagree.
MR. BLENCOE: Who currently handles the long-term policy process in the planning field?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Are you referring to long-term policy planning?
MR. BLENCOE: That's right.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: That's a unit within our development planning area.
MR. BLENCOE: Can the minister tell me what they're working on these days? What's their objective and some of the things they're doing these days?
[Mr. Rabbitt in the chair.]
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: They are at this time working on model bylaws so that they can assist local government. They advise local government and developers on the development process. They assist local governments in preparing comprehensive development plans.
MR. BLENCOE: Can the minister tell me what relationship there is between the planning process encouraged through the minister's planning grants and the planning process being encouraged and funded by the ministers of state?
HON. MR. REID: Mr. Chairman, I ask leave to make an introduction.
HON. MR. REID: On behalf of Rita Johnston and other people around the province, we have in the constituency today visiting from Duncan very strong supporters of Graham Bruce and others around the province, Dick Drew and his wife from Duncan radio station.
MR. BLENCOE: I will put the question to the minister again, Mr. Chairman. What relationship is there between the planning process encouraged through your ministry's planning grants and the planning process being encouraged and funded by the ministers of state? Is there any relationship?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: The ministry planning grants are for land use, community plans and regulatory bylaws. Do you have a specific planning situation with regard to a minister of state that you're referring to, or just the process in general that they're looking at as far as the task forces are concerned? They are looking at not only short-term but also long-term planning, and prioritizing the requirements as the people in the area see them for their region.
MR. BLENCOE: How much of the time of the planning component of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs is being spent on planning for minister of state requests?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Aside from occasional requests on specific items, almost none.
Could I answer an earlier question, Mr. Chairman? We have 13 early retirements that will not be refilled. Under managerial, including the University Endowment Lands fire department, we have eight.
MR. BLENCOE: Thirteen of the 30 are not being replaced?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: And eight in managerial.
MR. BLENCOE: Could the minister tell me what processes she’s gone through to decide on not replacing these kinds of people? I wonder how your ministry is making these decisions in terms of service to these areas. What are some of the criteria you are looking at?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: As you mentioned earlier, hon. member, the ministry is smaller, and the restructuring has resulted in fewer positions being required. I guess it comes right down to the rationalization of the positions that are being filled or refilled.
MR. BLENCOE: This minister earlier talked about local government as the cornerstone of Canadian democracy and about decentralization and all those things. This is the point I've been making: that this ministry itself should be the model for decentralization. This is a ministry that should be decentralizing itself into the regions. It should have planners specifically looking at issues in those regions, and there should be adequate staffing to do those very things. Over the past few years, they've been cut back dramatically to the point where they just push pencils. They're good people, but they're overworked and they can't do the job to serve those municipalities and get out in the regions.
I believe that this ministry itself should be decentralizing. If there is one ministry that should have a presence in the
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regions, it's this ministry. I'm wondering if the minister could talk about her ministry in that capacity.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I guess it would just be great if we were able to go ahead and hire people that we could just place right across the province, and that applies to all of the ministries.
MR. HARCOURT: The $16 million.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: The $16 million, to the Leader of the Opposition, once again is a very significant statement coming from that side of the House. It's obvious that they don't share the concern that members on this side have for assistance to small business. The $16 million that has been allocated is specifically to assist small business in all of the regions of the province.
The regionalization process is an excellent example of working with local government, working with local organizations, going out into the field and saying to the people who live in those areas: "What do you want to see happening in your community? Let's take stock of the assets that are presently in place, the services that are presently in place. How would you like to see your community developed? What can the provincial government do to help you accomplish the goals that you set out for yourself?" For goodness' sake, what is wrong with that process? It is truly democratic consultation in action. What more could you be asking of any of the ministers or any government than to go out and work with the people in every comer of the province and not just confine all of the activities, economic generators and business activities to the lower mainland and Vancouver Island, particularly government services in Victoria?
MR. BLENCOE: I'll correct the minister: the $16 million is for a regional seed capital program. That's separate from the in excess of $14 million that these governors — the minister is one — now have in administrative budgets. The first $8 million, as we all know, was done illegally by special warrant, in violation of the Financial Administration Act. Then in this budget they've had additional millions added. It totals $14 million in administration.
The point I'm making is that you don't need that $14 million. If we had a Ministry of Municipal Affairs that was decentralized and a decent number of staff, and we had those regional offices in the regions that we had them in before, and we had local government being able to put forward their economic strategies in a democratic fashion, not through some unelected bureaucracy, some trumped-up system by the Premier, we'd start to get real decentralization through the appropriate ministries. That's what we're talking about: respect for local government, for democracy, for real decentralization and for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. If it had its regional offices decentralized and a decent staffing component, we could do these things far cheaper. Fourteen million dollars — for what?
MR. WEISGERBER: So you are in favour of decentralization?
MR. BLENCOE: We're in favour of devolution of power. Go check it in the dictionary; I know it may not compute with you. We're in favour of giving local government the ability to make greater decisions in the regions without the interference of this government or its bureaucracy. That's what we're for; that's the issue.
This minister can say she's in favour of decentralization, but in her own ministry, which used to be decentralized to some degree, we've had a closing down of those regional offices and staff cutbacks in planning and helping those communities. That's the ministry that should be in the vanguard of real decentralization. We don't have that today at all. We've got the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and this minister prepared to see local government's agenda taken over by this alien minister of state system. Quite frankly, I hope the minister goes back and takes a look at her staffing complement and at what the Ministry of Municipal Affairs should be doing in serving this province and these communities.
I believe the Leader of the Opposition wishes to make a few comments.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I would suggest that the statements made by the member opposite very clearly define the difference between the two political parties. The model of decentralization of the NDP is to put more bureaucrats into the field. The model for Social Credit, the government in power, is to build a grassroots system based largely on local people. Where can you truly get a feel for what the people of the region would like to see happening in their community? Are you going to get that by putting more bureaucrats in the field, or are you going to get it by going out and talking to the people, the movers and shakers of the regions? That's the way you're going to accomplish what the people at the grass roots want to see happening, not by opening up more offices and placing more bureaucrats out in the regions.
MR. HARCOURT: I want to talk about two or three things involving the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, but I just want to say first of all that we do have a serious and genuine difference of philosophy about what should be happening in terms of letting the grass roots have a far greater say. We don't seem to be able to speak with each other about this.
We think the best way to do that is to go to the people directly; to go directly to the local councils and regional districts and have those people already there, with their contacts with the chambers of commerce, the labour councils, the native leaders and the local MLAs, without having these super ministers interfering in that whole process . . . . It's another level of bureaucracy interfering with what we've evolved over the last century. It's a foreign, alien approach, this United States of British Columbia, for the British parliamentary system and for the Canadian federation.
We have an honest difference of opinion about how you bring about grassroots participation, how you involve local communities. We're not going to get very far in this Legislature talking to each other about it, because we have a totally different view of what grassroots democracy is all about.
What I want to deal with is not decentralization. The member for Victoria, our Municipal Affairs critic, has very ably brought forward the flaws of this severely flawed concept that will have the same lasting power as the Partners in Enterprise program, before it evaporated into thin air. What I want to do is to speak about a couple of areas that I think can have bipartisan support. One of them is the whole question of municipal infrastructure. The basic services of municipal government in this province and throughout the country are falling apart: the sewer, water and roads — the basics of any community, large or small.
[ Page 4909 ]
The second area where I think we can have bipartisan support is in the skills that British Columbians have in the municipal area in putting together fine communities. That can be utilized in the international urban aid and trade program, which is starting to become a very large and successful undertaking in the developing countries, with their burgeoning populations.
The third area I'd like to talk about is the whole question of transit, and in particular, the regional transit authority in greater Vancouver.
Mr. Chairman, the whole question of municipal infrastructure has been canvassed very thoroughly by municipalities throughout this country, by the organizations that represent municipal government, whether it be the Union of B.C. Municipalities or the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and by all the other municipal organizations across Canada. I had the honour to co-chair a task force, with the ex-mayor of Matsqui, to take a look at the state of municipal services in Canada. We came to the conclusion that about $12 billion was needed to be invested back into our municipal governments to deal with the sewage lines that were starting to fall apart, the water systems that were starting to leak, and the roads that were becoming pot-holed and very dangerous, in many instances, for continuing commercial and recreational travel. It's now up to $15 billion. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities met recently in Halifax, I understand, and the cost has gone from $12 billion to $15 billion, and it's going to keep going up exponentially. The more we wait, the worse it's going to get.
The minister and I have talked about this, and both sides of this Legislature agree enthusiastically that the work needs to be done. I'm very pleased that the minister recognizes that, because that program would create 60,000 new jobs in Canada; 5,000 in British Columbia alone — the private sector, small private contractors and small business people throughout this province. If we want to talk about the impact and our support for small business, the impact of this program on small business would be dramatic. We have developed detailed information provincially and nationally of how this program would pay for itself. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities hired a major consulting outfit, Informetrica, to show that for every dollar invested by the federal government they'd get a dollar back; and it would create 60,000 new jobs per year for the five-year period of this program — cost-shared one-third, one-third and one third. The benefits in British Columbia, as I said, would be about 5,000 jobs. Madam Minister, you know there's about a billion dollars' worth of documented work that needs to be done; 60 percent of that involves roads, secondary roads in particular, which are 50 percent a provincial responsibility. So it would be of benefit to get this program going in British Columbia.
The problem isn't here in this Legislature, because we have bipartisan support for this program — and the minister agrees with me. The problem isn't in other provincial governments, because there's unanimous agreement at the provincial level. There's unanimous agreement at the municipal level. Federally, Mr. Chairman, is where the problem is. The problem is in the federal parliament, which for decades encouraged urban growth, encouraged CMHC to make winter works available, to make servicing of subdivisions available, to increase the population in Canada; and after having done that, abandoned the field. Those subdivisions that were created in the forties, fifties and sixties are now facing some serious problems with their infrastructure.
The problem in the federal parliament is more precise, Mr. Chairman. It's not with the New Democrats and Liberals, whose leaders have come to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conventions and shown their approval for the one-third participation of the federal government — $5 billion, a billion dollars a year for the next five years, which they would get back into the federal treasury through the construction work that would take place. It's not with a good portion of the Tory caucus or cabinet. The problem, to be very precise, is with the Minister of Finance, from Bay Street, who doesn't understand small-town Canada, doesn't understand municipal government, and doesn't understand how important sewer and water and road systems are to the financial affairs of this country. And it rests with the Prime Minister, who has written and said: "We will not finance this." Brian Mulroney should understand this better than anybody, supposedly. His campaign was to go through the small towns of this country — and he didn't learn very much. It's the small towns that can't afford to fix up their basic infrastructure. Those are the two people we have got to convince. We have a federal election coming up. Can you think of a better time to get that point across?
I would urge us all to push the three federal parties to support this program and make a commitment that after the federal election it will take place, or we're all going to be in serious trouble. If we wait another five years, it's going to cost us all a heck of a lot more than the $15 billion we're talking about right now. I would like to have this Legislature work in a bipartisan way to make sure that this issue is put forward in the next federal election so that we can get on with the job of repairing the basic services of the towns, cities, villages and municipalities throughout this province of ours.
The second area where I think we can cooperate is that of the international municipal aid and trade program. There is a particular opportunity for British Columbia to play a role here with our focus onto the Asia-Pacific community. I want to let members of the Legislature know that this very exciting new initiative through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and through CIDA is an area that I was involved in when I was mayor of Vancouver, and a number of my colleagues across the country participated. We were able to get across the alarming message that the developing countries are facing an almost cataclysmic challenge that they cannot meet by themselves, which is going to redound on all of us. That message. Madam Minister — and you and I have talked about this program — is that by the year 2000 over half the world's population is going to live in cities, and those cities can't cope with that growth. For example, there are 17 million people living in Mexico City right now. In another 12 years there will be 30 million people living there, on a lake bed that's subject to volcanic eruptions, that has an inversion problem of massive proportions already, an air pollution problem that is suffocating millions of citizens.
The opportunity for Canada and British Columbia to participate is a very exciting one, because it's not just an international aid program. It can lead to the selling of Canadian expertise in sewer and water systems, in planning, in transportation, in municipal financial procedures and technology, both hardware and software . . . . There are all sorts of business opportunities in what looks like an international aid program but could lead to a tremendous amount of trade with the developing countries.
Specifically, Mr. Chairman, there are two pilot projects underway, and I'm sure you're very interested in this with
[ Page 4910 ]
your involvement in municipal government. Those two projects are taking place in Africa and China. They are sponsored by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian International Development Agency. They involve $10 million that, hopefully, will be shortly approved by the minister to aid a number of African cities with all these problems I've just talked about: the bursting-at-the-seams problem of these urban populations. They aren't people moving from the countryside to the cities, which is a common myth. These are young people, 80 percent of whom already live in those existing cities and are having children in increasing numbers. That is where the challenge is, not the people shifting from the countryside, as we previously thought. There are a number of cities in Africa that are going to receive this aid involving Canadian expertise, municipal planners, municipal finance and engineering staff, people in the private sector who have skills that we in Canada are unique in possessing. We are close to the best in the world in this area of cities.
The second pilot project that is underway involves 14 coastal cities in China, where we have a number of tremendous opportunities. I would like to talk about those shortly.
MR. JANSEN: In listening to the debate in regard to some of the views expressed regarding decentralization, I get a little confused.
I hear the member from Victoria indicate that he's very much against decentralization but he's in favour of devolution. I hear him talk against decentralization and constantly hear him talk against regionalization. But when he's talking about planning, he mentions that we should decentralize the planning process and bring it into the regions so that we, as Big Brother in Victoria, can tell the people of the areas how they should plan and what they should do, and that we in Victoria have a better idea.
The Leader of the Opposition has said he's not against the philosophy of going to the people and asking them their opinions. That's precisely what this government is doing. We are going to the regions and talking to the councils, the chambers of commerce and the school boards. We are getting their ideas, getting their opinions, getting their input in regard to the economic development in this province.
It concerns us that there is so much criticism about the decentralization process, and yet there's no interest from the other side. There's no attendance at the meetings. There's criticism, criticism, criticism. Why is that? The concern is that people from the other side aren't interested in helping the people of the communities. They're not interested in helping the people of the province. They're not interested in being part of a good-news story. Indeed, the decentralization process is a good-news story. We are getting tremendous results. We're finding that people do have good ideas; we in Victoria don't have a monopoly on ideas. The people out there have good ideas that we should work on, and we should work together with them and develop the communities that they represent.
We are concerned about employment opportunities. We're not sitting back here saying: "Sorry, folks. All we can do is criticize." We're saying: "Tell us how we can help you better." We hear criticism about the seed capital program. We keep hearing this figure of $16 million that's being spent unwisely. Isn't it strange that we on this side of the House believe in small business? Isn't it strange that we too extend a helping hand to enable small business in B.C. to become viable, to become employment opportunities for our young people in the smaller communities so that they don't have to go to downtown Victoria or downtown Vancouver in order to find work but can find it in the communities they live in? Isn't that strange?
That $16 million is an allocation of funding to enable the financial institutions to assist them in obtaining loan opportunities. Those are the things we're talking about.
I find it passing strange that we talk about $14 million in this little pot of funds. Where do they get their figures from? It reminds me of the budget debate that we had some time ago, so filled with inconsistencies and errors that to use the benefit of irrational criticism and . . . .
As I indicated before, I find some of the comments totally irrelevant and not consistent with the facts. I hope the members opposite will someday get on the bandwagon and recognize that they too have an opportunity to help the people of the province provide employment opportunities. I'm sorry to hear some of the concerns and criticisms. I think the member for Victoria should reach out and understand what the real world is all about by someday going to the rest of the province and talking to the communities.
MR. HARCOURT: Before I return to the municipal aid and trade opportunity that I think is one that could involve billions of dollars of projects evolving into trade opportunities and the developing countries, I'd like to respond just briefly to those desperate remarks, which I find hard to gel with the reality of the Social Credit budget. We hear the words "free enterprise" and "small business" all the time, and then this Social Credit government increases the tax for small business and decreases it for big business.
This is the government that has already set up a bureaucracy to deal with economic development; then they establish more ministries because they think the Economic Development ministry isn't doing a good job. Instead of using the Municipal Affairs ministry — which I would hope they would have some confidence in, because there are some good people there — they invent these new superministries, a sort of county idea left over from the Premier's agenda when he left the province in a snit. They take this foreign idea from the United States which has been a flop in Alberta and Ontario. Even in the States they're looking at this mish-mash of bureaucracy that the county system is creating.
I know that the member for Chilliwack has a desperate and awful task to be the minister of defence of something that's indefensible — the decentralization bureaucracy. I think it was a good pitch for the cabinet shuffle coming up in July, but no cigars to the member for that desperate defence of an indefensible concept that will go the way of the Partners in Enterprise program.
In the spirit of bipartisanship, I would like to continue with one of the two pilot projects that I was talking about earlier. It is taking place in China, an exciting country of 1.1 billion people. A number of Canadian cities are twinned with cities in China, and a number of Canadian provinces — not British Columbia yet — are twinned with provinces in China. When we're talking provinces in China, I'll give you the one where Vancouver has a sister city, Guangzhou. It's a province of 70 million people called Guangdong province, where 90 percent of the fine Chinese–Canadian citizens that we have in British Columbia come from; their families come from there. What we have done, through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and CIDA, is to engage in a fine exchange of
[ Page 4911 ]
expertise, of technology, of specific hardware that we have in our municipal areas, that have opened up a whole range of larger trade missions of municipal governments into China, whether it be Vancouver into Guangzhou, whether it be Edmonton into Harbin or whether it be Toronto into one of the largest cities — 11 million — in central China. There are opportunities there.
This pilot project, with the 14 coastal cities, of $7 million to have Canadian engineers and financial planners at the municipal level — Canadians who are expert in municipal government — assist our friends in the People's Republic of China and their cities with their modernization program is a marvellous opportunity that we should be enthusiastically getting involved in, particularly here in British Columbia, the front door onto the Asia–Pacific area. So I would urge the minister to have the officials in her ministry make contact with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and see how British Columbia and British Columbia municipalities can participate in this pilot project which could lead to new programs in other developing countries around the Asia–Pacific.
I have some remarks on transit, but I think I will deal with that when we deal with transit tomorrow sometime.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: To the Leader of the Opposition. You suggest, hon. member, that if decentralization is to work it's important that we go out and meet with councils, and you ask why we need all these other committees. I would like to state that as Minister of State for the Kootenays I have met with every one of the councils in the Kootenays. I will shortly be having separate meetings with the representatives from the three regional districts. We have met with some of the native groups, the chambers of commerce, the Rotary groups, the school board groups and the hospital boards, and we are making a very concerted effort to ensure that all of the voices of the representative groups in the Kootenay region will be heard and will have input in the regionalization initiative.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: It seems to me that the protests from members opposite are getting louder and louder and really more incoherent than ever. I've arrived at the conclusion that they're very concerned about the success of this program and have already taken the position that they are going to steer clear of it. Very few of their members have agreed to participate, so they're going to completely ignore the fact that there is this program in place. But they are now seeing some of the successes, and I think that is what the problem is here. The members opposite are very concerned that we do have a successful program. We have a program that has been accepted, hon. Leader of the Opposition, by the local governments, with very few exceptions. It has been well received, well accepted.
MR. JONES: They don't understand it.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Are you suggesting, hon. member opposite, that the members of councils don't understand the program? Of course they understand it.
MR. JONES: Did they get a White Paper on it?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I don't know what you're talking about by a "White Paper."
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'd ask the hon. members to let the minister reply, and then they can take their turn in the debate.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: The program is certainly working. I will just reiterate that the successes now beginning to come forward are obviously of concern to members opposite. They had hoped that the program would be a flop. It has been a great success. It has been widely received and accepted. The participation in the Kootenay region alone involves members from every council, every local government, the regional districts. We have approximately 70 people from that area — truly representative of the communities right across the Kootenay region — who are participating with great enthusiasm. They have volunteered to serve on a number of the task forces that have been set up. There's great enthusiasm and acceptance.
I don't understand why members opposite suggest that people don't understand the program. They do; they understand it very well. They're very pleased with what they are seeing. They are participating.
I have one regret, and that is that the members of the New Democratic Party, who have all been extended an invitation to participate in the program and to really find out what's going on in their community, have refused to participate. They don't want to contribute.
As a local elected official, I find it very difficult to understand how you can stand on a platform at election time and say: "Elect me. I'm going to represent you. I'm going to work for what is good for this area." Then you refuse to serve on one of the most important committees that has been set up in the various regions in many a year. It seems to me that you're abrogating your responsibilities, and the fact that the members have received it in all regions is upsetting to you. I would suggest that it's not too late. We welcome those of you from the Kootenays to serve on our committees. Get on board, because this is where it's at. The grassroots are involved, and they want to be a part of what's happening.
MR. BLENCOE: I would like to ask the minister in which area she was elected.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: If, after five years, I have to tell the member which constituency I represent, then we're in worse shape on that side of the House than I thought we were. I'm very proud to say that I'm the member for Surrey–Newton.
MR. BLENCOE: I think the minister — in one answer — gave the answer I would have given. You don't need $2 million and a member from Surrey to go into the Kootenays and usurp the work of the local MLA and the local councils. It's absolutely not necessary.
The minister has said we won't jump on the bandwagon. Of course we won't jump on the bandwagon. We're not going to jump on a system the Premier didn't even consult UBCM over.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Are you sulking?
MR. BLENCOE: No. The UBCM was never consulted about this proposal, Mr. Chairman. We're not going to join
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them. We believe in local government. We believe in local democracy, and we're not going to support a system that's trumped up by the minister and the Premier to run local government on their agenda. We can't support that. We can't support more red tape and more inefficiencies. We can't support nine months of task forces, committees, coffee meetings and doughnut-eating by various committees that are running around the various regions with nothing happening, but they're using taxpayers' money to do nothing. Of course we can't support that, because you've got local councils elected to do the job — regional districts. Write them a letter and ask them to meet with the various line ministers about economic development. Save yourself a lot of trouble and support democracy in the province of British Columbia. That's why we won't support this system. We want nothing to do with it.
I will come back specifically to the governor of the Kootenays later on and ask about her task forces. I believe she has 17 with lots of coffee and lots of meetings, but no decisions. I'll come back to that.
I want to ask the minister some questions relating to local democracy in the Victoria area, and that's the Provincial Capital Commission. The minister has supported the appointees and is supporting the concept that open meetings are bad for business according to her employee, Ken Hill, chairman of the Provincial Capital Commission. Mr. Hill has said that open meetings are bad for business, and I quote: "To hell with open meetings, because it would be bad for certain businesses in Victoria." He says that we can't have democracy in the Provincial Capital Commission, and we can't have openness.
This minister said some months ago that she was going to review the Provincial Capital Commission mandate and their secrecy. But I see she has continued to support the eight provincial government appointees, and the meetings of the Provincial Capital Commission are still not open to the people of this community. I'm wondering if the minister can answer this question. How do secret meetings of the Provincial Capital Commission fit with the Premier's promise for open government in the province of British Columbia?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I find that question truly interesting, because in talking to some of the longtime members and some other very long-serving community workers, I find that during the period of 1972-75 when the late Ernest Hall was responsible for the Provincial Capital Commission, the same concern was expressed: secret meetings, and everything discussed behind closed doors. The comments were made so often that the minister responsible, Mr. Hall, took it upon himself to attend several of those meetings — five or six, I'm led to believe. At the conclusion of his visits he was left with the clear impression that there wasn't a problem, and no changes were made at that time. This information was given to me by a member sitting on the commission at the time, so I would have to assume that it is reasonably accurate.
I believe it is important for us to look back over the years. I don't think the members present would like me to read all of the wonderful projects and initiatives that have been undertaken by the Provincial Capital Commission, but it's very important that we acknowledge the fact that the members serving on the commission are serving in a volunteer capacity.
I'm not familiar with the statements attributed by the member opposite to the chairman of the commission, but the member has been grinding away at this and attempting to stir up the community to such an extent that I'm sure there are people out there who feel that there is something almost illegal taking place at some of these meetings, although that has never been stated.
I would like to commend the members who have served over the years on that commission for the great job that they have done. The beautification in this area is truly a tribute to the work that has been done. The way that it has been done is by allowing the commission to function as they see fit. At this point in time, I have no intention of interfering with that process.
MR. BLENCOE: Could the minister give her version of what she believes open government is? What is open government?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I guess it's something that we all take for granted. Here we are in open session; my office is always open for discussion. I could tell you what I think open government is not, and that is when members of the opposition have a concern and I have to read about it in the local press or get a call from the local radio station to ask for my comments. I do not consider that a form of open government. I feel it is an open door and good communication. I would hope that if we accomplish nothing else during my term in office, it will always be said that we do have an open-door policy in our ministry, and that anybody who wants to come in and discuss any area of concern that falls within our line of jurisdiction feels free to do so.
[Mr. Pelton in the chair.]
MR. BLENCOE: The Provincial Capital Commission doesn't have an open door, but the minister just said she believes in an open-door policy.
MR. REE: You never even knock on it.
MR. BLENCOE: I don't want to identify that member, because I don't want to embarrass him before his constituents.
MR. BLENCOE: They don't know who he is.
In the last 22 years the Provincial Capital Commission has spent a fair amount of money. It's taxpayers' money. The minister is talking about how she believes in openness and an open door. How can you justify decisions on behalf of the taxpayers, paid for by the taxpayers, decisions that are clearly, for instance, for beautification of this region .... If there's any decision that should be open to the people, it's beautification, because it's supposed to directly benefit them.
How can you agree to closed meetings of public business? It's unbelievable that a minister of the Crown and the minister responsible for the Provincial Capital Commission is going to continue the secrecy and the closed-door meetings and the decisions for the people of this region, and she's going to support that. It obviously has nothing at all to do with openness with this provincial government.
If this minister could only see the concern that has been mounted in this community over this issue. The whole issue
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is really a major controversy in this community, and people are demanding that there be accountability for the Provincial Capital Commission decisions, that the decision-making process be open, that their priorities be open, and that the debates determining priorities be open.
We had, for instance, the CPR terminal — the decision to extend that lease. This community found out about that through the back door. The decision to do that was not debated in open session.
Quite frankly, this minister is kowtowing to the Socred appointments, because supposedly it will be bad for their business if they have to do public business in the open. In my estimation, those members know that public business should be done in the open, and if they cannot handle dealing with taxpayers' business and the decisions around that in the open, then they should consider their position. Our view on this side of the House is that if you are dealing with taxpayers' money, you should be accountable to those who are paying the bill.
MR. JONES: Let the sun shine in.
MR. BLENCOE: That's right: let the sun shine in. Let's have the PCC open to the people of this region.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: The matter of open meetings and open government is one we could debate for most of the day, and I'm certainly not in a rush to conclude our discussions.
The one example that the second member from Victoria used was on a piece of property . . . . The discussion with regard to extension of the lease was on the table. As a former member of the Victoria council . . . . I would suggest that, had a similar matter come before Victoria council for discussion and debate, it would probably have been dealt with in closed council, because it is a matter dealing with property. Property and personnel matters and anything to do with litigation are generally dealt with in closed sessions.
As I understand it, there are generally also items of a very broad, general nature on the agenda which are discussed in closed session at the Capital Commission meetings, and I don't really agree with that particular situation. I know that the members of the Capital Commission reviewed the way that they were conducting their business, and they looked at their agendas. Their final determination by a majority vote was that they would continue along the same vein that they had been previously.
I don't necessarily agree with that decision, but I respect their right to make it. It may become necessary for me to sit down and talk to them again about items on their agenda that could better be handled in open session if it really is a concern to the general public. But I would like to stress that situations with regard to property leases, personnel and litigation will undoubtedly continue to be dealt with in closed session, with the recommendations coming to the minister's office. I think that is the way it should be done.
MR. BLENCOE: The minister has really glossed over the Dr. Arne Lane wax museum issue. We know why the decision to grant that extension for ten years on that key building did not come to the attention . . . . Dr. Arne Lane was around this building lobbying like crazy with his Social Credit friends. He's been a Social Credit bagman in this area for a long time. Without any debate in public of that beautiful historic building, it has been extended to him for ten years, without any public debate of the options.
We know why the minister doesn't want this PCC open. Again we are finding that this government more and more is using the offices of government to benefit friends. It's obvious that it is happening more and more. Here we have a ten-year extension on that historic building without any debate in the public arena of whether that should happen.
I don't disagree with the minister that the negotiations for the lease payment should be in camera. I don't have any problems with that. But the actual concept of extending that lease, or for this community to be able to see that they are even considering extending the lease on that wax museum for ten years . . . . What a way to find out that this community has to have that tourist attraction in that beautiful building for another ten years. No discussion at all. Don't you think the people of this city have a right to know that the PCC extended a lease on that building?
MR. WILLIAMS: Do we at least get a percentage?
MR. BLENCOE: I don't know. You try and get information out of the PCC in terms of the negotiations. It’s virtually impossible.
Mr. Chairman, I don't have any problems with the lease discussions being in camera, but the idea that this community had to find out through the back door that the wax museum was extended for ten years in a critical area of our harbour . . . . It was fait accompli: no discussion, no scrutiny and no coverage by the media that they were considering that. This PCC is making those kinds of decisions daily on behalf, supposedly, of the community that it is supposed to serve: in this case, Dr. Arne Lane, a well-known friend of the government, the finance chairman of this region for a long time for local Social Credit candidates. How I knew something was going on was that I saw him in this building talking to key people, and then suddenly we find out . . . . I'd do a little digging, a few little brown envelopes, because it's the only way you can get information about the PCC these days. Yes indeed, Dr. Arne Lane got another ten years at a special meeting called by friends of his on the PCC. He got a ten-year extension on that beautiful building.
That's the sort of thing this community wants to end. I don't know how you can defend that process at all, especially if you believe in open government and in people being able to find out exactly what's going on.
The minister mentioned earlier that she believes in consultation and in listening to local government. The minister is aware that three out of the four core municipalities in this area have requested that the PCC be open, that its meetings be scrutinized. Yet she is ignoring those requests. One can only conclude that when it benefits this minister and this government to consult with and listen to local government, they will do so. But when they're protecting their friends and their self-interest, as we got with the Provincial Capital Commission, they don't believe in open government at all. They don't, and they won't do it. This minister is taking the word and the desire of those eight appointees, who are saying that it will be bad for their business to do business in public. Shame on that minister for not dealing with this in an honest and forthright manner for once and for all.
Local government wants it open, the people of this region want it open, and the minister has said that if there was a public outcry she could put an end to the PCC secrecy. There
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has been a public outcry, but what's happened is that the pressure from those appointees and friends of the government has stopped her from dealing with this in an honest and forthright manner. So the PCC continues to meet in secret, and of course the St. Ann's site, that beautiful academy, which I'll get onto later . . . . We're further down the road in a very unfortunate process over that particular development, which I will talk about in a minute.
The community wants open meetings for the Provincial Capital Commission; local council wants it to be open. This community has spoken. We can only conclude that this minister has been influenced by I'm not sure who to continue closed-door meetings. 1 would ask the minister to. . . .
MR. WILLIAMS: Open the doors.
MR. BLENCOE: Yes. Respect local government requests for an open Provincial Capital Commission.
I don't want to talk about history or Ernie Hall. Mr. Hall is no longer with us; obviously I can't ask him. I want to deal with today. I want to deal with a policy that's not fitting in the eighties, a Provincial Capital Commission that is spending millions of dollars in this region and is managing key buildings that nobody knows anything about. We've had no information.
This minister now has her deputy minister as the chairman of the Provincial Capital Commission. The only conclusion I can come to is that open government, Socred style, really is closed government unless it fits the government's agenda.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I really didn't get a question out of that dissertation, but it seems to me that the protests we have had with regard to the meetings of the Provincial Capital Commission have by and large come from the member opposite and some of his friends in the community. Several of the local councils have appointees on the commission. These people were appointed by the local councils in order that there be some local input from people who had been elected at large and were truly representative of the various councils. If we look at the operation of the National Capital Commission in Ottawa, we will find that there are no elected officials on that commission. They seem to function very well, thank you.
I don't look upon the Provincial Capital Commission as a body that should only be responsible to local councils. It seems to me that the buildings and the properties they manage are truly provincial assets in nature, and I believe that the time may have come for us to look at a different way of appointing members to serve on the commission, to ensure that we have truly representative members. If and when we review the makeup of the commission, I would certainly be looking to the members from the capital area to give us some input into how the commission should be made up and possibly how they could properly structure the board to be truly reflective of the provincial nature of the holdings that they are managing.
In the meantime, I think it's important for everyone in the House to understand that we do have representation from most of the local councils who are interested and involved in the beautification programs that have been undertaken by the Capital Commission. It just seems to me that they were part of the vote that was taken to continue with the closed meetings.
MR. BLENCOE: A few weeks ago, I thought there was a chance that this minister would finally do something and open the Provincial Capital Commission, but obviously . . . .
MR. R. FRASER: Is that all you've got to bleed about?
MR. BLENCOE: Well, it's an important issue in this community and it's a very symbolic issue. Obviously it's those business people and friends of the government that are on this board that have determined that this important public body will not be open to the people of this community. I think that's very symbolic of where this government is. We will only have openness in government when it suits the political agenda of the government. We won't have it as a matter of principle so that the people of this region will know what the PCC is doing. No, that's not important. This minister is prepared to support those eight appointed people who are guardians of key buildings and spending lots of taxpayers' money, but principle is not important to this government.
We have a draft comprehensive plan by the Provincial Capital Commission, if the minister has read it. This also is very symbolic of the problems of the Provincial Capital Commission. I think we've all got copies. It's a plan for the beautification of this region drawn up by the PCC. I don't know how much it cost the taxpayer. A plan to beautify the region for the citizens of greater Victoria. Do you know what was admitted in that planning process? The citizens weren't asked about what they want in the plan. Not one public meeting, not one consultation session with the citizens of this community by the PCC on this plan.
I recognize that sometimes governments will make plans without consultation, but when you're developing plans to beautify a region for the citizens, it seems to me that's probably the number one area in terms of planning where you'd want to consult the community. Not one public meeting was held. The community didn't even know it was coming out. It suddenly appeared on my desk: a "draft comprehensive plan" of February 25, 1988, for the greater Victoria area." Here it is. It's a nice, blue document.
It's meaningless in terms of asking the people of this community what they want to see in a plan. That's where this government is at. That's their consultation. Draw it up, give it to them and say in a dog-and-pony show in a little questionnaire: "Well, what do you think of the plan we've got?" Why don't you talk to the citizens? Why doesn't the PCC consult this community?
MR. WILLIAMS: Did you fill in the form?
MR. BLENCOE: That's real democracy, eh, filling in a little form. That's where this minister and this government are at. A little dog-and-pony show for 18 hours. "What do you think of our plan? That's it, 18 hours, close down, that's the plan. Go home, everybody. We don't want to talk to you anyway." What a way to run a shop. What a way to talk to the people of this community.
The Provincial Capital Commission could be an exciting component in developing ideas for this region in consultation with the community they serve. That seems to make sense to me. It makes sense to most governments that believe in common sense. Here we have a plan for this region developed by the Provincial Capital Commission and not one public meeting and not one consultation session was held anywhere.
[ Page 4915 ]
I'd like to ask the minister if this is the kind of planning she believes in in terms of beautification planning and developing a strategy for this region, when you don't even ask anybody what the strategy should be made up of?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Mr. Chairman, I really don't have vision that will allow me to fully understand what the member is waving around. If it's the plan that I suspect it is, there were public meetings held, I believe, at Crystal Garden, and, it seems to me, they were held on three different days. No, there were six public meetings; pardon me, I've just been corrected. There were six days of public meetings, and public input was requested. The meetings were advertised quite extensively. The hon. member is very well aware of this, because I recall discussing the public meetings with him on a talk show at the time the public consultation meetings were being held. So I would suggest, Mr. Chairman, that the member opposite for Victoria is being a little less than honest in the suggestion that there is no public input sought or requested. That appears to be typical of the process being put forward here this afternoon.
If my statements are not accurate, I would like the member to point out to me where I am being inaccurate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The minister wouldn't be impugning the honesty of the hon. member, would she? I don't think so. Perhaps it might be just as well to. . . .
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Not his honesty.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It might be just as well to withdraw, hon. minister.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: There has to be a way to phrase this that can convey my feelings. But if those comments are offensive, Mr. Chairman, I will withdraw them.
MR. BLENCOE: Mr. Chairman, the point I was trying to make is that a draft comprehensive plan appeared in this community before it was drawn up without any consultation or public meetings before the plan was developed. Then you circulated it by having little displays in certain parts of the region with a questionnaire — under your name, by the way. The first question you asked was: "How familiar are you with the Provincial Capital Commission?" Then it asked: "What do you think about the plan?" "Are there any topics which you feel should have been covered in the draft?" And that's it. That's the degree of planning on beautification in this region by the Provincial Capital Commission.
It's no wonder the people of this region would really like to know what the PCC does for a living, other than meet in camera. Because, Mr. Chairman, quite frankly we are fed up with it, and this minister refuses to deal with it. Will this minister honour local government's request in this area to open the Provincial Capital Commission?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Mr. Chairman, I've already responded to that question.
MR. BLENCOE: I guess the answer is no, and local government's request is going to be denied. Is that correct?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Mr. Chairman, that was not the way I answered it.
MR. BLENCOE: Mr. Chairman, let me ask the question. Maybe the minister will give a direct answer.
The local government in this area has expressed deep concern about the modus operandi and the agenda and the way the PCC operates. Mr. Chairman, would the minister state quite clearly that she is not prepared to open the Provincial Capital Commission, as requested by the local councils and, I believe, requested by this community?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Mr. Chairman, I think if the member opposite will read the Blues, he will be able to understand exactly how I answered this question earlier today. The answer to his last question is no, I did not say I would not respect the requests of the local government. But I also pointed out with a lengthy explanation what I felt should be done. I don't want to waste the time of this House by going over that again.
MR. BLENCOE: Mr. Chairman, I have to conclude this discussion of the PCC in terms of its operation by saying that I have, out of frustration, had to refer this whole issue to the ombudsman because this minister and this government are not prepared to support open government and not prepared to have the PCC open to the accountability of this community. I've asked the ombudsman to investigate this issue because I happen to believe that the Provincial Capital Commission should be open to this community and we should know what they're doing in terms of making decisions for this region.
I want to canvass the issue of St. Ann's Academy very quickly, because it is a decision that the Provincial Capital Commission made, endorsed by the minister. The academy will be privatized, and there will be no provincial support for this fine building. I have discussed this issue with the minister a number of times, and in our estimation what this government wishes to do is not in keeping with the history of that site. There are a number of options that . . . . Again, this government, as it did with this plan, did not consult with the community. This community had no debate in terms of what it would like to see happen to that site. What we have is one proposal that the community had for 18 hours and was allowed to view, and now they're negotiating with the developer. That site is extremely important, not only in the legislative precinct and in this community but in the province and in the country. In our estimation we could have done a lot more with it.
I'm not going to go over the historical significance of it, and I'm not going to go over the concept plan that you are violating. Again, $50,000 of taxpayers' money was spent on developing the concept plan, which you as a government have refused to follow by refusing to participate financially. Consequently we have the proposal before us.
What I want to do is ask the minister if she is aware of the comments that have been made by the head of the architectural restoration section for the federal government, Mr. Bill Hockey, who has written a very strong letter to Mr. Beres, the manager of the Provincial Capital Commission. If the structure is developed in the manner indicated, he "cannot allow his name or that of the Canadian parks service to be used in relation to any work on the structure." The concept plan for development that addresses St. Ann's Academy as being "an essentially intact, unrestored . . . facility of major importance" is not being met. He goes on to say:
"The development concept appears to do everything in its power to eliminate this heritage value.
[ Page 4916 ]
Removal of the interior floors, walls and finishes and replacing them with an interior street scene, with pseudo-cobblestone floors and old-fashioned storefronts, is nothing more than a form of vandalism and would probably result in rescinding of the designation of the structure by the province or, at a minimum, a change in that designation."
Mr. Hockey has written one of the strongest letters I've ever seen from a civil servant in terms of what the provincial government wants to do to that beautiful site. He's saying you're committing vandalism, basically desecrating one of the oldest historic sites in this province and in this country, not only in a global sense, in terms of historical importance; in terms of the Catholic Church in this province and in this country, the desecration is incredible.
He goes on to say: "If the resource has any chance of obtaining a federal grant of up to $1 million . . . it must be deemed to have national historic significance. This will never happen if the resource is developed as proposed, as all heritage value will be destroyed" — by the current proposal.
In my estimation this letter and other comments and concerns this government has ignored are a serious indictment of the proposal put before this community, which has not been endorsed by the community. Not one public meeting has been held in this community to discuss the future of the St. Ann's site. Yet while the Provincial Capital Commission and this minister were talking about the future in camera, the developer was lobbying for over a year in this building and elsewhere in this community.
The insult to this community and to the people of this area is overwhelming. That national treasure, that national site . . . . The people of this community were again refused the opportunity to comment on what they would like to see happen with that site. Now we have the head of the architectural restoration section of the federal government saying that it's vandalism, that he wants the federal government to have nothing to do with it and that the heritage value will be totally destroyed — an indictment of the entire proposal we have before us.
I want to conclude these remarks and ask the minister to respond. This letter from the head of the restoration section for the federal government did appear in public. It was in the submissions handed out by the Provincial Capital Commission. But do you know what happened? The Provincial Capital Commission removed the letterhead and removed the name of the author of this letter, and gave it to the public in that form. That's the state of this government and the Provincial Capital Commission. Do you know why they did it, Mr. Chairman? Because it is a complete indictment of this proposal. They removed the letterhead and they removed the author's name.
MR. R. FRASER: At whose request?
MR. BLENCOE: The PCC did that. The minister is responsible for that Provincial Capital Commission. I suggest to you, Mr. Chairman, that that is the basic problem with the PCC. It had the audacity to submit to the public a letter with the letterhead removed and the name of the author removed. If that is public accountability and honesty with this region or with this incredible national site . . . . The time has come for this government and this minister and this Premier to be honest about openness, Mr. Chairman.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: On a point of order, Mr. Chairman, it seemed to me that earlier there was an exchange about the minister impugning the honesty of that member. From what I just heard, I believe that member is impugning the honesty of the minister. I think that he should not only withdraw but apologize.
MR. BLENCOE: Mr. Chairman, I had no intention of impugning the reputation or the honesty of the minister. What I'm talking about is the policy of this government. I've just given you an example of, I believe, a dishonest approach to public business, Mr. Chairman. The removal of . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Withdraw.
MR. BLENCOE: I won't withdraw.
. . . the letterhead and the removal of the name of the author of this letter in my estimation is not an honest approach to government. I didn't say the minister did it. I don't know who did it, Mr. Chairman.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: On the same point of order, what I was referring to was when that member said: "It is time that that minister was honest." If that is not impugning dishonesty, then perhaps that member doesn't understand the English language. So I think he should withdraw that. He was not talking about a dishonest approach; he was saying it is time for that minister to be honest.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm sure that if the member said that, he will withdraw it.
MR. BLENCOE: Mr. Chairman, if that's how people have seen what I said, then, fine, I will withdraw it.
What I'm saying, Mr. Chairman, is that I believe that removal of the letterhead and of the name of the author is not in keeping with public policy. It's our position that you shouldn't be doing that sort of thing. This document was released to the people of this region without the name of where it came from and the name of the author. That is so symbolic of where this PCC is. It's symbolic of the process that we've had over St. Ann's. It's symbolic of the CPR steamship terminal being given to a friend of this government for another ten years. I'd like the minister to comment on that process.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Mr. Chairman, the comments of the member opposite rather disturb me when there is some implication of wrongdoing with the removal of the letterhead and the signature of the party submitting that letter. I would like to ask the member opposite if he has contacted the author of the letter and confirmed one way or another whether possibly the request had come from him that he be not . . . .
MR. BLENCOE: No, it did not come from him.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: You have not contacted the writer?
MR. BLENCOE: It did not come from him.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Did you contact the writer, hon. member?
MR. BLENCOE: It did not come from him.
[ Page 4917 ]
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Did you contact the writer of the letter?
MR. BLENCOE: Mr. Chairman, this is the letter. It's right here. This is how he wrote it to Mr. Larry Beres, manager of the Provincial Capital Commission. It has the federal government's letterhead; it has his name on it, Mr. Chairman, on the bottom. It's signed by Mr. Hockey, the head of the restoration architecture section. When it appeared on the record of the PCC business, the letterhead was removed and the author's name was removed. That is how the letter went to Mr. Beres. That is what I want the minister to comment on. Does she approve of that kind of manipulation?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Mr. Chairman, it would seem to me that the fact the letter was made public at all would suggest that the contents of the letter were of no concern, but the fact that the signatory to the letter and the letterhead had been removed would almost leave me with the impression that somewhere along the line somebody made that type of request. I would once again like to know: what is it that the member opposite has learned that he should share with us that would confirm some wrongdoing in the way this piece of correspondence has been handled? I would like to know, hon. member, if you spoke to the author of that letter.
MR. BLENCOE: I have not spoken directly to the author of this letter. I know those who have spoken to him. I know he stands by his letter. He says he submitted it with letterhead and his name signed, yet it appears on the public record with both removed.
When you put the two together — the text together with what he says — you can see why they would remove it. He says it's vandalism. He says the federal government wants nothing to do with the proposal, and it destroys all heritage significance of that site.
What other information are we getting through this process with key identification removed? This is the sort of letter we want to have public. The people of this region should know what's going on with St. Ann's. This is the reason why we should have open meetings, why we should have the PCC accountable, and why we should have this minister accountable to this region and this Legislature. That's all we’re asking for. We have a process where a key document from someone, by the way, who worked on the concept plan and wants nothing to do with this proposal . . . .
I don't know how many other documents there are that we should know about. The public has the right to know about the background to this development proposal. All we know is that this community was not given one opportunity to have a public meeting prior to development being accepted and was not given the opportunity to have any input into what they would like to have happen with St. Ann's. Now we're down the road for a development that will turn that fine institution — that national heritage site — into another tourist trap: Fantasy Academy with 9,000 square feet of boutiques and stores for that incredible site.
[Mr. Rabbitt in the chair.]
What do we do? We find out through the back door and from letters like this, from really key people who participated in the concept plan, which you have ignored. He participated in a concept plan, and he's now saying: "Vandalism, heritage significance removed." It's time this minister and this government opened up and let the sun shine in and the fresh air blow through the Provincial Capital Commission.
I want to ask the minister about a letter she wrote on July 15, 1987. 1 will quote the letter to her and then put it together with the letter from Mr. Hockey. The letter is to her employee Ken Hill, the deputy minister and now the chairman of the Provincial Capital Commission under direct instructions from this minister:
"I must now inform you that there are no moneys currently available for such a project; and that, moreover, you should not entertain the hope that there may be such funds forthcoming at any time in the future. In light of this situation, I would ask that you move with dispatch in calling for proposals from the private sector; and that a reporting of your progress in this regard be made back to this office within two months.
"If at any point in complying with the above request you feel the heritage designation of St. Ann's to be an encumbrance, I can assure you that my colleague and minister responsible, the Hon. Bill Reid, can be relied upon to intervene quickly and resolve the situation."
Mr. Chairman, it's quite clear that this government and this minister were always prepared to de-designate — to take off the provincial designation for that national heritage site. Now we have the head of the federal government's restoration section saying it's vandalism. It's quite clear that this government has no intention of honouring the history or the nature of that site and the importance to the heritage of this community and this province. They are prepared to sacrifice that building to the privatization that is currently ripping this province asunder.
Is the minister prepared today to recommend the heritage designation be taken off St. Ann's?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: When the proposal calls were made, one of the conditions that was clearly spelled out was that the heritage designation was to be respected.
MR. BLENCOE: I wonder if the minister is aware of the standards for building conservation projects granted by the Ontario Heritage Foundation — basically the guidelines that we believe in and keep to in British Columbia in terms of heritage. It's an important document, and something that we support. Yet when it comes to St. Ann's, I think we're in total violation by what we're doing with that site.
One of the key statements in the guidelines is: "All buildings and sites shall be recognized as products of their own time. Alterations having no historical basis that seek to blur the distinction between the historic and new portions of the project shall be discouraged." I go back to your letter, where you obviously are prepared to take off the heritage designation; back to Mr. Hockey's statement that we are vandalizing that site. Also, we are now violating the standards for building conservation projects in the province.
I want to ask the minister whether she is aware of the incredible significance of that site. Does she not honestly think that if we'd had a proper dialogue in this community about the options for that site, maybe we could have come up with something better? Politics and rhetoric aside, and all the stuff that's going on in the community, the importance of that site to this community and this province is astronomical. To
[ Page 4918 ]
turn it into another tourist trap, a 9,000 square-foot mini-mall — heaven forbid. Can't we do better than that?
MR. R. FRASER: I'd like to get into this business of heritage designations for a while, not specifically with respect to St. Ann's. I recall that in Vancouver not that many years ago, people who were keen on heritage were trying to tell us that the hangars at Jericho Beach Park were heritage. The Bauhaus form of construction, they called it, as I remember. These are metal buildings built during the war for temporary purposes, and they're called heritage. So when we get letters from people saying that heritage designations will be lost or removed, I think we have to take some care in examining whether or not they are legitimate heritage. This building may have it.
But as with other buildings in Vancouver that I'm aware of, some of the heritage buildings present great problems. For example, almost none of them come anywhere close to meeting the seismic requirements for public buildings — or even private buildings — these days, so if you move into them you have to make great structural changes. Probably none of them follow anywhere near the codes required for fire protection, so we'd have to do some damage to the building by putting in sprinkler systems to make them safe, thereby undoubtedly losing some of the heritage significance. Probably the flooring in many of these heritage buildings is wooden, and of course that would present a fire hazard. If a building like St. Ann's should ever catch fire, the whole floor would go up making a great big furnace out of the darn thing. Of course, if you weren't to do something with the floor you would have a building so incredibly inclined to a tinderbox that you couldn't possibly let anybody get inside it.
We have buildings in Vancouver where we have a heritage facade. Just the front of the building is heritage. I think there were days when the heritage designation people went berserk with designations, overlooking the fact that there was no fire protection, no structural protection, no seismic protection, no escape opportunities for people caught in buildings. Nothing; a hopeless mess. If you're going to protect these old buildings — which is fine if you want to do that — then you have to be prepared to accept the technology that will make them safe, at the risk of losing some heritage designation, I submit, for the safety of the people inside. If that means making the floors into concrete or fireproofing them in some way, then that's an obvious task that has to be undertaken.
Even with respect to the plan about beautification, there's a legitimate planning process here that says: "Yes, we can have a plan, and yes, we can put it out into the public." Then at least you've got something to discuss, not a bunch of people sitting around saying: "I think we should have this here and that there and something else there." At least you've got a plan. For those people who don't want to make a long submission, make one on the short form. I don't believe, suspect or even suggest to you that the PCC said: "Don't make a presentation outside of that form. Don't talk to me unless you use our form." They submitted those, I suspect, to generate ideas. Let's talk about it — a legitimate form of planning. Get the group together with a plan. Come with a plan and get the group together. Both legitimate, both acceptable, both common, both normal — but not to that member over there, who obviously is just here waiting for the clock to go by.
With St. Ann's, my friend, heritage or not, the critical thing in any public building anywhere in the province of British Columbia and the country of Canada is public safety. If that means we have to sacrifice some of the heritage things, like wooden floors and the lack of seismic codes, I'm for it.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: For the record, I want to clarify some points that the member opposite brought up earlier with regard to a lack of public input into the comprehensive plan. The information brought to me states that the first round of public input took place prior to the plan being developed. The comprehensive plan then had two full rounds of public input, including six separate presentations of six hours each. The input is contained in two separate appendices that contain all the questionnaires and letters that were received.
So there was public input prior to the plan being developed, and once the comprehensive plan had been developed there was further public input. I don't know how you can ask for anything more than that. Certainly, if people continue to be interested in putting forward submissions, there is no way that the Capital Commission would refuse to accept any ideas. That would normally be an ongoing process.
MR. BLENCOE: Back to the question I asked originally: does the minister approve of the Provincial Capital Commission removing the identity of the author of this key public document from Mr. Hockey?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: I understand that the commission considered all public input on the plan by the merits of the argument and not the letterhead or the signatories. All of the authors were masked to protect the authors, and the letters were then circulated. But you know, the message got through, didn't it? The message was made public, and if somebody really wanted to analyze the contents of that specific document, it probably wouldn't have been too difficult to determine the name of the author.
The information given to me is that the submissions were dealt with on their merit and that all of the authors were protected.
MR. BLENCOE: I am sure the minister feels compelled to defend the process, but I'm sure she is not comfortable with it.
This is not a normal letter to a normal public body. This is a man who worked on the concept plan and was critical to the development of the plan for St. Ann's, and he made an important statement to the people of this community. The only way it was released to this community was by the letterhead and his name being removed. The minister says: "I got the message out." Only by hook and by crook, Mr. Chairman, and finding out actually whose letter it was. How much more is back there in the closets of the Provincial Capital Commission? The point is that that information should be part of an agenda that is public when they meet and should not be found out through the back door, as we have to with the Provincial Capital Commission.
How could this minister defend an organization where a key public document from the federal government would become public by the letterhead and the author's identification being removed? I don't see how a minister of the Crown, someone who says that she believes in openness — an open government — can support such a process. It shows how sad this government and this Provincial Capital Commission and its way of doing business in this community have become.
[ Page 4919 ]
This community wants the Provincial Capital Commission open. It wants a decent public process on St. Ann's, and it wants further study of the options for the development of St. Ann's. It believes that the history of the Sisters of St. Ann and the church and all the things they did for this community and this province should be recognized by at least some public support for renovation. Not one dollar from the provincial government; this same government can bail out a football team but cannot give anything back to the Sisters of St. Ann and what they did for this community, in terms of recognizing what they did on that site over the years.
It's a sad day that this institution is going to have to be another tourist trap. There's going to be another mini-mall, Mr. Chairman, 9,000 square feet of stores, and two of them — the biggest ones — right outside the chapel that was in that institution and served thousands of British Columbians and Victorians. What desecration! What an insult to this community and to the sisters and their history of service to this province and this community.
Can't we do better than turn it into a shopping centre? What desecration of a national site, Mr. Chairman. The process has been a travesty in terms of how that proposal has been developed. That developer has made the rounds for a year in these halls and has lobbied everybody, yet the public has never had the opportunity in this community to discuss what they want for that site. I'll leave that issue right there, Mr. Chairman. The minister knows that the process has been a travesty.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Mr. Chairman, my recollection of some of the discussion that took place during the public proposal calls left me with the impression that some of the Sisters of St. Ann were not upset about the proposal that had been put forward. I believe there was a fairly extensive interview given to the Times-Colonist in which favourable comments were made by one of the sisters.
I think the letter the member refers to referred to possibly $1 million being available from the federal government if the designation were intact. I can tell you that some time ago the Provincial Capital Commission did apply to the federal government for financial assistance. They were told at that time that there was some revamping being done of all heritage projects in the country, and that there was no commitment made then. To this point in time, there has still been no commitment made with regard to any money forthcoming.
It's important that we understand that we have been required by the fire commissioner's office to spend something in the neighbourhood of $6 million to $8 million to make the building safe for public occupancy. That is really what triggered the action by my office, when it was obvious to me that this type of funding was not available and that $6 million to $8 million would have enabled us to ensure just that the building was fire-safe for public inhabitants; the renovations that are required would have been over and above that. There were always figures of $12 million to $14 million being thrown at us for upgrading — safety and renovations.
It's also important to note that there is no final arrangement made yet with the proponent of the plan.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: You know, I'm getting a little fed up, Mr. Chairman, with the suggestions made by the member opposite that it's friends of Social Credit, the fix is in, we look after our people. It's absolutely true. hon. member, that we do have a lot of friends in this community; we do have a lot of friends working on boards and commissions and committees on a volunteer basis; and it's too bad you have such a low regard for these people who give so much time to their communities.
I would like to say that the deal with regard to the proposal that was made has not been signed. There are, I understand, something like 50 items presently being negotiated with the proponent and the Capital Commission. It remains to be seen whether or not the Capital Commission and the proponent can get close enough to have some sort of an arrangement that can be brought to my office and finally taken to cabinet.
The move to call for proposals was not made lightly. It was made with the serious knowledge and information that unless we were prepared to look at anywhere in the area of $12 million for expenditures on that building, we were not only leaving any occupants in an unsafe situation but not doing our duty as far as accommodating the use of that property to its fullest potential is concerned. I would hope that the members opposite would allow the process to work.
I can assure them that if and when we have a proposal that is acceptable, that is brought to us as being acceptable by the Capital Commission, I would be pleased to discuss it with the member and have his input. However, I think we're probably a million miles apart, and short of the taxpayer coming up with tens of millions of dollars, I don't think we're going to be able to satisfy the member.
To recap, the feds were asked for financial assistance; no money was forthcoming. There has been no final arrangement made on disposal of the property, but I hope that we will be able to finalize that. The fire commissioner's office has come down with an edict that requires an expenditure of from $6 million to $8 million in order to allow continued occupancy in that building.
MR. BLENCOE: I'm just going to conclude by suggesting that I suspect the federal government would have liked some provincial leadership on some innovative, unique approach to St. Ann's.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: What does that statement mean?
MR. BLENCOE: I think they're waiting for some indication from the provincial government that it's prepared to put some money into that building. Why should the federal government take the lead if the provincial government is not prepared to put up some public money to rebuild and restore that provincial and national site? There's no question that the federal government will have nothing at all to do with this proposal now.
I conclude that if this community — I'm going to ask the minister one last question — had been asked in the first place what it would like to do with St. Ann's, we would have had a real public process over that building. Unfortunately, we have not had that. I'm going to ask the minister: will she agree to participate in a public meeting with the Provincial Capital Commission, the city of Victoria and me to talk about what this community would still like to see for St. Ann's? Because that has never been done.
It's time this community was consulted. At the moment it's not part of the parameters of how the PCC works. Why
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not? The minister and I and the PCC and the council . . . . At this last minute, I agree, because of the process you have in place . . . . Talk to this community about what they would really like see happen to St. Ann's Academy. Why don't we do that procedure now? Why won't the minister agree to that? Or is she afraid to do that because she doesn't want to hear what this community is going to say?
HON. MR. BRUMMET: I would just like to suggest to the minister that if anything is going to be done or happen in this province or even in this capital city, she should continue to pursue the proper process that has been undertaken.
I think we're all well aware of the second member for Victoria. He loves to talk, and what he would like to do is set up a process where he would have public meetings for six or eight years so that he can talk about it and talk about it. It avoids having any development take place until he's absolutely sure which way the wind is blowing. He doesn't want anybody to make any proposals or any draft plans. I think the minister should consider the source.
In talking about the regionalization process, the member was very critical and said: "Where is the detailed plan?" He has been told repeatedly by many of us that the concept for regionalization was to involve the people in the region and then have them develop a plan as to what they see for the region. In that case the member says: "How ridiculous, because you have not got the detailed plan all worked out and written up." However, when it comes to the Provincial Capital Commission putting forth . . . . The member himself referred to it as a draft plan which is out for public discussion. He said: "Why did you do a draft to discuss when we could have discussed nothing for quite a long time instead of actually having something to discuss?" I think he would really enjoy discussing nothing for a considerable length of time rather than have a proposal to discuss. I guess it makes for good talking.
It seems that what I hear is that if that member doesn't get what he wants, then he says his citizens weren't consulted. If he says something about a public outcry, we are to assume there is a public outcry from the amount of noise he makes. It's a little difficult to assume that it's always a public outcry.
He talks about the heritage values and about the capital city, and in every case when I've heard that member speak he is all in favour of preserving all of the older buildings or heritage sites, and some of them are legitimate. He is always in favour of preserving them at provincial taxpayers' expense. If the city is so gung ho on preserving a site, why would they not consider paying for preserving that site?
For someone who is not a member representing Victoria, you see the parliament buildings here, which are a tourist attraction; you see the museum, which is a tourist attraction; you see most of the tourist attractions that draw people to Victoria paid for by the provincial taxpayers of this province. It's easy for him to say: "Money is no object. Spend the $10 million or $12 million on St. Ann's and let it happen, because the people of the province are going to pay for this."
I have no problem with the people in this province having some obligation to make this an attractive capital city, and I commend that, but I don't think that everything should flow here from the taxpayers in the other parts of the province. I think of having swum in the Crystal Gardens pool many years ago, and I understand there were some engineering studies that said the pool was no longer safe to hold water and something should be done about it.
I think all we can do in this capital city in this province is thank goodness that member was not in charge, because we would now have an empty pool sitting there that doesn't hold water simply because there would be no changes allowed that would change the heritage designation of Crystal Gardens. What has happened is that that has become a tourist attraction. It has shops attached to it and it has other attractions, because it didn't hold water anymore — the same way as his arguments rarely hold water, but that doesn't prevent him from making those statements.
Madam Minister, I think that a lot is being done, and I think the minister is quite correct in saying that there are some appointees and there are some representatives of the municipal governments here on the Provincial Capital Commission. Should the minister not respect the vote that they take as an organization, or should the minister say: "No, I will rule. You may vote any way you like, but I will decide what you shall do . . . ." That is exactly what that member is proposing.
The member keeps saying: "Let the sun shine in." I don't know if he was old enough at the time to remember in the Li'l Abner cartoon this little Joe Btfsplk — or whatever, because there were no vowels in the name — who used to wander around with a little umbrella, and wherever he went, a rain cloud followed him. I think that's exactly what that member is doing.
MR. R. FRASER: Mr. Chairman, I've been hearing all afternoon about this fabulously valuable land. So my question to the minister is: how did we come to be in possession of this valuable piece of property? Presumably we either bought it, or it was given away. If it was given away, then presumably it wasn't all that valuable. I would just like to know how we came to be owners of that land.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Mr. Chairman, my understanding is that the property was donated to the province. It is now in the name of the Capital Commission. I stand to be corrected as far as the original transfer, but it is now in the name of the Capital Commission.
Mr. Chairman, I have been invited to participate in some sort of public meeting with the second member for Victoria with regard to the future of this building. If I were the MLA for this area, and I felt as strongly as it appears the second member for Victoria feels, I would have — quite some time ago when the public proposal call was being taken — been organizing public meetings and trying to come up with a submission to the minister responsible that would meet the needs of the people of the community. I would say to the member that it's not too late. If you really think that what the government and the Capital Commission is doing is wrong, you should get yourself organized and come forward with some alternatives as to how we can preserve the building and raise the funding to protect that building, as required by the fire commissioner's office.
It's very easy to say the provincial government should do this and the provincial government should do that, and the ministry should do this and the ministry should do that, and for some reason $6, $8, $10, $12, $14 million on this one item is just nothing and has an insignificant ring as far as members opposite are concerned. In the overall scheme of things, it's a very significant sum of money.
The decision to call for proposals from the public was made with the full knowledge of this required expenditure,
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and I would suggest that if the second member for Victoria feels that we are doing a disservice to his constituents, he should get out and hold his public meetings and see if he can come up with something that would properly address the preservation of the building as well as the funding required in order to preserve it.
MR. BLENCOE: I was trying to listen intently to the minister. She asked me to make proposals for that site. The minister is aware that I have suggested a number of options for that site.
One thing, though, is that it's not up to the MLA for this area to dictate what should happen with the public building. This community has not been afforded the right or the privilege to participate in discussing options for that site. I believe, for instance, we could have the Canada West national arts and cultural centre right there. This region is rich in arts and music and culture; we're on the Pacific Rim.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: There's more taxpayers' dollars.
MR. BLENCOE: No, it doesn't have to be all taxpayers' money. We have not canvassed the opportunities for that site. The University of Victoria has not been canvassed in terms of interest.
MR. BLENCOE: Why don't I do it? You are the minister. There is a Provincial Capital Commission. Your duty is to consult this community, Madam Minister. Do your job. You are paid $80,000 a year to do a job. Get on with it, as far as I'm concerned. Get on with it.
I'm going to move on to another topic because obviously this government is not going to honour the commitment of the history of those Sisters of St. Ann and honour the history of what went on on that site.
I want to move on to the Islands Trust for a few minutes and ask the minister if she can give me an update on what's happening with the Islands Trust.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Would you like to be more specific with your question?
MR. BLENCOE: To the Minister of Education (Hon. Mr. Brummet): are you familiar with the Flintstones?
MR. BLENCOE: You answered my question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can we bring a little relevancy into this debate.
MR. BLENCOE: We've just gone through an Islands Trust Act review committee. I'm wondering what's happened to the report and the recommendations. Does the minister have anything to report to this Legislature?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Actually, since the report was tabled in the House, there has been very little done on that particular subject. The staff has been reviewing legislative options and administrative options as well, but no action has been taken with regard to implementing the recommendations, nor do I expect that to be dealt with in the very near future. I really have received a mixed reaction to the recommendations contained in that report, so I'm moving very slowly on it.
MR. BLENCOE: Snail's pace, I gather.
I'd like to canvass some of her thoughts about that report. The minister knows that local support for an Islands Trust regional district hasn't been forthcoming, which was the major recommendation of the report. The minister is aware of our concerns about the process around that report. We prepared a document, and the minister saw that in committee. In our estimation, there was not the support coming from the public hearings to create a regional district. Indeed, the trust itself has gone on record as saying it does not support the regional district concept. What they would like to do and in their recommendations . . . . I'll go over them, and maybe the minister will respond so that we can see what she thinks about these recommendations.
In the Islands Trust press release of January 11, 1988, it asked the minister to consider giving legal powers to the 26-member trust council. They want to improve the quality and delivery of planning services to the communities and are approaching island residents or property owners in order to raise money for this. They would basically like it to be considered that the trust itself be given more legal strength and a heavier mandate rather than go with the regional approach. I am wondering what the minister feels about those recommendations. Is she prepared to give them legal powers?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: The set of proposals that you refer to is presently under review, and I can make a very general statement to the effect that they are generally favourably received.
MR. BLENCOE: I think the minister recognizes that the trust council wants to be given the legislative recognition as the governing body of the trust area and, in a way, maybe accommodate or accomplish what they want to do with the regional district but maintain the trust concept. Perhaps we could have a win-win situation here.
MR. BLENCOE: To the member from Antigua — you are losing your tan. Perhaps you'd like to go back.
I'm pleased to hear that we won't be boldly endorsing the report that came out of the select standing committee. In our estimation, that report did not really reflect the views expressed at the various public meetings, and for whatever reason, the chairman of that committee was emphatic in putting that report before the Legislature. We really wanted to see a continuation of the dialogue between the standing committee and the Islands Trust in order to go over the committee report. Be that as it may, we have a report that, in our estimation, does not meet the needs of the islands. I think that committee could have had a unanimous report and recommendation to this Legislature for a future for the islands, but we didn't get that. I think it's disappointing that that didn't happen, but we'll wait to see what the minister does through her consultation process.
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Needless to say, we support the Islands Trust in general, and we believe that their requests for legislative and legal powers are reasonable. We hope the government will consider going in that direction, obviously with some refinements.
I want to stay with the Islands Trust for a few minutes. Maybe we can finish this topic today and then finish the rest tomorrow.
Mr. Chairman, I've had some discussions with some of the members of the Islands Trust, and there is a question of staffing levels that is becoming a particular problem. I understand that an additional $71,000 has been granted the Islands Trust, but my understanding is that they are still two and a half people short to do the job. Can the minister respond to that staff shortfall, and can we see some changes there in the future?
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: Mr. Chairman, the Islands Trust has been dealt with in the same way as all of the ministry staff complements. They have expressed concern over their staffing level — no question about that. But we are downsizing, and they are part of the process, so they were dealt with in the same way as the rest of my ministry.
MR. BLENCOE: I am in receipt of a letter of March 17, 1988, to . . . .
HON. MR. BRUMMET: Speak up and we'll call it a public outcry.
MR. BLENCOE: The Minister of Education — God help us!
Mr. Chairman, I have a copy of a letter sent to Ken MacLeod, the acting deputy minister, from Mr. Gilbert, the chairman of the Islands Trust. Mr. Gilbert raises some issues which I wish to canvass, and maybe the minister will respond. It says: "Has the ministry withdrawn a planner position from the trust?" Mr. Gilbert says: "Such action would be unacceptable, given our present acute shortage of staff."
"The second question relates to Islands Trust control of its budget. If you are committing our consultant budget without consulting us, are we to assume that we no longer have any control of any portion of the budget? Has the minister given her approval to the further erosion of trust staff and budget? If not, who has been authorized to make these decisions without consulting us? I would appreciate answers to these questions in writing as soon as possible."
I wonder if the minister could give some answers now.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: The planning position you refer to was filled by contract, and the consulting budget is under the trust's control.
There are other areas of the Islands Trust that members of the House may be interested in, and I refer to a special restructure committee presently working on Bowen Island. These are some of the anomalies of the Islands Trust. There are some isolated pockets that fell under the Islands Trust; but they were not comfortable under the umbrella of the Islands Trust and felt they wanted to go in another direction with regard to local government. That is presently being looked at by some of the residents of Bowen Island.
This is really one of the reasons we've been unable to finalize our dealings with the trust. All of the questions that have been put to me over the last several months with regard to the future of the trust have not been answered. There is one exception, of course, and there seems to be no question at all about the preserve and protect aspect, and we on both sides of the House agree with that. There's never a question, and that isn't up for discussion. The other items that are under discussion I would suggest will carry on for some time.
MR. BLENCOE: One last question before we adjourn for the day. I mentioned the two and a half staff perceived by the Islands Trust to be a shortfall. I'm wondering if the hirings that are being done are on a full-time permanent basis or if they are on a short-term basis, a month-to-month contract.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: There are different lengths of time that they are under contract. Some are three months. Some are six months.
MR. BLENCOE: If I may conclude, it's the ministry's policy not to fill a vacancy, even in view of the serious shortfall in staff for the Islands Trust.
HON. MRS. JOHNSTON: With few exceptions, that is generally correct.
MR. BLENCOE: At one minute to six, I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
HON. MR. BRUMMET: Pursuant to standing order 22, 1 would like to advise that the House will sit tomorrow.
Hon. Mr. Brummet moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:59 p.m.