1993 Legislative Session: 2nd Session, 35th Parliament HANSARD
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 21, 1993
Volume 12, Number 13
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The House met at 2:04 p.m.
Hon. T. Perry: I have the pleasure to introduce to the House His Excellency Señor Arnoldo Lopez-Echandi, the Vice-President of Costa Rica. He is visiting us today, accompanied by His Excellency Señor Carlos Miranda, the Ambassador of Costa Rica. They are accompanied by Señor Antonio Arriaga-Valdés, the consul general of Costa Rica in Vancouver. Would members of the House please join me in making them abundantly welcome.
Hon. M. Sihota: At some point in our life, all of us must have had the opportunity to hone our skills with the media and take advantage of a naive and young reporter -- or editor, as the case may be.
I see in the gallery today -- I won't call him naive -- a good friend of mine who's here visiting. He's someone I met a long time ago when he was the editor of the Ubyssey. He's gone on to do a lot of excellent work in the health care field and has contributed to our knowledge of health care issues through his journalistic endeavours. Certainly, it's a great pleasure for me to be here introducing a long-time friend Chris Gainor.
Hon. J. Cashore: Visiting in the gallery today is a member of the Swedish Parliament Mr. Roland Lében. I would ask the House to join me in making him very welcome.
Also in Victoria, and in the gallery today, is my son Harvey Cashore and his wife, Alisa. They're visiting here from Toronto. Would you please join me in making them welcome.
NANAIMO COMMONWEALTH HOLDING SOCIETY
K. Jones: My question is to the Attorney General. The opposition has a copy of the 63-page search warrant sworn by the RCMP commercial crime unit. This document alleges illegal activities on the part of a number of organizations, including the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society, the Nanaimo NDP and Marwood Services Ltd. Can the Attorney General tell us whether Ted Hughes reviewed the allegations in this warrant before issuing his final report on the constituency funds which were directed to Marwood Services Ltd. by some members of your caucus?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: No, I can't, hon. Speaker.
K. Jones: To the Attorney General. The search warrant is a public document available at the Vancouver courthouse. Since it contains serious allegations against Marwood, is the Attorney General saying that this could actually be a definitive report on constituency allowances without Mr. Hughes having access to this warrant?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: On a number of occasions during this session I have indicated that I would have nothing to say about the continuing RCMP investigation.
The Speaker: I will recognize another supplemental, hon. member, keeping in mind the minister's reply.
K. Jones: Two months ago the opposition asked the Attorney General questions about the progress of the investigation. Why did he not tell the House at that time that the search warrant had been issued and was available to the public?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: It has been a public document for many more months than that.
A. Warnke: My question is also to the Attorney General. The search warrant alleges that the Nanaimo NDP association filed false documents with the gaming branch to acquire a charity bingo licence. Given that these documents are on file at the gaming branch, will the Attorney General agree to suspend the activities of the Nanaimo NDP association until this investigation is completed?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I think I have made it clear on a number of occasions that while the RCMP investigation continues, I will have nothing to say about this matter.
The Speaker: Supplemental, hon. member, again keeping in mind the minister's reply.
A. Warnke: My supplemental is to the Minister of Government Services. According to the information supplied in the warrant, it is alleged that a number of charitable societies in Nanaimo were involved in kicking charitable donations back to the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society, including the Nanaimo Centennial Museum Society, the Nanaimo Theatre Group and the Nanaimo Duncan Labour Memorial Society, among others. All were alleged to have received charitable donations from the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society and kicked back a portion illegally. Therefore will the Minister of Government Services act immediately to suspend the activities of these organizations under the Society Act while the RCMP investigation is continuing?
Hon. L. Boone: I will wait until the RCMP investigation is completed, giving due process to all those groups.
The Speaker: Final supplemental, hon. member.
A. Warnke: My final supplemental is to the Attorney General. According to documents at the gaming branch, the Nanaimo NDP association, under
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the name of the B.C. Tomorrow Benevolent and Education Association, made a successful application for a bingo licence. In light of these documents, will the Attorney General undertake to verify a statement by Dave Stupich, recorded in the warrant, that states: "As treasurer of the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society, my responsibility was to record the financial transactions of the B.C. Tomorrow Association, as well as the Nanaimo NDP Association."
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I can only repeat that there is an investigation under way.
CASUAL NURSING JOBS AND HEALTH UNION ACCORD
J. Weisgerber: My question is to the Minister of Women's Equality. Can the minister explain why she has not spoken up on behalf of the 8,000 casual nurses who were deprived of their occupations as part of the union agreement? Can she tell us who represented their interest? It certainly wasn't their union, and it certainly wasn't the Minister of Health. Was the Minister of Women's Equality asked to participate in the decision that deprived these women of an opportunity to work in British Columbia?
Hon. E. Cull: This accord was negotiated between the Health Labour Relations Association, representing the employers in the province, and the three unions: the Hospital Employees' Union, the Health Sciences Association and the B.C. Nurses' Union. In fact, the final accord, which has been ratified by the employers and will be put to vote by the employees, was mediated by Vince Ready at the invitation of all parties.
When we entered into these negotiations, we recognized that one of the goals was to manage an orderly downsizing of the acute care part of the system that involved a 10 percent reduction in employees. This accord guarantees the maximum security to all those employees in the system and an orderly transition of those services to the community.
J. Weisgerber: I might as well go to the Minister of Health, I guess. It's pretty obvious that the minister knew there was going to be this downsizing for some time -- a 10 percent downsizing of the number of nurses working in British Columbia, at the same time as that minister was recruiting nurses from across Canada. How can the minister possible justify her decision to advertise across Canada for nurses, knowing that she was going to put 5,000 nurses in British Columbia out of work?
Hon. E. Cull: The Leader of the Third Party is considerably out of date, because we went into that matter at length during my estimates debate. Those positions that were advertised nationally -- and filled primarily by people from this province -- are part of the shift of jobs from the acute care sector to the community sector. The labour accord has been put in place to ensure that every nurse and hospital employee working in this province right now will have an opportunity to move into those positions -- and not only move into them but, if necessary, get the adequate training to do so.
J. Weisgerber: I'd like to go back for the final supplemental to the Minister of Women's Equality. We've heard a lot of lip service from the minister about job retraining for women. Can the minister tell us what specific programs she has initiated to ensure that these casual nurses can continue to practise nursing in British Columbia?
Hon. E. Cull: The labour adjustment programs of this government will benefit these women. The member should be aware that as part of the negotiated accord all casual employees have a window between now and October 31 to apply for regular positions. I encourage them to do so.
NANAIMO COMMONWEALTH HOLDING SOCIETY
W. Hurd: A question for the Premier: given the fresh allegations of money-laundering and illegal activities by Marwood Services, which are contained in the warrant, will the Premier agree today to ask Ted Hughes to reopen his investigation of all constituency allowances which were directed to Marwood? Given the new damaging information in this warrant, will he act today?
Hon. M. Harcourt: The opposition must be running out of questions to ask, because they have found a report by Mr. Hughes that made it very clear that the MLAs had properly run their constituency allowances, and that they had quite properly followed all of the accounting procedures that should have been followed. Quite frankly, that question does not relate to me as the Premier but as an MLA, and to the other MLAs here. It is a question that the member, who is now wise in the ways of the Legislature, knows is out of order.
W. Hurd: According to information contained in the warrant, it is sworn that Marwood Services was involved in recording fraudulent transactions, which amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars, on behalf of the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society. Since Marwood Services was receiving constituency allowances from the Minister of Finance, how is the public to be assured that legitimate money from this Legislature wasn't being mixed with illegally obtained money from charities in Nanaimo?
The Speaker: Before I allow the answer, hon. member, I would appreciate it if the member would demonstrate how that relates to administrative responsibility. If the member will do that, I will allow the question.
W. Hurd: It's the opposition's impression that the Premier was the one who asked for an investigation by
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Mr. Hughes of constituency allowances that were forwarded to Marwood Services and any other charity in Nanaimo.
Hon. M. Harcourt: As a matter of fact, the motion was put forward by the Attorney General. Mr. Hughes found very clearly that the MLAs' rent cheques, their cheques for their employees, their telephones and for some modest advertising in the local newspapers in their riding were done quite properly. Not only is the opposition turning allegations into fact, not only are they depriving legitimate agencies of due process, not only are they destroying the presumption of innocence, they're now saying that when MLAs have been given a clean bill of health on how they have conducted their affairs, that they're somehow or other not doing the proper job for their constituents. It's astounding where the members are going.
The Speaker: Final supplemental, hon. member.
W. Hurd: The Premier must be aware that in his second interim report on constituency allowances tabled a month before this warrant was sworn, Mr. Hughes stated that many of the NDP constituency offices were being subsidized by party funds. If these party funds themselves may have been illegally obtained, does this in itself not warrant a reopening of the Hughes investigation?
The Speaker: I am going to go to the next questioner, the hon. member for Chilliwack.
LABOUR DISPUTE AT CHILLIWACK CARE FACILITY
R. Chisholm: To the Minister of Labour: the BCGEU strike at the Eden intermediate care facility is now in its seventeenth day, and the families of the seniors are still complaining about the lack of essential health care. Has the minister had any contact with the LRB about this labour dispute? If he has, what is this government going to do to ensure that the strike is not affecting the health care of the seniors?
Hon. M. Sihota: Firstly, the hon. member should know by now, because he has raised the issue in the House before, that the employer can make an application to the Labour Relations Board to increase essential service levels. Secondly, the hon. member should know that the employer has made an application on one occasion, and has indicated a desire to go back to the Labour Relations Board to seek higher essential services levels if they are required to deal with the needs of the constituents.
The hon. member is raising this issue in this House as a cheap forum to try to generate some headlines in his local constituency, knowing full well that the employer is doing its job in making the application to the Labour Relations Board, but the hon. member is not doing his job in representing these people adequately.
The Speaker: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Supplemental, hon. member.
R. Chisholm: It is unfortunate, hon. Speaker, that the minister doesn't have any sense of responsibility toward the seniors in this province. Just for your own information, hon. minister, Eden intermediate care facility is before the LRB right now; they went in at 1:30. The BCGEU claims that essential services are being maintained, but the Ministry of Health has just produced a private report recommending that union staffing levels be increased. Obviously essential health care is not being maintained. What is this minister prepared to do today to direct the LRB to ensure that these increased levels of essential health services be implemented?
Hon. M. Sihota: A minute ago the hon. member said that he knows an application is being made by the employer to the Labour Relations Board. If he knows that, one has to wonder why he is standing up in this House asking questions about essential service levels. The employer is doing its job, hon. member; it is making an application. The Labour Relations Board will do its job; it will hear the application and it will, as it has, make decisions based on the representations. The fact of the matter is that this hon. member is engaging in remarkably cheap politics, and in so doing, has served only....
The Speaker: Order, please. If the minister is just concluding his reply....
Hon. M. Sihota: In so doing, the hon. member has embarrassed himself and further shown his incompetence.
Hon. A. Edwards tabled the annual report of the British Columbia Petroleum Corporation for 1992-93.
K. Jones: I ask leave to table documents.
The Speaker: The subject matter of the documents, hon. member?
K. Jones: The document is the search warrant issued to the RCMP commercial crime unit investigating the operations of Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society.
The Speaker: Is leave granted? Unfortunately, hon. member, I heard a no.
The Speaker: Order, please. As all hon. members know, the process in the House is to ask for leave to table a document, and if the Chair hears a nay, then leave is not granted.
Hon. M. Sihota: Quite frankly, if the opposition wishes to put the motion forward to the House again, I would be quite happy to accommodate them.
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The Speaker: If it is the will of the House, the Chair will ask again: is leave granted to table documents?
K. Jones tables documents.
The Speaker: With that, hon. members, I wish to state that on Tuesday last the hon. member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi rose on a matter of privilege relating to questions he had placed on the order paper....
The Speaker: I will begin again, hon. members. On Tuesday last the hon. member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi rose on a matter of privilege relating to questions he had placed on the order paper which had not as yet been answered. First, I wish to thank the hon. member for his courtesy in providing the Chair with notice in accordance with practice recommendation No. 7.
Second, the Chair wishes to comment briefly on the manner in which the matter of privilege was raised in the House. Our guidelines are stated on page 36 of Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia, and one of the essential elements required is "a brief written statement of the matter, which the member reads to the House." This statement is intended to inform the House of the facts on which the matter is based and, in addition, any applicable authorities which may be of assistance to the Chair.
In this instance, regrettably, the Chair could not allow the completion of the statement in that several parts of the statement imported argument and conclusions. The Chair, however, has the full text of the hon. member's statement and has considered all the relevant submissions therein. In his statement, the hon. member makes the following submission: "The government's refusal to answer written questions on the notice paper impedes my ability as a member of this assembly from doing the job that my constituents sent me here for."
As this appears to be the essence of the matter, I refer hon. members to the decision of a former Speaker of this House recorded in the Journals for 1932, pages 22 to 29, wherein it was ruled, and I quote: "A refusal to answer [a question] cannot be raised as a question of privilege, nor is it regular to comment upon such refusal."
While the hon. member may feel he has a grievance, the ruling to which I have referred clearly precludes the Chair from finding that a prima facie case of breach of privilege has been established.
V. Anderson: I present a petition asking the government not to put in private adoptions but to restudy it before this is brought forward.
H. Lali: I would like to present a petition on boundary restructuring of Coldwater Road.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call second reading of Bill 62.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND PROTECTION OF PRIVACY AMENDMENT ACT
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I move that Bill 62 be now read a second time. This bill introduces amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act that was passed last year. It represents the results of a year-long public consultation process with information-seekers as well as the local public bodies who will be covered by this legislation. These include municipalities, school boards, police agencies, colleges, universities, self-governing professional bodies and public-interest groups such as the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
This bill reflects a consensus on how to extend information and privacy rights to local public bodies in British Columbia. These amendments will fine-tune the provincial legislation to deal with issues unique to local public bodies while maintaining the principles of information rights and privacy protection contained in Bill 50. An important feature of this bill is the process by which it was developed.
I want to thank and commend my colleague the member for Burnaby North for his hard work and dedication to the public consultation process and for his report in February, which has formed the blueprint for the bill before us now. My comments are going to be very brief -- in fact, they are almost concluded. With the indulgence of the House -- if there's agreement on the other side -- I would encourage members to hear from the member for Burnaby North next so that all members can have an appreciation for the way in which this consultation process was conducted over the last number of months.
Although this bill deals primarily with the extension of information and privacy rights to local bodies, it also contains a number of other housekeeping amendments to the bill we passed last year. The member quarrels with my notion of the term "housekeeping"; we can have a chance to debate that in committee stage later on in this session. With that, I look forward to the debate.
B. Jones: I would like to add a few comments to those of the Attorney General in encouraging members opposite to support in principle this very important and progressive piece of legislation -- I'm sure all members will want to do that. First, though, I would like to thank the Attorney General who, while being very modest about his own contribution and leadership with respect to the whole area of freedom-of-information-and-protection-of-privacy legislation, is very generous about my contribution in acknowledging my interest and enthusiasm for this area. I want to thank him for trusting me to carry out the consultation process, which was fascinating. It was a privilege to
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deal with the heads of public bodies around this province, with individuals and groups like the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association and the Civil Liberties Association.
I also want to thank him for giving me a free hand. I think there's often the assumption that when people write reports for government they're basically told what to do. I did have a free hand; I wrote exactly what I wanted to write, in terms of this area. I take full responsibility for all recommendations I made; I tried to push the envelope as far as I could. I'd also like to thank the cabinet caucus committee, who adopted most of the recommendations I put forward.
We're at the second stage in terms of development of freedom-of-information legislation. By way of context, I'd like to mention to members that this is part of a package that we might not appreciate in a partisan debate, but I hope in retrospect all members will see this as part of what we call the good-government package. It's a series of bills that have come or will come before the House that will make this province and this and successive governments more open and accountable. It's legislation like the best conflict-of-interest legislation in Canada, like an independent commissioner to look at the remuneration and other benefits of MLAs, like electoral reform, like extending the jurisdiction of the ombudsman, like abolishing appeals to cabinet, and like the kinds of things I think most members have participated in -- in terms of active participation in select standing committees of this Legislature -- to seek out the opinions of British Columbians and bring them forward to this place. These kinds of proposals, in my mind -- and, I think, in the minds of most British Columbians -- were but a dream three years ago. We have, before this House, already adopted most of those things.
Bill 62 amends the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that was passed a little over a year ago, Bill 50. I think that legislation has been recognized as the leading legislation of that kind on this continent. One international expert -- whom this House has just selected as the commissioner for this legislation -- describes our legislation that way and is very anxious to come here and see that legislation live.
In second reading we should talk about the principle of the legislation and what this act does. I would take issue with the Attorney General, who describes it as housekeeping. It's a critically important piece of legislation. It extends fundamental rights in a democratic society that citizens should enjoy across the entire broad public sector. It also very clearly increases the accountability and openness of all public bodies in this province. This is important, because another important principle there is an attempt to try to restore faith in our democratic system and in our public bodies.
After this legislation is passed, citizens will have access to information as a fundamental right. They will have the same standards of access and protection of privacy, whether they're dealing with a larger ministry -- the Ministry of Health, say, with 100,000 people involved in delivering health care in this province -- or the smallest village in British Columbia.
The purpose of this legislation is the same as that of the original bill that was passed last year. I just want to reiterate the purposes of that bill, because it is critical to understanding what we are extending to public bodies across the province:
1. The right of access to information in the custody and control of public bodies. With very limited exception, citizens have access to that information.
2. The right of access of individuals to their own personal information. Because public bodies collect this information, a percentage of that information is incorrect. An important principle of this legislation is to guarantee the right to request correction of that information.
3. Preventing the unauthorized use, collection and disclosure of personal information. This is critically important, and, as I mentioned earlier, the commissioner is one of the world's leading experts in terms of privacy and protection of data.
4. Creating the office of the commissioner to allow for completely independent review by an officer of the Legislature, who will review decisions made by this Legislature and who has the power to order the Premier of this province to disclose information on the threat of a $5,000 fine.
This is the finest legislation of its kind in North America. The amendments contained in Bill 62 will improve that legislation, based on the kind of consultation that has taken place in the last year. It will extend Bill 50 rights to all public bodies, with a uniform standard of access and privacy across the province, and it will tailor the original Bill 50 to meet the needs of those local public bodies.
Let me quote from a document that I think all members received recently, one that I think members who have had experience on councils will be interested in. It is the latest document of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which has described what was happening here as a tsunami of legislation -- which isn't true, of course. They say in their latest publication:
"The act contains 30 sections which are intended to tailor the existing legislation to meet the needs of local government and other local bodies. The sections pertaining to local government reflect, to a very large extent, the series of recommendations developed by UBCM with the assistance of the MOA members. This process was long and arduous, but evidently worthwhile, in the long run."
So we did have a consultation, we are tailoring legislation to meet local needs and it was a long and arduous, but worthwhile consultation process.
What we have, after this House hopefully approves Bill 62, is a new, improved bill. In the fall, when this legislation is proclaimed, it will apply not only to the ministries, Crown corporations, boards, commissions and agencies of provincial government -- some 200 public bodies -- but to all public bodies, and there are over 1,000 of those. We are moving from a situation where the provincial public service has 30,000 public employees, to the broad public sector where there are some 300,000 public employees. We will be extending this legislation to municipal government and its agencies -- all their medical health agencies, law enforcement agencies that are not covered by the
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federal legislation, the library boards and other boards of those local public bodies, school boards, schools, hospitals, colleges, universities and also self-governing professional bodies. The powers of self-governing professional bodies are delegated by this Legislature to regulate themselves in the public interest and, as such, I think it is important that they uphold the same high standards as other public bodies in the province. This inclusion of self-governing professional bodies will make this legislation the first of its kind in Canada.
As a result of this extension, we in British Columbia will have freedom-of-information legislation that will have the broadest scope of any in the country. I believe it's a major advance in terms of openness, accountability and privacy protection for individuals.
The consultation process was almost a year in duration. It involved numerous meetings with groups and individuals. My reaction was one of being very impressed with how very quickly public bodies became knowledgeable about the legislation; they raised concerns but also raised constructive suggestions. Virtually every public body was concerned about the costs of implementation. So I think it's very important.... Although it's not in this legislation, it's certainly part of the package to see that, when public bodies are dealing with budgets that are stretched, the government does everything it can to ensure that the implementation process impacts on them in a reasonable way. That includes such things as having simplified directory requirements, and a lead time before proclamation -- the fall of 1994 seemed to be a reasonable time for most public bodies -- to provide them with assistance in terms of policy manuals and records management information that will help with the implementation process.
British Columbia is in a most fortunate situation: we can benefit from the experience of other jurisdictions. What we've seen in terms of cost with those other jurisdictions is that the impact is much less than originally anticipated. For example, in the review of the Ontario legislation we found that it had to be a city the size of Ottawa, with a population of some 300,000, before one full-time-equivalent staff was needed in order to implement the legislation.
I'd like to make a comment on health care records, because one of the things that I have found is that of all the records held by public bodies, the ones that the public seems to care the most deeply about and are most passionate about are their personal medical records. This legislation will extend the right of access and privacy protection to those kinds of records in all public health care facilities, but not in the private sector -- for example, not in doctors' offices. The Seaton Royal Commission on Health Care and Costs made a different recommendation. They even went as far as to say that "the hiding of personal medical records in doctors' offices is no longer acceptable in the 1990s." We also had a Supreme Court of Canada decision in June 1992, the McInerney v. MacDonald decision, that guaranteed patients the right of access to their medical records. So what we have now is a common-law right of access. While this legislation will allow access to medical records held in public bodies, it does not guarantee the right, set standards of access and privacy and codify that process for doctors' offices. It's my hope that legislation will be developed in the near future that will codify access and privacy protection, as is the case in hospitals and all other public bodies, so that personal medical records, wherever they are held, will be subject to the high standards of access and privacy that this Legislature has approved.
At the outset I said that I hoped all members would support this legislation in principle, and that one of the principles is to restore faith in our democratic institutions. I think that principle is important to all members here. Let's put our partisan natures aside just for a minute and think about the kind of public reaction that we saw during the constitution debate. Let's recognize that there was a Decima poll in which 73 percent of the public said that they had lost faith in their representatives to serve the public interest. Let's be aware of the report of a survey done a few weeks ago in the United States, which said that the majority of Americans would rather spend one week in jail than four years in the White House as President. We will appreciate then how turned off many citizens are about the kind of process that we are engaged in. Some members opposite have participated, at least in part, in the Parliamentary Reform Committee that has toured this province, and have seen the same kind of thing: the same anger, the same frustration and the same feeling of alienation.
We do have an adversarial system here, and that in a sense brings out the disagreement. It ignores the fact that we agree on 90 percent of what we do, and focuses on the 10 percent that we disagree on -- and we could argue about the percentages. But what is seen in the adversarial system is the negative side of things, and what comes out in the media is the negative side of things. We have members of the media who believe that members sitting in this chamber are clowns, and describe them as such. I think we have a very difficult road....
C. Serwa: Not all members, surely.
B. Jones: All members, especially government members, are viewed as clowns by members of our press gallery. We see this negativism come out in here, and we see it focused in the media. In many ways, we probably feel like Rodney Dangerfield: we can't get any respect.
But it behooves us to ask the question: what can we do about this? There is probably very little we can do, but we can do everything possible in terms of reforming our system so that it is more open and accountable -- so that we ensure a higher degree of accountability in this place, the provincial government and all public bodies in the province. We can open up the process, and inform and encourage participation by the public to influence the decisions here. It's important that we share the intricacies of government with them, and this legislation does that. Hopefully, when they see some of the intricacies, they will appreciate the efforts of elected representatives on their behalf. This will enhance our
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democratic institutions and our appreciation of our elected representatives.
The extension of freedom-of-information-and-protection-of-privacy legislation across the broad public sector is only one small step in this process. But I don't think we should be cynical at any point in this process, when we are making these kinds of advances. There may be sections of this act that members opposite don't appreciate, but I'm hoping there will be strong support in principle. We had an election in 1991 that elected not just a new government. It elected a new opposition and new faces, primarily on the part of the third party. That election was -- probably more than any other election in the last 40 years -- about change and hope for something different. It was about trying to find a better way of doing things, and better representing the citizens of this province. I believe this legislation is a small step along that way; it's part of delivering on those public expectations. I hope all members will see fit to support this bill in principle.
A. Warnke: About a month and a half or two months ago as I recall, there was all-party agreement on one issue. To be quite honest with you, I've forgotten the issue. I believe it had something to do with the aboriginal question. Strangely enough, it didn't receive one iota of mention in the press. It prompted me at the time to consider that maybe the way to attract attention to it would be to have an artificial fight across the House and then perhaps create a schism, and that way attract some attention to the issue. I can appreciate the remarks by the hon. member for Burnaby North. I think he certainly has a point, that the negative side of politics -- and especially where schism, conflict or confrontation occurs -- attracts attention.
I think this is one of those issues where in fact we're going to see considerable support in this chamber, at least in principle. I suppose the reason -- at least from our standpoint as the official opposition, where we support in principle any such move and development -- is generated by our concerns over the years as well. Indeed, I believe the hon. member for Burnaby North recalls that one of the first initiatives to develop something akin to an access-to-information act -- and I believe it was called Access to Information Act -- was originally introduced in this chamber in June 1976 by Gordon Gibson.
By the way, in no way is referring to Mr. Gibson necessarily an endorsement of his present candidacy.
A. Warnke: "I wonder why not?" says the hon. member for West Vancouver-Capilano.
I could stand to be corrected, but that was introduced in June 1976, and I don't think there was an access-to-information private member's bill before that.
An Hon. Member: January 1972.
A. Warnke: I stand corrected by the hon. member.
At any rate, it shows that -- at least in 1976 -- members of the Liberal opposition were also advocating something akin to an access-to-information act. Over the years, they have contributed in many different ways to extend freedom of information and the protection of privacy to public sector organizations outside the provincial government as well as within it.
The present changes amending the existing Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to cover municipalities, school boards, hospitals, police, universities, colleges and self-governing professional bodies is certainly a move that extends freedom of information and protection of privacy, which we support in principle. I believe that British Columbia is the first jurisdiction in Canada to cover self-governing bodies, but perhaps I will be corrected again on that.
There are many aspects of Bill 62 that elaborate on last year's passing of Bill 50 on freedom of information and protection of privacy. Overall, the principle is maintained of ensuring the development of the right of access to information. I want to compliment the Attorney General and especially the member for Burnaby North on being sensitive to the idea of the protection of personal privacy. This is always extremely important to keep in mind. While one can advocate -- and as lawmakers we increasingly want to advocate, and encourage -- access to information, by the same token, we do not want to jeopardize individual and private information which should be the prerogative of the individual to keep private. The individual's interest in that context is extremely important. It seems to me, in evaluating Bill 62 as a further development of last year's Bill 50, that the sensitivity of keeping some sort of balance has been maintained.
Perhaps due to the modesty of the member for Burnaby North, there is another aspect that members of the public might be concerned about. To what extent is criminal intelligence regarding repetitive crimes or organized crime available through freedom-of-information legislation?
A. Warnke: I am tempted to expand, but I will not.
There is access to that kind of information, and there is a certain kind of information with regard to criminal intelligence that obviously -- and the police in particular have made a strong case here -- we would not want to make available to unscrupulous groups or individuals who would tap in and see what kind of information police and other agencies have on them. Common sense dictates that that kind of information is not released. It is extremely important to emphasize that in this legislation as well as in the legislation developed last year, criminal intelligence and that kind of information is not available to those people. It would jeopardize the safety of our communities.
I recognize the sensitivity of the authors of the report and the member for Burnaby North and the government in responding to the report. I recognize the sensibleness with which they received the report and what should be included in terms of any development of access to freedom of information. On that note, I certainly want to extend my compliments.
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Some people have expressed concerns about why we exempt B.C. Rail, the CNR or Via Rail. We will explore some questions to clarify why certain agencies or bodies are included and some are not. We will be doing that at committee stage.
I recognize also, as mentioned by the member for Burnaby North, that health care records are extremely sensitive. I agree with that member that, for most individuals, the extent to which private records are released is a very sensitive subject, especially about one's health and so on -- there's that magic phrase of mine again. The difficulty of putting together amendments to really deal with the problem of personal health care records really has to be understood. Hence I appreciate the difficulty of drafting such legislation and being in constant consultation with the College of Physicians and Surgeons. On this side of the House, we hope, of course, that somewhere along the line, we can draft appropriate legislation that will protect individual interests, yet at the same time appropriately enhance information that should be freely accessed.
Since I'm talking a bit about health, I would like to elaborate on one amendment very briefly. This is the amendment that covers the TB Vets' Association. As it stands, the amendment gives the TB Vets' Association continued access to government data banks. I think almost everyone in Canadian society is very familiar with this program. The association is given continued access to government data banks containing the names and addresses of car owners -- and, obviously, their licence numbers as well -- for charitable fundraising through its key-tag program. Actually, I believe one improvement we've made over the years is that the actual licence plate number is no longer on the key tag. It was at one time, and that was sent out to people. Even that easily violated one's personal privacy. You had the name, address and licence number. Of course, most people are familiar with what appears now: the licence number is not on the key tag, but a number which the TB Vets' Association can look up, correlate with the licence plate and get in touch with the appropriate party.
I think it's easily said: since this amendment concedes continued access to government information to the TB Vets' Association, will other charitable organizations, on application, be provided with such information? If so, what does it do for the protection of an individual's privacy? This is a very important question. On the surface, it seems that the TB Vets' Association is that foot in the door, or window, that would allow a whole host of associations and charitable organizations to have access to one's personal data.
I want to strongly emphasize at the outset that there is a general consensus -- and the opposition has talked a little bit about this, and I hope this is the general consensus of everyone here -- that since the TB Vets' Association program has been around for literally decades, since World War II, and it is an extremely credible program, we have no problem conceding that the TB Vet's Association program may have such approval. But when it comes to other charitable organizations trying to establish a similar program, we essentially have to draw the line. On this side, that is one area that I want to pursue with the Attorney General at committee stage for some clarification, if nothing else, and perhaps for some commitment. I certainly recognize -- and we have discussed it on this side -- that the TB Vets' Association program is one that we would not want to suspend simply because it seems prima facie to contradict the whole idea of protecting an individual's privacy.
What also must be clarified is the provincial financial assistance that will be afforded local governments, other public sector bodies and self-governing bodies for the implementation of the freedom-of-information-and-protection-of-privacy program. We want to take up some of the concerns that were expressed at second reading and at committee stage last year. One of the concerns is the whole problem of costs pertaining to local governments, including staff, retrieval and implementing the program. These are some of the questions. While any attempt to enhance, develop and refine the legislation is appropriate -- and Bill 62 seems to do that, which would certainly prompt support in principle of this bill -- there are a number of questions that obviously have to be pursued to sharpen the intent of the legislation and develop and enhance it. It's in that context that a few questions will be addressed at committee stage.
In summary, I want to re-emphasize that the opposition continues on its support of Bill 50, and commends the hon. member for Burnaby North for the report that was written and submitted to the government, and the government's response to that. In that context we will support the bill in principle.
C. Serwa: It's a pleasure to rise and speak on Bill 62, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 1993. I think I can say at the outset that in comparison to our reaction to Bill 50 last year, we certainly stand in support of the philosophy and principles contained in this piece of legislation. I have no difficulty there. As I go through my second reading debate, I will point out a number of potential shortfalls and problems that I believe are inherent in the bill, and we'll certainly use the opportunity to expand on that in committee stage. I acknowledge that it's new and very complex legislation, and undoubtedly, as the years go by and as the fine-tuning process takes place, there will certainly be a number of amendments coming forward.
We have a fairly strong interest in freedom of information and protection of privacy, and in 1991 we brought in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, a sort of forerunner by the previous administration. There is generally a strong commitment. I think all government members recognize that the public's right to access information has to be guaranteed in a legal sense. The hon. member for Burnaby North, who has done a great deal of work on this, spoke substantially on the credibility of governments, and this is one step. As I speak, I'll be addressing other aspects, but I'm quite confident that the member is right, mindful of the statement of the astronaut who stepped onto the surface of the moon: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
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C. Serwa: Did I reverse it? I'm not certain. In any event, hon. Speaker, it is one of the elements to develop that credibility and to mitigate the cynicism out there. There are a number of things we can do and must do, and I agree that this is one of them.
Unfortunately, the reality is that there has been a fairly substantial cost associated with the implementation of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. It has been estimated that $13 million was spent over the last two years to implement Bill 50, and Bill 62 will probably amount to a considerable cost element for local government and other publicly funded bodies: universities, police, doctors, lawyers, etc. At the present time, apparently more than 70 employees in the government are working on issues to do with freedom of information and protection of privacy in connection with government.
Obviously, with the appointment of the new commissioner, David Flaherty, we're looking at 15 to 20 more employees in that central office, and it's a very big job. The challenge will be to handle the apparently conflicting statements on freedom of information and protection of privacy. I note that the hon. member for Burnaby North, in his comments, made reference to Ottawa, where it appears they had to hire one additional person for 300,000 people. If we look at the figures with reference to the province of British Columbia, we are looking at at least 100 people for our present population of 3.3 million. So somewhere along the line I think there is an understatement with respect to the cost to municipalities, and there is some genuine concern with that, although, again, that's not to minimize the necessity for the protection of privacy and public access to information that should be implemented by public bodies.
The member for Burnaby North mentioned the aspect that Bill 62 does not extend patient access and privacy rights to health care records held by private practitioners. I am confident that there must be a great amount of legal liability involved in that particular situation. Whether it impacts directly on doctors or clinics or whatever, undoubtedly this is behind that. At what point would a patient initiate a lawsuit against a medical practitioner: when they didn't detect something in its very early stages, perhaps a cancer or something else that was terminal? I suppose that our concerns with respect to that go along with the Attorney General's. Fundamentally, with design parameters incorporated, it is abundantly clear that individuals should have access to personal private records, whether they are medical records -- if we can mitigate the liability-type concerns -- or, obviously credit records, where a bit of wrong information may get into the system and the individual has no way to access and dispute it, simply because they don't know what is there. There are genuine concerns, and again, this should mitigate them.
As you go through the bill section by section, it is really not clear on the ability of public bodies to recover expenses. There is certainly talk of a fee structure, but it is not on a cost recovery type of basis. There is some concern about that. You are betwixt and between, in that you have to have accessibility, and there is no question that if the cost recovery is altogether too high for those individuals who require the information, then the accessibility is diminished. For the greater good, we recognize that there must be some sort of capacity in a publicly funded body to average and utilize income, and to provide this service. That is fair enough.
Another concern is that there appears to be no consistent direction in other public bodies for a standard type of fee structure. I don't know if this can be attended to in regulations. My concern is that it may be more expensive to acquire information, let's say, from a local government in the interior or in the far north than in the Victoria area or in the larger municipalities, where they can average, so there is a lower cost per citizen for providing the service of freedom of information. It seems to me that there has to be some sense of direction so that the accessibility is guaranteed, regardless of cost. On the other hand, dependent upon the request, you can't put too much of a cost burden on the various municipalities. Standardized fees across the province for information would assist in this. I suppose that there is an appeal process in that; it can go to the commissioner.
A great deal of the language in Bill 62 is very subjective. It leaves the door open to a variety of interpretations. Perhaps it is necessary because it is new legislation; the current government is certainly producing a great deal of legislation that seems to be wide open. But it may not give sufficient direction to either the commissioner or the other public bodies that will now be impacted by Bill 62. Again, it is imperative that the language provide the necessary direction so that it is consistent throughout the province.
I think a number of self-regulating professional organizations are having some difficulties with this particular act. There are an enormous number of different, self-regulating professional organizations with different agendas, obviously, and different concerns, and it is very difficult to develop legislation that is sensitive to specific concerns. I understand the challenges, and I am quite confident that the hon. Attorney General and the member for Burnaby North, in their submissions, were sensitive to this and probably tried their best. But the magnitude and diversity of the task is such that it's an awesome challenge, and it may not have been successfully met in this legislation.
I am going to refer to a few notes I made when the Attorney General and the member for Burnaby North were talking on the philosophy and principle of this bill. The hon. member for Burnaby North indicated that this would restore faith in the democratic system. As I said earlier, I think it is one element that should work in a positive fashion to do that.
We have had Bill 50, and now we are debating Bill 62. I am looking at the current government that supported these two pieces of legislation, and I note standing in the orders of the day are a whole series of questions put forward some months ago that have not been responded to by the government. I have a great deal of
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concern with this type of thing. The public can see something hypocritical in this. On the one hand, we are professing an open, accessible government with the noble objective of enhancing respect for politics and politicians, and certainly respect for government. Law and order follows along with it. Then we find elements like this. We find a reluctance on the part of this government to immediately release polls on various issues that confront government. They are very selective in their ability to disseminate what should be public information on polls. The information leaks out slowly over a period of time, and slowly it becomes public. But the actual poll is not seen, the questions are not seen, the actual responses.... It's sort of the rumour mill that carries it. It seems to me paradoxical that a government that is so strong on advocating this legislation seems to hold the cards so close to their chest. There is an inherent conflict there.
I have no doubt in my mind that the hon. member for Burnaby North really believes in this, but I question whether the executive branch of the government sincerely believes in it. It seems to be a tool that we can take advantage of. But you are either in or out; you can't believe partially in it. You can't believe that information on what happens in the ministries should be freely accessible, but that government controls and makes a determination of what should or should not be available. There has to be a consistent approach, so that everyone is comforted that the cards are face up on the table and that the government of the day is going to be effective in governing British Columbia. They have nothing to fear from putting their cards on the table. We are looking for quality government and the delivery of quality service. The better the quality of the information we get, the greater the opportunity to assess what government is doing.
There seems to be a little bit of a conflict here. I know that I had the opportunity -- with the hon. opposition critic and the hon. member for Burnaby North -- of serving on the special committee that chose the commissioner. It was a very enlightening and interesting experience, because we had the opportunity to interview some of the top people in the world in this field. What was really interesting was the consistent and devout belief in the rightness of freedom of information. I point that out. The government is at the moment in conflict with their intended change.
It was also made very clear during the course of interviews that the primary and long-lasting concern will be the protection of privacy. They consistently felt that it was an attitudinal change that would provide freedom of information. For the government of the day, it will take an attitudinal change on whether to answer questions on the order paper or to release polls as soon as they get them. They are funded with public dollars, and we should all have knowledge of and a sense of the direction of that type of information. It will take an attitude shift in the bureaucracies of various ministries to provide information. Fundamentally, information is power, and if you hold that information, you hold the power. Inherent in all of us, I'm afraid, is the reluctance to give up power and depend on the merit qualities of the reasoning behind the decisions. We will work, in a small way, to start building a better society with this.
I have great concerns with the protection of privacy, as we all rightfully should. More and more information is being collected on computer systems by local, provincial and federal governments -- and by all governments. The potential for cross-referencing or combining these massive computer records is there. It is truly Orwellian in its potential. I have a great deal of concern about that. I'm a relatively free individual, as free as one can be, living in an organized society, which restricts all of us -- and perhaps rightfully so -- but I have a great deal of difficulty appreciating the amount, the capacity, and the ability to combine all these records. There is no question at all that these records will, at one point or another, be available to various private interests, who may use them in any way, shape or form they require. There are very valid concerns on this. The extension of this legislation to the various public bodies throughout the province is very necessary. Otherwise, we may find that we will develop into a society that we will have a great deal of difficulty surviving in.
Accountability and openness of all governments have to be a primary responsibility, and I will expand on some of the concerns raised by the member for Burnaby North. This is one small element. There are a number of other elements that we can all collectively participate in to enhance the credibility of this Legislature -- for example, fairness and balance in the treatment of all members in this Legislature, the opportunity for government private members to participate in significant debates, and the latitude on the part of government private members, if they so wish, to debate in opposition to their government and to participate in free votes. In the mother parliament in Great Britain, as you're well aware, government members have defeated government bills. Governments do not fall on that, because it's not an expression of loss of confidence.
All of these things, coupled with legislation such as Bill 62, will strengthen the faith and confidence of individuals in the operations of government. When information comes out that is objective and clear -- and that is what we're striving to do in this piece of legislation -- then the public has another source of information that is not controversial. Objectivity shines. Rather than resorting to dependence on the media, who have other interests in the publishing of information.... They are commercial operations. They have to have readers, viewers and listeners, and so the type of information they often propose has to be controversial in nature. Those are the economics of the media system. Hopefully, we can establish a system which is truly objective in nature, that is accessible and that will encourage openness in government. I think that has to be the way of the future. On that basis, I have no difficulty in supporting the philosophy and principles of this bill.
The hon. member for Burnaby North indicated support from the UBCM for this particular measure. I think the word was that it was a tsunami -- a big wave -- of information. There is also a danger that it can be
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like a snow job, and you get covered in both examples. I have some concerns, because not only must we use the words and have the attitude and the belief, but we must also display that in deeds. There's a greater responsibility on the part of the government of the day not only to speak about freedom of information and protection of privacy, but also to be open, honest and accessible in their actions from now on, and to provide the necessary type of information. I appreciate that a series of stepping stones will be built, but if the attitude changes are progressive, then this legislation will build a better tomorrow.
Hon. Speaker, I could probably continue on and on. I think it is an improved bill, and I agree with the members and the Attorney General on that. I think it's only reasonable that all public bodies be faced with the necessity of addressing this specific type of legislation.
We're concerned about the cost, and we will be concerned about other elements as we go through committee stage section by section. As we do that, we will give the public a greater idea and awareness of the elements. There are many positive things that I can continue to say about it, but there are also a number of concerns that we have. Perhaps some of them are worthy of consideration for amendments. We will address that as we go through committee stage. In any event, the public and the bodies that will be impacted by this legislation will have the opportunity to listen to the debate and become more aware of its impact. The public as a whole will become more aware of the potential advantages of Bill 62.
D. Mitchell: I too would like to speak briefly on second reading of this bill, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 1993. It's with some mixed feelings that I speak to this legislation, hon. Speaker, and you won't be surprised to learn that. While I supported the initial legislation that was introduced last year by the hon. Attorney General -- the enabling legislation -- and while I certainly support the philosophy and principles of Bill 62, I have some very serious concerns about the government that brings this forward, in terms of its hypocritical attitude toward freedom of information and its claims to be an open government. For those reasons I have some very mixed feelings about this legislation, but I feel the need to speak to it.
First of all, I'd like to offer my compliments to the Attorney General for continuing with the initiative he started last year with the freedom-of-information package. This bill, which extends the freedom-of-information legislation to bodies such as municipalities, universities, school boards and other publicly funded agencies, is a good and necessary step in a much-needed reform.
I thank the member for Burnaby North, who has done a very commendable job in terms of the consultation with numerous public interest groups that went into the report he tabled, which is very comprehensive. I think he too deserves some genuine praise and plaudits for the constructive consultation process he engaged in. I think both he and the hon. Attorney General deserve to be complimented for this in a very sincere manner.
I know that this is a good reform, because it's not easy to strike a balance between the need to provide freedom of information to the citizens of our province and at the same time to protect the privacy and the rights of individuals. That's a very difficult balance to achieve. I know that the government has struggled over that, as all members of this House have. The new commissioner, an officer of this Legislature who has been recently appointed, is going to have to struggle with that further. That's going to be a huge challenge. So we must all, as members of this House, wish good luck to our new commissioner, who is going to administer this act.
I too have some concerns about this bill, which I think can be raised more appropriately during committee stage. In particular, one of the concerns that I want to go into relates to the cost. While we all support this in principle, the costs that have been referred to need to be delineated further during committee stage. It has been suggested that some $13 million has already been spent on the process to date, and this legislation has not yet been implemented. Some 70 public servants throughout government are now working full-time on freedom of information. Our provincial archives, just across the street from the Legislature and now known as the British Columbia archives and records service, has transformed its function from being a provincial archives -- where I worked some years ago -- to now being the main repository for this legislation. So this legislation has had a big impact on specific institutions such as the archives and throughout government as well, and we don't understand yet what the true cost of implementing freedom of information will be.
I might just point out that during the review of spending estimates for various ministries this year, when individual members of the executive council were questioned on the cost of implementing freedom of information, it was very difficult -- in fact, impossible -- for many members of cabinet to explain whether or not they had budgeted sufficiently not only for their own line ministries but for the other agencies of government that will now come under this legislation. So there are some costs there. I don't think we understand quite what they are, but because they are tax dollars provided by the citizens of British Columbia, I believe it will be necessary to be much more specific in defining what the costs of implementing this reform will be.
I have a more fundamental concern related to the attitude of the government, which came to office on the claim of being an open government. They said they wanted to be an open government and, of course, a government that claims to live in the spirit of freedom of information. Yet this government refuses to answer questions when they are posed, either in this forum or outside the House. Hon. Speaker, I know you made a ruling today on the question of privilege I raised with respect to written questions on the order paper, so I'm not going to refer to those questions. I don't think that would be appropriate in this debate.
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The point is that when a government disregards legitimate procedures in this parliament that will satisfy the information-seeking role of a member of this assembly and when for four months it does not answer questions that are posed, then we have to question its sincerity and whether or not the messenger can really be trusted. The message of Bill 62 is a very good one, but can the messenger be trusted?
Hon. Speaker, there are numerous other examples I could refer to, aside from the issue of the written questions on the order paper. There is, for instance, the issue I raised in this House earlier in this session with the Minister of Finance, who failed to table the final report of the compensation fairness commissioner, Mr. Neil Haggquist, who issued his final report over a year ago. Yet it was never released, never made public and never tabled in this House. One wonders why the government would hide information like that, when this government claims to believe in freedom of information and claims to be an open and honest government.
The government doesn't practise what it preaches, plainly and simply. This is no reflection on either the sponsor of this bill today or the member for Burnaby North. It's a reflection on the collective political direction of this government, which does not practise what it preaches or live up to the spirit of the freedom-of-information legislation that it puts forward. It is put forward as one of the jewels in its legislative program, and I can say honestly that this bill should be considered the jewel in the crown.
D. Mitchell: The member for Nanaimo is indicating that he doesn't believe questions should be answered. I look forward to the participation of the member for Nanaimo in this debate when he rises on his hind legs to speak.
For the moment, I would simply like to flag the point that this legislation, as good as it is, as honourable as the intention of the sponsor is, and as sound as the work from the member for Burnaby North has been in this process, is all for naught because of the government's close-minded attitude. Its political direction does not allow the spirit of freedom of information to be practised.
D. Lovick: The analogy is totally false, and you know it. Use your intellect for a change.
D. Mitchell: The member for Nanaimo is going to enter this debate later.
I would like to conclude my comments on second reading of Bill 62 by indicating that as good as the work is that has gone into this bill, and as much as I would like to support the principle and philosophy of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 1993, I have grave and very serious difficulty in supporting such legislation, given the attitude of the government, the hypocrisy that is practised collectively and politically by this government, and the fact that this government refuses to live up to the spirit and the intent of the legislation that it is putting forward.
H. De Jong: I am pleased to take part in the debate on the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act. I am rather surprised that the government would bring forth an extension of the bill that was passed in this House last year. Only three weeks ago the commissioner was hired specifically for this purpose. He certainly has a large responsibility; I don't think that any of us should take lightly the responsibility that is placed on that individual's shoulders. He has complete authority over what was proposed in last year's bill, as well as the extension of it under this bill. I would suggest that the commissioner has barely had time to look at what was in last year's bill. He has barely had time to evaluate what that bill specifically said, what is allowed under that bill, and what the consequences of the provisions are in that bill.
Last year, on another bill, I spoke briefly on the rights of the individual. We can argue until the cows come home about the right of individuals to receive information. At the same time, those rights also bring a limitation on others. In so many cases, people will say: "I am not going to give that information; that is none of their cottonpicking business." I suppose there is a lot of truth in that, because it is not clear to me -- and, I am sure, to most members in this House -- what information the commissioner can disseminate about people, businesses and the health situation -- the list goes on and on. While I am not opposed to having a broad spectrum of information made available to the public, I am very concerned about this bill, because I believe that it has been done with haste.
And I think we should surely talk about the cost. I doubt that the government here in Victoria is truly aware of all the costs from all the ministries which will accompany this bill. The member sitting just ahead of me spoke in more detail about what the cost implications are for this government, but we must also consider what the cost implications are for all those agencies which fall under this amendment to this particular bill. I'm very fearful when everybody talks about government cutbacks, and providing information would be the wrong issue to use to argue that we should not do that because of the cost. But at the same time, let's give it some time and evaluate what we passed here last year, which pertains to this level of government, before we put this on the shoulders of others, because all these governments have the same problems as we have here in Victoria: higher costs, more taxes, more bureaucracy -- the list goes on and on. I think the people spoke loud and clear in British Columbia this year when the budget came out: "We don't want more taxes. We can't stand any more."
So I'm not opposed to freedom of information, but I'm opposed to the hasty way that this bill was put on the floor of this House, while the commissioner has not had time to give a full evaluation of what was there already, what it meant and what the financial cost will be -- and also the cost of the freedom of the individual in British Columbia.
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L. Fox: I'm pleased to rise and speak on the philosophy and principles of Bill 62, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 1993. I think the title itself suggests two separate areas: one, freedom of information, and two, the protection of privacy. I think all members of the House would in fact endorse those principles, and I would suggest that they have been following the principles suggested in the title in their own lives. Otherwise, I'm sure we wouldn't be here as elected individuals representing our constituents and discussing this particular bill.
Over the course of the last 20 months that I've been in the Legislature I've seen and heard from my constituents and other constituents throughout the province about the need for the government to put better priorities on government spending, and to put what little dollars it has into specific areas of need. In northern British Columbia we have many needs, and the $13 million we've spent over the last year implementing Bill 50 and on the more than 70 government employees we've put in place in order to deliver this service could have been much more wisely spent, I think, and those energies much more wisely directed. Over the course of the last 20 months I have not had one individual in my constituency or anywhere else in the province suggest to me that the ability to achieve information or to protect their privacy from government was a large problem. But many individuals around British Columbia have suggested that we have a need for services. Certainly within my own constituency, there is a need to improve health and educational services, address other social issues and build roads and infrastructure so that we can accommodate, build and provide the opportunity to create jobs and thereby improve the economy of our region.
I see how this well-intentioned legislation has been a tool that has, up to now, allowed the government to escape making information available immediately, because it can suggest that it is following the direction under the act. It can be used as a tool to suggest that it's going to be open and honest. That's something that we're still waiting to see from this government.
I want to talk a bit about the hypocrisy of this government bringing in this legislation. Looking back over the course of the last year, I recall last spring when the Minister of Labour conveniently escaped making known to this Legislature who helped him pay his legal fees by suggesting that if he stated who it was, he would be breaching a confidentiality clause that he had made with that particular individual or group that helped him. That's hypocrisy. This bill is suggesting that it should have been within freedom of information, and yet that individual, by suggesting that he had a confidentiality clause, didn't have to comply with his own government's legislation.
We see this government refusing to tell concerned people in British Columbia who makes up the NDP provincial council. They also to refuse to tell the people who their constituency presidents are. They don't really believe in freedom of information. Their actions speak louder than their words, and I believe the truth comes out in those actions.
This bill will add to the bureaucracy, which now has 70 employees. I have to wonder: at a cost of $13 million, how many requests have they had for access to the information made available by Bill 50 last year? When you divide that $13 million up, what has been the expense to government of delivering what limited information it could to those people who made those requests? This bill will add another ten to 15 employees to this bureaucracy; we will now have 85 to 90 employees under this act, at a horrendous annual cost to the provincial government. And not only that, now we're going to lay that on municipalities; we're going to put that on hospital boards; we're going to make that service available from all the smaller elected boards and municipalities, which will cause them to incur substantial costs just to set up the structure. For what? For how many requests a year? I often make reference to the fact that I was a mayor for eight years. I'm not aware of one problem of any of my constituents within that municipality to ever access information -- not one problem over eight years. Yet that municipality now is going to have to comply with the legislation before us, and put this bureaucracy and network in place at an expense they can ill afford, just to accommodate this government and its appearance that it respects freedom of information and protection of privacy. Those are genuine concerns.
When we look at other actions of this government.... We've seen the Premier in the last few days questioned on what his portfolio is this fall, and what kind of dollars he's going to spend travelling around the province promoting the federal NDP, when one particular member doesn't even want him to do it. When we look at the polling this government has done, at the taxpayers' expense.... They secretly hold on to those results. That information is not available, nor is it forthcoming. That is not living up to the spirit of Bill 50 or Bill 62. They are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars conducting polls to find out what the Premier's image is and what kind of impacts the budget had. We saw every one of these members sitting in this House writing back form letters to those people who sent back their information sheets. In fact, my wife, because she's a union member -- she happens to be a member of the HEU -- got one of their requests. I read it with some interest. I was tempted to fill it out and send it back. That information has not been shared with the rest of the House, yet it was paid for by taxpayers' dollars.
If we're going to have and live up to the principles of this type of legislation, then we should do it by example. We have not yet seen this government make any kind of effort to play the lead role in setting an example for others in the province. In fact, they hide behind this legislation more than promote it. That's one of the problems I have with this particular bill. I find it unfortunate because, as I said right at the outset, the principles of this bill are something we should be able to support. And I do support the principles of freedom of information and protection of privacy.
But I don't believe we need a bureaucracy of 85 to 90 people, at a budget of somewhere between $13 million and $20 million over the course of the next year, to implement this kind of policy and legislation. I believe
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the requests coming forward do not substantiate this kind of cost.
We may find out that we're going to be in the same situation as Ontario. They have this big bureaucracy, and one of the main issues it deals with is public employees wanting to find out information about their own situation. One of the key ingredients in the requests is public employees, not the public at large. I hope that we have revisited and looked at the costs of delivering this program. This program should in fact be an automatic situation. We shouldn't need 85 people to deliver it. We shouldn't need 85 people to filter the requests the way we presently do. It's a huge growth in bureaucracy at a huge cost to British Columbia taxpayers. What are we getting out of it? Very, very little. It is for those reasons that I find myself speaking against the legislation -- not against the principle of freedom of information and not against the principle of protection of privacy. But I speak against the way this bureaucracy is being structured when there are so many other priorities on which to spend money. This government has decided that it's going to spend approximately $20 million this year on this bureaucracy.
L. Fox: Add up the numbers, hon. member. You were part of the process. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the cost of 75 to 80 employees.
L. Fox: It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out, and that member for Burnaby North -- with a calculator that I could loan him -- could work that out very quickly, as I did.
It's really unfortunate that this government doesn't know how to control its spending, doesn't know where to put the proper emphasis, doesn't know how to set priorities and doesn't know how to draft legislation. In fact, the legislation that we have seen in the House this spring is the worst that has ever been tabled in this Legislature. They have had to go through more amendments.... They have had to dump them all at one time, so they couldn't be explored by the opposition in the proper manner. The actions of this government are absolutely despicable. This legislation and the priorities of this spending reflect exactly those values that we see in other actions of this government.
I will be voting against this bill, not because I don't support freedom of information, not because I don't support protection of privacy, but because I don't support setting up a large bureaucracy such as we see here, forcing that bureaucracy onto other tax collectors in British Columbia just so this government can stand up and say: "Hey, we developed the Freedom of Information Act." I haven't had anybody asking me about this act. But obviously it's important that this government has something to champion. This government wants to build up a large bureaucracy so that it can hire more employees and create larger governments. That's the main motivation behind this legislation.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: It's interesting to listen to a debate that's a year old. The principle being debated this afternoon is the principle of Bill 50, which was introduced and passed by this House last year. The principle that appears to have been debated by most members of the opposition relates to privacy and freedom-of-information issues with respect to the provincial government.
No doubt some amendments in this bill will relate to that, but the principle of this bill is to extend coverage beyond the provincial government itself; to extend it into the community, to municipalities, to the universities and to self-governing professions; to put it out there so that people can have some confidence that two very important principles will be protected. One is that information collected about them by public bodies will be collected for the express purpose stated when collecting that information and not used for some other purpose. They will also know that they will be able to gain access to records that are being held on them, so that they can check to see whether those records are accurate and appropriate.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: What's wrong with that? The member says: "What kind of priorities does this government have?" Why is this a priority? Protecting people's privacy is a high priority for us. In fact, it is such a high priority that following the election of 1991, we made it a point in the throne speech that as part of our open government policies we would make freedom of information one of the top priorities of government in this term of office. We intend to keep that promise; we intend to ensure that these important issues are brought to the fore and developed in a legislative package that provides citizens in this province with the protection they deserve and also with the information they properly should have in their possession.
Anyone who spends any time at all, even casually, following current events around the world in this new age of technology in which we all live knows full well that we are on the verge of getting into very dangerous situations with respect to personal information: privately held, publicly held, held in ways that, I think, are an affront to anyone's human dignity and must be dealt with. We have the federal commissioner, Mr. Phillips, talking about the extent of invasion of privacy that occurs. Anyone who speaks against the principles in this legislation isn't aware of the issues that exist out there, not only in our country but around the world, where records that are collected for one purpose end up being used for an entirely different purpose -- often inappropriately, often for commercial advantage and all kinds of reasons that all of us should be offended by.
Some members talk about costs. If government records had been organized historically with a philosophy and perspective of openness, which is opposite to the secrecy that has pervaded governments in this province, we wouldn't have the costs that might
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now be incurred -- because we wouldn't have to reorganize the system's collection methods in order to make sure that records are easily retrievable. We wouldn't have any costs.
Members talk about 85 employees and talk about.... The figure got up to $20 million during the course of the debate; it went from $6 million to $13 million to $20 million in the course of an hour. For this fiscal year, the actual numbers are less than $6 million. Approximately $1 million is allocated for the legislative office of the new information and privacy commissioner. Unlike C.D. Howe's view of it, $1 million is a lot of money. But it's an appropriate amount to conduct this very essential and important initiative, which we are proud of on this side of the House. It's one that we think is going to be a hallmark of our term in office and one that we are proud to put out to the public.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: The member talks about costs. The costs are primarily in trying to get systems in place so that documents and information can be easily retrievable. That should have been in place years ago. It wasn't, because the former government had a view.... If it ever got back in power, it would still have the view that if the government gets it, somehow it doesn't belong to anybody and they should keep it private; they should make sure the records are unavailable. That we reject.
The member for Prince George-Omineca says that in eight years as mayor of Vanderhoof -- he was at least on council; I can't remember if he was mayor -- there wasn't a single problem. Everybody who wanted information was able to get it. Therefore why should Vanderhoof be subject to costs? If Vanderhoof didn't spend any money providing that information in those eight years, it won't spend any money in the future providing the same information -- none -- unless it has some information locked away that it hasn't been making available, which the public hasn't asked for because they know they can't get it. If that isn't the case, then there won't be any cost. The citizen will come in and say: "I want such and such a record that is available under the legislation." The clerk will say: "Here it is." And that's done. What cost is there? No cost. If there was no cost, there won't be any cost. It's a red herring to suggest that there are going to be excessive costs as a result of this legislation. I will repeat it: the real reason we have any costs now is trying to get systems in place to allow for easy and ready retrieval.
The members, in continuing their red-herring debate, talked about the hypocrisy of the government in its failure to release this, that and the other. Every single poll conducted by the government has been released.
An Hon. Member: When?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: If members would simply read the Vancouver Sun on occasion, they would see reports of those poll results following their release to the Sun, which in turn follow the request from the Sun for their release. It all happened.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I generally don't get into this frame of mind in this Legislature, but I need to respond to the term "hypocrisy" that is being thrown around. It is somewhat hypocritical for that political party to talk about freedom of information and look anybody straight in the eye, given the record of God knows how many years since 1952 when not a single public opinion poll was released. All of them were paid for by public money, and none of them was released. The first time the Vancouver Sun and some other media asked for release of polling that our government had done, the polling results were released. No big deal. We released them. And that's the policy of this government -- we do that even in the face of not having proclaimed the legislation. We do that voluntarily. The law doesn't require us to do it; this law isn't proclaimed. We do it voluntarily.
Let us get back, for just about the first time since the member for Burnaby North spoke, to the principle contained in this legislation. What we are talking about is extending the principles of freedom of information and protection of privacy to other public bodies. It's as simple as that. I believe that anybody who votes against this legislation is demonstrating a viewpoint that belongs back in the fifties.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I was going to say antediluvian, and then I was going to say Dark Ages, and then I thought I'd be fair and say the fifties.
An Hon. Member: Jurassic.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: It's not even Jurassic. It's an attitude that belongs in the days of Social Credit.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: "No one spoke against the principle," says the member for Prince George-Omineca, who not only spoke against the principle but announced he was going to vote against it. I challenge the member for Prince George-Omineca to vote against this legislation. Having heard earlier from the member for Okanagan West, it sounded like a support speech. I encourage the member to do that.
The Speaker: Order, please, hon. members.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I challenge the member to be on the side of those who don't believe in protecting privacy and to be on the side of those who don't believe in sharing information.
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The Speaker: The motion before you is second reading of Bill 62.
Motion approved unanimously on a division.
Bill 62, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 1993, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. M. Sihota: It was a pleasure to see such unanimous support from all members of the House for another piece of good legislation from this great government.
I call second reading of Bill 73.
LAND TITLE AMENDMENT ACT, 1993
Hon. C. Gabelmann: This legislation repeals and replaces part 8 of the Land Title Act. The existing legislation entitles the landowner to annex an unused road or other dedicated area adjacent to his or her land if it is no longer being used for its dedicated purpose. The existing legislation is based on the rationale that the original subdivider who dedicated the highway or other area is entitled to get it back if the highway or other dedicated area is no longer used for its dedicated purpose. The existing legislation is anachronistic. In almost every case, the original subdivider has long since sold his or her interest in the land. As such, part 8 only serves the current owner, who had nothing to do with the original dedication. Hence the current legislation usually provides a windfall benefit to the current owner, at public expense. The rationale for the existing legislation only makes sense when the original subdivider wishes to cancel his or her subdivision plan and start over again for commercial or other reasons. Only in these circumstances should an owner be able to resume ownership of all dedicated areas without compensation.
This bill enacts a new version of part 8 that addresses the windfall benefit and public resource issues by: (1) eliminating the entitlement of landowners to annex adjacent dedicated roads and other areas without compensation, except in the case of the original subdivider; (2) enabling municipalities to convert an unused highway for use as a park or a public square; (3) empowering municipalities, regional districts, local trust areas under the Islands Trust Act, and the Ministry of Transportation and Highways to oppose the cancellation of any highway that is still being used for its dedicated purposes; and finally, (4) ensuring that if a highway or other dedicated area is ever cancelled, a landowner other than the original subdivider must pay market value for the land if he or she wishes to acquire it.
The amendments clearly eliminate the right of landowners to annex an adjacent area of unused highway or other unused dedicated area. For example, under the former version of the legislation, if a petitioner could establish that there was no further public use for a road, he or she was entitled to cancel and annex the area. The amendments ensure that, on cancellation, title to the land is registered in the name of the Crown. Any subsequent determination to dispose of the land to the petitioning landowner will now be made exclusively by the Crown. This means that government policy under the Land Act respecting the sale and disposition of Crown land, including market value policies, will apply.
The amendments give municipal governments the power to change a dedicated use from highway to park or public square. The power must be exercised by bylaw, and constitutes the means by which a municipality can preserve the public status of land that is no longer needed for road purposes. Under the former version of the legislation, a petitioner who established that the highway was no longer required for its dedicated purpose was entitled to annex the land over the objections of the municipality. The new rededication power empowers any municipality to close the door on this windfall situation by changing the unused road into a park or public square.
[J. Beattie in the chair.]
The veto power of the Attorney General contained in the former version of the legislation is now transferred to local governments. The Minister of Transportation and Highways also has a veto power. The transfer of these powers will ensure that cancellation issues will be dealt with by the level of government that has primary responsibility for land use control and development. These are best dealt with at the local level rather than in the Attorney General's office.
In effect, the veto power will enable local governments to oppose the cancellation of a highway, park or public square where the local government determines that it is still required for its dedicated purpose. Upon recording their opposition with the registrar of titles, he or she is directed not to make any order that operates to cancel the highway, park or public square. The only exception to the new regime arises in the case of the original subdivider who wishes to cancel the entire plan and start over again. In these circumstances, the petitioner will be entitled to recover all dedicated areas without compensation and the land will revert to its former unsubdivided status. At such time as the land is again subdivided, existing subdivision and zoning laws will ensure that sufficient allowances for highways, parks and public squares will be secured.
This bill ensures an appropriate balance between private and public interests. Local authorities are given greater control over the future use of public lands without having to resort to legalistic arguments such as whether or not pedestrian access, of itself, is a legitimate highway use. In the final analysis, local authorities are given the means to determine whether the retention of an unused road or other dedicated area in the public domain is necessary in the public interest.
These amendments also clarify the plans cancellation process. While they are new provisions, the policy underlying them was implicit in the former legislation. The objective is to ensure that all interested parties can
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participate fully in the quasi-judicial processes associated with the plans cancellation hearing. The amendments also clarify that the registrar must hold and conduct the plans cancellation hearing in the same manner as a judge of the Supreme Court under the rules of court. This does not elevate the registrar to the status of a Supreme Court judge; rather, it ensures that the registrar will operate within a well-defined set of judicial principles and processes, and will be better able to decide matters involving both public and private interests.
This legislation is brought forward at a critical time. As lower mainland and other urban communities struggle to maintain open spaces and other public amenities against the pressures of development and annexation by private landowners, the new version of part 8, together with the Municipal Act amendment, will provide them with a new range of land use and planning controls. Similarly, the amendment to the Land Act will ensure that if a specific road or other dedicated area truly has no further public value, landowners may only acquire the land from the Crown at market value.
Almost all municipal governments across the province have urged this government to bring part 8 of the Land Title Act into the reality of the 1990s. I am confident that these measures will achieve this.
In conclusion, may I just say that I attended the UBCM convention last September in Vernon, where a resolution asking the provincial government to do just this was debated briefly and enthusiastically and passed unanimously, and we are reflecting the wishes of the UBCM convention delegates. Following that, I received letters from many municipalities in British Columbia urging that we enact this kind of legislative change. I had indicated to municipalities that it was our intention to proceed in this way, and I received no negative commentary whatsoever from any local governments. So I think what we are doing here is very much in the spirit of cooperation with local government.
With that, I look forward to listening to the debate. Hopefully, we'll conclude this one fairly quickly.
A. Cowie: It gives me pleasure to stand and support Bill 73. Historically, the land title system in this province has been excellent. However, there is a need for the amendments that have been put forward in this bill, and I certainly welcome them. The minister has clarified the main issues that essentially guarantee a balance between private and public interest. I have a few comments to make, including the fact that our critic will be putting forward some minor amendments that have been noted. They are minor in nature and do not affect the content or the meaning of the bill -- especially the meaning.
This bill deals primarily with the unused road portions along waterfronts or at street ends leading into agricultural lands, for instance. This has always been a pet argument of mine. In the municipality of Delta, for example, older subdivisions have street ends going out into agricultural land, yet the municipality fights very hard to preserve these lands. It seems they are in direct conflict with the objectives of the municipality. This legislation will enable the municipalities to regain these portions of land for public good. It's important, as the minister says, that when these street ends are reclaimed, they should be used either for parks, public squares or, at least, pathways to an open-space system.
While I don't want to specifically name a number of municipalities, I will name a couple: the city of White Rock and the city of Delta have taken back property at street ends that is not required, and sold those properties as lots to put houses on. That's fine, but over the years the adjacent owners have recognized that those parcels of land should either be used as street ends, which was the primary purpose, or for some public good. I would like to see the adjacent owners, at least through a public hearing process and notification, have a right to say what the future land use of those properties will be, so that those properties are not lessened in value. I'd like the minister to clarify that at third reading. I notice that in the bill there is improved and proper notification to the public. I also welcome the addition where any land that is taken over by the municipality or the Crown in these situations will be sold at market value, which is only fair.
I want to make one comment in second reading, and I will deal with it in more detail when we get to third reading, about the role of the approving officer. This bill requires the approving officer to give a report. We all know that approving officers are appointed by the province. However, they are usually the director of planning or deputy planner of a municipality. In some cases, it's the engineer or even the deputy engineer. In these particular cases, very seldom would the approving officer act against the wishes of the council. But I just want to note that the approving officers are in fact a law unto themselves. They are independent of councils, and they report to the province, although they are in great jeopardy should they act against their own councils. Their own jobs wouldn't be terribly secure if they did it more than once.
Again, we welcome these changes to the land title process, which has traditionally been a good one. We welcome the opportunity to deal with a few minor amendments at third reading.
J. Weisgerber: It's a pleasure to rise and speak about this amendment to the Land Title Act. I think the changes proposed raise some interesting questions.
As I understand the essence of this legislation, currently the Crown can require a subdivider to set aside land for roads, parks and other public uses without any compensation to the landowner. That seems to be an appropriate part of the development process, and I don't have any great difficulty with that.
But the Crown now suggests that if there was no need for that land -- if in fact the decision requiring the subdivider to set aside that land, at least in retrospect, turns out to be unnecessary -- the owner of the adjacent property should in fact pay market value to the Crown. It seems to me there are two standards here.
I know that the Attorney General went out of his way to explain that if the subdivider wanted to buy
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back or re-annex the property, there wouldn't be a need for compensation. He didn't explain what might happen if the subdivider kept one of the lots adjacent to the land they wish to annex. That seems unclear. In a small subdivision of six or seven lots, if the original subdivider or owner of the property kept one piece of property adjacent to the land set aside for a park or road right-of-way and wanted to annex the property back to a subdivided lot.... That area seems to lack clarity, from what we've heard so far from the minister.
I'm concerned also with the kind of influences this change will have on the decisions to require land to be set aside. It seems to me that if the local government or planners made a mistake, certainly there shouldn't be a windfall profit for the people who incorrectly required the land to be set aside. I think there are two sides of that argument. I think we see implicit in this legislation, at least to a degree, another assault on private ownership and the rights that flow from ownership of property. The minister seems confused by that. But clearly under the existing legislation there were rights that flowed to the property adjacent to the land set aside. This legislation takes away those rights; that surely must be clear. This legislation removes from certain properties rights that existed under the former legislation. This legislation proposes to take away rights from certain properties.
One of the things we want to ensure is that any changes to legislation introduced would serve the needs of the community and would see sufficient land set aside to meet the needs that might result from the subdivision. But I don't think there should be any encouragement to require more land to be set aside than might be required. Legislation shouldn't be constructed to simply encourage the planners to err on the side of caution. There is certainly no incentive or drive to discourage planners from requiring larger set-asides. In fact, one might argue that all the encouragement says to planners: "Take as much land from subdividers as you might ever need. If at the end of the day there turns out to be no use for it, you can always sell it back at market value either to the owner of adjacent property...."
Again, I didn't hear from the Attorney General whether or not these pieces of property could be sold individually. I didn't hear -- and I didn't get a sense from the legislation -- whether or not there could be separate titles created out of this land that was set aside and not necessarily used.
A number of questions flow from this legislation. I think it's important that land set aside for a roadway, which later turns out to be a pedestrian pathway, for example, be maintained for the general use of the people in the community. I don't have any argument with that. But I believe that if land is taken away at no cost, is not used, needed or wanted and is desired to be annexed by the original property owner, there seems to be a fundamental lack of fairness in saying: "We will take it away, and we will require you to contribute land with no compensation, but the only way we're going to return it is at fair market value."
I can understand the support and enthusiasm of the Union of B.C. Municipalities for this kind of legislation; it's consistent with meeting the goals that a municipality would have. I will continue, though, to watch with some concern any legislative assaults on property. I think we've seen in this session of the Legislature a willingness of the government to enact legislation that is unfriendly to property owners. We've seen taxation legislation which suggests that certain valuable properties in Vancouver and in other parts of British Columbia should pay an additional property tax. We've seen the removal of the homeowner's grant from other properties, and now we see rights taken away from properties that exist. There are properties now that have rights under the current legislation, and the minister is simply, by the stroke of a pen, taking away those rights and requiring instead that those property owners pay for property that may be returned to the person who was first required by government to provide, at no cost, land for roadways and parks.
I'm going to listen very carefully to the debate -- and perhaps there will be some extended debate -- because I certainly want to hear more about this before I'm convinced that what we're doing is fair to all of the people concerned.
C. Serwa: It's a pleasure to enter into debate on Bill 73, the Land Title Amendment Act, 1993. I rise after our leader. It seems that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition has somewhat faltered in its task in the past two or three weeks and is no longer voicing any opposition to anything. It's rather regrettable. I'm stating that because it's unusual to have the third party members get up time after time and debate in opposition to the government measures.
This is a very interesting act. Real problems undoubtedly existed. If real problems or challenges hadn't existed, there would otherwise probably be no legitimate reason for the presentation of this package of legislation. In all honesty and sincerity, there had to have been other options and tacks that could have been taken rather than the presentation of this type of legislation.
In the opening speech of the hon. Attorney General, it was not made clear that there is already a legitimate process that attends to the interests of municipalities, regional districts and other levels of public government. Land cannot be returned without notifying those areas. The Ministry of Lands will not do that. It all goes through a process of approval channels before permission is given to the current property owner. If somehow the process failed but there was a legitimate process in place to address those specific concerns, or if the process wasn't as clearly followed as it should have been, then it's obvious that it could have been emphasized. Perhaps more effort could be put into the development of that process rather than into formalizing this particular aspect in legislation.
I have a great deal of concern when we start to see this. It's not unusual for the government of the day to do this, because the government doesn't believe that there should be private property ownership. That is alien to....
[ Page 9013 ]
C. Serwa: There's a great deal of laughter, but unless there has been some harsh cleansing with the severest of laundry soaps, I would suggest that the retention of that concept -- that the private individual should not own land -- is still in strong vogue in the socialist group that governs British Columbia today.
It was evidenced in the Agricultural Land Commission, where rights under British common law were stripped in a legislative effort without any compensation whatsoever. If something is taken away from a legitimate property owner, in all honesty and sense of fairness there should be compensation at market value, as the Attorney General suggested. They had no compunction about taking away development rights of property held under British common law and stripping those property rights at the stroke of a pen without compensating those property owners. My concern here is that this legislation is not dissimilar in its nature. I think it's a flagrant violation of established property rights.
C. Serwa: Maybe the hon. member doesn't own anything other than his own home, so he's not concerned, but one of these days you won't own the ground that your house stands on -- just as in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. That was the same thing. Laugh, but in all of the manifestos starting at the Winnipeg and Regina....
Deputy Speaker: On a point of order.
G. Farrell-Collins: Quite frankly, I'm always glad to hear these guys go after the government, but this is getting beyond the ridiculous and into absolute incredulity. I wish the member would stick to the issue of the bill and not deal with Soviet Russia, because we have a lot of work that we need to do here. Debate should be timely and exhaustive, but it should also be relevant and intelligent, and I think we have strayed from all those.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. In second reading, as the Speaker frequently says, there is latitude of debate. I would ask the member to direct his comments to second reading of Bill 73, the Land Title Amendment Act, 1993.
C. Serwa: If the hon. member who rose and made his point of order had been listening, he would understand that that's exactly what I am talking about, hon. Speaker. It's rather interesting that there aren't enough members of the government of the day, with 51 here in the House. The official opposition has to defend the government and, as a matter of fact, appears to be warmly welcomed on the government side.
C. Serwa: Well, it's really interesting.
In any event, we've enjoyed some latitude in talking about the philosophy and principles of this bill. I'm talking about philosophy that is consistent with what was displayed previously, and that's entirely appropriate within the parameters of second reading of any bill. If the official opposition isn't going to cave in, if they are going to continue to stay here, I'd invite the hon. member to speak on the bill himself.
There is a great deal of concern with the designation of a windfall situation with respect to a property owner. We're not dealing specifically with municipalities. Again, in his address the hon. Attorney General spoke about municipalities and the UBCM. That's fine. That is only one facet of what occurs, but many occurrences have taken place where an old road access was put in and is no longer used. There has been additional development; they may be enlarged rural properties. That's not a windfall situation. A new road is built. Perhaps the old roads were built narrow and steep and in situations that were not consistent with traffic safety as we know it today. In many cases throughout the province, those rights-of-way were properly returned to that parcel of property for utilization by the owner. I don't think that anyone can legitimately complain about that -- or talk legitimately about a windfall situation. It's apparent in this particular piece of legislation that what is good for the goose is not in fact good for the gander.
Municipalities have the ability to take land at far less than property value. The government of the day has that opportunity through a variety of processes and utilizes them to take land from a property owner and not compensate fairly for it. I have a great deal of concern with that. If there is going to be fairness and balance in legislation, then legislation cannot be developed on the basis of one particular issue.
It's significant that this issue appears to have developed because of a situation that existed in White Rock, where several ocean-front property owners used this ability to annex property that was not being used for the purpose it was taken, and they were able to utilize it as an addition to their property. Prior to that, it was simply filled with brambles and weeds. Nobody wanted it; nobody used it; nobody cared for it. Now that has become a concern, but it's a legitimate concern that could have been addressed through the existing process available to the Crown.
An Hon. Member: Obviously it wasn't.
C. Serwa: Well, I don't know. If the Crown wanted to exercise stronger.... We are looking at an example of the philosophy that the Crown should have that right. The rights of property owners are again further eroded. Often it is inappropriate to utilize land for parks, for public squares or access. We are not talking specifically about developed urban areas; we are talking about situations that exist throughout British Columbia in very rural areas. But this legislation is applicable in a manner that is consistent for all areas in the province.
Hon. Speaker, I will talk about a situation that exists in your constituency. There are abandoned railway lines on the north-south Great Northern route -- going down
[ Page 9014 ]
to the border and coming up through to Penticton, the West Kettle Valley line and abandoned railway rights-of-way that are now in the possession of the Crown. What about the situation that occurs when these rights-of-way go through reserves? If this legislation is going to be honoured in a consistent fashion throughout the province, and if the public interest is going to be a concern of the present government, what is the present government going to do with respect to abandoned railway lines that have now been acquired by the Crown? Many individuals in your consistency, hon. Speaker -- and throughout the province -- want these preserved as linear parks. The West Kettle situation -- from Hope right through to Midway -- could be a world-class destination linear park, going through all....
C. Serwa: Just listen up, hon. member, and we will get to the point I am trying to make.
C. Serwa: Well, that's fine. Be patient. It's nice to see you here; you're not often here.
Deputy Speaker: Hon. members, please direct your comments through the Chair.
G. Farrell-Collins: On a point of order. The member for Okanagan West has been ranting and raving here for a while, and now he's throwing other remarks towards myself and other members of the opposition. I think it's important for him to do his job as an MLA and address this legislation rather than fire insults at other members of the House.
Deputy Speaker: I would ask all members to direct their comments through the Chair. Please continue, hon. member.
C. Serwa: In any event, we have a concern here. If this legislation is to be applied in a consistent manner throughout British Columbia, then it is incumbent upon the Crown to preserve the potential linear parks that the people are strongly in favour of. I have described several specific areas that are available right now.
There is also a strong demand from previous property owners, saying that those potential linear parks -- now Crown land -- should be returned to the adjacent properties. If the hon. Attorney General is going to be consistent, will he return the land in this specific case to the bands? If he utilizes that breach of this legislation and the principle and philosophy in this legislation, how can he be other than consistent in the treatment of other British Columbians? That's the point that I was trying to develop and to make.
We are not looking at something that is specific -- oceanfront or lakefront property, or within a densely populated urban area -- that we can have all sorts of reasons for. We are looking at legislation that applies throughout the province. If it is going to be applied throughout, it has to be fair and balanced, and reasonable in all circumstances.
I believe that the existing legislation and the policies of the land branch were abundantly fair. What has happened in the past -- whether it was the acquiring of abandoned rights-of-way and other accesses being built -- is water under the bridge. The fact remains that that potential is still there. It is reasonable, fair and balanced, and it does respect the rights of the adjacent landowner. I don't think anyone who owns a piece of property would want to give the type of authority that.... Let's say it's lakefront property or something, and all of a sudden we can create a public park or an amusement park or whatever we want to do with the municipality that has control. The rights of the adjacent property owner have to be respected.
An Hon. Member: It is respected.
C. Serwa: No, it's not respected. This is a strong erosion of the rights of the private property owner. I have a great deal of difficulty with the bill. I think there are specific reasons, obviously, for the necessity of some stronger form. I don't think it's appropriate that this specific piece of legislation be put forward to address unique or unusual situations or circumstances. They have to be attended to on an individual basis. If we are going to develop legislation that is consistent through-out the province, then the hon. Attorney General now has some examples and awareness of the complexity of the issue when you're making legislation that is applicable to everyone in the province from the south to the very northernmost border. I too have concerns with this. I will conclude my second reading on that.
G. Farrell-Collins: I have to participate somewhat in this debate and perhaps correct some of the -- quite frankly -- ridiculous comments that were made by the member for Okanagan West.
It seems that every time pieces of legislation come up in this House, that member in particular tries to take the absolute most extreme position that one could ever conceive of -- not even within the realm of reality, but beyond the realm of reality. He makes it seem as though the red hordes are screaming over with Stalin at the front, waving red flags and singing songs that they are going to come in here and crush private property or enterprise.
I too like to push the government and find out what the limits of legislation are. That's the job of the opposition, and we do that all the time. We do it in second reading, and we do it in committee stage. It happens all the time in this House, no matter what day or month it is. The fantasies of the member for Okanagan West don't relate very much to the reality that often exists in legislation.
This bill is a more or less innocuous piece of legislation. There are some problems with it, and we have amendments being drafted which will go before this House. We'll have a chance to improve the legislation and make it fair. I think the overall intent of the bill is to say that there isn't just private property in the province. There is also property that belongs to all
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the people in the province. There is public property that exists for the use and enjoyment of all British Columbians. What this bill is trying to do in that respect, anyway -- it's not a perfect attempt, but at least it is an attempt -- is ensure that the property that belongs to the public remains in the public and isn't taken over by an individual for their own personal gain or windfall.
All we're trying to do here is preserve the right of access of the public to use the land that belongs to the public, so that individual landowners in the province will not have the right to go out there and annex that land without having to pay the public for it or having to give up something in order to pay for it. It's just trying to be fair in that respect.
So in all honesty, as a British Columbian and as an MLA who is responsible for members in my constituency -- some 45,000 people who own rights to some of this land -- it's my job to stand up in the House and say yes, as the general public we have rights to this land. No individual person -- however well-intended or greedy they are -- should have the right to annex that land without either paying compensation to the people they are taking it from or at least giving the public the opportunity to use it first. I'm not afraid to stand up here and speak in favour of this concept of the bill, because I have constituents in my riding who say yes, we have a right to that land. It's their land. Why should one individual be able to annex that land without compensating the rest of the people who should have access to it?
If the member for Okanagan West would put his ideology in his pocket, instead of just going along with some right-wing.... He calls some members of this House communists. Well, I could call this fascist if I wanted to be as extreme as he is, but I'm not going to. If he would put his ideology in his pocket and realize what's really best for his constituents, instead of trying to stand up here and make some absolutely ridiculous and ludicrous statements in the House, I think he would find -- while there are problems with this bill and it is the job of the opposition to highlight those problems and put forth the amendments, which we will be doing -- that he would be able to speak for his constituents. He would be able to ensure that the rights of his constituents as a group are also protected, and not just their rights as individuals.
Time and time again in this House we have debates, and sometimes we have members of the government who are always speaking for the public or collective groups. We saw that particularly during the debate on Bill 84, and we've seen it at other times. Then we have the Social Credit group, and particularly the member for Okanagan West, who always talk about the rights of the individual and forgets about the rest of the people. The fact of the matter is that to provide good government, a government and caucus and party has to balance between those two. There are times when public and collective rights predominate, and times when individual rights must predominate. The sign of a good government is a government that knows when to balance those two and how to make those choices.
I think the member for Okanagan West perhaps should go back and read the legislation, talk to the people and his constituents who had problems in this situation, and speak for the rights of all the people in his riding -- not just the select few people who might be upset about this and may contribute to his campaign.
M. Farnworth: It's a pleasure to speak on this bill, because it addresses an issue that's extremely important in my community. The changes that we see in this bill have come about in large measure because of input from local community councils, because they ran into problems. It affects land that has previously, or often, been perceived to have been in the public domain and used by the general public.
I'll cite an example from my own constituency, in which the council's hands were tied by previous legislation and they had to go through a long drawn-out process. That was a linear park on an old road allowance. It had been a park for quite some time, and the neighbours along there were quite happy with it. New people moved into some of the homes. They didn't like people walking along a stream, to which improvements had been done by the city. What happens? They go to plans cancellation to claim it as their own, to deprive the citizens of our community of what historically has been used as public right-of-way -- to confiscate the land, in effect -- for their own private greed, to the deprivation of the good of the community as a whole. That's not right, and this particular bill addresses that.
I understand where the member is coming from, but -- as has been stated -- the fact is that we have to have a balance. Without this legislation there won't be that balance. The scale will be dramatically tipped in favour of those who -- for whatever reason, whether it's greed -- just don't like the public using what they perceive should be their own private park, in the case of a road allowance or plans cancellation. So I think this piece of legislation is extremely important for local governments, to ensure that a balance of private and public rights is maintained. That is why I am really pleased to support this legislation.
D. Symons: I admit that I have read the bill. I am not sure that I totally understand it, but I will mention a few of the concerns I have, which I hope will become totally clear to me during third reading or committee stage when we are discussing it.
To just carry on a bit from what the previous speaker was saying, one of the concerns I have -- and it may be more in rural areas than residential ones -- is that we could possibly have the situation where two adjacent landowners have historically agreed to give part of their land to the highways department to allow a roadway that would be to their mutual benefit. What this bill seems to say now is that those landowners cannot reclaim the land they gave, because now it is given over. I suspect -- and I hope I will have this cleared up later on -- that that won't be the case; that if the land was in effect given in those circumstances, there would be some opportunity maybe for the adjacent landowners who originally owned it to have it returned to their
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ownership. I can see the problems in municipalities and in more urban areas, as the previous member said, where maybe even under those circumstances I described a moment ago, the land was given, but now under urbanization that land has become pretty well part of the municipality and open to the community as a whole. That may not be true in other areas of the province, however. I would like to see that that isn't going to preclude those adjacent landowners, in that case from some reclamation of the land that they might have given away in the past, or that the previous owners might have given away.
Another area -- and I am not quite certain if it would apply here, but again, we will hope that it will become clear in committee stage -- is a situation that occurred in Savona. They are currently putting a bridge across the Thompson River at that point. There is concern on the part a landowner whose land was expropriated for part of the approaches for this bridge. Some of that expropriated land ended up becoming part of a park adjacent to where the approaches for the bridge were going to go in. He had the uncomfortable feeling that his land was simply annexed, along with the other land they were annexing, so they could expand the park, not so it could become part of the bridge approaches, as was the initial intention. I would not want to see an act of this sort used basically to hijack land under that circumstance. I have concerns that this land, which now becomes part of the highways.... Does this only apply to existing highways? Or would it apply in situations where they are planning a highway, then the plans are changed so the land that had been acquired can be used for other purposes but the original owner has no recourse to retrieve his land? If those things can be cleared up in third reading, I will be very pleased.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: The last two speakers stole my thunder; they started to talk about the bill. I was hoping to talk a little bit about the real debate that was going on here between the two opposition parties as they try to position themselves in respect of the next two years. It is an interesting little exercise. However, I will leave that aside.
There were a number of serious and legitimate questions raised; some by the Leader of the Third Party, and the member just now. Other members have raised issues that I think are better canvassed in committee stage, so I will undertake to answer those questions at that time and get back and forth so we have a full understanding of it.
There is no doubt that this is a complex area. It is made more complex because you can't simply read the existing part 8 of the Land Title Act and assume that that is how it works. That is what I did initially when I was confronted, as is my statutory obligation, with applications to refuse applications for closure. A superficial reading of the act indicates that the Attorney General was given many years ago the right to take that action. But in fact those rights were circumscribed very dramatically by the Supreme Court in a decision some years ago, in which the court said that the Attorney General could not exercise those rights in the way that, on the surface, the language in the existing act reads. The Attorney General could only exercise those rights if the purpose that was originally planned for the roadway, which is what it usually is, was still going to be used, or if there were still a possibility that the original use would continue.
Therefore there were applications, usually from property owners in suburban communities and developing rural communities, for accretion of road-ways which were used frequently by pedestrians not vehicles, seeking access to the ocean. Certainly in the Surrey-White Rock area that was a common use. I was unable to exercise the authority, which is apparently conveyed in me, to say: "No, this should remain in the public domain, because there is a public purpose for this particular property." Many municipalities were unanimously asking me to use my veto, and I was unable to do so because of a Supreme Court decision a few years ago which constrained the rights.
Then there was a lot of discussion about this issue, particularly in the lower mainland at the municipal level. The issue gained a fair amount of political currency last year leading up to the UBCM convention, as I mentioned earlier. Following the UBCM resolution and my indication that I treated its request to do something about the statute seriously, there developed a bit of a gold rush. People were putting in applications all over the place to acquire roadways, which were no longer being used for free, to add to their property. That's not a property right. Just because you happen to live in that part of the subdivision that has a road closed, that doesn't give you more property rights than the property owner in the other part of the subdivision where the road is being used. It's a curious notion that somehow an individual who is fortunate enough to live alongside a dedicated roadway that isn't being used as a roadway should, because they had that fortune, have a property right to acquire for free half of that roadway. It's a notion that makes no sense whatsoever to me. It denies local government and communities the right to make decisions about that public land and to have the best use of that public land. The best use might well be that it be accreted to the property owner so that the lot that the adjacent property owner has could be expanded. If so, why should that one property owner in a big subdivision get it for free?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: They do. It's free. The member for Okanagan West shakes his head. I invite the member to talk to senior staff or council members in any of the communities of Delta, White Rock, Surrey, Mission, Coquitlam and the Sechelt Peninsula. Any of those local governments will tell any member of this House -- if they want to hear about it -- the horror stories that exist: the inability to preserve property that has an appropriate public purpose: walkways down to the ocean on the Sechelt Peninsula that should be, from any public perspective, retained as open walkways or even as green space. Under the current law, unless the highways department can prove that they need that particular area for a highway, we have no authority to
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deny the neighbouring property owners from acquiring the land for free. It just doesn't make any sense. So we have introduced this legislation.
I have indicated before that it has the support of local government; it has the support of all fair-minded people; we have protected property rights of subdividers who may want to cancel a plan to reorganize a subdivision -- to redraw the roads or the boundaries -- and we have protected those rights. What we haven't protected are the rights of someone who may be the eighth or tenth owner of a property that was part of a subdivision 50 or 60 years ago from acquiring very valuable land, in some cases for no cost at all. We think that principle is wrong. As the member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove indicated, these are public lands. They were dedicated as public lands in the first instance. They were public lands for roadways, therefore they are in the public domain. We say: "Keep them in the public domain. Where it's appropriate for them to be acquired privately, let people buy them at the market value."
This is straightforward legislation. It has the support of almost anyone who has spent time looking at the issue, and I am delighted to say that in Vernon it had the unanimous support of the UBCM.
With that, hon. Speaker, I move second reading of Bill 73.
Motion approved on division.
Bill 73, Land Title Amendment Act, 1993, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. M. Sihota: Again, I am impressed with the high level of unanimity in this House, and with some of the great speeches that were made.
Hon. Speaker, I call second reading of Bill 78.
PUBLIC SECTOR EMPLOYERS ACT
Hon. G. Clark: The new Public Sector Employers Act is the result of recommendations to government by the Korbin commission. You may recall that the commission had a mandate to inquire into the management of human resources in the broad public sector and to report on ways that government may more effectively deliver human resources in that sector. The commission has based its recommendations on the results of many months of consultation with the interested parties, including employers and bargaining unit representatives. The broad public sector in British Columbia is composed of the direct public service; health; education, meaning K to 12; colleges and institutes; universities; community social services; and Crown corporations, agencies, and commissions. Funding for the programs in these sectors is provided primarily, if not exclusively, by the government.
There are approximately 300,000 employees working in these sectors. Their compensation is approximately $10.9 billion annually, or about 57.4 percent of the total provincial budget. The representatives of these employees bargain collectively with approximately 3,000 employers at about 400 bargaining tables. Despite the significance of these statistics on the economy of the province -- and on the fiscal position of the province, I might say -- there has never been a formal framework for expenditure accountability between the government, which provides the funding on the one hand, and the public sector bodies that spend the money on the other. The informal framework that has been in place has not proven successful and has led to inefficiencies and inequities in several areas.
Let's be clear: this bill reflects the government's adoption of the framework and process for resolution recommended by the Korbin commission. It does not radically upset the existing processes of collective bargaining. It introduces the elements of balance between the government and the various parts of the public sector who have such a major impact on our expenditures.
This is all about better management accountability in the broader public sector. Frankly, this bill introduces accountability. Many matters addressed by the Korbin commission will require careful consideration with a view towards implementation. Some of these issues are within the specific purview of my cabinet colleagues, who retain responsibility for them. The process introduced by this bill ensures a long-term, coordinated approach to public-sector human resource and labour relations matters.
Reading the Korbin commission report confirms that the commission explored other alternatives to address the issues that face us. The commission's report rejects other models as unworkable or inappropriate for our province, given our unique labour relations history and model of decentralized service delivery. The model recommended and accepted by the introduction of this bill reflects a customized solution untried in Canada that emphasizes the interrelationships among the various parties and their need to cooperate in finding solutions within a new framework.
This bill addresses these important issues by providing that framework of coordination and accountability to the government. It will do this by establishing a body known as the Public Sector Employers' Council. This council will be made up of members of cabinet and representatives of each of seven sectors in the broad public sector, including the public service. The functions of this council will be to set and coordinate strategic directions in human resource management and labour relations. The membership of this council, chaired by the chair of Treasury Board, is also planned to include key sectoral ministers. It is apparent that this council, given its composition, will have substantial influence on the mandate approval process. It will also facilitate the examination of human resource issues to allow public sector employers to plan solutions and advise government. Another important function will be to provide ongoing consultation between public sector employers and representatives of public sector employees on policy issues.
The new bill will also require the formation of an employer association in each of the six identified
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sectors. The purposes of these associations will be to coordinate among the member employers issues such as compensation for non-bargaining unit employees, benefits and general human resource practices, as well as collective bargaining objectives. Each employer in the sector will be required to become and remain a member of the association. For the first time, public sector employer organizations, assembled as associations in this bill, must make provision for the representation of the government on their boards of directors. The bill also provides that these employer associations may apply on their own initiative to the Labour Relations Board to become the accredited bargaining agent for the members of the association. The Minister of Labour and Consumer Services, in the interests of labour relations peace, may also direct the board to consider whether any group of employers or all of them should be designated as the exclusive bargaining agent for all or part of a sector.
The Korbin commission report recommended a companion bill known as the compensation information bureau act. This proposal recommended the establishment of a compensation information bureau that would ensure compensation information is collected in a coordinated way for use by government and the public sector generally. Government has not accepted this recommendation. At this time, the need for accurate and dependable information is clearly integral to the success of achieving balance and accountability. It is our view, however, that with a minimal increase to existing resources within government -- including the Labour Relations Board in particular -- sufficient support can be focused in this area to provide the necessary information without the creation of the compensation information bureau at this time. We presume that public sector employers will respect the principles of this bill, and that information will be made available as required.
The new Public Sector Employers Act represents an important step toward ensuring accountability among public sector employers. This reflects government's responsibility to ensure control over compensation costs in the public sector. The taxpayers of this province have a right to expect that their tax dollars are being spent efficiently and effectively to support these public services. The work of the Korbin commission represents the most significant process of public sector human resource management consultation in the last 20 years. This legislation provides a framework for developing effective relationships between government, employer and employee groups, as we work toward a common goal of providing the best and most efficient services to the public.
The legislation establishes a process that builds on the existing collective bargaining process. This government respects the collective bargaining process, and the objective of this legislation is to provide a greater degree of accountability, while recognizing the fiscal realities the province faces. For the first time we will ensure that all of the players in each of the important parts of the public sector meet in a cooperative way to resolve problems that include this sector and across the broad public sector. This may well result in compromises between the sectors in order that fundamental problems in one sector are provided assistance by other sectors which have addressed the problems themselves or are in a position to assist. This cooperative model will not necessarily be an easy accomplishment to achieve, but we need to begin to frame the solution that respects the men and women who work in our public sector and respects the employee groups that represent them.
The bill strikes what we believe to be a fair balance between the need for accountability to government and preserving the ability of public agencies to manage themselves and their human resources. I draw attention to the consequential amendments that this bill introduces to the School Act. Currently the School Act envisions bargaining between school boards and teacher unions, not groups of boards and unions. The School Act does not have any provisions which restrict bargaining between school boards and non-teacher unions. By itself, the Public Sector Employers Act would be sufficient to permit some other structure for bargaining teachers' salaries. The proposed amendments to the School Act will enable, but not require, a change to the status quo.
In general, this is an attempt to bring some rationality and accountability to the broad public sector to end the leapfrogging we have seen between employers within one sector and between different sectors in the public sector. It's a constant problem that this government, and governments for many years, have faced. This bill does not solve the problem. It simply provides a framework which allows for coordination and allows the government to exert some influence to ensure that there is some consistency across the public sector. Again, it's an enabling bill. I think it's a positive step. Obviously, the government -- and any government -- will be judged in the future on the way in which it is implemented, and obviously we are here today to recognize that fact.
With respect to the School Act, the consequential amendments again simply enable some alternative form of bargaining in the K to 12 sector. They do not require it. If this particular act were to by itself lead to some change in bargaining structure, it would not be possible to implement the change without those consequential amendments.
With those few remarks, I now move second reading.
F. Gingell: I am also going to speak briefly. The minister and the government have been having a good day, with pieces of legislation passing one after the other with support from all sides of the House. As far as the official opposition is concerned, this bill will also pass with our support.
As the minister truly said, this bill is purely a framework bill. It will be of interest to us in the future to see the various pieces and parts that are hung on it. As there are in all these pieces of legislation, of course, there are certain matters of concern to us. I want to take a moment to bring some of those to the attention of the
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minister; items that I hope he will bring some further explanation to in closure of debate.
As I understand it, the purpose of this act and the exercise that we are involved in here is to create an umbrella organization that will bring together all of the employers. It is not anticipated by this that they will try -- and they will not necessarily try -- to take the place of the employer; they will simply be a council of employers with representatives from the ministry and the various employer groups. When we look at the purposes of the act, section 2(a) says: "To ensure the coordination of human resource and labour relations policies and practices among public sector employers." That is logical. That makes sense. That is exactly what we would do if we had the opportunity that is presently afforded this minister -- as we will shortly. But subsection (b) says: "To improve communication and coordination between public sector employers and representatives of public sector employees." I am a little confused here, because I don't see that particular function as a role of this particular council. I seems to me that the government, if they do this, is going to insinuate and involve themselves in the normal relationship between the employer and the representative of the employees.
So I have some problems with sections 2(a) and (b). I would appreciate it very much if the minister might address that issue in closing debate.
Hon. Speaker, we get to section 4, which deals with the functions of the council. Why is it here? What is it going to do? Well, under (b) it's going to advise the government on human resource issues with respect to the public sector; and under (c) it's going to provide a forum to enable public sector employers to plan solutions to human resource issues. That seems to us to be completely within the mandate that we would expect. Under subsection (1)(a) it says: "to set and coordinate strategic directions in human resource management and labour relations," -- and you go down to the end of the section -- "...consistent with cost efficient and effective delivery of services in the public sector."
Hon. Speaker, that is a very wide description. We have looked through this bill from cover to cover to find exactly what stretegic directions are. Because of the description at the end of the section, we presume that the strategic directions must deal only with cost efficiency and delivery of services. But it is very loose. It is of concern to us, and we hope that the minister might see fit to deal with those matters.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
Could strategic directions include such things as secondary boycotts or the process of unionization in other parts of the economy? Will it deal with the issue of employment equity? There are a whole series of issues that I think would be worthwhile. By the time we have finished dealing with Bill 78, all of us in this House will have a much clearer understanding of what strategic directions are. In the same section, it also speaks about it being a function of the council to enable representatives of public sector employers to consult with public sector employees on policy issues. That goes back to my discussion before on the government using this council to place itself between the normal bargaining relationship of the employer and the representative of the employees. One would expect this council to have communications only up to Treasury Board and down to the employers, rather than jumping over them and being involved in the process with the representatives on issues -- to finish section 4 -- "that directly affect the employees." Well, that too is a very wide-ranging subject.
This bill also describes and lays out the particular groups that are going to be involved in the makeup of the council. One of them deals with schools. At this time there is a lack of unanimity among school boards in dealing with the issue of what body represents them. There are some ten school boards, as I understand it, that no longer belong to the B.C. School Trustees' Association. They aren't ten small school boards; they are ten significant school boards. So the minister may well have some problem in getting everything lined up and finding some reasonable acceptance by the school boards on who is to represent them. If there isn't acceptance, and if the minister is put into the position of having to dictate, then he's not going to get this process and this council off to a good start.
This bill also calls for the ability to pull various individual members of employer groups into single bargaining units -- a subject that the minister spoke about in second reading. This is the most permissive, unclear section I have ever read. It goes on quite a bit, but the minister is going to have to go out and buy a yo-yo, because everything is "the minister may," but the minister may not. The minister may act on a request from employees, but he isn't required to. If the minister wishes, he may send it to the Labour Relations Board for a recommendation. When the Labour Relations Board comes back with its recommendation, the minister may accept it, but he doesn't need to. When the minister receives a recommendation from the board, the minister may direct. After that happens, the board may modify it to reflect a direction. From whom? From the minister. Having gone through all of that, in section 11(8) the minister may rescind or modify a direction under subsection (6), so there isn't any clear plan here.
There are a series of actions put out there which supposedly suggest to the public that actions taken under section 11 have a complete and proper process whereby the associations are spoken to, the Labour Relations Board considers the issues and the Labour Relations Board makes a decision. But that's not the way it is at all. Section 11 just allows the minister to do whatever he wants to do about the issue. I don't know why they bother with all these other processes and procedures. It is clear that the minister, in his absolute discretion, can do whatever he wants.
I know during committee stage we will have the opportunity to gain a better understanding -- not necessarily of the legislation but of the way the government intends to build the body of PSEC in this framework. As I said at the start, this bill is only a frame. It's up to the minister, acting in a reasonable and
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responsible manner, to create a council that will recommend efficiencies and effectiveness that will be to the benefit of the employees of government, all of its agencies and the taxpayers. It is with the taxpayers' interests at heart -- and first and foremost in our minds -- that I commit my support to second reading of this bill.
J. Weisgerber: Bill 78, the Public Sector Employers Act, clearly creates a number of new structures within government to deal with public sector bargaining. As we start this debate, I think it's important to recognize that the employees affected by this bill represent about $10 billion a year in taxpayer-funded wages -- by far the biggest expenditure of government. So any change to the way those negotiations take place and any change in the level of settlements will have a dramatic effect on the budget of the province.
It's quite clear from the minister's statement that he's bringing in this legislation in an attempt to control the increases in public sector wages. Code words like "fiscal realities" clearly identify the fact that the minister understands we can't continue to have public sector wage increases at the current level. I'm optimistic enough to hope that what we're seeing is a new system of public sector bargaining that can start to deal with some of those issues. The minister in his opening remarks referred to leapfrogging. We have seen, particularly with school boards, the fact that settlements have been reached first in school boards that have been more likely to give larger settlements, and then those settlements have become the norm.
I have several disappointments with this legislation. One is that this bill doesn't move to provincewide bargaining. The minister might have simply grabbed the brass ring and said that one of the things he was going to do here was to bring in provincewide bargaining, and that they were going to set a model. As I understand the legislation, it permits school boards to decide as a group to bargain provincially. Given the resolutions passed at the last B.C. School Trustees' Association convention, I trust that they will decide to do that.
There are important steps and opportunities to be gained here. We will have to wait to see the results. We will have to see whether or not the high level of government involvement in each of the groups serves to influence the various employer groups to control public sector wage costs, or whether the government message to those groups -- which is the contradiction within the government -- will be to say that they should deal in a way that is generous with these employees because the employees are part of the group government looks to for support. We'll have to wait and see which side of the NDP caucus prevails in the message that is taken to these various employer groups.
It is clearly one of the priorities of government to control public sector wage increases. Most people would believe that public sector wage increases should parallel those in the private sector. Most people, I believe, agree that the public sector shouldn't lead the private sector in the area of wage settlements. Most people would agree, rather, that the public sector should reflect the level of wage settlements in the private sector.
It is somewhat ironic that we see a bill brought in that essentially sets out to try to find a way to control and manage public sector wage increases, and that this is done within 18 months of the government coming into office and setting aside the Compensation Fairness Act introduced two years ago in this Legislature, Bill 82. Two years later we're only a couple of numbers off, bringing in legislation that attempts to deal with the same problem from a different perspective.
You might recall that the Compensation Fairness Act simply said that public sector wage increases should be no greater than the average in the private sector. I think that was a reasonable and realistic objective for government: to maintain public sector wages consistent with those in the private sector. Whether or not this Bill 78, the Public Sector Employers Act, will achieve that goal, and whether or not that's a goal of the government, the minister has been unwilling to say.
He's given us a lot of code words and talked about things like fiscal realities. But he hasn't said that he thinks public sector wage increases are too high. He hasn't said -- and I hope he will -- that the objective of this legislation is to control public sector wage increases and keep them at or below settlements in the private sector, or at or perhaps slightly below the rate of inflation.
Indeed it will be a question in my mind whether or not this current legislation is or can be more effective than the Compensation Fairness Act that was in place when this government took office -- which this government tossed aside very quickly after taking office, and which the government seemed to feel there was no need for 18 months ago. I guess it's a recognition that the Minister of Finance has come up against some of the harsh realities of his office, in that -- within less than two years -- he comes back with legislation that essentially sets out to accomplish the same goal as the legislation he was critical of and withdrew.
We have a new opportunity for public sector employers to get together and bargain with their employees. Unfortunately, there is no obligation for either employers or employees to use the model. The minister appears to make available a menu of items. Public sector employers, who are very much controlled by the government, may or you may not use this mechanism. He says that we would like employers to look at this but that it's optional. As I understand it, employers are obliged to get together as a group, but are not obliged to use this new organization as a bargaining agent. If I had my wishes and could change the approach taken here, I would be a bit bolder and simply create these kinds of organizations, empower them and, in fact, require them to bargain on behalf of the various groups.
It's interesting that the one similar group that is probably the closest parallel to what's being proposed today is the HLRA. It is probably the model that fits closest. It's not the same. At least I don't believe it is, if my recollection serves me correctly. There is no direct representation on the HLRA, but it is a body that represents facilities and employers in the health care
[ Page 9021 ]
field. I know the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health were unhappy with the fact that the HLRA didn't follow through with their wishes in relation to the new social accord that was introduced as part....
Hon. G. Clark: Just a bit.
J. Weisgerber: The minister says: "Just a bit." Indeed, I think that is an understatement. It was going to, in fact, be a test of wills with the HLRA and the government. I understand that there was considerable pressure brought to bear before the government was ultimately able to convince the HLRA to accept a settlement -- which even today has revealed itself as wanting in many areas. I think there is a willingness to give this process a chance; a willingness to consider it as an option; a willingness to look at this model and trust that it might be a way of dealing with what is a very serious problem in British Columbia.
Again, in closing, I want to go back to remind members of this House that we are talking about a bill that manages -- that directly affects -- in excess of $10 billion a year in public sector wages. We are dealing with an issue that is core to balancing our budget. A 1 percent change one way or the other could have a significant and very real effect on the budget. That underlines the importance of the ability of the government to bring under control public sector wages. If that is indeed the commitment the minister is making, and if that is what the minister is trying to achieve, I wish him well, because clearly the government has failed to do that in the 18 months it has been in office. In fact, the government has encouraged and been a part of the opposite kind of level of settlements. The effect of the government withdrawing or repealing the compensation fairness bill has been for them to lose control of public sector bargaining. The lifting of the freeze on employees earning more than $79,000 has seen dramatic increases in wage and private settlements for executives in the public sector.
With that, I recognize that we are getting near the hour. I am sure that our members will continue the debate after adjournment.
Hon. G. Clark: I move adjournment of the debate until later today.
Hon. G. Clark: I move that the House at its rising stand recessed until 7 o'clock.
The House recessed at 6:02 p.m.
The House resumed at 7:04 p.m.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. M. Sihota: I call report on Bill 18, hon. Speaker.
MOTOR FUEL TAX AMENDMENT ACT, 1993
Bill 18 read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call report on Bill 21.
CONSUMER PROTECTION STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 1993
Bill 21 read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call report on Bill 47.
SPECIAL ACCOUNTS APPROPRIATION AND CONTROL AMENDMENT ACT, 1993
Bill 47 read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call report on Bill 48.
REPRESENTATION AGREEMENT ACT
Bill 48 read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call report on Bill 49.
ADULT GUARDIANSHIP ACT
Bill 49 read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call report on Bill 50.
PUBLIC GUARDIAN AND TRUSTEE ACT
Bill 50 read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call report on Bill 51.
HEALTH CARE (CONSENT) AND CARE FACILITY (ADMISSION) ACT
Bill 51 read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call report on Bill 55.
HEALTH PROFESSIONS AMENDMENT ACT, 1993
Bill 55 read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call report on Bill 61.
PHARMACISTS, PHARMACY OPERATIONS AND DRUG SCHEDULING ACT
Bill 61 read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call report on Bill 65, hon. Speaker.
[ Page 9022 ]
EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS AMENDMENT ACT, 1993
Bill 65 read a third time and passed on the following division:
|YEAS -- 32|
|NAYS -- 10|
Hon. M. Sihota: I call report on Bill 67.
RESIDENTIAL TENANCY AMENDMENT ACT, 1993
Bill 67 read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call second reading debate on Bill 78.
PUBLIC SECTOR EMPLOYERS ACT
L. Hanson: Bill 78 states as its purposes: "...to ensure the coordination of human resource and labour relations policies and practices among public sector employers, and to improve communication and coordination between public sector employers and representatives of public sector employees." That certainly is a laudable motivation. But it's my understanding that the act was generated as a result of the Judith Korbin report. While it purports to carry all the recommendations of the Korbin report, it doesn't cover all the recommendations. I think the minister would agree to that. It seems to pick and choose from the recommendations of the Korbin report certain things that the government would like to bring into policy with Bill 78. One of the concerns that I have with this bill is that while the published intentions of the bill are something that I could support, it seems to convey to the government -- as with most of the bills that have been brought into this session -- an undue amount of ability to control without coming back to the Legislature to discuss those issues.
My colleague from Peace River South, the leader of our party, was speaking earlier, and I saw the minister nodding as if he was in agreement. The question that my colleague was asking was if the intention of this bill is truly to get a handle on or to control public sector wage increases and to keep them, if not less, certainly no higher than what we see in the private sector. In fairness, I guess it has been a challenge to governments of various political persuasions to control the increase in public sector wages for the last number of years. Certainly in the last two years, since this government has been in place, public sector increases have far outstripped those in the private sector. I could go on, and quote the percentages, but I am not sure that is particularly important, because it is recognized that that is one of the difficulties government has, and has had for a number of years. It is not peculiar to British Columbia. In terms of its difficulty it is Canada-wide, and in some cases international. I think we can accept that.
Our concern is whether that is the true motivation of this bill. If you read this bill with a bit of cynicism, you might see other motivation in the things that it allows the government to take control of. As someone who has said that caution is a good attitude in most things, I might cynically say that the motivation isn't what the minister is suggesting it is. But I challenge the minister: if, in his second reading closure remarks, he will give this House and the people of British Columbia an absolute guarantee, without any conditions, that the motivation in this bill is strictly to get control on public sector wage costs relative to the increases that the private sector is enjoying, and relative to consumer price index changes, it would strongly persuade me to vote in favour of Bill 78, even though I may have some concerns with the motivation in the bill.
One of the things that gives us some reason for some cynicism about the motivation for this bill is the fact that the author of the report was paid what we consider an exorbitant amount for doing it. It seems to me that the motivation should be to control public sector wage costs and the issues related to that. When you consider that Korbin commission chair Judith Korbin was receiving $1,200 a day, that the cost to government was $1.4 million for this recommendation and that the remuneration to the individual who apparently worked an average of three days a week was some $290,000, it makes us wonder if the motivation for this bill is truly to control the cost of public sector wage increases.
We certainly hope that that is the intention of the government. If the minister in his closing remarks on second reading debate would give us that assurance, it would have a strong influence on the members of my party to vote in favour of the bill. If the minister in his closing remarks alludes to some other motivation -- and we would suspect, without a clear-cut commitment on the part of the minister, that that is the case -- it would convince us that we should vote in the negative. It does bestow on the minister and the government tremendous powers, powers that are almost hard to believe. But a number of other bills that we have seen brought forward by this government are nothing but enabling pieces of legislation that continue to give the government the opportunity of doing almost as they
[ Page 9023 ]
wish, without the necessary debate that should happen before this House.
We have seen so many things happen under this government that are obvious paybacks of what we consider to be IOUs created during an election campaign that it makes us very leery of what the true intention of the bill is. I know that at times the government -- because I have seen it demonstrated by the Minister of Finance and other ministers -- is truly torn between their responsibility to the taxpayers of the province and the debt that they feel they owe to the public sector unions. We see that conflict of their emotions, dedication and policies demonstrated in a number of ways through the negotiation process and some of the settlements that have been reached. We certainly see it demonstrated in the settlement proposed for the health unions. We see that demonstrated, and it makes us a little suspicious of what the motivation truly is for this bill.
I stand here in an undecided position as to whether I should support or vote against Bill 78. Having listened to these remarks, I know the Minister of Finance will unequivocally tell us in his closing remarks that the only intention of this bill is to ensure that the government can control -- or get a handle on, if you will -- public sector wage increases. If that is his unconditional assurance, I would find it difficult not to support this legislation.
With that, I will wait in anticipation for the minister's closing remarks.
K. Jones: It's a great pleasure to speak on second reading, the debate in principle, of Bill 78, the Public Sector Employers Act. I think that it's a move in the right direction. It's a positive attempt to bring government control to an area that is a very large part of the budget. It is an area that has the largest number of employees of any organization throughout the province. It definitely needs to be addressed, and I think its present shortfalls have been well focused by the Korbin report.
The bill has many good aspects to it. There is a process for setting up employers' councils and associations to enable larger bargaining units to look after the broader interests of all of the negotiations. This takes us away from the individual negotiations that have gone on in the past, which have created a lot of disturbance in government over public sector collective bargaining. It will bring forward a standardization of the process to all public sectors employees who are paid by the provincial government, even those at other levels of government who are still basically being paid by provincial tax revenue. There has to be full accountability for the expenditure of that money, and the benefits and salaries paid to those people must be done on a fair and equitable basis.
I have a concern with a few areas of this reorganization, such as compensation for excluded employees. They are the management and non-unionized employees within the public sector. By this bill, they are going to be represented by the Public Sector Employers' Council. This is a 15-member council that will include seven cabinet ministers or their designates and a representative of each of the following sectors: health, social services, education, universities, colleges and institutes, Crown corporation agencies and the public service. Although they work under various segments of those, they have only one representative on that board from their particular sector. It gives them very little voice in the determination of the decisions that are made about their salaries and benefits, which will be determined by this employers' council. In order to give them a fairer representation, perhaps management also needs to have an agency that would take their case and represent them, and the excluded employees would have a form of bargaining agency that would bring their interests to this council, rather than having the council be the only representation, which is actually a management representation. I would like to have the minister look at that area with some consideration so that their interests are represented. It should not just be the management side; there should be an excluded employee side to balance that representation on the Public Sector Employers' Council.
Aside from that, there are some areas under the collective bargaining section that provide that an employers' association is accredited under the labour code and has the purpose of acting as bargaining agent for the members of the employers' association who are named in the accreditation. That gives this employers' council the ability to be the full bargaining agent in all of those negotiations. That gives it exceptional power, which will make it fully accountable. But the problem is: how do we, as the agents of the people, have a representation on that? The representation is solely through the seven members of cabinet who are on that council. To whom does that council report? I would like to ask if that area could be considered.
Aside from that, I think that we, as members of the official opposition, would be quite willing to support the general concepts, with some areas of concern, and we will detail those in committee stage.
C. Serwa: It's a pleasure to rise and speak on the philosophy and principles of Bill 78. I have listened to some of the debate on this act, and it's particularly interesting to note that with the ascension to power of the current government, the knowledge and experience has slowly translated into smatterings of wisdom. And that wisdom is fully recognizing the constraints on the economy of British Columbia with the public sector wage increases. That was a concern of ours in the former administration, and that's why we brought in the Compensation Fairness Act, which limited wage increases to a fairly substantial amount. At that time I believe it was 4.5 percent -- certainly not behind the rate of inflation, but a reasonable effort to strive to control....
The real problem we are getting into in the economy is that we all participate actively in the economy, whether we are private or public sector employees or employers. The wage and benefit packages for public sector employees are running far ahead of the private sector settlements for the equivalent type of work. The economy is simply not sustainable on that particular
[ Page 9024 ]
basis. We have a vested interest collectively in the continued maintenance of a strong and healthy economy in British Columbia. No one group, no matter how highly organized or how singularly powerful its organization, should be able to hold the rest of the public more or less to ransom. A great deal of frustration is out there in the real world, where individuals are working harder and longer; they are turning over more dollars, but are getting less for them. The taxation rates have increased quite dramatically. In the term of this government, government employees have increased very dramatically, by over 2,000. We've also had fairly substantial wage settlements. It places a heavier burden on private sector employees -- and they are the majority of people in British Columbia. It is apparent that it cannot continue.
Again, that was the purpose of Bill 84 -- the act that the previous government brought in and one of the first acts that this current government repealed. There were some faults in the Compensation Fairness Act; I agree that it treated some individuals in the system differently. Over a period of time, though, they were to have equivalent treatment. It would have been better if that package had been designed to treat all -- in this case, the teaching profession -- equitably and fairly at one time. Just in logistics and timing of the settlements, it wasn't able to capture all of them. This created substantial unease and frustration for those captured by that specific piece of legislation. Nevertheless, the intent of the legislation was quite appropriate. If we look at the responsibility, the knowledge, the work requirements and the productivity of individuals in similar occupations in the private sector and those in the public sector, we can see substantial differentials in expectations of performance, in security of employment, in benefit packages and in a number of other related areas.
Certainly, if this bill is to be utilized with the expressed intent, one cannot help but support the philosophy and principles of the bill, with the proviso, as my hon. colleague for Okanagan-Vernon stated, that the minister signify in his windup speech on second reading.... That's fairly critical, because Bill 78 possesses the potential to simply be a smokescreen; it possesses the potential to say the right thing and get the public's confidence that the government has got the message -- that we understand that the pockets of the taxpayers are only so deep and that the true wealth of British Columbia is generated in our resource extraction industries, in the widgets we produce for export and in goods and commodities, and that we're all tied up in that. As we take more of the cash flow out of that sector and put it into the public sector, we're weakening the economy that we need in the province.
As you well know, hon. Speaker, that economy has enabled us to have one of the best education systems and a splendid example of quality health care in Canada and in the world. Our social concerns are more than adequately addressed by the Ministry of Social Services. But we need this cash flow created by a strong economy.
The public sector is getting larger and larger. I think the figure was thrown around of approximately 300,000 public sector employees in the various levels of government in British Columbia. They are all interrelated and represented by the same union, so the settlements are generally in accordance with that -- no real problem. But because of the strength of the union, the settlements have far exceeded the private sector settlements. If you look at both wages and benefit packages, you're looking at perhaps a 30 percent to 40 percent differential.
When we look at equity, we have to be mindful that we can't simply look at equity in the public sector or public service. We may look at employment equity with respect to jobs that are deemed to be similar in worth, and the pay differential is going to be reduced, or moved closer, or perhaps nullified -- it's an arbitrary, subjective type of decision. But I suggest that it would be wise to look at the private sector to see what similar jobs pay. It never ceases to amaze me that we fail to do that, that we fail to recognize that we're all passengers on a large vessel sailing on an ocean together and that we have to keep coordinated and in harmony. We cannot continue to impose heavier and heavier taxation pressures on a virtually defenceless taxpaying public simply to strengthen the public sector.
We can all appreciate as individuals that our expectations will never be fully satisfied. That's probably the nature of the beast. I've never met a person who couldn't use more money, and that's a reality. Sometimes we put ourselves in a position where we not only can use more money, but we must use money. We buy a larger home than we should rightfully have. We buy a larger or more expensive car than we should have, and then we demand more wages because we simply cannot make our own way. In this particular situation, when we're dealing with Bill 78, I hope that the government has realized through the Korbin commission that private sector wages and public sector wages have to relate to each other.
As we have said many times in the Legislature, it's clear that there have to be real constraints. There may have to be a wage freeze for several years. There has to be some mechanism and sincere intent to allow some process to develop so that the private sector, which is directly dependent on the economy, can move closer to the public sector for equivalent work. We have in British Columbia, albeit in the private sector, the highest-priced woodworkers in the world. In some ways that's good for those who are still working in the forest industry, but we've lost about 33 percent of the employment opportunities in that industry in the last ten years because the employers are forced to mechanize.
When we're looking for public sector wage settlements, we're mindful that we have to maintain jobs. If we fail to maintain jobs in any area, then we're putting a heavier and heavier burden on those individuals who are working and contributing taxes. The reality is that whether you're in the public or the private sector you're going to be taxed more and more when fewer and fewer people are working. There are other things that work into it, such as social problems, but we won't get into that at the moment.
[ Page 9025 ]
There is definitely a fiscal crisis in British Columbia at the present time. It has nothing to do with the potential of this province. It has a great deal to do with the types of settlements that have been made in recent years in the public sector, and the disparity between the private sector and the public sector. This frustration on the part of individuals in British Columbia is starting to turn into a greater anger, and they're looking for something to identify that anger with. The reality is that we're looking for a quality of life and a certain level of contentment.
If private sector employees want higher wages, it has to be matched by an increase in productivity. That does not appear to be a relevant issue in the public sector. Other issues seem to predominate. Such issues as inflation, cost of living and all the other things that factor into it seem to factor very highly, but there is no focus on efficiencies or on ascertaining productivity. Perhaps it's difficult to measure, but they do measure it in the private sector. There are some other mechanisms that, hopefully, will be incorporated in the future to give public sector employees a real sense of proprietorship in what they are doing.
The stated purpose of the bill in section 2 is to improve communication between employers and employees, but that really isn't the problem. The problem, as I and other speakers have tried to identify, is controlling runaway government costs. The wage payment is a very substantial factor in the cost of government today. It will be interesting to note what happens with the compensation information bureau and whether that transpires as recommended by the Korbin commission. It's a very subjective area, and it's going to be exceedingly difficult.
The interesting fact in all of this is that there seems to be an overwhelming tendency in employment equity and in the public sector to utilize any opportunity to increase wages. A number of years ago the reclassification process was in vogue. Employees in a section determined that if they were classified as engineering technologists, they could get a dramatic increase in pay. There is an agency in government that actually looked at it and reclassified them because of the type of work they were doing, and they received a very significant increase in pay due to the reclassification process.
Part of this leads into employment equity; there's no question that it's one of the elements. What the government says all the time is that the right wage is the high wage, and we have to bring the low wage up to the high wage, which imposes a tremendous burden on the taxpayer. If we deem that one is perhaps getting too much and the other one is getting too little, I question why there isn't a meeting of the ways. Acting in a responsible manner, the government should represent the concerns of the taxpayers, and if we're going to look at that, we shouldn't take the high wage arbitrarily as being the right wage. We should look at what the private sector could afford to pay in that particular area and then develop a compensation package. If the government is committed to employment equity -- as they appear to be -- then we should be looking at a new wage level and structuring it so that there is no adverse impact, as the tendency has been, on the taxpaying public.
I will listen very intently to the Minister of Finance as he makes his closing speech in order to ascertain his sincere commitment. As I said at the start of my talk tonight, the potential exists for this to be used in a variety of ways -- some very positive, if that is a commitment of the current government and the minister, and in many other ways. We are creating a great many boards and groups and factors, and the government can hide behind a smokescreen of organizations. The fact is that settlements could be made that continue to distance, even on a straight percentage basis, those who are in the higher wage bracket from those in the lower bracket. I don't think that is appropriate.
With that, I will close my remarks on second reading on Bill 78.
G. Farrell-Collins: Over the last 18 to 20 months we've seen a continuing theme come from the government. It's an issue that I suppose the Minister of Finance has handled as the primary spokesperson, but the Premier occasionally gets his direction and addresses it too. The main theme has been that the government isn't totally responsible for its deficit, because they don't have a handle on the public sector, the public service and the wage settlements that take place. Indeed, many of these wage settlements occur without the concurrence of the government. In fact, the Minister of Finance finds it frustrating not being able to control some of those expenditures.
To a certain, very small extent, I think the opposition would tend to sympathize, because we do know it is difficult for the government to control those settlements in the public sector and public service -- in the public sector, anyway. The government doesn't have direct control over it.
But the fact of the matter is that this government, through the lead-up to the last election and the first series of wage settlements that took place shortly after the election, set a benchmark well beyond the ability of the province to pay for it. The settlements that the government made with the BCGEU last year were well above those settlements that we saw in the private sector. It was, I think, greater than three times the rate of inflation. As a result, all the other portions or various components of the public sector had a similar demand; they tried to meet that benchmark. When you spread that out over the literally billions of dollars that we spend on public sector employees' benefits and wages in this province, it adds up pretty quickly and has a huge impact on the provincial deficit. So that's one part of it.
I think the government has to recognize, when they bring forth this legislation, that it's nice they're dealing with it now, but they must take a certain amount of blame for that concept of the government setting a benchmark and being responsible for the anticipated results, for raising expectations in the public sector. We have to highlight that because, if there's anything in Bill 78 that leaps out at you, it's the fact that nothing leaps out at you; it's very wishy-washy. You could sense that
[ Page 9026 ]
in some of the comments that have come from the opposition throughout this debate. There are lots of words and ideas and concepts there.
But for those to mean anything, it will really take willpower on the part of the government. It's going to take strong willpower on the part of the Minister of Finance and the other ministers to set that standard, to say what those expectations are, and to reduce the level of public sector expectations that we came into this parliament with. It's not enough just to put this legislation into place. It's going to require some fairly hard-nosed politics and bargaining on behalf of the government, to stand up there and say repeatedly that there isn't any more money and that we're going to have to be more realistic in our wage levels.
I think the government has started to wake up to that and to deal with those types of issues. But I hope we will get some reassurance from the minister, and on an ongoing basis from the government, that they're ready to make those tough decisions and willing to say enough is enough, there's no more money and we're going to have to start to do things smarter. This is the right direction. But this doesn't mean anything unless the government responds with that type of attitude and lets it permeate down through the structures they are putting in place, right down to the bargaining level, so that we see settlements that are more realistic, something that the taxpayers can afford and that are more in line -- as the member for Okanagan West said -- with what we see in the private sector. I think that's important.
I know from reviewing some of the background material that went into the Korbin report, which ended up being condensed into this legislation, that there was a big issue represented in some of that material. It showed that there has been a huge growth over the last ten years in the middle levels of the public sector at a time when the private sector has been trying to reduce the hierarchy in their organizations, flatten their management structure, empower people at the lower levels to make these decisions and eliminate a large portion of the middle management sector. At a time when the private sector has been trying to do that and to grapple with what they need to do in order to continue to be competitive in a very difficult economic situation, governments in general have done just the opposite. In fact, there has been a ballooning of employees in the middle management level in the public sector. That too is a big driver -- a very large driver -- of the cost of public sector benefits and wages that this government has to pay out.
It's unfortunate that from square one Judi Korbin wasn't given the opportunity to make recommendations on the appropriateness of the size of the public sector, and that she wasn't able to make comments on the appropriateness of the management structure in the public sector and look at the whole public service and say: we can do things more efficiently; we can eliminate layers of management; we can eliminate layers of accountability; we can make the front-line employees more accountable and empower those employees to make the types of decisions they need to make. Decisions need to be quicker, more effective and should not go through so many layers of management before they get to the top. That's a trend that's taking place in the private sector. It's a trend that's been driven by the competitive market that the private sector has to operate in.
Unfortunately, the public sector doesn't have anything to drive that competitive nature. It doesn't have anything that demands that the public sector be more accountable. The only time that the public sector ever runs up against the wall of accountability is when the taxpayer finally has had enough, when the taxpayer finally says: "Look, I am simply not willing to pay any more, and if you insist on taking more, I'm going to get rid of you as a government." We're starting to see that. We saw that with the last budget, and we're starting to see it now.
I really wish that Ms. Korbin, in doing this review, had had an opportunity to look at the problems that exist in the public sector, such as the management structure and the number of employees who are required, not just how much they're being paid or how the bargaining system is working. If the government is ideologically opposed to reducing the number of employees, then at least let's shift those employees from management levels down to actually providing service to the people they're supposed to provide service to, which is the public. I know that's a philosophical shift, and I know that's something the government would find difficult to do, but I think it's important that we do that, and I hope that we can head in that direction through the process that's put in place in Bill 78.
Once again, I'm not sure that we're going to have the willpower from the government to do that, but I think it's important that we do. I hope that people in the public sector -- on the employers' side and indeed, I hope, on the side of the unions -- will look at those issues and realize that they have to keep up with the times, that times are changing and the old style of management isn't going to work anymore. If they want to continue to have a productive civil service and if those people want to continue to have jobs in the public sector, they're going to have to deal with the new reality and the limits of the taxpayers' ability to pay and restructure the way they're doing business and providing services within government. I hope that is one of the things that we'll see develop over time with Bill 78. I think the ability is there, but I'm not sure that the willpower is there yet. I hope the government does that.
So while I think that Bill 78 is full of good intentions, the government does need to get a good grip on not just the schools and hospitals but all the Crown corporations and agencies of government that we often forget about on the periphery, but which are also drivers of these collective agreements and drivers of the increased costs of government. While the government has good intentions in the bill, I think it's going to require a great deal of willpower to actually implement that; to push it down the scale; to hear from the employees on the bottom and the employers on the top, and try and come to some consensus in the middle that is going to allow us to restructure the way government is operating --
[ Page 9027 ]
indeed, take a good look at the size of the public sector and the public service.
There is one concern that I have with this bill. I know we will address it again in committee stage, but in the public sector there is a forgotten sector of employees that is not often talked about -- certainly not by the government. The government often talks about the employees within the public sector who are covered by collective agreements and about the employers' associations, but there is very little talk about the excluded staff members -- that sort of forgotten group of employees in the public sector -- which is fairly substantial. In the struggle between those employees covered by collective agreements and the employers' associations, the excluded staff members sometimes get pushed to the side. I hope that we will be able to see an expansion and an explanation by the minister as to where excluded staff are going to have a role to play in this, aside from that one section in Bill 78. Those excluded staff are often involved in some level in the management structure. They too have a say in the way the public sector is operating, and perhaps have some good suggestions that should be represented around these council tables and employer association groups to try and streamline the public sector and make it more efficient. I hope there will be clarification by the minister that those employee groups will also be playing a role, despite the fact that they don't participate in a collective agreement. I think we all understand that it is essential the government deal with this.
What we on the opposition side are looking to see from the government is the commitment that goes along with the words in Bill 78 -- the commitment to really make those decisions. I am worried, and I know other members of the opposition are worried, because we think that getting closer and closer to an election, the government may find that they don't want to offend those traditional supporters they have in the public sector. That's a political decision that the government may choose to make, but I am worried that that decision will be made at the expense of the taxpayers of the province, and at the expense of all British Columbians. I would encourage the government to make those wise decisions, to make the tough decisions and provide the willpower it's going to take to grapple with this issue and come to terms with it.
I think we are heading into a very difficult time in working through the new changes to the way collective bargaining is going to be done in the public sector. We saw that the intervention of the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health in the negotiations between the Health Labour Relations Association and the health employees was difficult to grapple with. It caused confusion, uncertainty and conflict within those groups. We know the amount of conflict we had in this province in the public sector as it related to teachers last spring. The provisions within this bill for changes in collective bargaining are going to cause a great deal of conflict, uncertainty and confusion for school boards, especially as we move into an election year.
I think we are headed for a very rough time in trying to implement Bill 78. I hope the government has the willpower to stay the course, to make the right decisions and to ride out the rough times that are going to come. I know the opposition will be pushing for a rationalization of those services, for a more realistic way of negotiating teachers' contracts and other contracts in the school system, and a more efficient way of administering the health care system in this province -- among other things. I hope that the government will have the willpower to do those types of things that need to be done, and to stay the course. The opposition will be monitoring the progress of the implementation of this bill. We will also be awaiting the comments of the Minister of Finance in determining our final position on this bill. We need to hear what is going to take place in committee stage. We need to have further expansion on the intent of this bill. We will try to push the government to stay the course, and to make those tough decisions that we need to make on behalf of all the taxpayers of the province.
L. Fox: I am pleased to rise and speak on the philosophy and principles of Bill 78, the Public Sector Employers Act. When I first read through this act, several things crossed my mind. When discussion was taking place a few years ago on a very similar act -- the Compensation Fairness Act -- I remember how much this government, when it was the opposition, fought against that act. In fact, one of the very first actions of this government when it came into power was to rescind that act. I thought to myself: what would have happened if a government other than the NDP had brought this forward? What would all of the suspicions have been about this particular action? I could have gone back to Hansard and pulled out all of the arguments against the Compensation Fairness Act that that government used when it was in opposition, and utilized them here this evening in talking to this bill. That is the cynic in me. I guess that I want to be a bit more optimistic about this bill this evening than that government was when they were in opposition.
I do want to bring to the minister's attention one flaw in the Korbin report -- I hope there aren't more. This particular one is on page F26 of the commission report: "Prince George teachers and the Prince George School Board made respective and joint submissions regarding the success of their relationship and its impact on an early settlement in collective bargaining in the recent round; notwithstanding, there was a prolonged legal strike during their first round of bargaining under the new act in 1988." The reason I mention that is that that prolonged strike was three days; it was not a prolonged strike. I think that the board and the teachers resolved it in a very real way, given the new process that they had in place, agreed on and jointly developed for the purposes of negotiation.
I think that this particular act will be a positive move if this government has the willpower and is truly making a sincere move to bring public sector wage increases into line with those in the private sector. If that is truly the motivation of this government in bringing this legislation forward -- and we have yet to hear the minister stipulate that in any specific way, but hopefully, he will during the closing arguments -- and if this government has the willpower to utilize this
[ Page 9028 ]
legislation in that way, it will be a very positive move. But when you look around the province at the multitude of commissions and committees that this government has set up, once again that cynic in me comes out and asks if this is in fact a genuine move. Or is this a smokescreen that is being developed by this government to try to suggest they're trying hard to do something that they don't really have the ability to do? Are they saying that it wasn't really them but this structure that decided on this particular resolve? That is a concern to me and to most of British Columbia. I believe strongly that the public sector does need and should have realistic wage increases. They should have wage increases similar to or below those in the private sector, but they should not be leading the pack and setting the pace, as we've seen in the first 20 months of this government's actions. They have set the pace in wage settlements in virtually all sectors.
The other part that concerns me a bit developed out of what happened this spring with the so-called accord. We saw the Finance minister go to the union and strike a deal -- a sweetheart deal -- only to have the HLRA shut it down because they didn't believe they could deliver the service and honour the deal. The minister won't have to do that anymore, because if he wants to, he could utilize this process to put that kind of pressure on the HLRA. Had it been a Socred government that brought this forward, the NDP would be coming forward and saying that this is the heavy hand of government and it's going to force those unions to their knees, and so on and so forth. But we know that that is not the motivation of this government, because they are too closely aligned with those unions, and they need them too much come the next election, especially given where they are today in the polls.
I sincerely hope that this is a legitimate move forward by this government, a legitimate attempt to bring public sector wage increases in line with the private sector's. It's too bad that the Korbin commission didn't have the opportunity to evaluate how efficient we are at different levels within the government. We could have had a lot to discuss about how we could have modified government to decrease the cost to British Columbians, rather than look at ways and means of increasing the cost. The main objective with this structure will obviously be what wage increase we should give, not how we should be cutting government.
But the principle of this bill is something which we can support. Other members of our caucus have stood up and supported the intent. Providing the minister will confirm what has been requested of him by myself and the other members of our caucus, I'm quite sure we will be supporting it.
The Speaker: The minister, upon rising, closes debate.
Hon. G. Clark: I have just a few brief remarks. Listening to the members of the opposition suggest that they will support this bill under certain conditions makes me want to pause and check to make sure that my own position is correct. It's a rare moment of agreement.
I also want to clarify for the record an untruth continually stated by the opposition with respect to what has happened to date. What has happened to public sector wages? When we took office, the public sector settlement pattern for 1991 was 7 percent, under the previous administration. That's what public sector settlements were. We brought it down to 6 percent, and in the current climate, that appears too high -- but it is retroactive to well beyond a year earlier. The settlement for the first year of our administration was 2.5 percent. When we got elected, the public sector settlement pattern was about 7 percent. We brought it down modestly in that year. Comparing apples to apples, it came down to a 2 percent cost to taxpayers. This year it's at inflation, which is a little higher than that.
How does that compare to the private sector? Are we outstripping the private sector today? The answer is no. Public sector settlements have consistently come down to the 1.5 to 2 percent range. Just to give you one example with respect to the health care accord, the Ministry of Finance receives -- I've discussed this in the House before -- the status quo budgets. The acute care hospital sector in British Columbia is saying to the Ministry of Finance: "We need 1 percent more next year to meet the growing population and wage pressures that we face, given the health care accord." That is an astonishing accomplishment in terms of the fiscal situation in the province. No province in Canada is faced with that kind of minimal cost pressure as a result of such as accord. Of course, it's interesting to hear members from that party complain that several thousand fewer people will be working in the system, but at the same time they're arguing that we should be cutting the costs of government. This is a very significant accomplishment.
I don't want to belabour that, except to say that we're concerned about public sector settlements. They have outstripped inflation and the private sector almost every single year; for over ten years now, they have outstripped inflation in the private sector. As of the last six months, they are down -- in some cases a little lower and in some cases a little higher than the private sector. We have actually brought them down, to be competitive. If you take out the municipal sector, which is still running a bit higher -- I won't make any political comments here, although I'd like to -- the provincial government's public sector wage settlements are competitive. I have no hesitation in saying that we may be competitive now, but there were ten years when there was some catch-up. Public sectors unions would argue with some justification that if you go back 20 years, they were constantly below the private sector. So there has been some correcting of the balance.
That seems to me to be a debate that is not worth entertaining, except to say that I acknowledge that public sector wages are a concern of government. We are the employer. There are 300,000 public sector workers, who are basically 100 percent funded by the provincial taxpayer. The total bill is close to $11 billion, so a 1 percent wage increase costs $110 million across the system. Clearly that is something we have to be
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concerned about, and we have to try to get a handle on it to ensure that we deal with it in a fiscally responsible way.
Members of the opposition have asked if the motivation for this is to deal with those wage pressures. The answer is yes. But I want to be clear that it is more than that, because in government -- and I will give you a couple of examples -- there are home support workers who make $8 an hour. As you move to community care and try to enhance that sector, it's clear to me that we have to enhance the qualifications, probably the pay and the conditions of the people who work in the community sector, which has historically been underfunded. It's partly because a lot of them are not unionized and are not part of the big vested interests. They're not the same as the institutional sector in terms of the employer. So there are a multitude of private contractors and non-profit. Those are valid reasons. If the government, in the case of me, representing the Ministry of Finance, wants to deal with this in a rational way, how do we support larger wage increases for those low-paid people for good public policy reasons without leapfrogging through the rest of the system? If we give a 10 percent wage increase to the lowest-paid workers here, that leads to cost pressures at 10 percent to higher-paid workers in other sectors, and that's not acceptable.
The compensation fairness program didn't do that at all. The wage control program didn't do that at all. The wage control program perpetuated the status quo by government fiat. I acknowledge that that can have an impact. That's one way of going. You could bring in a legislated wage freeze. We are trying to preserve collective bargaining, put them in bigger units and force the kinds of trade-offs I'm taking about. It's not just keeping down wages of public sector workers; it's treating them fairly and making sure they are competitive in terms of the private sector. But it's also trying to deal with historical injustices or problems that have taken place over time in a way that doesn't throw the system out of whack.
I will give you one other example, and that's in the case of a college. Capilano College instructors make several thousand dollars more per year than instructors at Langara College. They do exactly the same thing. They're both 100 percent paid for by the taxpayers. They are a ten-minute drive away from each other. Why is that, and does that make sense? It's because each college negotiates separately and the funding formulas.... There are all kinds of reasons for it, except that it leads to inevitable tension and almost inevitable strikes, because if you're at Langara you say: "It's unfair for me to be doing exactly the same job as the people at Capilano College and making several thousand dollars less." Without speaking out of turn, I would say that it makes sense to try to fix that.
How do you fix that without giving more money to one sector? In a tough fiscal environment, the only way you can fix one sector you feel is underpaid is by taking it from someone else. It's a zero-sum game. If we have X amount of money to deal with wage pressures, then I would say that the preference -- in a tough environment -- is try to make sure that a small amount of money goes to those who most need it, to fix some historical problems, instead of the stronger, organized employer or union taking advantage of the situation and taking money and leaving nothing for the government to deal with injustices that exist in the system.
I accept that this is a tool for the employer -- in this case the public sector -- to try to better coordinate and keep wages consistent with the private sector. I have no problem saying that that would be a goal of this legislation and of the government. But we also want to ensure that we can try to force some of the trade-offs to deal with some low-paid sectors, to deal with some historical anomalies; and we now have a structure in place to try to force those kinds of trade-offs. There is no free lunch. There is a finite amount of money that the taxpayer or the government has, and we have to trade those things off between sectors. This model preserves collective bargaining, allows for flexibility and collective bargaining to take place, and tries to force those kinds of trade-offs. It is not a panacea, by any stretch of the imagination. It builds upon the existing system, but we think it does things in a more rational way -- to try to deal with cost pressures and historical problems, and to deal with it in a way which recognizes we're in difficult fiscal times.
It is more complex that just a wage control bill. It isn't that at all. It is a tool for the government -- in this case, through the public sector employers -- to try to make wages competitive with the private sector, where possible, but also to deal with other problems. It's one which will be with us for the long haul, regardless of party. I think it's a good management tool. I think Ms. Korbin has done a good job of helping us. It builds on the current system of collective bargaining in a more rational way, and helps us to deal with some of these problems. So I urge members to vote in favour of second reading.
I now move second reading of the bill.
Motion approved on the following division:
|YEAS -- 42|
|NAYS -- 4|
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Bill 78, Public Sector Employers Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call second reading of Bill 60.
PENSION STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 1993
Hon. L. Boone: This bill sets out a number of amendments in the following pension statutes: the Pension (College) Act, the Pension (Municipal) Act, the Pension (Public Service) Act and the Pension (Teachers) Act. I appreciate that this is a lengthy bill; it contains over 140 sections. Accordingly, I'd like to take just a few minutes to outline the bill's major components.
First of all, let me say that the main reason for the length of the bill is that it is necessary to make similar amendments in each of the pension statutes. This necessary replication results in a lengthy bill. The amendments for each of the four main public sector pension plans -- the college, municipal, public service and teacher plans -- are basically the same.
In the first place, amendments are needed to bring the public sector plans into line with the province's Pension Benefits Standards Act. Members will recall that in 1992, the Legislature approved the use of temporary legislation to amend the plans by regulation to ensure compliance with the new minimum pension standards that came into effect in 1993. Amendments proposed in this bill will give lasting effect to those temporary changes.
Compliance with the province's minimum pension standards resulted in a number of important changes in the four main public sector plans. For instance, the vesting period, the length of time required before the member has a right to a pension benefit, was reduced from 10 years to five years in most plans. A new locking-in rule was introduced to ensure that vested credits will be used to provide retirement income. Vested plan members who terminate employment prior to retirement age now have the right to transfer the value of their pension credits to another retirement plan. Participation in the pension plans has been made possible for many part-time and seasonal workers who could not join a plan under the previous eligibility rules. Passage of Bill 60 will make these important changes permanent. At the same time, the bill sets out a schedule for each plan of increases in employer contributions to ensure proper financing for these new benefits.
The second main purpose of Bill 60 is to ensure that the four pension plans affected by the bill meet the federal government's requirements for the registration of pension plans under the Income Tax Act. Hon. members will know that such registration brings important financial benefits, such as tax sheltering of plan assets. Income Tax Act registration rules limit the amount of contributions that can be made by employers and employees to a registered pension plan. The registration rules also limit the amount of benefits that can be paid from the registered plan. A pension plan must continue these limits explicitly; otherwise, the plan will not be acceptable to Revenue Canada for registration. An employer can provide for contributions and benefits that exceed the Income Tax Act limits for registration plans, but they must be provided apart from the tax-registered plan. Because of the level of the Income Tax Act limits, many employers find it necessary to provide a portion of their employees' pension benefits from outside the registered pension plans. Bill 60 will allow for the separate administration of the tax-registerable and non-registerable portions of public sector plans. Such separate administration is required to maintain Revenue Canada's approval of the plans.
I want to emphasize that these Income Tax Act-related amendments do not change the plan benefits and contributions, from either the plan members' or the government's perspective, in any substantial way. They are purely administrative.
Finally, this bill proposes amendments to provide for certain organizations and their employees to participate in the pension plans on the same basis as similar organizations.
I think you can tell from the comments I've made that the changes made in this act are good ones. They are done merely to bring the plans into compliance with both provincial and federal legislation. Therefore I am pleased to movel second reading of Bill 60.
K. Jones: The minister has detailed that this act is fairly complex in its writing and in what it is attempting to do. But as she has also indicated, it has a tendency to be repetitive, as it repeats through each of the different pensions it's covering, making the appropriate amendments to bring it in line with the requirements of the Canada revenue act. It is somewhat housekeeping in nature. But it also does have some areas that are going to have to be addressed in detail and more completely in third reading, because some areas seem to be hidden through here that need some explanation.
The areas of concern are with regard to public sector remuneration after retirement. There are some very interesting aspects in there, with regard to benefits and provisions made for that. There's an aspect of payment of half the cost of Medical Services Plan coverage that is rather interesting and will require some further explanation.
There is provision for shortfalls to the general assets of the fund, which shows that any shortfall between the revenues and assets of the fund will be paid out of general revenue by direction of the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council or the cabinet. This means that additional charges will be made to the taxpayers, because the program isn't properly balanced between the contributions of the employees and the government. I hope that will be just a provision in here without having any need to be used, because once again it would indicate that the plan would not be properly managed. I have great confidence that the plan manager we presently have is very competent and would make sure that revenues and assets would be sufficiently balanced against pay-outs.
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I'd like to note some features of the plan that cause concern and have to be recognized. When changing the vesting of the plan from ten years down to five years, we're looking at a fairly substantial cost to the taxpayers, and in the case of the municipal plan and the teachers' plan, that cost is coming directly from local level taxpayers -- the taxpayers in the communities. It's a downloading of additional costs to the municipal level. I think that the public might be quite concerned when they see another substantial amount of money is going onto their property taxes to meet the pension programs for municipal employees and school teachers. There is no reciprocal sharing of that load through a contribution from the employees. This is a program where the vesting is totally a gift -- actually a non-negotiated gift to the employees. Normally they would have to bargain for this as a benefit, but because of the establishment of the national plan that sets the standards, the government is having to come into line with that.
I think it's probably appropriate that a fair situation occur for those who presently have five to ten years' service. If they leave the public sector, they currently are not able to take any of the portion that the government contributed, but only the amount that they contributed to the pension fund themselves. Although it is a high cost, it is one that is probably more equitable to those who have worked on that short-term basis. We have to recognize that a fair number of people may fall into that category, especially as technological change occurs. A lot of them are women, and the jobs in those areas, such as data entry and various other functions, are now being replaced by computers. We will see more people, who have probably been on a short-term employment basis, moving on to raise families. Without this legislation they would be left without the fair contribution from the management side to their pension assets. This makes it a little more fair for those people who have five to ten years of employment in various public sector areas.
Another factor changes the costing. It is probably a small costing factor, but it is one that is addressed here. It is changing the category of common-law spouse from a requirement of three years to two years of living together. I believe that probably brings it in line with the requirements of the federal government income tax regulations, which state that those who have lived together for two years are now considered to be spouses.
There are minor changes that add some additional employee groupings: the Professional Employees' Association, the Greater Victoria Labour Relations Association, the Ferry and Marine Workers' Union, the Education Relations Information Society and the B.C. Health Services. With these it is somewhat a matter of providing the service of a pension to some smaller organizations that previously were not able to get pensions.
By and large, this bill is a useful change, and certainly brings us into line with the regulations of the national Income Tax Act. On that basis, we will be supporting this bill.
L. Hanson: I rise to advise the House that it is likely the intention of the third party to support this bill. The reason why we are going to support this bill is interesting: it actually implements some good Social Credit legislation that was passed a number of years ago. I find it really interesting, and quite provoking, that everything that happens to this government, including the common cold and some other things, is attributed to the past government if there is anything negative about it. Anything that happened in the past government that might be considered of some benefit to the people of British Columbia is conveniently left out of the discussion.
I find the changes that we are bringing in with this act quite supportable by our party, for the reasons I just mentioned. I wouldn't want to suggest that the motivation in delaying the introduction of these changes, and keeping them from the citizens of British Columbia, has anything to do with a cynical attitude on the part of the government; or that they might hope that the public has forgotten the origin of these, and through some kind of magic they might be able to convince the people of British Columbia that this government is doing a wonderful job in finally bringing these benefits in to help the citizens of the province.
As I said earlier, I find the process that has finally led up to the introduction of this legislation quite interesting. As a matter of fact, if the government had had the House close down when it anticipated -- I heard that the goal was July 6 -- this legislation wouldn't even have been in place. I believe it was July 12 before they got around to introducing it.
In saying that, I remind the members that sometimes some good things came from the past government, and that this is a good example of it. I have to advise the minister and this House that our party will be looking at each of the sections during committee stage, but from the intent that we have been able to read into it at this point, we will support this bill.
F. Gingell: Pension funds are an interesting subject for British Columbia taxpayers. They are an interesting subject for business, because a lot of people live in the belief that they have substantial pension benefits accruing to them from working in private industry. I know that if you work for General Motors Corp. or some of the other automobile companies, some of your feelings of comfort about the validity of your future pension plans are not as safe and secure as one once thought.
It is very easy for governments, whether they be federal or provincial, to make new sets of rules for the private sector and to require private sector corporations to live up to these requirements, yet at the time they are doing this, they do not necessarily recognize the burden that may be placed upon the taxpayers for whom they are responsible. I can tell you one thing: as pension benefits stand, the acts have changed through the provinces over the last 15 years, and as each province has gradually got around to the subject of amending its pension benefit standards act, what has resulted in the private sector, to a great extent, is the movement away from defined benefit plans to money purchase plans.
[ Page 9032 ]
Businesses have begun to realize that they simply cannot put at risk all the assets of their corporation, all the jobs of their present employees and all the investment of their shareholders. Sudden periods of inflation can create absolute havoc in defined benefit plans if they provide for pensions to be based on the best five years or the last five years of earnings. If the defined benefits are based on lifetime earnings, then it is perfectly reasonable and responsible for pension funds to make commitments to pay out pension benefits based on lifetime earnings. But there was a move in the 1960s away from those types of plans, and into the defined benefit plans came the continual upgrading by causing the pension to be paid out on the basis of highest earnings or best five or three years' averages.
[E. Barnes in the chair.]
Many corporations were able to fund these because of relatively long vesting periods. They were in the position of paying in contributions on behalf of employees who worked for the company for less than the vesting period. They used to be up as high as ten years. Vesting would start at the end of the fifth year, and 20 percent would be vested at the end of the sixth year, 40 percent at the end of the seventh, 60 percent at the end of the eighth, 80 percent at the end of the ninth and 100 percent at the end of the tenth. So they were able to take these contributions that had been paid in by people for whom they were no longer responsible -- because when the employee left, they got only their own contributions back; these additional contributions were still in the fund -- and they were able to use those to upgrade and look after the additional costs that were incurred, in effect, by inflation-proofing the pension.
What is a reasonable pension? If you have a work life of 40 years, is it reasonable that for each year you work you should be able to earn a pension of 1.5 percent, so that at the end of 40 years you get 60 percent? Or is the number 2 percent, so that at the end of a lifetime of working, you get 80 percent of your earnings, or after 35 years you get 70 percent? These questions are all terribly important. They have dramatic impacts on the actuarial calculation of liabilities of future pension benefits. It's very easy in government to change rules. We will reduce vesting from ten years to five years. We'll make new rules that require all payments to be vested after five years. Well, let's cut down from five years and make them three years. As the member for Surrey-Cloverdale mentioned, let's change the requirement for cohabitation of common-law spouses from three years to two years. It probably went from never qualifying originally to five years, then down to three years and then to two years.
It's very easy for government to think about how nice it is for people to receive good pensions that allow them to live their years of retirement with dignity. I support that, but one also has to recognize when you look at these funds that if the people being paid out early get benefits that are too high, which the fund cannot sustain, people at the back end may go short. In fact, every time you have an underfunded fund and superannuation benefits are being paid out, every payment that is made is, in effect, taking away from the security of a younger superannuate.
So how do we deal with these issues? How do we find the right balance that we can clearly afford to pay? As the 1970s and the early 1980s went along, it would seem to me that I would rather have been in the life insurance business than in the pension business. If life expectancies lengthen, life insurance companies do very well, and companies that are in the pension business tend to suffer. Medical advances have an effect on these things; all these things have an effect. The scourge of AIDS has an effect too. It brings down the average length of lives and reduces the liability of the pension funds.
Well, hon. Speaker, what's this all about? Why do I stand up and say all these things? I say them because it is really important for government to look seriously at the responsibilities and liabilities they incur with their pension funds.
In this province, I believe from my experience that the benefits in this scheme are very generous. The contributions are also very high. The employees pay very substantial monthly percentages of their earnings into the fund, but every change we make that improves the benefits, reduces the vesting period and allows earlier retirement adds to the future cost of the fund. We have spoken to the government officials in regard to this bill, and I agree with the statement of the member for Surrey-Cloverdale, which I'm sure is echoed by the minister. One does have a feeling of confidence that the people in the superannuation branch and the provincial commissioner are a very competent group, but their responsibility is to administer the fund the way it is written. It is very easy for governments to put through changes that will apply primarily to the private sector and to discover afterwards that they apply also to the public sector and that there may be substantial short-falls in the funds available to look after those liabilities.
I was interested to hear the member from the third party who spoke on this issue indicate that the original changes to the Pension Benefits Standards Act were their doing. I hope that at that moment in time....
Hon. G. Clark: Last in the country.
F. Gingell: Yes, they were the last in the country. At that stage, in 1991, I hope there was a very true and understanding measurement of what those costs were going to be.
The House is now faced with a need to obey its own laws. These are the laws of the country; they're the requirements of Canadian legislation and of provincial legislation. Clearly this province has no choice. It has to make the amendments and changes to their own pension act in order to conform.
I just hope that these few words I have taken five or six minutes to say will not fall on deaf ears. The need for us to have fair and sensible pension arrangements is important. Even more important is for them to be affordable. Even though under many of the acts that are being amended here, the province is not strictly liable,
[ Page 9033 ]
as I understand it, I know there is still a moral understanding or belief in the minds of members of the teachers' pension fund, the municipal pension fund and the colleges pension fund that they have a provincial pension fund for which all taxpayers of the province are liable. But that in fact is not the case. I'm pleased that although some of our pension funds may be under-funded, the situation in British Columbia has not gotten worse over the last few years. The assets in the pension fund bear the same relation to future liabilities as they did in the past, and I'm sure we will be okay. But take my words of heed: let us be very careful that we do not make commitments to people which we simply cannot live up to in the future. There is nothing worse than that. It is better for people to have lower expectations and understandings that we can meet, rather than higher ones that will cause us financial anarchy.
C. Serwa: It's a pleasure to rise and speak about Bill 60. I can start by saying -- and feeling somewhat satisfied -- that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That's what we have before us: a bill that simply imitates the one that we passed in 1991. But for a desperate government devoid of ideas, I suppose they have to grab onto anything. It was really interesting to listen to the Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism speak glowingly about the multicultural council, which is very important, as you are well aware, hon. Speaker. The reality is that our government initiated that quite a number of years ago, but all of the credit was being taken by the current minister, and the public won't buy that.
It was really interesting, too, that the privatization fund that had been accumulated by the previous Social Credit government had to be renamed. We had to adopt it in some way or muddy the trail -- or whatever the idea was -- so that we could incorporate that. It is our own creation. It was renamed the B.C. Endowment Fund. What we are seeing here is simply another piece of legislation that we had brought forward. I will speak in support of the philosophy and principles of this bill, but I want it publicly known that this is not really a new piece of legislation at all.
The Pension Benefits Standards Act was passed by our government in 1991, but it wasn't proclaimed by this government until this year. This package was developed with consultations that took more than two years. The public was very heavily involved in the consultation process for the development of the Pension Benefits Standards Act. We couldn't proclaim the bill at that time, because it took a period of time for both the government employers and the private sector employers to change their pension arrangements to meet the requirements of the act. I think the minister responsible for the Superannuation Commission is cognizant of that fact. The act should have been proclaimed in 1992, but I suppose the strategists on the government side decided they had better delay that act until they could take ownership of it.
You would wonder why is was so necessary for a government to strive to take ownership of something that had been thoroughly canvassed in the field. The legislation package had been developed and passed. As they did when the original act was passed, they supported it, but they thought it would take something away from them to recognize the quality of this legislative package. They voted for the legislation when is was passed in 1991, but it looks like they wanted to create their own pension legislation so that they could take the credit for this improvement in the workers' pension plans.
Last year was a fairly heavy legislative agenda -- some 83 bills. The government was so busy drafting some of its erratic legislation, they had no time to....
C. Serwa: Erratic -- and that's a kind word. I could use other words to describe it; other people have to me, I assure you.
In December, under increasing pressure, the current government had to proclaim that piece of legislation. They also had to pass special regulations that allowed them to change government pension plans by regulation, starting July 1. It was interesting that the government introduced regulations prior to the introduction of this bill for first reading in the Legislature. But it's kind of typical of sleeping at the switch. Radical type of legislation seems to take a little more time to proclaim than the good, steady, standard legislation that was already passed and approved. This legislation has come in now because the authority of the regulations expires on August 1, so the government was forced to finally do something. They thought that by doing a simple and shallow rewrite of existing legislation, they could assume full credit. I think the public is aware of how shallow the depth of this current government is by the variety of legislation, by the trail of broken promises and by the fiscal mismanagement of the government in power today.
Well, to the government's credit -- and it's nice to speak positively once in a while of the government -- they finally realized the error of their ways. They recognized that the original bill was a good bill, and they introduced this current piece of legislation to ensure provincial compliance. It is good news for workers and their families who can now take advantage of the latitude contained in this particular piece of legislation; there's no question about that. But it's just too bad, because of the cynical political agenda of the current government of the day, that they unnecessarily kept these benefits from British Columbia workers and their families for so long.
Hon. L. Boone: Talk about a cynical attitude. Hon. Speaker, the member who just spoke has no knowledge of what he speaks. I have never heard such a lot of bafflegab since the former Finance minister spoke. I bear no grudge against the former government for bringing in the Pension Benefits Standards Act, and in fact, we give full credit to them for doing so. We proclaimed it on the day it was to be proclaimed, which was in January 1993. We did not hold back on that legislation; we did not hold back any pension from any member of the public or from any government member.
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That piece of legislation went through unchanged. It had exactly the same name and was proclaimed exactly on the date that the former government was going to bring it in. But I must admit that there were a few tense moments when the Minister of Finance, faced with the terrible fiscal mess that the previous government left us in, realized that it was going to cost the taxpayers more money to finance this Pension Benefits Standards Act. He gained a few more grey hairs as a result of the fact that we were going to have to foot the bill for this Pension Benefits Standards Act. Finally, his kind heart prevailed, and the Finance minister agreed that we would pay this, despite the terrible fiscal mess we inherited from the previous government.
This is a bill that brings our pension benefits into the twentieth century, and it meets the requirements of the Pension Benefits Standards Act and the Income Tax Act. Therefore I now move second reading of Bill 60.
Motion approved unanimously on division.
Bill 60, Pension Statutes Amendment Act, 1993, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. M. Sihota: Again, I am very impressed with the unanimity and the pace, and I'm sure this next bill will go through in minutes.
Hon. M. Sihota: I call second reading of Bill 66.
PUBLIC SERVICE ACT
Hon. G. Clark: I move second reading of Bill 66. The new Public Service Act has been developed in response to recommendations made to government by the Korbin commission. In its report, the Korbin commission set out detailed recommendations regarding a proposed new act. While undertaking this public inquiry, the process used by the commission was one of consultation and consensus-building. The changes in the new Public Service Act are a function of the input received from deputy ministers, employees and managers in the public service, public service bargaining unit representatives and representatives of non-bargaining-unit employees. I believe that these partners will all view the introduction of the new Public Service Act as a first step in reflecting positive changes within the public service.
The bill establishes a new human resources central agency to be called the Public Service Employee Relations Commission. This agency will have a strengthened mandate for all personnel and labour relations matters in the public service. While the bill provides that the agency undertake personnel activities centrally, with authority to delegate all or some of these functions to the ministries, the intent is to reach a balance between central control and the efficiencies of decentralization. It also provides that that delegation may be revoked if there is noncompliance with standards, policies or guidelines set out by the Public Service Employee Relations Commission.
The bill adds new responsibilities to the central agency and provides for the expansion of existing responsibilities. The bill emphasizes a consultative and collaborative approach to human resource management. The act explicitly requires that the Public Service Employee Relations Commission consult with representatives of the bargaining units regarding the application of the matters that determine merit under the act and any proposed regulations that may affect bargaining unit employees.
This approach will contribute towards more harmonious relations between government and representatives of the bargaining unit employees. The act maintains the principle of merit in the selection of public service employees. It retains the current factors of merit for the purpose of recruitment, selection or promotion in the public service -- that is, education, skills, knowledge, experience, past work performance and years of continuous service in the public service.
The bill enables a more streamlined process of recruitment and appointment of special employee categories while at the same time upholding the principle of merit. This bill explicitly recognizes and provides for the development of mechanisms to facilitate the accomplishment of two key objectives in the recruitment, selection and promotion process: employment equity objectives and long-term career development and advancement within the public service.
The bill establishes a new appeal body, the Public Service Appeal Board, to hear appeals regarding appointment decisions. The act enables a more expeditious process for hearing appeals. It allows for the development of regulations respecting the appeal process intended to set out procedures and timeliness, which will ensure a fair and expeditious process. These provisions will reduce the cost of appeals and considerably cut down the time-lags that are inherent in the current system.
The new Public Service Appeal Board will consist of at least three members appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council. The chair of the board has the authority to appoint additional members, and the hearing process enables a member to sit alone in contrast to the three-person panel currently in use. It is anticipated appeals will be heard on a regular basis by a single member, thus allowing more appeals to be heard within a shorter time period. The bill also allows for the development of a list of independent third parties, mutually agreed to by government and bargaining agents, to deal expeditiously with appeals if required. The right of appeal for external applicants is removed in the bill. This right, which was introduced in the 1985 amendment to the Public Service Act, was unique in Canada; no other provincial jurisdiction allowed appeal rights to out-of-service applicants. The bill provides a right for any unsuccessful applicant, including external applicants, to request and receive from the chairperson of the selection panel substantive written reasons why he or she was not successful.
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The bill strengthens the authority of the appeal board, in that it is given remedial authority to direct that an appellant be appointed to the position under appeal where the board determines that the appellant is the most meritorious applicant. While it is not anticipated that this authority will be exercised other than in exceptional circumstances, it will encourage due diligence in the consideration of the factors of merit with respect to every applicant.
The act also deals with a reduction in the calculation of pensionable time for deputy ministers hired after November 5, 1991. This provision reduces costs and still provides special benefit for deputies, which is more in keeping with other jurisdictions. The previous provision of one and a half years of pensionable service for every year of eligible public service was felt to be too generous and was out of line with benefits in other jurisdictions.
The new Public Service Act will strengthen human resource management in government and will facilitate the selection and retention of a well-qualified and motivated public service that is representative of the public it serves. It will result in greater consistency across ministries in the delivery of human resource management and will enhance the degree of fairness in application. I now move second reading.
J. Weisgerber: There are few bills coming through this House that will more clearly divide us ideologically than this bill does. This bill talks at great length about merit, but the reality is that it makes a mockery of merit. It causes applicants to go through screening processes before they get an opportunity to demonstrate their merit. It selectively chooses those who will be able to compete on the basis of merit. I think it is an absolutely discriminatory bill and the worst kind of legislation. It imposes hiring quotas, and it implements reverse discrimination in the civil service. I think this bill will most harm those it sets out to serve. At the end of the day, it will hurt women and minorities, and it will lengthen the period of time before there is true hiring equity in the civil service. It is not balanced and doesn't deal with the core issues. It doesn't speak to the reasons for the inequities in the government service.
J. Weisgerber: There seems to be a number of folks moving around, some of them very closely related to the person who is going to benefit the most from this legislation. I can certainly understand that member's agitation with this legislation. We know far too much about the activities of Mr. Pollard. As a matter of fact, it was not my intention when I rose to speak to this legislation to deal with those kinds of personalities, but seeing as the member wants to jump into the debate, far be it....
We have to look at what this legislation seeks to achieve and why it's going to fail to achieve it. Everyone, I think, would accept the goals. There certainly should be more women in certain areas of government service, and I think there are certain areas in which women are already overrepresented. In the government service generally, women probably represent more than the 52 percent of the population divided on a gender basis, so it's not the goal of women to achieve a larger representation in government. The goal, I believe -- and it's a fair goal -- is to see more women represented in various classifications at various levels within government.
The legislation also seeks to make it easier for minorities -- visible minorities, handicapped people -- to compete for government positions. One would want to achieve that, but I believe that for some time there has been a policy in government that seeks to make it easier for people to apply, to encourage applications and to ensure that boards of selection and other groups are sensitive to needs. When I was in the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs -- it was called the Ministry of Native Affairs then -- more than 50 percent of the people working in the ministry were of aboriginal background. They were not there because of a regulation requiring the number of aboriginal people to be hired. They were there because there was a commitment by everyone in the ministry to ensure that aboriginal people were encouraged to apply, and interviews included aboriginal people on the interview teams. There were encouragements given in every case.
I am going to be very interested to hear the member of ferry-boarding fame stand up and respond to this legislation, because she has a number of thoughts that she feels moved to express.
I think that this bill seeks to bring in things like pay equity by the back door. It attempts not only to encourage pay equity, but to legislate it.
J. Weisgerber: From the "oohs" and "aahs" that we hear echoing through this chamber, I take it that the members opposite have no difficulty with legislated pay equity. Indeed, we don't hear quite so much when the question is put.
In my mind, this legislation goes about what it seeks to achieve in entirely the wrong way. If you legislate the number of women and minorities who have to be hired, then the successful ones will sense that they are there not on merit or because they are able to compete with everyone else in the classification, but because there were quotas. One only has to look at other jurisdictions jurisdictions that have brought in hiring quotas to recognize that they don't work. They have failed and will continue to fail.
This legislation brings in employment and hiring quotas. There is no question that the result of this legislation will be hiring quotas. As with most legislation brought in by this government, its real powers are in the regulatory power that exists for the minister within the legislative framework. I have absolutely no doubt that the purpose of this legislation is to create a framework that will allow hiring quotas and reverse discrimination to be brought in. The only reason....
The Minister of Women's Equality shakes her head -- the minister whose responsibility this last 18 months
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has been, among other things, to ensure that women had opportunities in government that didn't require legislation. This legislation may well be a tribute to the failure of the Minister of Women's Equality and of her ministry. The government feels it has to bring in legislation because the endeavours of the minister haven't worked. The minister's efforts have failed.
The government now sees itself bringing in legislation that I think is going to be a backward step for women. This is going to set back the efforts of women who want to work and compete in government and other enterprises. It is the worst kind of legislation they can possibly bring in.
J Weisgerber: It's patronizing. I know that the members don't like to hear that, but it's reality that this legislation patronizes the people it sets out to assist.
If the government were sincere in wanting to rectify the problem and serious in wanting to deal with this issue, it would deal with the root causes. It would make the effort to eliminate the discrimination and difficulties that are there. But these things take time, dedication and commitment, and they are much more difficult to achieve than simply legislating a solution to the problem. But more often we see a willingness by this government to use legislative authority to resolve some of society's difficulties.
J. Beattie: Hear, hear. Good policy.
J. Weisgerber: The member for Okanagan-Penticton, who has been asleep for a week or so, all of a sudden is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and leaps to attention because he hears something he thinks he likes. How in the world anybody could get excited about legislating corrective problems is beyond me. But it's indicative of this government that likes its new found powers. For years and years it agitated for fundamental changes in society, but when put in a position of power, it has resorted to legislative clout rather than dealing with issues that are within its mandate to correct. This government could have dealt with an issue....
Deputy Speaker: Order, hon. member. Would the Leader of the Third Party please address the Chair. It would be most helpful if the interjections could be kept under control. Please proceed, hon. member.
J. Weisgerber: I certainly wouldn't want to be distracted into carrying on a conversation with someone so ill-equipped.
We are trying to debate a serious piece of legislation, which I believe has major implications for the civil service and for those people it purports to help. In the long run, this legislation is not going to assist those people it sets out to assist.
Indeed, I started to talk about a program that was in place in the native affairs ministry, which was far more successful than legislative quotas could ever be. Those are the kinds of actions that -- because it believes that goals are worthwhile working toward -- government sets about achieving, and they can be achieved without the heavy hand of legislation. They can be achieved in a way that gives people reason to understand that they are succeeding based on their own merit, that they were successful in achieving positions based on their merit and that they are succeeding in promotion and advancement based on merit and ability. That surely should be the goal, and I can't believe that anyone would feel that sense of confidence, knowing that the ability to compete on a merit basis was constricted by quotas or other kinds of restraints in the hiring process.
If that's not the intent of this legislation, then the government and the legislative drafters have drawn up an enormous piece of legislation that has no purpose. Clearly, the major purpose of this legislation is to allow the government to manipulate those who are successful in even obtaining interviews. This legislation gives an enormous amount of lip service to merit, but it in fact makes a mockery of the whole notion of merit. It's patronizing. It's the worst kind of legislation, which I believe will be rejected by those people it sets out to help.
Let me challenge the government to find ways to encourage greater involvement by the groups it sets out to help by creating a climate for employment and advancement that encourages people to be involved and to be hired at the end of the day on merit. Surely the people of British Columbia in the civil service deserve nothing less than that. The civil service of British Columbia should represent the best available people -- not because of their gender, the colour of their skin or for any reason other than that they were the best-qualified people for the job. If the government would accept that premise and go about in a reasonable and enthusiastic way encouraging other groups to apply and would create processes that allow them to succeed, then there would be true advancements made. What we have here....
N. Lortie: Why didn't that ever happen when you were government?
J. Weisgerber: The member over there -- I wouldn't even think a minister-in-waiting -- obviously hears only what he wants to hear. I told you there have been examples within the civil service where this works successfully.
J. Weisgerber: Some of the members are obviously anxious to take their place. For two or three months these same members, on their very best days, have been able to heckle two or three original lines from their seats. The days that they consider to be red-letter days -- when they go home and brag to the family about what they have been able to achieve -- are not the days when they have stood in the House and talked about philosophy or about things that are important to them or even had the courage to stand up and support the government. The best days that some of these members have are their heckling days.
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Deputy Speaker: Hon. member, back to the bill.
J. Weisgerber: I am sure that in good time we will hear what the members have to say, because as the summer passes and the threat of going home for the summer fades, these members are going to want to take their place in debate.
This is a serious piece of legislation that deserves to be considered seriously by all members of this House. It's a piece of legislation that, if not understood, should at least be read by the members on the government side. Far too often we see members come to this House to heckle and carry on armed only with the briefing they got in caucus -- not having had the opportunity or the discipline to even read the legislation. It's a great thing that they do, because they would otherwise be totally silent and irrelevant in this process.
This legislation should be withdrawn or stood down. It is absolutely inappropriate for what it sets out to achieve. It tries to achieve, by the heavy hand of legislation, what should be part of the practice of the government on a daily basis. The government could achieve the goals that it identifies if it were willing to commit itself to that. Instead, the government finds it opportune to try to create a legislative framework -- a maze that people have to jump through -- that eliminates those who the government doesn't want to see apply. Then it is able to stand up and say that it applies the test of merit to all of the applicants. Unfortunately, many of the applicants are frustrated at the door and never get a chance to apply, but the government can say it applies the merit principle in hiring. What an absolutely cynical way to play off the notion of merit while denying it to many groups.
I am so totally opposed to this legislation that I hope we debate this for many days until the people of British Columbia have an opportunity to understand what this legislation sets out to do. I hope the people let this government know in no uncertain terms that they don't approve of the thrust and approach taken by the government. It is completely contrary to natural justice and to the way every British Columbian should have an opportunity to be a part of the civil service, if that's their wish. There shouldn't be restrictions to applying for jobs paid for by the taxpayer. There should be encouragements given to people of every nationality and skin colour and particularly to women where they are underrepresented, but it shouldn't be accomplished by legislation. This is the wrong direction, and this legislation should be defeated. I hope all members will join me in opposing this legislation.
I'm not sure of the hour; it approaches 10 o'clock. I look to the Government House Leader for some indication of whether or not he wishes to continue, but perhaps I would get that if I move adjournment of this debate.
J. Weisgerber moved adjournment of the debate.
Hon. G. Clark: I move the House do now adjourn.
The House adjourned at 9:49 p.m.
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