1994 Legislative Session: 3rd Session, 35th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, JUNE 7, 1994
Volume 16, Number 5
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The House met at 2:06 p.m.
Hon. D. Marzari: I'd like to introduce to the House His Excellency Dr. Walter Lichem, the Ambassador of Austria to Canada, and Mrs. Maria Lichem. Accompanying the ambassador is Mr. Graham Clarke of Vancouver, the honorary consul for Austria, and Dr. Wolfgang Harwalik, the trade commissioner. Welcome them, please.
R. Chisholm: Today in the House we have 36 grade 5 students, accompanied by Miss Wood, from Greendale Elementary. I wish that the House would make them most welcome. Seeing as they're here to see democracy in action, I hope we give them a good show and this meeting goes well.
L. Stephens: Today in the House we have 35 grade 5 students, accompanied by their teacher Mr. Harris, from Willoughby Elementary School in Langley. Would the House please make them welcome.
S. O'Neill: It's my pleasure today to make two introductions. First, I would like the House to make welcome 29 grade 6 students from Bastion Elementary School in Salmon Arm. They're here in Victoria with their teacher, Ms. Morash. Would the House please make them welcome.
If I may, I would also like to introduce Mr. Lyle MacWilliam to the House. I'm sure many of the members will remember him; he represented the constituency of Okanagan North and also was Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Shuswap. Would the House please make him welcome.
H. Lali: I too would like to join the hon. member for Shuswap in welcoming the former MP for Okanagan-Shuswap, Mr. Lyle MacWilliam, who was not only a strong advocate in Ottawa on behalf of British Columbia but also on behalf of interior British Columbia. Would the House please make him welcome.
LIQUOR DISTRIBUTION AMENDMENT ACT, 1994
Hon. C. Gabelmann presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Liquor Distribution Amendment Act, 1994.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: Hon. Speaker, I'm pleased to introduce the Liquor Distribution Amendment Act. The purpose of this act is to clarify and set out more fully the authority of the liquor distribution branch respecting the manufacture, importation and distribution of liquor in the province. The amendments are required in order to take account of changes which have occurred in the system of the manufacture, distribution and sale of liquor over the past decade.
Specifically, the amendments are required in order to clarify three areas. The first is to clarify that the branch's mandate to regulate, control and collect markup on liquor extends both to liquor imported into the province and to liquor manufactured in the province. The second is the need to clarify the ability of the branch to collect markup on liquor, the location or disposition of which cannot adequately be accounted for. The third is the need to clarify the circumstances under which liquor may be possessed in the province and to ensure that the scheme and vision of the Liquor Distribution Act is in accord with the federal Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act. The amendments address the many and varied ways in which liquor is imported, manufactured, stored, distributed and sold in the province.
Bill 54 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
MISCELLANEOUS STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT (No. 2), 1994
Hon. C. Gabelmann presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 1994.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: Hon. Speaker, I'm pleased to be able to introduce the second Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act. It contains amendments to twelve statutes: British Columbia Buildings Corporation Act, British Columbia Transit Act, Farming and Fishing Industries Development Act, Ferry Corporation Act, Health Authorities Act, Hospital Insurance Act, Industrial Development Incentive Act, Motor Carrier Act, Park Act, Petroleum and Natural Gas Act, Science and Technology Fund Act, and the Wildlife Act. I will elaborate on these amendments during second reading debate on this bill.
Bill 48 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
NANAIMO COMMONWEALTH HOLDING SOCIETY
G. Campbell: My question is for the Attorney General. Today the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Now that the guilt has been established, it is time for the full RCMP investigative report and the full report of the special prosecutor to be made public. The special prosecutor has said there's no reason why you can't release these reports. My question to the Attorney General is: will you today instruct the assistant deputy minister to release both the full investigative report of the RCMP and the special prosecutor's report for full public review?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: There will be no political direction from me in any respect of this matter. If the Leader of the Opposition wants an answer to this question, he should direct it to the special prosecutor.
The Speaker: Supplemental, hon. member.
G. Campbell: Dave Stupich, a longtime member of this assembly and a longtime colleague of the NDP, has stated quite clearly the connection between the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society and the NDP. He said that the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society "will help the political activities of the NDP in whatever way is desired." The public has a right to know just how much of the NDP's activities have been funded by these criminal acts. My question to the Attorney General is: will he initiate a full public inquiry today into the activities of the Nanaimo
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Commonwealth Holding Society and its co-conspirators in support of the NDP?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I will have nothing to say on this matter while the issue is still before the courts.
The Speaker: Final supplemental, hon. member.
G. Campbell: The guilt on the part of the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society has already been firmly established by the society itself. The Attorney General, unfortunately, has once again forgotten that his first obligation is to protect the public, not his political friends.
The Speaker: Your question, hon. member.
G. Campbell: Yesterday the Premier said that he was going to get tough on criminals. Why not start by getting tough at home? Get tough on your supporters, and let the public know who is accountable and who is responsible for these criminal acts. The question is simply this: will the Attorney General not protect the public interest? Will he not call for a full public inquiry into the activities of the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society and its support of the NDP?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: The third question was the same as the second. My answer stands.
G. Farrell-Collins: It's time the Attorney General stood up for the public in British Columbia. Instead of standing up for himself, it's time he stood up for those charities that were built by the NDP and the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society. The link between NCHS and the NDP has been firmly established. Can the Attorney General tell us who is going to pay the fines of those societies? Are the societies going to hold a bake sale or a bingo to raise the money to pay these fines? Will the NDP pay the fines of these societies? They are the ones who benefited from these funds.
The Speaker: Before recognizing the hon. member, the members should realize that while the Attorney General has responsibility with respect to justice matters, the issue seems to be about who is responsible for the New Democratic Party and a society. I would ask the member to phrase his questions so that they fit within the specific responsibilities of the minister.
G. Farrell-Collins: Thank you, hon. Speaker; I will be glad to. This government may well have got itself elected using funds that were fraudulently extorted from charities in British Columbia. Every MLA from the NDP caucus should be standing up and answering to this, including the Attorney General.
The Speaker: Your question, hon. member.
G. Farrell-Collins: Can the Attorney General tell us what person in British Columbia is going to be held accountable by the justice system for the fraud and corruption that took place with those societies?
The Speaker: Final supplemental, hon. member.
G. Farrell-Collins: The Attorney General is hiding behind the law. The Premier is hiding behind the law. This is British Columbia, not Colombia. When will the Attorney General -- and if not the Attorney General, the Deputy Premier -- stand up and demand, on behalf of the taxpayers and citizens of British Columbia, a full, independent and open inquiry into their activities?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: The member may remember that a number of inquiries were underway prior to the initiatives taken by the RCMP. At the time the RCMP investigation began and the special prosecutor was appointed, those other inquiries were suspended. The matter is still before the courts. When it's no longer....
Hon. C. Gabelmann: No sentencing has occurred, and no opportunity for an appeal on sentencing has yet....
An Hon. Member: They pled guilty; they don't appeal that.
The Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: If the member for Matsqui has a law degree, I would be surprised.
No sentencing has occurred, and no opportunity for an appeal on sentencing has yet elapsed. Until this matter is no longer before the courts, the other inquiries, which had been proceeding, are suspended and don't have an opportunity to continue. At that point, the question might be appropriate.
REGISTRY OF SEX OFFENDERS
J. Weisgerber: My question is also to the Attorney General, but on a different subject. Residents of Dawson Creek were scared, shocked and angry to learn that a seven-time serial rapist, Larry Fisher, had moved to their town on release from prison. We understand that he has left the province now. The RCMP have warned that he is very likely to be a repeat offender. What steps has the Attorney General taken to track Larry Fisher's movements and advise British Columbians when he is again resident in any community in British Columbia?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: That's not something the Attorney General or the Attorney General's ministry does; that's left to the police in this province, generally to the RCMP or municipal jurisdictions, if they're involved. I have full confidence that...
The Speaker: Order, please, hon. members.,
Hon. C. Gabelmann: ...the RCMP and other police jurisdictions in this province will do their job. If the members opposite don't have that confidence, they're in a very small minority.
The Speaker: Supplemental, hon. member.
J. Weisgerber: Vicious sexual predators like Larry Fisher represent a real threat to British Columbians. These people -- and people who reject rehabilitation, like Larry Fisher -- need to be identified in the communities they move to. I believe that British Columbians, particularly people in small
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towns, deserve to know who these people are, where they live and what they look like. Is the Attorney General committed to building a provincial sex offenders registry to protect British Columbians from people like Larry Fisher?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: As I have said before in the House, we're working with the federal government with respect to a registry to deal with that very problem. But in the meantime, RCMP detachments and other police departments are able to notify communities when these circumstances arise, as they have done on occasion.
The Speaker: Final supplemental, hon. member.
J. Weisgerber: Last week the minister advised that he was indeed working with the federal government. What was released was a discussion paper that dealt only with pedophiles. It didn't deal at all with serial rapists or other sex offenders like Larry Fisher. If the federal government won't, is the province committed to establishing its own provincial registry for all violent offenders like Larry Fisher -- particularly sexual predators and repeat offenders who have resisted rehabilitation attempts while in prison?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: It's not clear at all that the solution is a provincial registry. Would an individual from another province be on a provincial registry? The answer is likely to be no. Would that person have an opportunity to drive across provincial boundaries? The answer, obviously, is yes. So provincial registries in and of themselves don't necessarily provide protection. They may provide the illusion of protection, which I think may be more problematic than the current situation. The current situation allows the police to ensure that the public can be advised in circumstances where, in the judgment of the police, there needs to be that kind of advice.
APPEAL PROCESS FOR MOTOR CARRIER COMMISSION DECISIONS
D. Symons: My question is to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. According to the minister, 175 form letters supporting Kimber Cabs -- some containing spelling errors -- were responsible for her decision to overturn the Motor Carrier Commission decision. She said that she tried to give it as much weight as she possibly could, to make it a fair weight. The people of B.C. have had it with the NDP's fair-weight policy. Can the minister explain how much fair weight she gave to this laughable example of political manipulation?
Hon. A. Edwards: I will say it again. As I said in my ministerial statement, there were 743 expressions of support in the appeal of the Motor Carrier decision on Kimber Cabs. There were expressions of support from seven organizations, from 80 businesses and from individuals. There were 400 letters -- some handwritten, some typed and some form letters. There were letters from Richmond's mayor and city council and from the Premier's advisory council on the disabled. There were letters from the B.C. Paraplegic Association and the Open Learning Agency. There were letters from Richmond Inn and other hotels. I had to look at this expression of community support on the one hand, and the expression of objection to the current monopoly on the other hand, and make a decision. I have made the decision to make more services available for the disabled in Richmond.
The Speaker: Supplemental, hon. member.
D. Symons: I have read the letters. I would have to ask if the minister has. Only 11 of the ones I read were not form letters. Many of the letters claiming to be from people living in Richmond were signed by people living in Vancouver -- even giving Vancouver addresses. Yet these form letters, signed by people who obviously didn't even bother to read them, mattered more to the minister than the expert testimony before and judgment of the Motor Carrier Commission. Can the minister explain how she allowed herself to be manipulated by identical form letters from across Vancouver, which all claim to be from Richmond and look like they were proofread by Dan Quayle?
Hon. A. Edwards: As I have said a number of times, there was quite a bit of evidence, and a number of submissions and representations were put forward to the commission that were considered on appeal. Some of them were expressions of support from the community in Richmond, including a letter from the City of Richmond and its mayor. That, to me, is an important representation from the community. There were other letters that were important representations of the feelings of the community in Richmond, and as I say, there was a considerable amount of evidence there. I again have to make the case....
The Speaker: Thank you....
Hon. A. Edwards: It was an issue on the two....
Hon. Speaker, I will shorten my answer to say that it was part of the submissions that were in front of me.
The Speaker: Thank you.
Final supplemental, hon. member.
D. Symons: We know what party the mayor belonged to at the time he wrote that letter. But dozens of the form letters, which won over the minister, were in fact written by an American consulting firm. Yesterday the minister said that letters like this still count as support. Will the minister tell the House what pearls of wisdom she discovered in only two hours, in a stack of photocopies written by paid American lobbyists, that the Motor Carrier Commission missed in three and a half days?
Hon. E. Cull: Once again I've got to call the attention of the opposition and the public to the hypocrisy of this opposition. Last week the member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove said under no circumstances should the Motor Carrier Commission decision be overturned. But last November the then Leader of the Official Opposition sought to influence that appeal process. That member, at that time, sought to characterize letters and petitions as community support. As I look at this petition, I see not only were they not all from Delta, but they came from Vancouver, Victoria, Coquitlam and Port Moody.
This opposition has to take some responsibility. They are being hypocritical. This is not opposition....
The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.
Hon. E. Cull: Hon. Speaker, this is not opposition; this is opportunism.
The Speaker: Hon. members, the bell terminates question period.
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The hon. member for Richmond-Steveston rises on a matter of personal privilege.
A. Warnke: After having given notice this past Friday, I have since reviewed the Blues and would like to now raise a matter of privilege.
Standing order 18 does allow considerable latitude for members to speak on matters related to their careers, yet all members are encouraged to exercise appropriate action when the prospect of a conflict of interest is possible. I sought advice from the conflict-of-interest commissioner with regard to Bill 22, and he clearly decided that if not in actual conflict, I would at least appear to be so. Accordingly, I exercised this caution and stated in the House that I would withdraw from both the debate and the vote.
I assumed that this would be respected by all members. Yet the Minister of Skills, Training and Labour stated last Thursday in this chamber:
"...one of your members absented himself last night, I believe -- although unnecessarily, I think -- from a debate on community colleges simply because he is probably on a leave of absence or is a teacher or whatever in a community college. I think that's quite foolish.
"I think the member from Richmond should take part in the debate as well. I don't think you can perceive it as a conflict."
When a member is conscientious and takes appropriate action, exercising cautious judgment, I would hope that members, including ministers, would respect that judgment and refrain from criticizing it, both to that member and, in this case, to an officer of the Legislature. Accordingly, I feel that the minister's statements were inappropriate if for no other reason than that the member cannot defend himself in this chamber when the debate is in progress.
Therefore, hon. Speaker, perhaps you would address what happens when hon. members absent themselves from this House. Perhaps the Speaker could provide guidelines as to what grounds there are to ensure respect for both the members and the commissioner.
The Speaker: I thank the member for his submission. There being no further submissions, I will be pleased to take the matter under advisement and report back to the assembly as soon as possible.
Hon. G. Clark: I call Committee of Supply in Section A. Hon. Speaker, just for members' information, I call the Agriculture estimates first, to be followed by Government Services estimates. In this chamber, I call continued debate on second reading of Bill 46.
Hon. G. Clark: This is the second time I've done this, hon. Speaker. I apologize. I would ask that, prior to the orders proceeding, we have the summary debate of the Social Services estimates.
REPORT ON COMMITTEE A ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF SOCIAL SERVICES
R. Neufeld: I rise in response to the minister's estimates, which were completed last week. I want to draw to everyone's attention that we have a budget in excess of $2.7 billion here. Actually, this budget has increased by approximately $900 million over the past three years. There is an increase of about 7 percent, or another $173 million, in this coming year.
It's absolutely unacceptable for British Columbians to continue at this pace. When you go and talk to people in rural British Columbia, or even in Vancouver, you learn that they cannot afford to pay more. It's obvious that the minister and the government are not listening to those people. There has to be some savings in the system.
You also have to take into account that about $130 million was removed from this minister's budget and put into Women's Equality. That makes it that much worse. We have to somehow corral the expenses of Social Services. This government talks about the best economy of any province in Canada and creating the most jobs of any province in Canada, yet we see this kind of increase in Social Services which British Columbians can no longer afford. Some method has to be put in place to slow down expenses in Social Services.
We can't do that by eliminating good-paying jobs in the mining industry and sending them to South America; we can't do it by eliminating high-paying jobs in the forest sector to save trees for the spotted owl. We cannot continue on that road, and the minister and this government are in error if they think they can.
We dealt a bit with fraud and administrative error. The bank of the Minister of Employment and Investment in downtown Vancouver is not going to take care of that issue. It's obvious that the minister thinks this is going to alleviate all the problems of fraud in the Social Services ministry, but it's not. That's just downtown Vancouver. There's a whole province out there. That's the problem with this government; they never get out there to have a look at it. They know downtown Vancouver, and that's where they deal.
We need all kinds of issues dealt with in Social Services. I don't think they are being dealt with strongly enough. We need more positive ID -- possibly retina scans -- to deal with stolen cheques. We need to be able to track people more. We have to be able to control expenses a bit more, and this government is not doing it. People living in expensive homes who are receiving social assistance should have to pay it back. The last minister refused to acknowledge that there was even any fraud or administrative error in the ministry. She refused to admit to it, but this minister has seen that that is happening.
The Speaker: Regrettably, hon. member, the time allowed has lapsed, and I must ask the hon. member to please conclude.
The hon. member for the official opposition responds.
V. Anderson: I appreciated the discussions and the interaction we had on the Ministry of Social Services estimates. I also appreciated the minister's frankness when responding to our questions, admitting on occasion that there were things she would like to do that she is unable to do under the present system.
There is a grave concern in our province, and it's indicated by the lineups at the food banks, for which the government has not taken any responsibility. The Vancouver Food Bank has 6,000 people lining up for food each week, one-third of whom are children. Two thousand children have to line up for food in Vancouver, and that doesn't count the lower mainland. Then we have 2,500 who line up each month here in Victoria. We have people lining up at food banks right around this province, because they do not have the basic necessities of life. Those same people who are lining up at
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food banks also do not have the basic housing that they require.
Hon. Speaker, I appreciate the efforts that this minister is making in a very difficult situation. We in the opposition have called for a total review of the social services system in this province -- that is, a total review of how this government is responding to the very desperate needs of the people. Later today we'll be dealing with acts that deal with a small portion of the concern, but that's only a small portion of the concern.
The minister indicates that one of the things she's doing is reviewing the appeal processes in the GAIN Act. That's the one thing that the people in the province don't want reviewed. The people themselves and those who work with persons in need have been consulted throughout the province, and they've said that this is a process that's working well. Why would the minister meddle with a process that is working well? The consistent response is to leave it alone.
So there is a concern that the minister is hampered in what she may be attempting to do by the whole process of the government. There needs to be a review not only of the social services system but of all other support systems that dictate and limit what the social services system is attempting to do in the province.
Though there were honest and frank discussions, the discussions were limited, because each time you asked another related question, the answer comes back, as it does from every minister: "You must raise that in another set of estimates; that doesn't belong in these estimates." So the really telling questions don't belong in any estimates. They don't belong, because they are cross-estimate jurisdictions. The government does not have a way of dealing with those cross-estimate jurisdictions, unless we're given the privilege and the opportunity to do that in the Premier's estimates. I might well attempt to do that this year, assuming that all of the interlocking concerns of the government would be addressed and could be responded to in at least that set of estimates.
I have to admit that though I think the minister is sincere, she's locked into a governmental system that does not enable her to get out of her cage of Social Services to deal with the interministerial consequences that must be taken into account with Health, Education, corrections, economic development, roadbuilding and whatever else. The economy of this province, though it may be the best in Canada, though it may be the best for 80 percent of the population, is for some 20 percent of the population inadequate, impoverished and inexcusable. In a country as wealthy as ours, and where the ability to govern is available in our democracy, it is inexcusable that we cannot do a better job for the people in this province who are in need. In the estimates we were not able to go into that depth; we weren't able to get to the necessary interlocking programs or to the overview of a total government process.
The Speaker: The hon. minister concludes.
Hon. J. MacPhail: It's very interesting to be in the main chamber for a wrap-up of estimates. All I want to say is: what a difference a camera makes in terms of the debate. I certainly appreciate my colleague's point of view, and we did grapple with all of these issues in estimates.
Let me try to take an overview of what exactly we did talk about, and of the very serious issues facing British Columbians that my ministry has direct responsibility for. In any one year, one British Columbian in six will receive some benefit or service from my ministry, the Ministry of Social Services. There are changing social trends out there affecting the demands on my ministry's services. We are seeing an aging population; we are seeing a growing number of single-parent families, 70 percent of whom receive income assistance -- 70 percent! There is no question that there is a feminization of poverty: 95 percent of single-parent families on income assistance are headed by women.
As minister, I too join with my colleague for Vancouver-Langara in finding the issue of child poverty to be most disturbing. One child out of every eight in our province lives in a welfare family, and these children are more likely to suffer ill health, drop out of school, get in trouble with the law and spend their lives struggling on the margins of the economy and society. We as a society must effectively address these children's needs, and we in my ministry believe that a child's greatest resource is a strong family. Those are the matters that we are debating in the Legislature, from the point of view of the legislation we have introduced in this House.
However, at the same time, British Columbians need to have reassurance that there is confidence in the system, and to know that their tax dollars are being spent properly and are going to those most in need. I'm not sure that we do that by a retinal scanning of everyone, but we certainly do make every attempt possible to ensure that the system is secure, that the dollars are being properly spent and that there is no waste and abuse. Our first obligation under the terms of the Canada Assistance Plan is to ensure that every resident of British Columbia can get their basic needs of food and shelter. Under the Canada Assistance Plan and the GAIN Act, we are the place of last resort for those in need when they are unable to help themselves.
As managers of public money, we also have an obligation to seek every opportunity to eliminate duplication, waste and abuse. In fact, that is exactly what this government has done -- despite the comments of the official spokesperson for the Reform Party. Our government brought in reforms this year to tighten up procedures in the income assistance area, and we will be enhancing others during this session. The initial reforms we announced in January are expected to save British Columbia taxpayers $20 million this year. We have implemented a whole series of new initiatives that will make sure that abuse is ended, that those who abuse the system are caught and that those who are in need get the money that's available.
We are doing everything possible to make sure that we continue to monitor the system, enhance it and make it more accountable. Quite frankly, after years and years of neglect to this system, it is now up to our government to take action to restore confidence in it. Over the last 14 years recommendation after recommendation was given to previous governments, none of which was acted upon. This government is taking action, and has taken action, and it's all toward the end that we will actually give the money to the people who are most in need: the one in eight children in this province who actually live in poverty.
I must tell you that it's a time of major change for the Ministry of Social Services. However, I also want to emphasize that during this time of change, our basic values are constant. We will continue to offer the same core services as before. We remain committed to providing the most effective help to those in need, be they families, children, people with a mental handicap or those suffering financial hardship. What has changed, and is changing, is how we provide the service and the balance between service and effective financial management. In recent years a lot of attention has been paid to how this ministry conducts its
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business. A number of independent reviews have already been conducted and the results have been made public. It's not time for more reviews; it's time for action. That's exactly what our government has done in this ministry.
We continue to work within the ministry to identify areas where we can improve, and we are providing an important accountability mechanism through our internal audits. Those audits are a useful tool for identifying problems with ministry policies and practice, and we will continue to enhance our audit review. In a business as complex and decentralized as ours, we recognize that there is always room for improvement. I'm confident that each and every time we examine our ministry internally through audits, that will result in changes for the better.
As a result of all the external and internal work, our ministry is in the midst of a major financial management revitalization project. It's time for action now, and we are taking that action. So far, 30 high-priority projects have been identified and are in various stages of completion, and those are projects to restore financial accountability and good financial management to our ministry.
In addition to those 30 internal projects to ensure financial management, we have the seven major initiatives that I announced in the spring. I know that it often seems like the government takes forever to deliver on its promises; however, let me reassure you that in our case it is not because we are procrastinating. It's difficult to imagine how complex our organization is and how many people we serve. We have 5,000 staff in over 400 offices. We have a huge client population, with a wide scope and variety of programs and services. We make changes, but when we do so, we do it carefully and deliberately. To do otherwise would produce consequences much worse than the problems we're trying to resolve. It doesn't mean that we aren't changing, only that we cannot change everything overnight.
I would hope that everyone in this House sees how important it is to put our clients -- the children and families in poverty -- first; not to attack them and make them victims in society, but to work with our government in ensuring that every hard-earned taxpayer's dollar goes toward those most in need and that those who are abusing our system no longer have access to it and, indeed, are caught. It is time for us to work together on resolving the very important poverty issues that face us. But we can only do that by making sure that the system is held accountable and not put under attack.
Hon. G. Clark: Before we move to the other bill, I'd like to call third reading of Bill 15.
CORPORATION CAPITAL TAX AMENDMENT ACT, 1994
Bill 15 read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Clark: I call adjourned debate on second reading of Bill 46.
CHILD, FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SERVICE ACT
V. Anderson: I rise to complete my comments on Bill 46, the Child, Family and Community Service Act, which is bringing in a completely new and, shall we say, renovated system for responding to the needs of families, children and youth in this province when they are in need of assistance outside of what their own resources can provide.
I referred to some of the areas before lunch. I would like to refer specifically to three areas at this time. One of the difficulties that we have in bringing in an act of this nature is that it involves a great deal of trust and confidence in those who are to administer it -- and therefore trust and confidence in the government. One of the lessons I learned when I was a youth -- in hockey, baseball or whatever -- was that what you did in practice was what you were supposed to do when it counted in the game. If in practice you horsed around and made mistakes, you would likewise horse around and make mistakes in the game; whereas if you were serious and devoted to what you were doing in practice, then -- as the Canucks will be trying to do this evening -- you could be serious and hopefully win the game. It only takes a small error for one to be defeated.
One of the concerns that I have with this issue is the way we have been acting of late in this House. I am likening some of the comments and interactions between members in this Legislature to the coaching we used to have in game practices. If the people who are watching us hear us tell misleading statements about each other -- trying to gain political and personal political points from each other -- it seems to me that the credibility we are losing with that interaction goes directly to the lack of confidence we will have in this kind of bill when it's presented. It's that kind of wholeness of concern that I think our electors are looking for -- not to have us say on one hand that we are serious about this kind of legislation and to have, on the other hand, the inappropriate political shenanigans which are going on here in the Legislature. I raise that because one has a direct bearing on the credibility of the other.
I am also concerned about the informal as well as formal communication that goes on within the system and between the workers who are part of the system -- between the front line and the troops in the back who are calling the commands. It seems to me that we must put more stress on the front line. The front line is not just the workers; they are the recipients. I am glad to see that in this bill there is an attempt to listen to the primary people: the families and children who are directly involved in these circumstances. It's that communication which must have priority at every step; it's that communication which must be taken most seriously, rather than the communication of the system, however good the act may be.
One of the dangers that has been brought to my attention is that these regulations may become the tune that those they are meant to serve will have to dance to. We cannot allow that to happen. If the regulations have validity, they must now allow the recipients of the services, who are the people not to receive services but the people who are to be served by the staff in our various institutions.... We must reverse the language and the terminology, as well as the acts that we write.
There is another major concern that has come to the floor, which is not really addressed in the bill. The bill addresses the difficulty for families when children, youth or parents are having difficulty within their family and need support. They must be listened to, supported and responded to in a positive and just manner. Many of the criticisms, though, that we have of our present system are about the very care that children and youth, particularly, and families get when they come into care of the ministry. Many of the criticisms are that when they are in the care of the ministry.... And I'm not too happy with that term, but we'll use it for the moment. Sometimes it is thought of as being in the custody of the ministry, and I'm not happy with that term, either. But when they are in the care or custody of the ministry, the treatment is not fair or just. Many of them are reporting physical or
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sexual or emotional abuse, unjust confinements and lack of freedom within the ministry.
There is nowhere within this bill that those who are inflicted with injustice within the ministry have a way -- other than the other bill, the advocate -- to respond. There's no way within the ministry to be accountable financially, emotionally, physically. The accountability is as if it were to parents and children outside the ministry. But a great many of the comments are concerns about the harm and hurt that's inflicted upon them while they are in the care and custody of the ministry, and about the inability to respond.
When we've tried to raise issues about this in the past, we've been advised to go to another ministry. We've been advised that we could go to court to deal with it. But there's no system within this act that holds the ministry itself accountable for those persons who come under their care and custody. It seems to me that if we have high expectations of how parents will care for their children to the best of their ability, we must have even higher expectations that when children are taken into care for their own well-being, they will be even better cared for and the ministry will be even more responsible, so that they are given every opportunity to recover and return home with health, strength and assurance.
A great deal of the difficulty of people who have been in the care of the ministry is that the links have been broken with their families, that there have been no opportunities to grow and maintain the family contacts. Though that's referred to indirectly within the ministry, there is no accountability when the ministry fails to do that -- when the workers fail to do that, or when they put roadblocks in the way so that families are unable to follow up on visitation. They've been allowed visits by court order, but the ministry says, for one reason or another, that they would do it another way.
I will be discussing it further, but what I'm asking about now is: where is the accountability for the ministry when children and youth are in care? Where is the accountability for the finances which are being expended in the process? Where is the accountability for the personal, emotional and physical future well-being of those who come into care? That is a major concern which this bill overlooks. I trust we'll be able to review that further in third reading.
L. Stephens: It's a pleasure for me to rise in second reading debate on Bill 46 and to state that I think all members of the House agree in support for the protection of children and families. To reiterate the minister's remarks, these are changing times that bring particular pressures and stresses to families everywhere. Governments and legislators have a duty to mitigate those and to protect people, as much as possible, from those kinds of pressures and from the results of some of the difficulties that families face today.
Bill 46 is a very significant bill, with about 148 sections. I understand that it is based on the recommendations of a community panel that travelled around the province in 1992 gathering input from various communities. What we see here is the result of many of the submissions made to it. No doubt changes are needed to the laws regarding child protection.
Mr. Ray Ferris wrote an article in the Times-Colonist of Tuesday, June 7, 1994. He's a retired registered social worker with many years of experience in practising and supervising child protection, and he is the author of a book, The Art of Child Protection. He lives in Victoria. I found his article to be quite enlightening, and I'd like to read some excerpts of it into the record. He says:
"Child protection is the most difficult of all social work and is to be mastered in the same way as any other difficult profession. It must be taught with rigour and practised with discipline. Staff need to have commitment, intelligence and courage and need to be well trained and supervised."
"The basic problem is that educators, administrators and many of the supervisors simply do not have the knowledge and skills needed to train the staff. Child welfare tragedies are followed by investigation, intimidation and blame, rather than by retraining and support. This creates a climate of bureaucratic control, which stifles professional initiative.
"One will often hear that more resources are needed, but a much worse problem is the abuse and misuse of existing resources.
"It would be more profitable to conduct regular practice workshops, using experienced protection workers and supervisors as trainers."
And his final remark is:
"The basis of good child protection is to have focus and purpose in the work. Advanced interview and assessment skills must lead to clear-headed planning and decision-making."
We in this House would do well to think about and reflect on these remarks. I'm sure the long years of actual work that this gentleman had in child protection and in the field of social services.... He has a longstanding list of professional development and opinion and, I'm sure, support for the system itself.
This bill makes some sweeping changes to family and child legislation. There are 19 consequential amendments to this bill.
I have some concerns about this bill. I see a lack of accountability for social workers, wide-ranging powers for ministry personnel and, in my view, a massive intrusion by the state into the rights of parents and families. We're going to be looking for checks and balances to prevent that abuse. What initiatives address some of the concerns that Mr. Ferris raised in his article? This bill has some very serious implications.
I look forward to committee stage, when we will be asking for the government's justification for the sweeping powers that have been given to the ministry personnel and the state in Bill 46.
With that, I will take my place and, because of the size of the bill, simply say of the intent of Bill 46 that I think all of us in this House agree that the support and protection of children and families is of paramount importance. But there are a number of sections in this bill that we will be wanting to examine much more closely.
R. Neufeld: I rise to speak to the principles of Bill 46, the Child, Family and Community Service Act. From the outset, I would like to say that we as a caucus agree with much of the intent and with the direction that this legislation is going in.
We of course, as normal, do have some concerns with some parts of the legislation. The legislation is a large act. It covers an awful lot of issues about the child and the family in the community, how they interrelate and how we deal with families and young children in need who are taken into care.
One of the difficulties we have with the bill is that it is a legislation companion piece to Bill 45, which was discussed earlier this morning. I wasn't here to listen to the discussion, but this differs quite a bit from Bill 45. We find it difficult to understand; we feel they should be working more hand in hand. We feel that this variance between the two bills could cause a fair amount of legal confusion, as well as create a problem for families and children that will be affected by this legislation. It's difficult for us to know why there are
[ Page 11548 ]
such different positions in the two bills. I'm sure that when the minister wraps up the discussion later today she will enlighten us on some of the reasoning for that. The definitions throughout the bill could cause an awful lot of confusion.
This bill actually legislates for government to intervene in our children's and families' lives at a very -- I don't know quite the word to use -- slight provocation. I find this hard to believe, coming from a minister and a government that just recently said that some of the legislation in place before was far too harsh and that you should not intervene in family problems. I see there seems to be a bit of change in philosophy, to where in some cases it could be almost too easy to interfere in a family's life.
A good example is that this bill has an entire section outlining when a child needs protection, which if broadly interpreted could apply to almost every child in British Columbia. That's disturbing for me, because I think all of us realize that the family unit is under attack -- not by government, but it just seems to be under attack from all kinds of forces. We see families broken up, not working and dysfunctional. If the state breaks in more, I think it's going to cause more trouble.
We have to do a bit of the reverse, to make people a little more responsible. Instead of taking responsibility away from people all the time, as we and all human beings have a tendency to do, we should make people more responsible for some of their actions. I mean, make some of the families more responsible for some of their actions, instead of just intervening and trying to do it that way.
Obviously that hasn't worked. If you look into the education system and talk to some teachers, you'll see problems in that system. I had the opportunity to talk to some teachers in my constituency last week who are having some real difficulty with children coming to school from single-parent families or broken homes, and there's an awful lot of them. What we've done through time is to let it happen because of our good nature, instead of making people responsible, students responsible and the system responsible. I think we have to change that.
I'm sure everyone in this House has a different definition of the best interests of the family or the child. I'm sure the minister has a totally different idea of what's in the best interests of the children than I do. That doesn't make the minister right and me wrong, or me right and the minister wrong. That's the difficulty. Each child and each intervention is different. Where a child has been abused or has to be removed from the home, you can't presuppose how that child has been brought up through the years. You can't do that, and you can't all of a sudden go into a home, take that child away and say: "Okay, now we're going to do it this way, because that's what's in the best interests of the child."
This legislation and anything dealing with children or families is difficult for any one of us to deal with. It transcends political parties, just as the critic from the Liberal opposition said. It's very difficult to deal with, yet somehow we have to because we do have the problem. Society has the problem, and in some cases we as a society have promoted it. Now we have to deal with it, and I think we have to start dealing with some of these things in a little different fashion.
We're concerned also that the bill allows the workers and the ministry to make voluntary agreements with the youth but leaves no option for the youth to get out of these agreements if they choose to do so. I don't think I have a lot of problems with the youth making agreements in some cases. But again, this is a way of taking responsibility away from people, as I tried to speak about earlier. By doing that, we encourage the young person who's making that agreement to.... They get some kind of incentive that they can leave that family unit. All of a sudden, Big Brother or someone else is there to look after them. And if it doesn't work there, they'll go to another part of the system and get looked after there. That's the difficulty with our system. I'm not trying to say that I or the minister or the official opposition critic knows best.
These are difficult decisions that have to be made. But we have to be very careful when we write into legislation what can and can't be done in dealing with the family unit -- something, as I say, that is under terrible attack within Canada. One of the largest problems we have in Canada is the family unit, and it comes down to all kinds of things. It comes down to economics. It comes down to the fact that mothers and dads are both out working, sometimes at jobs that.... A lot of people don't have the eight-to-five job; they may be working from 10 o'clock at night till seven in the morning. They come home, and they don't have the time to spend with those young children, nurturing them.
So there's an economic element to the problems that we face in this country and province in dealing with children. The family unit through time, if you read back in history, has brought us through many difficult times and will continue to do so. But if we allow the family unit to be broken down too much, to where the state will look after those who don't specifically fit into the square hole, then we are encouraging it, and we are going to have a lot more trouble than we can deal with.
The legislation misses on a number of other issues: in the ministry being able to seek out the next of kin of families in order to deal with them before action is taken, or the ability for families that are having trouble.... If they have some negotiations with the ministry, I understand that the bill will not allow those people to talk to others unless they have the consent of all, and that could be very difficult. I don't know whether you are going to be able to get the consent of the ministry and all the family members, if other than the mother, father and children are involved. That could be very difficult, but it could be helpful if those in need could talk to others.
I spoke earlier about the ability of the ministry to remove a child without an order of any kind -- in fact, with just being able to state why the child is being removed. I don't know whether that is responding to some of the problems within the system that have allowed some things to happen which we wish had not. I don't know whether that's going to alleviate that problem, because there was the ability to do those kinds of things before without going that far. Of course, that is only my opinion, and there are others who think that the ministry should have more power.
There is no doubt that we need to protect children who are being abused. As a society, we have to cope with it. When you have a system as large as the Ministry of Social Services, with a budget of $2.7 billion and thousands of employees, trying to broad-brush something that will work in each instance is very difficult. That's why our caucus supports the intent of the bill. We know that some changes have to be made in legislation to deal with families and children in British Columbia, but we take exception to some parts of this legislation. There are about 150 sections to the legislation. It gets very in-depth and has a lot of legalese.
In third reading we intend to deal with each section that we have problems with. We know there are problems that have to be dealt with and that it's not an easy situation for anyone. But generally we support the legislation and hope that it deals with the issues that we have created in our
[ Page 11549 ]
society, and we have to now deal with them. With that, I look forward to third reading.
J. Tyabji: I would like to begin my comments by saying to the minister that I am sure her opening remarks were appreciated by all members of the House.
As we did this morning, I'm sure we will be fairly informal with regard to protocol and introductions. I understand there are some students we want to welcome here.
M. Farnworth: I ask leave to make an introduction.
M. Farnworth: I'd like to thank the member for Okanagan East for her courtesy; it is appreciated.
In the gallery today we have 32 students from Maywood Elementary School in Renton, Washington and their teacher, Miss G. Fitch. I'd ask the House to welcome these students from south of the border, who have come to British Columbia to see how our system of government works.
J. Tyabji: Of course, being a member of the opposition, I would like to welcome them -- to see how our government doesn't work. That's part of my job.
With regard to this bill, the minister's comments this morning I think illustrate two aspects of it, as we deal with the principle stage of the bill. We had the former act, which we know was unwieldy, out of date and in drastic need of change. I think this minister should be commended for taking charge, in a very short period of time -- although her predecessor probably had something to do with it -- of a very difficult and large system that was full of inertia, and for having the courage to try to change it. In that respect, many aspects of this bill are a dramatic improvement over what there used to be. There are also aspects of this bill that are a big concern, and we can get to those in committee stage. That would be one prong of this bill.
The other part of this bill that the Alliance members have a very strong problem with, in principle, is with regard to the new element that has been introduced. As we know, the previous act, the Family and Child Service Act, dealt with every British Columbian on the same basis; all of us were equal, and none of us were designated on the basis of race. What we have a problem with is that throughout this bill, there is a new aspect to it, as we see in the name change. It is now the Child, Family and Community Service Act. There's actually a section dealing with aboriginal community intervention in the determination of custody. Based on the definition of an aboriginal child, and the way this comes through, we can see that throughout this bill there is an intention to set aside the aboriginal community as separate and apart from the rest of British Columbia. That's something that, ideologically, the Alliance is at complete odds with this government on, and we will continue to be, whether that's through the negotiations on government jurisdiction or the placement of children for the purpose of custody.
This bill could allow a reverse custody system to what we saw 100 years ago -- and, in some cases, much more recently -- when, I'm sure all of us recognize, there was absolutely horrendous treatment of aboriginal people. Children were removed from aboriginal communities and westernized. They were put into western institutions and their cultures and community were stripped from them. That was a very traumatic and a highly regrettable and shameful part of our history. But when you read this bill, it allows us to visit on some of the aboriginal children of today the wishes of the older members of the aboriginal community with regard to placement in custody matters, because of cultural considerations. That is not something we can support in principle, because we know that the majority of aboriginal people in British Columbia are not living on reserves, within traditional aboriginal communities; they're living in urban centres. We have enormous urban native communities. To that extent, many aboriginal children are being born in a non-aboriginal context.
If we look at the definition of an aboriginal child who falls under the provisions of this bill for custody, it could be a child of a non-aboriginal and an aboriginal, born in an urban setting, and a community could place a custody order against the child if there are custody proceedings. Under this bill, that is to be given primary consideration in the determination of custody for that child. That could affect many children, because a child isn't going to say "I'm an aboriginal child," or "I'm a non-aboriginal child." We are the ones who teach racism to our children. We are the ones who tell them that they are different. To address custody of children on the basis of race is wrong. That's something that we're fundamentally opposed to. It runs throughout this bill. The reason for changing the name of the bill, to add "community," is obviously to add that element of community input into the determination of custody.
I don't think this minister.... Having listened to this minister, I have to say that I have a lot of respect not only for the principles she has brought into this but for the manner in which she is delivering them. Certainly the rest of us can sense her conviction when she stands in the House to defend children. I believe her to be sincere and to be working for the best interests of children.
Ideologically, however, we can't possibly support a bill in principle when you have the majority of the children defined by this bill as aboriginal living away from that community. Yet even the part at the back where we talk about the hearings.... The hearings allow parents and a member of the aboriginal community, who may be at best a distant relative, to be present at the determination of custody. They may not necessarily even be a distant relative but may be an interested party, because that person has a certain race or cultural perspective. So that's something that we have a problem with in this bill.
That being said, and that being the strongest basis for our opposition to this bill in second reading, I would like to say that the improvements the minister has brought to some of the mechanisms for dealing with children are commendable. Some of them are very creative. Obviously this has been drafted with a lot of thought. The Liberal opposition has talked a lot about accountability. I'm not sure how you can build too much more accountability, other than with the court system.
We see that time lines are actually built into the bill, to provide some manner for it to move along. If the time lines weren't there, there would be a huge concern. There are some concerns in terms of tightening up the definitions, but the mechanism itself is relatively good and is a dramatic improvement. Since the Attorney general is here, I'd like to say that I hope his office will look at this bill, take some of the machinery from it and put it into the Family Relations Act, because the Family Relations Act is sadly lacking in time lines and in taking the best interests of children into account.
With that said, obviously the majority of the debate on this bill has to occur in committee stage. It is unfortunate that given the minister's valiant and in some respects very successful attempt to deal with a very problematic bill, the Family and Child Service Act, the Child, Family and
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Community Service Act is something that we oppose in principle because of differentiation on the basis of race. We feel that that is as illegitimate a process as it was when we did it to the aboriginal community 50 and 60 years ago.
I look forward to committee stage. There are a number of questions. I hope the minister will accept some amendments in committee stage. I would like to offer to this minister that if she would like some notes on where we would like to see amendments in committee stage that are in keeping with the intent of the bill and that might be a little helpful, we'd be happy to provide that for her. Otherwise, we'll be delivering them during the debate.
[D. Lovick in the chair.]
G. Wilson: I wish to rise to speak in a discussion that parallels that of my colleague for Okanagan East with respect to this bill and how we break it down. I think my colleague made it very clear that we believe there is a great deal in this bill that is of value, and there has clearly been a lot of thought in drafting this bill. My comments on Bill 44 are echoed in my comments on Bill 46, to the extent that government must be very careful at all times not to cross the line and allow the power of the state to become too great in terms of intervention, or not to provide powers to the state that can be used and expressed when there is no, or limited, justification to do so.
In part 3, section 13 of this particular bill, it talks about when protection is needed. Throughout the entire section, it doesn't talk about a question of evidentiary action being taken, where people say, "Indeed, now there is evidence that the following events have occurred," or that there is an evidentiary question with respect to past performance in somebody who has received custody through some litigation process. What it talks about is that something is likely to happen. It says that there is "likely to be" physical harm, sexual abuse or problems associated with exploitation or, in some instances, that there is "likely to be" emotional harm done.
I think we have to be extremely careful in this instance because of the volatility of some situations where there are dysfunctional families, matters of substance abuse in one or possibly two of the parent figures, and issues that are critical to the overall well-being and welfare of the child. It is one thing to come in and act as an advocate to make sure that there is a level of protection, and it is something entirely different to give to a director, who is appointed by government, the powers that this act provides for in the removal of that child. Under section 1, the act says that a director, without a court order and by force if necessary, can enter a premise or a vehicle or board any vessel for the purpose of removing a child.
The question is: if the director has some reasonable grounds -- and that's what is considered -- to believe that the child needs protection.... That's covered under what I've just said about it being "likely to be," or that there's a possibility that an event will occur and the child's health or safety is in immediate danger. This is a real problem for the state, because clearly, if an event occurs where somebody is under some kind of social program for assistance and the child is negatively impacted or affected, the first person who will be on the firing line by some members in this House will be the minister. They'll ask: "Why didn't you move in, and why didn't you do something? Why didn't the minister go in there and remove the child? Why didn't the state intervene?" Some members of this House would demand resignations. The minister can't do that, and the state has to be extremely careful about intervening on those questions, because there are rights of parents and children that have to be considered in this equation.
It isn't up to government. It isn't up to the government to make a decision about what is appropriate or inappropriate in many instances -- unless, of course, there is clear evidence that a child is unable to protect themselves, or a parent unable to protect a child will put the child at risk through an immediate threat of danger. That's a tough question in the mind of whoever it is who has to make that decision. This is not an easy thing to do. In drafting legislation, you have to recognize that you have to give powers to individuals, but you must not provide them with such latitude that they have the opportunity to move in and use all the weight and force of the state when justification for that may not be there -- or where reasonable grounds may be entirely under question. Because if you do, it's a slippery slope. We have seen many instances in other jurisdictions -- thankfully not many in British Columbia, although there are some examples in B.C. -- where the state, sometimes out of good intentions, sometimes out of quite obvious politically driven dogma, has made the authority and rights of the state so overwhelming as to allow the state to move and to apprehend in a manner and at times that are simply not justifiable at all. That becomes a significant abrogation of individual rights and freedoms, and of the right of an individual to raise their children in a manner they believe is appropriate.
I understand the complexities of this issue, but surely you don't give an appointed director -- who in this act is able to take action whether or not a complaint has been filed -- an opportunity to move into a situation, observe it and make a decision that requires, by use of force if necessary, forced entry into a premises. That's what the language of the bill says. If that's not what the bill intends to say, then we'd better look at that in committee and do some amending. The only person who should be given that kind of right without warrant is a police officer. There is nothing that suggests that if the director has knowledge of an event that is taking place or is about to take place, or if the director knows that there is a child at risk.... There is nothing to prevent that director from seeking the accompaniment of a police officer. Indeed, it goes on to say that the director has discretion as to whether or not to do that. We would argue that there should be no discretionary powers there. If you're going to have forced entry into a premises, then you'd better have somebody who has the authority under the law to do so, not somebody who is just appointed by government, because that's a pretty scary precedent to set.
So we have some serious problems with that section of the bill. It's not because it isn't well-intentioned and well-meaning -- we understand what it's designed to do -- but because you simply should not provide that kind of authority to that individual.
The other thing that there is nothing in here about is the training that's necessary with respect to these appointed directors. Where in here is there anything that says anything at all about the qualifications, training, background and the kind of people who are going to be designated, subject to whatever regulations -- all of this is going to be subject to regulations that we have not yet seen -- and given state powers to come in and intervene? We would have preferred some clear reference to who these directors are, what their training and background is, and what kind of individuals we're talking about.
It says that the minister is not allowed to delegate or designate the power for the designation of a director, notwithstanding section 15 of the province's Constitution
[ Page 11551 ]
Act. So the minister is now empowered to select who these individuals are. There are two problems with that. It puts the minister in an enormously vulnerable situation, especially when you have the climate we have in the Legislature right now, when anybody who's appointed to anything is immediately accused of being some kind of friend, insider or political whatever. But more importantly, it puts the minister in an extremely vulnerable position, because the minister must make decisions on the qualifications, credentials and abilities of that director who is given widespread powers.
That's a pretty scary proposition, because the minister shouldn't have that unlimited authority and power without the ability to designate to a larger body that might want to look at training, background or some method of developing these directors if indeed this legislation is in place. There's nothing in this bill to provide for it. I think that's a major oversight, because people are going to be extremely fearful of the powers these people have if, in fact, there is one case -- and it will only take one -- of abuse of power by one director. This minister and this government are going to pay the price for it, because we have seen what happened in the Vaudreuil case -- where this minister wasn't guilty; it wasn't this minister's fault. In some instances, it wasn't even the fault of sections in the ministry. Yet we've seen what happens when people try to make political hay out of a tragic situation. It's going to take one -- just one -- instance, and this whole program is going to be in jeopardy. That's not good. We have to find a way for the state to use its powers without breaching the authority, which it trusts unto itself for the people, to look after children in this province. So we have concerns about that.
The second problem with it, in terms of the designation of these directors, is that the authority of the director -- in the discretion that director will have to have over assessing and analyzing decisions, notwithstanding that many supports and support documents may be provided -- is going to require a very special, unique and able individual. When there's an opportunity for interagency activity and interagency development and for those interagency groups to work in the community.... I come back to the comments I made under Bill 45 and, for the record, reiterate them here under Bill 46.
It's time the community became involved, because these children are participants in the community. They're members of the community; they're our neighbours. They may be low-income, may come from a different background, may be of a different ethnic origin, may speak a different language, may be new immigrants into this country and may not even participate in the kinds of social activities that we in our own little clique engage in. But they're members of our community. We are responsible for them, as they should be responsible for our joint welfare. That's what is missing in this province: a little more humanity, caring, sharing and obligation among the community to move forward and to look after its own.
We don't and should not need the state to intervene. But we have become more and more dependent on government to provide more and more services. The service organizations are finding it more and more difficult to get into the community to do the kind of good community work they do. The churches seem to have pulled in their horns or reins and said, "No, we're not going to go out and do as much as we did," because attendance in those organizations tends to be diminishing -- at least in some; perhaps not among the evangelical group, but they often don't get involved in doing anything in the community. The mainline churches are finding it more and more difficult to involve themselves.
We find in the education system that there now is greater and greater difficulty putting in the special needs programs that are needed to look after people who have English as a second language -- the new immigrants to this country, who have a cultural background and come into a completely different cultural milieu. They are expected by some people in our community to simply whitewash everything they knew as members of a different cultural group and homogenize themselves into something called British Columbia. They are told, "Let's get rid of the multicultural concept," which I think is offensive to anybody who knows what it is to be Canadian. Good Lord, there isn't a more multicultural community than Canada!
We have to recognize that individual rights must be enshrined in the society as well, to be able to protect those rights. It's not an easy thing to do. Yet in our judgment this provides powers to the government and to this new director -- and I say this in conjunction with the comments made by my colleague from Okanagan East -- that simply take the government one step too far. It goes over that line. I'm very fearful that if we put this in place, we are going to create an opportunity for state intervention that is going to be open for abuse. And all it will take is one case, and you're going to have a real problem with this program.
So we would like to see some amendments and changes. We would like to see some hard discussion in committee stage on some of these sections. We're going to do so in a manner that is constructive, because we don't intend to simply object to this for the sake of objecting. We have tried to put forward some thoughtful concerns about where we see the problems in this bill.
It may, in all honesty, be a philosophical difference between members of the Alliance and members of the government with respect to the powers that should be enshrined in the government. I know that I have a philosophical disagreement with members opposite when it comes to the role of an individual in society versus the role of the collective, and which should have superior right or authority over the other. That's a very large intellectual debate that we're not going to get into in detail here, although it would clearly apply.
In the judgment of the members of the Alliance, the rights of individuals are paramount. They shouldn't be subjugated to the rights of the collective, and especially a collective that's driven by the government. It shouldn't be the government that's determining what's right in society and what the norms should be. It isn't the government that should be deciding for us where the standards will apply and that we will conform. It isn't the government that should be coming forward and saying: "We know best what's good for you; therefore we're going to legislate it, and you're going to take a good dose of it whether you like it or not." Yet we see that happening; we clearly see that happening. We saw it happening today in the tabling of a miscellaneous act with respect to health care workers, where the government is now going to determine how they're going to organize and bargain.
So we have to recognize that there is much good in this bill -- indeed there is. To the minister, we pass our congratulations for drafting some of the material here that we think is sound. We congratulate those people who engaged in the drafting of it for the thoughtfulness that went into this bill. But we believe that it has gone too far. And that's the purpose of this Legislative Assembly: to act as a
[ Page 11552 ]
chamber in which debate can occur and some sober second thinking can happen in committee stage.
We have committee stage so that when legitimate concerns are advanced; when we don't believe the interests of society will be well-served, because government is simply becoming too interventionist and directing too much the way we are going to live; when it's not just legislating how we're going to live but very much directing the parameters within which our lives will be governed.... We don't believe that's the way it should be. We believe in a greater degree of freedom in our society and among individuals, and we do not believe in subjugating that freedom to the collective interest.
So that's our concern, and that's why we're going to vote against this. It certainly isn't because we're voting against the needs of children in this province. Nobody knows, I think, better than some members of the Alliance -- certainly my colleague -- what it is to fight the system in this province. Nobody knows better than we do how difficult it is to fight the bureaucratic system when it's entrenched in government legislation. But it's ironic in the extreme if what we're doing is creating a new agency of government to fight government. That becomes a real irony. Yet from our point of view, that's precisely what we're doing here. I think there is a better way. It's not an easy way, and it won't be one that can be effected overnight. We're prepared to work with this minister to try to bring that better way into play. We're prepared to work with anybody who recognizes that the state should have a limited authority -- that there are, or should be, limits to the ability of the state to intervene, because intervention is something that has repercussions. It has social and financial repercussions, but above all, from a philosophical point of view, it has political repercussions as well. And if we believe in democracy and in the freedom of our society, we had better be vigilant in protecting it.
Deputy Speaker: I thank the member for his comments. Seeing no other members rising in their place, I will recognize the Minister of Social Services, whose remarks will close debate.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Again I must thank all of my colleagues for their very thoughtful opening comments on this bill as well as on this morning's bill. I think that committee stage will be interesting, and I actually expect it to be constructive, which will be good news for all of us.
Let me say a couple of things, though. This is a preventive bill, and that's what makes it unusual as a piece of legislation, compared to so much legislation that comes before the House from all governments. This bill is meant to assist and create wider opportunities for a very complex system to prevent pathology from happening. Yet it's unusual for us to grapple with that, because so many times we, as a state, actually do become the parent of children. That's an unusual role for us to play; nevertheless, it is a fact of life that 5,000 children each year have the state as their parent. We have to take that responsibility very seriously, but I do take all members' comments about how to do that in a way that makes families whole and does not break them up.
There is no question that our government wants this to be seen as a kids-first bill; there is no other way of describing it. I cannot claim credit for this thought, because I've seen it before from a social commentator. But when we invest in our children and our families with social programs now, we save in the way of paying less for social pathology in the future. That's what this is about. The bill is there to support families who can then support their children. It is not a guide for parenting. If parenting is working.... This is not to make judgments on the socioeconomic or cultural abilities of parents to parent. If your child is safe, healthy and secure, then this bill has no application to you. If you are functioning as a family and providing a nurturing environment -- not to make judgment on what or where that environment may be, or on what happens in that environment -- and if your child is healthy, safe and free from abuse and neglect, this bill doesn't apply to you.
What it is meant to do, though, is to assist when families may be in crisis and when, as a result of that family crisis, a child is put at risk. The bill is there to strengthen the family and provide more options to protect children and families. At the same time, it is to give recognition to the fact that there are different families in society today. There are many more single-parent families, and, yes, there are different ways of parenting depending on what culture you come from. We have to make sure that this bill incorporates the widely known wealth of knowledge around what exactly constitutes a family, and therefore kids, in trouble. It is not unknown to society.... In fact, many experts out there can tell us clearly when a child is at risk, either by abuse or even threat of abuse. I know it's difficult.
I must confess to having been on a very sharp learning curve in this area about exactly what does have an effect on our children, about potentially abusive and indeed abusive situations as well, and about the impact that can have on children for the rest of their lives. We can have those discussions in committee about the issue of threats or potential for harm. There is lots of documentation that threats and the potential for harm actually have a great deal of effect on our children during their growing up.
I'll quickly touch on some of the points raised by the hon. members in second reading that we can deal with at committee stage. The hon. member for Vancouver-Langara raised a legitimate point around the fact that we have to have accountability for kids who are in care now. In the past, that accountability hadn't been there, and we've got many former kids in care who now have to go to the courts to seek that accountability. I hope to be able to show in committee that that accountability is there, and it may require that we make it widely known, from a public point of view, how to access that accountability. The other point is well taken: financial accountability has to be there for children in care. Some of my colleagues have also raised the concern that it's too much intrusion by the state. I hope we can alleviate some of those concerns at committee stage, because the intent is not to intrude in the home; it is to offer support when the family is in crisis and has no other way except to turn to our ministry for support in that crisis. It's not to have their children taken away or to have their rights lessened, but to see our ministry as an alternative for supporting the family, whereas before we weren't seen as a viable alternative. I hope that I can give some of those assurances as we get into committee stage.
I might also advise members of the House that if they wish to put amendments before me for consideration, I would be more than happy to look at those ahead of time and discuss them with them, or we can have the discussion in committee stage. I can't hold out promises on anything, but I'd be happy to discuss them.
Let me try to give some assurances regarding the differences between Bill 45 and Bill 46. I am not exactly sure what the hon. member was referring to, but the bills are meant to work together. They are supposed to jibe. They are not identical bills by any means, because the child, youth and family advocate is to support those who are being affected by the Child, Family and Community Service Act. One is to
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support the other. If that is not made clear, I hope that we can work out some of those misconceptions in committee stage.
I know that there are also some concerns in the House that we would be too intrusive -- that the legislation would perhaps now say that because we have so clearly defined what a child at risk is, we may then open up every family to being accused of having children at risk. That is not the intent, and I hope that is not the case. Much of this legislation is modelled after successes in other provinces and other jurisdictions. Our province is at the tail end of change in modernizing child welfare legislation. There is no intent to make families nervous. I know that all of us in this chamber who are parents understand the difficulties of parenting today, and that with a great deal of struggle and a great deal of support from the community, the vast majority of people in British Columbia parent effectively.
This bill is intended to give greater assurances to those who are responsible for protecting children. They now have a clear guide and very specific language. It's a very plain bill. The language in the bill is easily understood, in most cases; that's a breakthrough for us as well. Those of us in the community who are responsible for children's protection will no longer be second guessing. We will know when a family is in crisis, and we will know when to offer them services. We will know when a child is in need of protection, and we will know when to protect that child. We will know when youth are so alienated from their families that government has to come in and assist that youth to get off the streets and into some productive life.
I understand the concerns that are being expressed about whether the system can meet the changes and whether we will actually be able to move and develop a new system that can keep up with this legislation. That is our government's responsibility. I very clearly see it as my responsibility to ensure that the policies, procedures, regulations and staff training are well funded, well resourced and given all the support they possibly can be given to make sure that this legislation is a success and that its implementation contributes to that success. In my mind there would be no greater failure than to underresource new legislation so that it has no choice but to fail. I have the greatest of confidence that two years from now we will be facing a completely different system -- a well-resourced system, a system that both the community and our own staff are well trained for -- and that there will be a different, much more open, point of view about how we protect our kids and how we strengthen our families. I look forward to ensuring that during committee stage. With that, I now move second reading of the Child, Family and Community Service Act.
Motion approved on the following division:
YEAS -- 39
M. de Jong
NAYS -- 3
Bill 46, Child, Family and Community Service 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. J. MacPhail: I call committee on Bill 12.
The House in committee on Bill 12; D. Lovick in the chair.
The Chair: I call the committee to order and ask those members who are not going to be here and who have other duties to please depart the House quietly and quickly.
On section 1.
J. Tyabji: I'm at a serious disadvantage, because the copy of the bill in front of me is not the one I have marked up. So I'm going by memory, and it's been a couple of weeks.
I notice there's no definition of librarian in this act, although there was in the original. Could the minister explain why there's no definition and how the ministry will be guided without a definition?
Hon. D. Marzari: There are sections of the bill which refer to chief librarian. And common practices in this province very much define what librarians do. As a matter of fact, the number of public librarians is a minority right now. Many librarians work for corporations, universities or other publicly affiliated agencies.
The major issue here that I believe the member is asking is whether librarians should have self-determination, to begin to determine by themselves how they would like to define their professional experience and expertise and to accredit themselves. As I believe I said during second reading, I would be the first minister who would welcome an approach by librarians across this province to talk about an accreditation procedure and a professional librarians' act. However, that is not the case at this moment. I know there might be some interest. Therefore you do not see a definition of librarian that has been accredited or that has gone through the appropriate professional act requirements for librarians.
J. Tyabji: So it wouldn't be the minister's intent to have some qualifications laid out for librarians. In the absence of a professional association, anyone who is filling a job as a librarian qualifies as a librarian. Is that what the minister is trying to say?
Hon. D. Marzari: As the current act does not set hiring standards for library boards, we can assume that an MLS degree is de facto the academic standard for our professional librarians. Library boards themselves are responsible for determining the appropriate level of training that they expect for librarians. We at the provincial level set an example for boards by requiring that the director of a public library service appointed by the minister be a qualified librarian. But as I said, it is up to the librarians themselves to determine when and how they wish to become accredited in a public library system in British Columbia.
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J. Tyabji: I should say that it's not my intention to take a lot of time with this bill, because I know that the librarians would like to see it passed, and there are only a few concerns. But there's also no definition of library, or what it is. And when we look at the next section of the act, which is the purposes of the act, it doesn't really go into what the purposes of the library system are.
The reason I bring that up is that, with the changes in technology occurring right now, a public library could be construed as anything. In fact, many libraries are branching out to audiovisual, to certain parts of technology and to computer technology. Will there be some sort of future provision to define what a library is, so we know what falls under this act?
Hon. D. Marzari: This act largely deals with governance structures around public libraries in the province. In section 1 in part 1, you'll see that public library is defined to mean "a municipal library, a regional library district, a public library association or an integrated public library system." The provisions of this act basically bring together the requirements -- the menu, so to speak -- for what a public library should be.
The act is not theoretical, nor does it begin to expound on the nature of what public libraries might be in the future. It is simply an act of governance to deal with the fact that the Library Act is some 70 years old and has been tinkered with over many years. I wouldn't call it a housekeeping act, because I think it has a vision simply by virtue of the fact that it is here in this House; but it is a governance act. It is an act about accountability -- about who runs the libraries and how they should do that, what their terms should be and who pays -- rather than a discursive act that speaks to what libraries may be for our communities in the future.
J. Tyabji: I have one last question under this section, then. Considering that there is no definition for library.... I understand that the minister is saying that this approaches the structure. When we talk about municipal libraries or regional library districts, that is really in reference to the jurisdiction of the library, and there is no reference to what a library is. Does the minister have any concerns that libraries could be developed that are very different from the conventional concept of a library?
For example, when people think of a library, they think of a place where public funds provide access to books for the purpose of publicly accessible knowledge, whether that be reference materials or fiction. I can foresee that with changes in technology we could move into something more along the lines of public video stores, and I think that could be a concern. Is that something that has ever been discussed? It's one of those things that could easily be solved by a definition of a library.
In the absence of that, there is a lot of local control. I'm supporting local control, but I wouldn't like to see a change in the concept, and that's the only reason I raise that. That's the end of my questions on that section.
Hon. D. Marzari: The whole business of libraries is accessing information, and as communities choose how they wish to access information, so shall communities determine what that should look like. No, there have not been discussions as to what the future holds for functions and purposes and the technology surrounding libraries. But there is a basic, common purpose in this province about access to information, as there always has been, which is reinforced in this bill, by which I mean that in section 46 we ensure that that access is free, with very few exceptions, to everyone who approaches a library.
L. Fox: I have one very quick statement in support of not defining either a library or a librarian. There's obviously some control through the funding process with respect to what a library is. The provincial government contributes considerable dollars to libraries throughout British Columbia. Any definition that we can think of today might limit the libraries of tomorrow, and I'd be concerned about that. We want libraries to have the freedom to evolve and meet the needs of our respective constituents.
Likewise, any definition that we put on a librarian would limit the opportunities and the flexibility that exist in the system in smaller libraries and in smaller communities to meet the needs in their communities. I just want to be on record as supporting the fact that I appreciate the rationale as to why there shouldn't be definitions for either a librarian or a library.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
C. Tanner: I'd like to make the same declaration I made in second reading of this bill, in that a business with which I was previously associated sold books to libraries, and still does, so everybody should know that my next question regarding free libraries is not motivated with that in mind at all. Section 39 under part 5 of the old act mentioned free libraries. I haven't seen mention of the word "free" in the purposes section or the definition section or anywhere else in the bill that I can recall. I assume that that is not going to change. Could the minister give us that assurance?
Hon. D. Marzari: Stay tuned until we get to section 46, which I would be very pleased to leap to at this very moment, if the member wishes.
J. Tyabji: The purposes section of the act is obviously fairly important. Section 2(c), for example, states that the act is "to support improvements in public library service." Is the ministry going to be supporting it -- in addition to some of the specifics of this bill -- with some technological support that would allow shared information on the inventories of all libraries in the province? Is that something that has been discussed?
Hon. D. Marzari: There are a number of examples of libraries coming together to provide services. In fact, I'm informed by our chief librarian, Barbara Greeniaus, who is sitting here, that our CD-ROM catalogue of all the facilities and books is in its third edition and was the first of its kind in the whole country. Just a few days ago I had the privilege of opening InterLinka, which is basically a library service to access books from Hope to Bowen Island, so that anyone living in the lower mainland-plus will be able to access and receive delivery of books because of the technological innovation that we've been able to capitalize on and take advantage of, and the energies, obviously, of 27 different library boards. So, yes, I'm sure that a number of other projects will come on stream, just as these two projects have. We have a very dynamic library system in this province. I am not defining what it should or shouldn't be.
J. Tyabji: Although we've already covered whether or not the minister will be defining what a library system is, the
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minister has alluded to a number of computer.... I'm assuming that InterLinka is a computer link. Would the minister let us know whether or not libraries such as the library in the Legislature and some of the libraries associated with each ministry will be on that computer link and whether it will be accessible to the public library systems?
Hon. D. Marzari: At this point, no, but we are working towards that possibility.
J. Tyabji: A last question, then, on that subject: when the minister said that 27 libraries from Hope to Bowen Island have linked up, is that something that the ministry has facilitated and provided some support for? Is the ministry then going to offer the same kind of support to other libraries? Will that be concurrent with the act?
Hon. D. Marzari: It's all part of the federated systems, and we will be looking toward that.
I would like to correct the mention of 27 library boards and bring it to 12 library boards, hon. Chair.
The Chair: It is duly noted.
C. Tanner: Section 2 refers to the purposes of this act. Surely a basic fundamental of the library service in this province is that it is free. I appreciate the minister pointing out section 46 to me, but it seems to me that "free" should appear in the purposes section of this act to make it clear to anybody reading the act that they have a free library service in this province; they shouldn't have to dig further back into the act to find it. What was the reason the minister's legislative writers decided not to include it in the purposes section?
Hon. D. Marzari: Under part 5 of the act, which is section 46, the rules laid down apply to all library boards. These came under the regulatory section of the act, rather than under the statement of purpose. But I take the member's point. Section 46 is well worth supporting, and it sets down a framework and guidelines for library boards throughout the province.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
L. Fox: I have a very brief observation. Section 3 allows that a municipality may establish a municipal library, but a pre-existing library may veto that. I would like some explanation of what the ministry envisions and of the necessity for that clause. It would seem to me that if a service is already offered in the community that is meeting their needs, it's not likely that municipalities would start an initiative which would cost them tax dollars in order to develop a duplicate process. Perhaps the minister can explain to me the necessity of this section.
Hon. D. Marzari: The act is not to do library associations out of business; it's simply to encourage municipalities to recognize that libraries have an important role to play in their communities, and to structure for communities that have been looking for a more stable library arrangement a form of governance which is more stable across the province. It basically defines a municipal library board and gives municipalities the power to establish one. It does not pre-empt or take away from those library associations which presently exist in many communities -- which are perfectly adequate and over the years have built the backbone of the library system. The municipal library is a form of governance which gives the association some stability, should the association wish to plug into the municipal status.
C. Tanner: I have a quick question to the minister about section 3(3): "When a bylaw is adopted under this section, the municipal council must send the minister a copy of the bylaw." Is the legislation calling for the minister to give permission, acceptance, or recognition in that particular section?
Hon. D. Marzari: That's purely an information-granting activity so the municipality might give the association a grant.
Sections 3 and 4 approved.
On section 5.
J. Tyabji: I have two main subjects to canvass. Why aren't members of the local library association able to elect a voice to the board? I notice there could be five to 13 people appointed to the board by the municipal council, and there's no room for someone from the local association.
Hon. D. Marzari: There is nothing to prevent the library association from becoming involved with the municipal library, but the rules are that the municipal library must advertise for the positions so that appropriate choices can be made, which seems appropriate.
J. Tyabji: As I understand it, unless I'm mistaken, as I understand it, there are actually parts of the act that protect associations later on. We'll be getting there a bit later, obviously. I think there is a protection under part 4 that recognizes the importance of a local association, yet in part 2, the municipal council may appoint all the members of the board without any representation from the association. Later on, in part 4, we can ask why there's such a discrepancy. In one we're entrenching the power, and in the other there's no power at all.
Hon. D. Marzari: There are two separate models that operate here, and I think the member is setting up the possibility of the two models conflicting. I don't believe that's the case. Here we're dealing with the situation where a municipal library board such as the one in Vancouver is to be established. In Cranbrook, for example, there's an association that obviously runs its library and will continue to do so until there's an agreement to do otherwise. This is not an assumption of this municipal model moving in and taking over; it's simply establishing a new model that can service municipalities if they so choose.
J. Tyabji: As I understand it, then, the library board appointed by the municipal council would only be put in place in the absence of an existing library board. Is that correct?
Hon. D. Marzari: I am informed that there are 18 municipal libraries functioning now. The procedures and regulations around municipal libraries will apply to them, and there are other communities that have library associations. They do not compete, and there is no overlap between them.
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J. Tyabji: The last question on this is that I note that the uneven number of members is "not fewer than five or more than 13." Then when we get into the regional library districts and look at the board, as I read it the board is going to have three members. I'm a little curious about why there would be a discrepancy. In this one we have up to 13 members on the board, and then a dramatic change to possibly only three. Is there a reason for such a difference, especially when the regional board has such a large jurisdiction?
Hon. D. Marzari: At the regional level, the number of people on the board will be determined by the number of participants actually paying into the service itself. So each participant will have a vote, obviously, on the regional library board. At the municipal level, five to 13 is a reasonable number for a board.
Sections 5 to 8 inclusive approved.
On section 9.
J. Tyabji: I understand that many of the duties that have been given to the library board in this section are similar to the duties of library boards or associations as they exist now. The minister might want to correct me on that.
But the question that I have is a more general one: why wouldn't there be an executive director function to take them over, especially things like hiring and dismissing employees, collective agreements, terms of employment and some of the details? When you have a board of possibly 13, there are quite a lot of duties that would normally be under a manager or an executive director.
Hon. D. Marzari: I believe it's generally felt that a chief librarian could easily take on that function of managing. As I say, one of the principal objectives of the act is to make the powers of the library boards consistent, one with the other. So you have here an act which basically promotes consistency and activities that define the library functions.
J. Tyabji: When the minister says that these functions could be performed by a chief librarian, I would agree, and I would say further that a chief librarian more or less functions as an executive director. Yet these duties are given to the board rather than the chief librarian, and we haven't defined a librarian in the act, which makes it a bit problematic. The minister is saying that this is here for consistency. I would suggest that this could have been an opportunity to define a chief librarian and then put some of those duties there, making it a more effective model than what has existed or what we see here.
Hon. D. Marzari: The power is vested in the board itself; I mean that the corporate power of leasing buildings and doing the various other tasks which a library must do is vested with the board. How the board wishes to delegate that responsibility to whichever staff member is its own business, but the important thing is that the power is established here for the board itself.
J. Tyabji: Under subsection 9(f), we see that the library board "may acquire personal property for library purposes and dispose of personal property...." The language is a bit strange. I wonder why the adjective "personal" was included.
Hon. D. Marzari: Property, in this sense, means books, not real estate.
J. Tyabji: Yes, I do understand that. When someone has a library at home, I was imagining that the public library might want to acquire the personal property. I was just concerned to ask: why would they be disposing of personal property? How would the library have ownership of personal property to dispose of?
Hon. D. Marzari: Libraries turn over their inventory on a regular basis, and I would imagine that having this legal power to acquire and dispose just firms up the ability to acquire donations. To be able to dispose of that inventory is all part and parcel of what a board should be able to do. They do that now, and always have.
J. Tyabji: So when we read "dispose of personal property," that is pretty well the same concept, and "personal" is something that might be personal to the library.
Is it standard for libraries to prepare annual reports with copies sent to the minister each year? Is that new?
Hon. D. Marzari: Yes.
J. Tyabji: What will the minister do with the reports? Will there be an annual report to the Legislature by the minister or some form of communication to the members of the assembly on the provincial picture of all the libraries reporting to the office?
Hon. D. Marzari: When annual reports arrive at the chief librarian's office, they are generally reviewed and offers are made to consult about any areas of concern. They generally come under the purview of the ministry staff. No annual report is put forward by the provincial ministry or the minister, but these reports are intended to be helpful to the ministry staff and to the libraries.
J. Tyabji: I would assume that the minister will allow the reports to be part of the public library that's also accessible by all the libraries.
The last question on this is: why did the minister need to put in subsection 9(h) "may sue and be sued," when the library board is a corporation and therefore would already be able to do that?
Hon. D. Marzari: I gather that the libraries will not have the power to own property outright -- that is, real estate. That was not the case before, and it isn't the case now under the new act.
J. Tyabji: I'm not sure if I misunderstood the answer -- or maybe I didn't ask the question. The question was actually under subsection 9(h), where it says that the library board may sue and be sued. Since it is a corporation, the minister wouldn't have to put that in the bill. The minister is saying that they can't actually own real estate property. I don't understand how that's relevant.
Hon. D. Marzari: Subsection 9(h) was put in to clarify the powers of the municipal library. They would come under some forms of liability, as other corporations do. A library board is not a full corporation in the sense of it having the traditional powers that one would expect of a municipal council or of other public agencies that are considered to be full corporations.
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L. Fox: I have one brief question on this section, and it also falls in section 8. Is that different than what exists in the present act? Is there something new in this legislation compared to what was in the last legislation?
Hon. D. Marzari: It is new.
L. Fox: In that this is under the municipal libraries section, and given that the municipalities would be held responsible, has the minister had any discussions with the Municipal Insurance Association about the liability concerns that may flow out of this section?
Hon. D. Marzari: The MIA has not been specifically contacted on this, but since the municipal library board usually conducts its business on municipal property, that would be the case now -- and previous to now. This is a new clause in the act, but the property on which libraries rest is usually municipal property. Nothing would have changed in terms of the status vis-a-vis the municipality. There would be limited new exposure for library boards having this clause in their act.
[M. Farnworth in the chair.]
L. Fox: It would appear to me that given that libraries have had the opportunity to own or lease their own property -- subsection 9(e) gives them that opportunity -- a municipality would have been able to limit its liability if that property were wholly owned by the library association or board. By putting this clause in, you've now exposed the library board and the municipality to the same liability that it would have had in the previous legislation. Was that the intent of the act?
Hon. D. Marzari: In most of these cases -- in fact, in all that I'm advised about -- we're talking about leasing arrangements, not an arrangement where the municipal library board actually owns its property. The important thing here is that municipal library boards need a legal status that is consistent with their role as autonomous bodies. Corporate status is appropriate for a library board, which is empowered to employ staff to acquire various assets and to engage in contracts. So section 8 is not out of keeping with what we would expect to put into provisions for a municipal library board. As I say, we're not exposing the board or the municipality to any greater liability than they would already be experiencing at this point in time.
Section 9 approved.
On section 10.
J. Weisgerber: The questions that I have on section 10 deal with the question of sufficient funds for the library. Under section 19 the existing act requires the municipality to provide sufficient funds for a library to operate. Section 10 under this act -- and I assume that we can deal with all of the subsections as one unit -- essentially provides for the municipality only to approve a budget that may well have been amended by that same council. There doesn't appear to be any requirement for sufficiency in this act. I can only assume that the minister has deliberately changed the intent of the legislation, which no longer obliges a municipality to provide sufficient funds to a library but only to provide an approved budget that may have been amended by a municipal council. Can the minister tell us what assurances there are for libraries that either municipalities or the province...will ensure sufficient funds for a library to operate?
Hon. D. Marzari: I think we can assume that sufficiency is assumed here -- that "sufficient to provide a library fund" under the old section 19, and "a sum sufficient to finance the...approved budget" are, in effect, clauses around sufficiency. I think you can also assume that this act, which is well supported by libraries across the province and by municipalities and regional districts, is not intended to curtail or in any way drastically reduce the amount of funding for libraries. In fact, I think this act is a testimony to the provincial government and to municipal governments, which want to see libraries take their place in the sun and have appropriate recognition. The phraseology around sufficiency of funding.... We must assume there is going to be that commitment. There certainly is that commitment from the provincial level, in bringing this act forward in the first place. I think we can assume that municipal boards, when they're properly and duly structured -- or as they sit duly structured now by municipal councils -- are as much a part of the departments of municipal structure or functioning as any other function, and are possibly more important, because they are given a special governance. So let us just assume that sufficient is sufficient and assumed.
J. Weisgerber: I'm aware of at least one library that wasn't as confident as the minister would suggest. My own Dawson Creek library has raised this issue. They are not at all convinced that municipal governments, as they continue to face off-loading from the provincial government -- which has become the practice over the last couple of years -- will not be forced into cutting back in areas such as library funding, to the degree that libraries wouldn't be able to operate. They believe that this sufficiency issue has been quite deliberately taken out of this legislation. Read together, sections 2 and 4 only oblige a municipal council to fund a library to the degree to which they may feel is appropriate. I think many libraries would like to see some amendment to this legislation or, at the very least, a very strong statement from the minister with regard to the intent of this legislation. A literal reading of the legislation certainly undermines the notion of sufficiency as it was outlined in the previous legislation.
Hon. D. Marzari: If the library board was having difficulty under previous legislation, it's possible they will have difficulty under the new legislation. All I can assure the citizens of Dawson Creek and the library board of is that this legislation is not going to take away any protection they already have. In fact, I would make the statement that subsection 10(4) does protect them by firmly putting the onus on the municipality to properly fund the library itself; that is the intent of subsection 10(4). The bickering around whether sufficient is properly sufficient between the old and the new acts has nothing to do with any suggestion that there is going to be an insistence that libraries go it on their own. In fact, as I say, the commitment to bringing this act into the House should provide further stability to the library system in our province.
J. Weisgerber: The library board wasn't suggesting that they were having an ongoing problem with the act as it exists; they expressed concerns to me and to you, hon. minister, about the intent of the new section 10.
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Perhaps we can become a bit more specific in our questions. If subsection (4) obligates the municipal council to finance the library's approved budget, could the minister tell us what kinds of constraints there are on the municipal council under subsection (2) to amend the budget? Under subsection (2), what would prevent a municipal council from amending the budget and reducing it by 50 percent, for example?
Hon. D. Marzari: The protection comes from the sheer business of local government. The whole reason for encouraging municipal library boards to take care of their libraries has to do with the municipal government actually being accountable to the taxpayers and the electorate. With the libraries accountable to the municipal councils, and the municipal councils accountable to their local electorate, one can assume that the triangle will kick in at a certain point and that we will not be looking at amendments to budget processes which cut back on library budgets. It may be that they are, but at the present point in time, any municipal council can do the same, and most municipal library associations are facing similar difficulties.
We have never required a municipal council to fund a library at a specific level. This is not a money bill that will guarantee a certain level of funding to all libraries; rather, it's a guideline to municipal councils, in an attempt to bring a level of governance into the business of libraries and library boards, which I believe will stabilize libraries across the province and their relationship to municipal councils.
J. Weisgerber: Just so I'm clear, under section 10 there are no constraints on a municipal council to amend the library budget in any way they might see fit. It seems to me, then, that the province is stepping away from any commitment or responsibility for maintaining a given level of library services in the community. The minister is saying -- rightly or wrongly -- that municipal councils and voters within the municipal council are going to be the sole arbitrators of library services, even though there may well be a fairly significant population outside the municipal council. People who are not voters in municipal elections, and who have no influence over municipal governments, are going to be affected by these decision, but the province simply does not accept any responsibility for the level of library services in a community or municipality.
Hon. D. Marzari: Nothing has changed.
J. Weisgerber: I have a suspicion that this could last for a long time. What has changed is this: the previous legislation required the municipal government to provide sufficient funds for a library to operate. Section 10, as it's laid out under subsections (2) and (4), removes any obligation of the municipal government. If the minister wants to defend that, that's fine. But I think it's important to understand that section 10 takes away any obligation of a municipal government to maintain any level of service other than that which council may feel is within its own mandate to do.
Hon. D. Marzari: At present, the province pays grants only to libraries which are receiving, as a minimum, a matching level of local support from their municipal councils -- from their communities. This is not a money bill; this is a governance issue. The existing bill has been extant for many decades, and the issue of sufficiency has not arisen. It is a question of finding the appropriate level, and the municipal library board budgets for that appropriate level. The municipal council negotiates, obviously -- as they always do -- and a sum is agreed upon. That sum must obviously be sufficient to run the library. If that sum is not sufficient to run the library, then there will be difficulties in the community electorally -- just as there would be for health services, for capital infrastructure or for any other service, except police, in most of the municipalities.
L. Fox: I have just one observation. I suppose one avenue that the minister has with respect to the concerns raised by the member for Peace River South is that considerable payments are made through her ministry to the respective library. If those obligations to fund the library weren't being met by the municipality in a way that makes good sense from a provincial perspective, perhaps there would be some opportunity at that point for the minister to provide some assurance to those people in that community.
Hon. D. Marzari: Well, not to change its policy in any way, shape, or form around the provision of grants to library associations or municipal library boards. The formulas are there and have been for some time, and our provincial government has been very clear in doing the best we can in a difficult fiscal situation to maintain those grants to libraries.
Section 10 approved.
On section 11.
L. Fox: I just have a very brief point here in that I understand that this board should have the opportunity, once the budget is set, to control its expenditures. My experience with the regional district was that we funded many societies, and requests for small capital improvements were approved on the basis of need. But oftentimes those societies, which are similar to this board, decided to change the priorities of those spending requests some time during the year. It seems to me that the municipal council should have some authority over those variances, or at least have to approve those variances in what was presented in its budget and what it actually spends its money on. Would the minister not agree with that?
Hon. D. Marzari: We haven't been prescriptive in the finest detail as to what the process should look like or what amendments to budgets might be made. In fact, we've left those amendments and that detail work to the library boards and municipalities involved.
L. Fox: I had to make reference.... Perhaps I was in error in not doing that. But section 11(1) says: "The library board has, subject to the approved budget, exclusive control over the expenditure...." That suggests to me that if there is a variance in its spending over the budget that was presented to council and approved, it's free to do that. If I've misread that, then perhaps the minister could guide us. It seems to me, if the library board did in fact make its spending and priorities known through the budgetary process, and somewhere down the road changed the focus and some of the priorities within its budget, that the person who supplied the money and who may in fact have made that money available, based on the argument for the earlier priority, should have some opportunity to say: "Hey, we approved the spending of those X dollars based on this priority, and we should either have the right to ask you not to spend those dollars or have some control over that shift."
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Hon. D. Marzari: The member is fixed on the word "exclusive" with regard to control over the expenditure of all money and all money granted. I would ask the member to look at the words previous to the word "exclusive" in section 11(1): "The library board has, subject to the approved budget...." If the budget is violated, then the law is violated, and the board and council will have to agree on any amendments to the budget before final agreement is reached.
It might be that the member has had some experiences with shifting priorities. It is the intent here in this municipal library board section to ensure that there is a budget, that it is properly amended in agreement between the two parties involved and that the budget itself will not be violated. We will not be looking at overruns; we will be looking at good contracts between municipalities and their boards.
L. Fox: Perhaps I have misread it, then. The minister is suggesting to me that the library board does not have the authority within this section to vary any of the priorities in the budget that was originally approved by the municipality. That being the case, perhaps the question to the minister is: if there's a need to vary the priorities because of a change in circumstance, does that kick back to section 10? Does section 10(3) prevail if, in fact, there's a need to change those priorities?
Hon. D. Marzari: Let's assume that we have two adult parties able to come to an agreement about a change in any priority, but that the budget itself as approved is not going to be violated and that the priorities will be agreed upon by the two parties involved.
Hon. Chair, at this juncture I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed; D. Lovick in the chair.
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I call committee on Bill 52.
PUBLIC EDUCATION LABOUR RELATIONS ACT
Hon. E. Cull: I want to advise members that I am going to be introducing two amendments during committee stage. They are not yet with the Clerk but they will be very soon, and they will be distributed as soon as they are available. Just so that members have prior notice of this, if they want to think about it or get further information in advance, I will be making an amendment to section 10 to delete subsection (5), and an amendment to delete section 2 of schedule 2.
On section 1.
G. Wilson: In section 1 we are dealing with definitions. One of the first questions that needs to be asked is that given the schedules -- it's difficult, given the fact that the schedules that are put with this deal with the matter of definition and the matter of employees, especially under schedule 1....
I wonder if we might start off by talking about the term "teacher." According to this, it means a person included in the bargaining unit. That's quite different from the definition provided under the School Act, where there is a far more comprehensive definition of teacher. It would seem to me that under the provisions of the Labour Relations Code one would want to have a greater specification for inclusion of people by virtue of the functions they perform, rather than simply by virtue of their membership in a particular unit. I wonder if the minister could start off by talking about why we have moved to this very broad definition with respect to membership in the bargaining unit, even though under schedule 1 there are people that are currently under the bargaining unit who will be excluded.
Hon. E. Cull: The definition in this act is different from that in the School Act. It includes those in schedule 1, as well as those who are varied into or out of the unit by the Labour Relations Board -- effectively, those who are included by way of voluntary recognition within the current local agreements that are themselves continued.
The member is no doubt aware that there are certifications which include more than teachers. There is voluntary recognition, I guess you could call it, within collective agreements of people who are not in the certified bargaining unit but are not teachers. As much as possible with respect to certifications and existing contracts, the intent of the legislation is to maintain the status quo. So this definition does that in conjunction with schedule 1.
G. Wilson: If I take the minister's response, then, and if we were to take a look at local contracts.... One that comes to mind is a local contract negotiated in Delta with respect to, I think, speech therapists. There is a series of other ancillary services provided to teachers that are not included in schedule 1. This legislation is intended to be inclusive rather than exclusive of those people. Is that what the intention is? That is not what's understood in the district.
Hon. E. Cull: As I said, the intention is to continue existing, current collective agreements, and some of those include people who are not teachers. If those agreements include them, either because they're part of the certification or because they have voluntarily come into bargaining arrangements, they are continued by this act.
G. Wilson: One of the problems we have with this is that if we read this in light of sections that are going to follow.... Of course, one of the difficulties in dealing with these bills in committee stage is that we want to stick to the issue and not try to debate the whole bill, but it's hard when you look at what's intended in terms of who is included in the Labour Relations Code. With the new agent that's going to be established for teachers in the province, it would seem that this provides wide latitude for inclusion in subsequent agreements, given that the collective agreements and membership in those collective agreements expire on the expiry date. Given that this is going to set up a new provincial agent for teachers, they're going to be negotiating from ground zero.
The problem is that you've specified some people for inclusion in schedule 1, but you have not included others. As a result, there is considerable concern -- at least there is by ten different districts that have been on the phone to me today -- that people who are currently included in a negotiated collective agreement will be excluded, because that negotiated collective agreement expires when they fall under this act. They're going to have to renegotiate their inclusion.
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Hon. E. Cull: This act is neutral; it has no different impact with respect to those individuals than current law and current collective agreements. That is what we sought to achieve. What you have described would occur when the current collective agreements expire right now as well.
L. Reid: I would continue the line of questioning posed by the hon. member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, with a specific emphasis on the district of Richmond. Speech language pathologists in that district have come forward with a concern about why a schedule lists the seven districts that have a different arrangement at this time. They're wondering what the criteria is for those seven districts and whether or not they will ever fall either into a schedule or out of a future schedule. Maybe the minister could respond.
Hon. E. Cull: I think we're discussing schedule 1 right now, and I believe we're still on section 1. Perhaps we should discuss the schedule when we get to the schedule.
The definition, as I have said, includes all people who are defined as teachers in the School Act and includes those who are covered by current collective agreements, whether in certification or not, so it extends the status quo.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's comments, but we are discussing the definition of teacher, and the schedule does lend itself to that discussion.
For the record, if I could beg the minister's indulgence, is there any attempt under the definition of teacher in the attached schedule to somehow suggest the movement of speech and language clinicians away from the Ministry of Education into the Ministry of Health at some point? That certainly seems to be the discussion today.
Hon. E. Cull: No, there's nothing in this legislation that intends that.
G. Wilson: I won't belabour this point, because I can see where it might be advantageous for a union to have as wide a latitude of definition as possible, as it could be the basis upon which negotiation might take place for inclusion. I'm thinking of teacher aides, for example, who right now are under CUPE in many districts, but who might be better under a teachers' agreement, possibly; I don't know.
The difficulty that we have on this -- and I really want to pin the minister down, because this is a very important point -- is that in most collective agreements -- it's not true that it's all.... In fact, in looking at the collective agreements around the province -- and I haven't been able to see them all, but I've certainly had reference to a large number in preparation for this debate -- the collective agreements provide, in all but a small minority, that the negotiated terms continue. There's a continuance clause, negotiated and agreed to, at the expiration of a contract. In most of them, the terms and conditions continue beyond the life of the agreement, because it's negotiated that way. Not in all of them -- it's true, there are some where it doesn't, but in most it does. The concern is that in this bill, none of them do. They all terminate, and they all have to start at ground zero.
So there are people who have been included -- and it comes back to the point of the member for Richmond East, and I think Delta is another one.... A whole series of school districts are concerned that under the latitude of this definition, an argument is going to be made -- especially if there's any erosion of the BCTF as the principle agency, if there's any struggle between unions as to who represents whom, and if there's a raid on a union, which is quite possible under this legislation.... The problem is that there's going to have to be negotiation as to who is included as a teacher, because the definition is so vacuous. It doesn't make any reference whatsoever to discipline, training, delivery of service or any of that.
So the concern is that when these current collective agreements terminate, these terms no longer continue, and people are then going to have to start to negotiate inclusion of people who are already there. Would the minister speak to that.
Hon. E. Cull: Hon. Chair, there are a number of sections that are obviously interrelated, and I will address beyond the definition here to try to clarify this.
The member may not yet have heard or read the amendment with respect to continuation of collective agreements. In all cases, whether there's a clause in the collective agreement or not, the Labour Code applies, and collective agreements do continue until a strike or lockout takes place. When these agreements terminate -- not by cause of this bill, but because they do terminate on June 30, 1994, as has been bargained for all but 17 -- those conditions for those contracts will continue either as a result of the clauses they have in their collective agreement or, failing that, because of section 45 of the Labour Code, which applies in any event, whether you have a clause or not in your collective agreement. So the collective agreements do continue.
The intent of defining teacher in this way is to define the term elsewhere in the act. Section 5 of the act deals with the bargaining unit. It makes clear that it's a teacher as defined in the School Act or those other employees that I've already said on a number of occasions are either in a collective agreement because of certification or because of voluntary recognition, and it also applies for the normal rules of the Labour Relations Board.
G. Wilson: Now the minister has just spoken directly to our concern. As I say, it's difficult to try to deal with this. Let's take a look at the definition of school board. It says: "'school board' means a board as defined in the School Act...." Okay, we can accept that; it's very clear, because you look at the School Act and it tells you what it is. It says, "'teacher' means a person included in the bargaining unit," yet section 5 then suggests that "teacher" is "as defined in the School Act." When this agreement is put in place, that may not include all people who are covered under the collective agreement under this new provincial bargaining process. It needs to be clarified here.
I'm not trying to be obstructionist, obstreperous or whatever the word may be; I'm trying to point out that there seems to be a clear inequity in the language between "teacher" as being in the bargaining unit, and "teacher" as having a very clear set of definitions under the School Act. I think the minister needs to clarify whether or not we're dealing with two different creatures, by virtue of two different sections of an act, in terms of the rights, responsibilities and powers that accrue to that individual.
Hon. E. Cull: I was just trying to take a moment there to find an example to show the member. I think that if we're going to get into details of the other sections, we should move on from the definitions section.
"Teacher" is defined to include everybody in the bargaining unit. That includes teachers as defined in the School Act, plus others, because some others are part of the bargaining unit right now. This act continues the current
[ Page 11561 ]
arrangements where the BCTF -- the teachers' union -- bargains at the local level on behalf of people who are not teachers under the School Act. The only reason for having the word "teacher" in the definitions section in this fashion is so that in section 7(1), for example, where it refers to a collective agreement entered into under this Act with respect to teachers, the word "teachers" there includes everybody in the bargaining unit.
G. Wilson: So we understand then, just for clarification.... The reason we push the point now is that we don't want to move on, as the minister suggested, only to find that the minister then says: "Well, you should have asked that back in the definitions section, section 1."
Clearly there are two definitions of teachers in this bill: one as it relates to the Labour Code, and the other as it relates to the School Act. The minister is shaking her head, but I think there is. I need to hear from the minister that that is so; if it isn't so, then we need to have an explanation as to why there would be reference to the two acts.
The School Act says: "'teacher' means a person holding a certificate or qualification who is employed by a board to provide an educational program to students in a school, but does not include" -- and it's very clear -- "a person appointed by a board as superintendent of schools, assistant superintendent...or administrative officer" -- and so on. It's inclusive of only those people holding certification or qualification in the provision of instruction. Under the act, they talk about teachers as per the Labour Code, and in sections of this act they specifically designate teachers as defined in the School Act. The language says so. The minister is shaking her head, and I point out....
Hon. E. Cull: With respect to the opening comments the member made about latitude, that member knows that in committee stage I have always been very generous in allowing members to go backward and forward about issues, and to debate the act fully.
Hon. E. Cull: The member for Richmond East says she attests to that.
There is no definition in here for teacher that applies to the Labour Code. A definition of teacher is used in part 1 of this act, which we are debating. It's got nothing to do with the Labour Code; it has to do with this act. In this act, under the heading of bargaining unit, it makes reference to another definition in another act -- that act being the School Act, in this case. Each act defines terms for its own purposes. In this case, we are defining teacher as meaning those who are in the bargaining unit, which includes teachers in another act -- namely the School Act -- plus some others because they are part of the bargaining units that school districts currently have and currently have collective agreements for.
To limit the definition of teacher simply to teachers under the School Act would be to essentially disfranchise those non-School Act teachers -- people who are covered by BCTF-negotiated collective agreements in school districts right now, and say, "It's too bad that you were voluntarily in part of that agreement," or "It's too bad that you were a certification, and we're now saying you can't be that." We're trying to continue it. I think that if we move on to the definition of bargaining unit and to schedule 1, this will become abundantly clear.
J. Tyabji: Although we recognize that the definition of teacher, as it has changed in this bill, is going to increase the size the bargaining unit and change who is covered by that definition, the definition of teachers' union is of interest. When we look at the definition of teacher in the School Act, there has been a change in the language of the definition in Bill 52. A teachers' union in the School Act is "an association of teachers that is certified as the bargaining agent for the teachers in a school district under the Industrial Relations Act." In Bill 52, a teachers' union is defined as "a trade union representing the teachers employed by a school board." To find a definition of a trade union, of course we have to go to the Labour Relations Code -- which was what my colleague the Alliance leader was talking about -- where:
"...'trade union' means a local or Provincial organization or association of employees, or a local or Provincial branch of a national or international organization or association of employees in British Columbia, that has as one of its purposes the regulation in British Columbia of relations between employers and employees through collective bargaining, and includes an association or council of trade unions, but not an organization or association of employees that is dominated or influenced by an employer."
Clearly, there is no way of separating the definitions of teacher and teachers' union from the Labour Relations Code, because we are now defining a teachers' union as a trade union, whereas a teachers' union in the School Act was very different. Could the minister tell us why she felt she had to change the definition of teachers' union?
Hon. E. Cull: Nothing in this act changes definitions in other acts; it simply defines words for use in this act. In this act we are changing the bargaining structure and ensuring that the Labour Relations Code, as applicable, applies. But this act does not change the definition of teacher, as it's used in the School Act; neither does it change anything else, through this definition, in the School Act.
J. Tyabji: I would disagree quite strongly with the minister's interpretation of what she has done in her bill, in that the teachers' union, being a trade union representing the teachers.... When we talk about the bargaining unit a little later on, we will see that we can dramatically change the implications of not including some reference to education in the definition of teacher, other than what's in the School Act. But because we're making it such inclusive language, I can foresee a situation where teachers will not necessarily be the majority members in their own bargaining unit.
G. Wilson: We'll pick this up in other sections, because changes have clearly been made, not to definitions in other acts but to the manner by which this act will apply to the provincial collective bargaining rights of teachers, who, until this act, have had the right to bargain locally. It has clearly made substantive changes, and to suggest there are no changes to this is just nonsense.
Let's talk about local matters. It talks about local matters with respect to terms and conditions -- matters designated under section 7 to be determined by collective bargaining between teachers' unions and school boards. The minister made it really clear in the opening remarks in second reading under local matters that what was intended here was a two-tiered bargaining system, and that it was to have a set of conditions that were provincially bargained and fiscal in nature. Then there was another set of issues that would be bargained locally, and they would not have a fiscal impact. I find it hard to imagine what they would be, but I'm sure there are things there that could be included.
They provide a definition of local matters, which simply says that teachers and school boards are going to come
[ Page 11562 ]
together to determine what those will be. That doesn't make any sense. If there are local matters that the minister or whoever drafted the legislation has in mind, and if there has been the level of discussion, consultation and negotiation that we have heard about, there should be the possibility that a clearly defined and designated set of local matters will be provided for. I would ask the minister to tell us why, if this is to be two-tiered, it immediately puts teachers and school boards into negotiation rather than providing a category. Is the minister prepared to allow for movement in section 7? I think that would be useful for us and therefore would allow us to make a simple amendment.
Hon. E. Cull: In consultation on local and provincial matters with the vast majority of parties that we talked to, it became clear that to define a list of "local" and "provincial" in the act would be too inflexible and could be subject to omission or error, and no one advised that we do that. The proposal that the BCTF has put in front of us is that we define a short list of provincial items and that everything else default to the local. That wasn't acceptable to the government, nor was it acceptable to a number of other parties that we were in discussion with. The proposal we have in front of us, as you will see under section 7 when we get to it, is to have these matters negotiated between the two parties, who will draw a line between provincial and local, using section 7 of the act as the guideline.
G. Wilson: Is it then intended under this definition of local matters, given that it's determined by collective bargaining between teachers' unions and school boards, that there are going to be some school boards that will have less negotiated provincially and more locally, and others will have more negotiated provincially and less locally? If that's the case, then it would seem to me that in the provincial negotiations you're going to have to have clauses that will be open and on the table for negotiation and discussion that will only apply to a handful of boards, some clauses that will be open for negotiation and discussion that will apply to two dozen boards, and so on. Clearly, what's intended here is provincewide bargaining on all matters of any relevance. If that's the case, why doesn't the minister just say so?
Hon. E. Cull: No, there won't be different provincial matters for each school district. If there were, they wouldn't be provincial. The concept of provincial is that there are some issues that will be negotiated at the provincial table for all school districts and, within some constraints, that will be consistent across districts. By that I mean that isolation pay might be a provincial matter of negotiation, but it might apply differently to Vancouver than it would to the Nisga'a School District, for example. The whole point of this is to have the provincial union and the provincial employers' association sit down initially, at the beginning of this process, and determine, using section 7 of the act as guidance, what is provincial and what is local. If they are unable to reach an agreement, there are provisions in section 7, which I'm sure we will debate.
G. Wilson: I think this comes to the crux of some of the real problems that we have with this bill. It would seem to me that as much as we are opposed to it in principle, in this reading we're going to try to do whatever we can to improve it. I don't know how open the minister would be to hearing some of these amendments. It seems to me that what we're going to have to do....
The minister just said that a series of matters are going to be bargained provincially but that the Nisga'a might want to do something different in terms of isolation pay, and that Prince George looked at to having some financial incentive programs, and so on. Are those going to be locally bargained issues or not? They've got a cost implication. Under section 7 of this act, clearly they can't have, because they're going to have to be in some registry or list of items that can be bargained provincially although they apply to only one school district. That is the reason that we're opposing this bill.
Having said that, perhaps the minister will entertain the following amendment: "'Local matters' means terms and conditions of employment other than those designated under section 7 as provincial matters." I move that amendment. It does not change the intent of the bill in any way. I believe the amendment to be in order, because it reflects that in section 7 there are....
The Chair: Excuse me, hon. member. Would you be good enough to give me a copy. It is customary to share the amendment with the table so we can adjudicate it before we have a debate on it.
G. Wilson: Hon. Chair, I was offering it.
The Chair: Is there a signed copy of that, hon. member?
G. Wilson: I thought I'd signed it.
The Chair: As the poet said: "We would see a sign."
Perhaps the hon. member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast could continue while I take a look at this, if he would.
On the amendment.
G. Wilson: If you're going to have a list of provincial matters under section 7 -- as much as we might find them offensive or wrong or whatever -- why not make everything else local? This amendment says that: okay, we'll agree that you, the government, can authorize your government agent to negotiate the following issues provincially, but everything else is going to be bargained locally. That way we don't get into a contentious negotiation between parties as to what constitutes a local issue and what constitutes a provincial issue. Actually, to be quite honest, I think it would streamline the intent of the bill.
Hon. E. Cull: I'm opposed to the amendment. I've already discussed this amendment with the B.C. Teachers' Federation, which put the amendment to me yesterday morning. I've just replied to them that this amendment is not acceptable to us, because it simply attempts to preserve the status quo. It tries to position the BCTF so that they will be able to maintain local bargaining on money matters and many other matters that really should be discussed at the provincial level.
What we are proposing instead is that for the first round of disagreement -- for all rounds, in fact -- there be a negotiation of what is local and what is provincial. But if there is a disagreement in first round, a mediator and arbitrator will be able to resolve that on behalf of the two parties. We think that the best way to do this is not to have a default either in the provincial or the local favour but to have the parties sit down at the table and do it through negotiation.
[ Page 11563 ]
G. Wilson: I think that this is a reasoned and rational amendment. But given that the minister won't accept it, then could failure to agree on the definition of local matters in the collective bargaining process between teachers and unions constitute a strikeable matter? Is that an issue that will vault us into the first provincewide teachers' strike, because they can't agree on what they should be negotiating locally and what they should be negotiating provincially? Maybe that's the first strike we'll have in a series of provincewide strikes that are likely to happen under this legislation.
Hon. E. Cull: When we get to section 7, you'll see that there a provision to prevent that.
J. Tyabji: I just want to address the minister's saying that the amendment represents the status quo. That's clearly not the case, because the amendment tries to preserve some local autonomy not just for teachers -- as the minister implied -- but for parents and members of the community who would like to have direct input into matters that should be determined at the local level. What it does, as well, is recognize that when we get to section 7 -- although cost-related matters will automatically be in the provincial domain -- everything else remains local.
Clearly the amendment is a good idea if the minister is trying to convince people in individual communities that they will continue to have input into all matters that are not directly cost-related. I believe that parents in the various communities are very concerned that once provincewide bargaining comes into place, they will lose all input into things such as English-as-a-second-language or special needs programs. To that end, if there can be some assurance to the members of those communities that provincewide bargaining does not mean that they will lose input into those matters at a local level, the minister will go a long way to winning over those communities and parents to provincewide bargaining. The way it's worded right now, it doesn't look like there's anything left at the local level.
Hon. E. Cull: As I said during second reading debate, having been a school trustee, let me assure all members that apart from collective bargaining -- even if all of it left the local level, which it certainly isn't -- there are many important things to occupy the time of school trustees. The majority of educational policy, particularly as it applies to local needs, is determined by school trustees; it's not determined by the collective agreements. This simply allows the two parties to resolve the matter. For the member's information, the B.C. School Trustees' Association and the parents' associations have indicated their support for this legislation. I don't think that either of those groups are in the business of giving up local autonomy.
G. Wilson: Could the minister tell us -- and I think she referred...? If necessary, I would be happy to discuss this under section 7; maybe it's more appropriate. My understanding is that what I just heard the minister say -- and I want her to clarify her comment -- is that what is local and what is provincial under these definitions will be determined by a collective bargaining process, but there will be no dispute resolution mechanism that would involve a strike in that normal collective bargaining process. This is the first time I have heard this minister say that there will be a collective bargaining process without the right of one party or the other to either lock out or remove services over the dispute. Is that correct?
Hon. E. Cull: No, I didn't say that. I said that when we get to section 7, we will see that there is a dispute resolution mechanism for the initial determination of what is local and what is provincial.
The Chair: It seems to me that we have canvassed definitions at some length. We're on an amendment; perhaps we could deal with the amendment first.
Amendment negatived on division.
On section 1.
G. Wilson: If we could just move to the "teachers' union" definition, then, I need to get clarification with respect to the fact that we're hearing here that teachers' union means "a trade union representing the teachers employed by a school board." Under this process, we recognize that the school board is still the principal employer. I think that's correct. Being the principal employer, the school board will be bound by this legislation to a provincial bargaining agent -- determined by the government -- that will negotiate and determine on behalf of that employer what they pay their employees. Is that correct?
Hon. E. Cull: I'm surprised we haven't canvassed this definition. "Employers' association" is also defined, and it is the employers' association that has been established under the Public Sector Employers Act. It's an association of the school districts -- school trustees. Right now there's an interim board; very soon there will be a permanent board that school districts or the school boards will elect their members to. There are government appointees on it, but the vast majority of the members are school trustees -- as they are in all other employers' associations under the Public Service Employers Act.
G. Wilson: The reason we canvass it, just to try and alleviate the surprise the minister feels, is that people in the province want to know what's going on in the halls of government. One of the ways they can is by hearing the minister respond to questions and by reading it in Hansard. The record speaks for itself. We're not trying to be obstructionist or to filibuster on this thing. We're simply trying to let people know where they stand.
We are moving away from local bargaining, which the minister indicated in the opening remarks was not going to diminish autonomy of local boards. It's important to recognize that, under the definition of teachers' union, it clearly states that it represents teachers employed by the school board. And that school board is still freely elected through an open election process.
My last question, then, on this matter is: is there an opportunity for every school board to have representatives sit on the employers' council under that proposition? Maybe when we get to that section of the act, we might explore this more clearly. But if there's an employer-employee relationship, does every employer have the opportunity to negotiate on behalf of their employees?
Hon. E. Cull: Every school board has the right and the opportunity to have a member sit on the employers' association, and every school board has the right and the opportunity to vote for those who will sit on the board. The association is not going to be composed of 75 individuals, so not each and every board will be directly represented, but
[ Page 11564 ]
they will be represented through the members they elect at an AGM.
J. Tyabji: I understand that in one of the prairie provinces -- I think it's Manitoba -- teachers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers. That is the trade union under which they have union status. Could the minister foresee that happening to teachers in British Columbia? Could there be a raid on their union, and could they be amalgamated with another union, as exists in the Prairies?
The Chair: I'm struggling with the question in terms of the definitions section.
Hon. E. Cull: I know why you're struggling; this is dealt with elsewhere in the legislation. But to answer the question here, teachers, like all workers, will have the right to determine which union represents them. I would not want to be the minister who takes that right away from those workers.
G. Wilson: With respect to the definition of a provincial union, which talks about the British Columbia Teachers' Federation or other unions certified for a bargaining unit, I think the minister would agree that in this legislation -- we'll deal with this under another section, if necessary -- this minister has already determined who is going to be the provincial bargaining agent for teachers.
Hon. E. Cull: We have respected the wishes of the B.C. Teachers' Federation and their representative assembly, which asks that the BCTF be designated as the provincial union in this legislation, which starts provincial bargaining. But workers will have the right, as they do under the Labour Code, to decide at any future point in time whether they want to continue to be represented by that union or by another union.
Section 1 approved on division.
On section 2.
G. Wilson: This gets to the heart of the bill, because it tells us what the purpose of this bill is supposedly all about. It says it's "to improve collective bargaining practices and procedures...."
The Chair: Excuse me, member. I apologize, but I should have said something before we began. I would like to remind all members on both sides of the House that, quite frankly, purpose sections in legislation are aberrant when we get to committee stage. Most of what the purpose section does is in fact dealt with at great length in second reading debate. Committee stage, as we know, does not have the purpose of recanvassing the fundamental questions, first principles and reasons for legislation. I want to give members notice that we're not going to have second reading debate all over again under the heading or aegis of "purposes." So having given that notice, I will recognize the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, who may well seek clarification, which is quite legitimate.
G. Wilson: I certainly hope the Chair is not trying to restrict or direct debate on this issue. It seems to me that there are two ways in which we can deal with committee stage: we can deal with it in an orderly, sensible and intelligent way; or we can be really antagonistic and call for a division on every section in every part of this bill, and this will be a very hostile evening.
The Chair: Member, would you take your seat, please. I hope you're not about to challenge the statement made by the Chair, which simply reminded you of the rules governing committee stage. There is no effort to be antagonistic. Nobody is trying to be combative or provocative. I'm enunciating the rules in order to facilitate the orderly resolution of this particular bill. Please proceed.
G. Wilson: I wonder, as I ask these questions, if you might direct me to where in standing orders it refers to the issue you just referred to. I don't remember reading in the standing orders that debate on purposes is abhorrent -- I think that was the word.
The Chair: It is under standing order 61.
G. Wilson: I appreciate that.
The Chair: Proceed.
G. Wilson: With respect to the purpose of this act to improve collective bargaining practices, given the fact that the right for local negotiation and local strike has recently been provided, maybe the minister can tell us what specifically we're attempting to improve in the collective bargaining practices. Given that the majority of negotiations undertaken by local bargaining have in fact been successful in their conclusion, what is the motivation for this bill at this time -- given that there has been, in the vast majority of cases, successful resolution to collective bargaining by the unions?
Hon. E. Cull: I believe we have canvassed that extensively during second reading debate. I'll suggest that the member have a look at the debate, because I did list the history of bargaining since 1987, the increase in the number of disputes, and the potential and real existence of acrimony between teachers and school board trustees in some districts that were leading to dysfunction in some parts of the school system. I think the public demands for change in the system and the public support for this legislation are indicative of the need to make those changes.
J. Tyabji: When we talk about the purpose of this act, the question that comes to me -- which was asked in second reading, but obviously the minister can't answer questions from second reading -- is: why is the first listed purpose of this act to improve bargaining practices, when the pressure from the public is to make the education system more effective at delivering better education, which does include more local autonomy in terms of the curriculum delivered?
Hon. E. Cull: This act is the Public Education Labour Relations Act, not a school act that is trying to change the entire face of education. The Minister of Education is making changes with respect to improving education; this simply addresses labour relations.
J. Tyabji: The question that I think the minister should answer, and which we alluded to extensively in second reading, is: given her party's position on this issue in the last election, the public pressure to direct changes in the education system specifically at the labour practices.... As
[ Page 11565 ]
the minister pointed out, we are dealing with the Public Education Labour Relations Act rather than an amendment to the School Act. Could the minister explain to the House why the change in this structure -- the improving of collective bargaining practices -- took precedence over an amendment to the School Act, and whether the minister had representation that parents preferred to have provincial control over all the school districts rather than greater local control?
The Chair: A cautionary note, if I might. The member's question seems to ask why this legislation is being brought forward, if I understand her correctly. I would suggest that that takes us very clearly to the area of second reading, which has been extensively canvassed.
Hon. E. Cull: The factors that have changed is that since 1992-93 -- two collective bargaining rounds ago -- the number of student-days lost as a result of strikes has doubled. It has gone from about one million to just under two million days lost. In the last three bargaining rounds, we have seen a real escalation of strike activity.
The Minister of Education is making changes that go far beyond legislative changes. The parents have clearly indicated their support for this legislation through the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, which has been consulted on this legislation, in addition to the parents and the parent advisory committees that I have spoken to.
Given the time, I move that we rise, report remarkable progress and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
The Speaker: Before recognizing the hon. House Leader, I would like to report back on a matter raised by the hon. member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast last Thursday. He rose on a matter of privilege, alleging that the sessional order adopted by the House on April 6, 1994, which provided for concurrent debates on estimates and legislation in Committee A and the House respectively, "denied our privileges by virtue of the fact that the government, contrary to the stated intention of the House Leader, is holding two critical debates concurrently." I thank the hon. member for Delta South and the Government House Leader for their contribution to this matter.
I remind the House that this very issue was raised as a question of privilege on two previous occasions during this session by the hon. member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast and by the hon. member for Okanagan East. In both instances -- and I refer hon. members to the Journals of April 12, 1994, and May 17, 1994 -- the Chair could not find a prima facie case of privilege on the same facts. In his current submission, the hon. member did not provide the Chair with new facts which could lead to a different conclusion on the same issue.
While it is important for all members to participate as much as possible in deliberations of the House and its committees, members must in a very substantive, subjective way decide in which venue they feel their contributions can be most helpful -- in Committee A or in the House. Any difficulty which members encounter in this respect is solely due to a scheduling conflict relating to the members' priorities and is clearly not due to a breach of privilege, as alleged by the hon. member. The Government House Leader, recognizing the dilemma that some members may face from time to time with respect to scheduling of House business, has invited members "to canvass with our Government House Leader, and we'll try to accommodate his wishes as best we can."
The Chair recognizes and supports members' democratic rights to raise points of order and matters of privilege but cautions members that once the Speaker has ruled on a particular issue, the matter is no longer open to discussion either directly through debate or indirectly through revisiting the same matter in any other form.
For the above reasons, and for those stated in the Chair's rulings of April 12, 1994, and May 17, 1994, on the same issue, I cannot find a prima facie case of privilege.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Hon. Speaker, despite my attire, I move that the House, at its rising, recess until 6:35 p.m. this evening.
The House recessed at 5:58 p.m.
The House resumed at 6:37 p.m.
[D. Lovick in the chair.]
Hon. J. MacPhail: I call Committee of Supply in Section A, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In the main House, I call Committee of the Whole on Bill 52.
PUBLIC EDUCATION LABOUR RELATIONS ACT
On section 2 (continued).
G. Wilson: With respect to section 2(b), it's suggested that the purpose of the bill is to establish a two-tiered system of collective bargaining. Yet we've just determined in the definitions section that what is considered to be local and provincial has to be negotiated provincially; there has to be a provincial consistency. We've also determined -- or will determine, as we look at the sections coming up -- that if you can't agree locally in the collective bargaining process to come to a solution, then it has to be referred to a provincial board.
Surely, under the purposes of this act, a two-tiered system is misleading, because it isn't two-tiered at all -- by virtue of the language of the definitions in section 1, which we have just gone through, and by the fact that there's no provision for collective bargaining at the local level to be acted on at the local level, save and except to send it to a provincial bargaining board. I wonder if the minister could comment on that.
Hon. E. Cull: We disagree with the member's interpretation of two-tiered bargaining. Obviously, such a term could encompass a number of different systems. I can imagine several types of systems that could easily be called two-tiered. In our concept of two-tiered bargaining, two bargaining tables are established. Items are identified for
[ Page 11566 ]
each table, they're bargained at each table and different dispute resolutions are available at each table. We could debate endlessly whether this is two-tiered. I just suggest that there are many different variations of bargaining, which would involve both the local and provincial levels, that could be characterized as two-tiered. We believe that the system we have is in fact two-tiered. The member is free to disagree all he likes, but I think it's a rather pointless and maybe endless discussion.
G. Wilson: I'm saddened to hear that the minister thinks it's a pointless and endless discussion.
Collective bargaining is defined under part 4, section 45, of the Labour Relations Code. It's defined with respect to general provisions, notice in terms of expiration of agreements, collective bargaining procedure, parties bound by collective agreements, terms of collective agreements and agreements for less than one year. It goes on to talk about copies of collective agreements and filing, extraprovincial companies and how they're enforced and so on. Under the Labour Relations Code, collective bargaining is also defined with respect to first collective agreements -- which every school district in this province is going to have to negotiate provincially. Under the terms and conditions of this act, that's spelled out in the purpose section, section 2.
Clearly the language under part 5 of the Labour Relations Code suggests that when collective bargaining doesn't work, procedures can be followed by both the employer and the employee, with provision for taking action in the form of a lockout if it's the employer or a strike if it's the employee.
If the purpose of this act is to establish a two-tiered system of collective bargaining, as defined under the Labour Relations Code, then presumably the purpose of this is to allow for either provincewide or local strikes, which under the Labour Relations Code is the direct effect of the collective bargaining process. Is that what's intended here? Or is it intended that the local right to strike is to be removed, and therefore collective bargaining as defined under the act effectively does not apply?
Hon. E. Cull: I think the member knows that the act contains provisions which say that the right to strike and the right to lock out are only at the provincial level.
G. Wilson: So I'm correct: it is misleading to say that this is a two-tiered system of collective bargaining. It sounds like what we're hearing from the Liberal opposition in their newly constituted form -- that they want essential-service designation for teachers, but they're going to allow them the right to collectively bargain. That's utter nonsense. It removes the right to strike; therefore the process of collective bargaining is gone. If the purpose of the two-tiered system, as it says under section 2(c), is "to promote positive working relationships in the public school system," how is it possible at the local school board.... If you can't have dispute resolution in a manner consistent with the act, how is section 2(c) going to promote a positive working relationship, rather than poisoning the system that exists? On the one hand, you've got provincial bargaining on matters of finance, and on the other hand, no collective bargaining but presumably some kind of meeting of the minds with the local board? How does that promote positive working relationships in the public school system?
Hon. E. Cull: As I said in this debate and in second reading debate, in the last number of years of local bargaining, the relationship between some teachers and some trustees on the bargaining committees has deteriorated in some districts and has become very, very difficult. That is not conducive to positive relations in the school district. This act will move the most acrimonious bargaining relationships to a provincial table, where they will have less impact on the day-to-day relations between trustees and teachers in the individual school districts.
G. Wilson: I'd like to explore that response under section 2(a), which says that the purpose is "to improve collective bargaining practices and procedures in the public school system." If there is acrimony between what might be seen as too strongly unionized members of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, who are radical in their attempt to get collective bargaining, and members of school boards who take a strong, hard-line position against teachers because they believe teachers have too much of a free ride, there's absolutely nothing under this new act -- under section 2(a), "to improve collective bargaining practices..." -- to prohibit either of those groups of people from finding their way into the provincial bargaining system. As the minister has already pointed out in this debate, the provincial bargaining system will allow any school board the right to negotiate provincially and have membership on that board. Similarly, the B.C. Teacher's Federation will have the right under section 2(a) to have members represented provincially.
So in effect, what this minister may have created is the movement of acrimonious debate from one school district to acrimonious debate at a provincial level. Where disagreement in the past has meant that one school district goes on strike, in this instance it's going to mean that the whole province goes on strike. If there's a failure to agree locally or provincially, the consequence provincially is going to be just as it was locally, with the exception that the whole province is shut down, as it is in Newfoundland and other areas. So maybe the minister could comment on how it is that this acrimonious relationship wouldn't be transferred provincially under the purpose section of this bill.
Hon. E. Cull: I want to clarify for the record that it was the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, not I, that characterized those who might be creating acrimony at the district level as "radical." I forget some of the other words you used; I do recall the word "radical." I don't know that that would be the cause of the acrimony. It might just be the fact that negotiation is very tough at the local level, and it has created difficulties.
I might also note for the record, because the member has mentioned the Newfoundland situation in a number of cases, that they're dealing with a rollback of wages there. That is not what we're dealing with here. They're dealing with a legislated rollback of their wages. In fact, this legislation is designed to prevent those who would remove teachers' right to free collective bargaining from having their day. It ensures that teachers do have the right to bargain collectively, they do have the right to strike and the employer has the right to lock out.
I don't see -- and perhaps I tend to be an optimist, as opposed to the member from Powell River-Sunshine Coast, who may be a pessimist in this matter -- that there's anything to prevent those individuals who have been able to negotiate successfully with their teacher unions and their boards on the local level from prevailing at the provincial level. My hope is that those individuals who have positive and successful labour relations practices at the district level will be able to carry those to the provincial level. Certainly, if I were a trustee electing people to represent me on a
[ Page 11567 ]
provincial employers' association, the type of person I would want to elect would be those with a success rate, not a failure rate.
G. Wilson: Under another section, we'll talk about how the selection process takes place. I would point out that the reason there has been no rollback is that there couldn't be under local bargaining. The potential will be there under provincial bargaining because you can negotiate a rollback across the board. On a local level, you might get some teachers to take less money but not others, because in that instance you'd be able to trade off with respect to working conditions or whatever.
But I come back to section 2(a) in terms of the improvement of collective bargaining practices and procedures in the public school system. I want to stress this point about the two-tiered collective bargaining process. Does the minister use the term "collective bargaining" in section 2(b) to reflect what is currently in the Labour Relations Code with respect to the definitions of collective bargaining and rights of collective bargaining for each of the two parties?
Hon. E. Cull: The act sets up two-tiered collective bargaining. It doesn't necessarily say that the right to strike is there at each tier, but in the collective bargaining.... It is the collective bargaining that is allowed under the Labour Code.
G. Wilson: Does the minister not believe that the right to strike is an integral part of the collective bargaining process, as is the right to lock out?
Hon. E. Cull: Yes, the right to strike is an integral part of the collective bargaining process. This collective bargaining process, which happens to have two tiers, allows for the right to strike at the provincial level. If a local issue is not resolved, it can be moved to the provincial table, and the right to strike over that issue will be there.
G. Wilson: That's clearly why we're going to have to vote against not only this section but against this bill. If I understand the minister correctly, the minister has just told us that you can take a local issue, move it to a provincial table, hold the line at the provincial table on a local issue, exercise a right to strike and shut down the province. That's what the minister has told us. How on earth does that fulfil the purpose in section 2(a), "to improve collective bargaining practices and procedures in the public school system"?
Hon. E. Cull: The act attempts to balance the rights of workers with the rights of children to an education in the public school system. To provide those services, there is always a balancing act to be struck between the rights of employees and the needs of the public -- the public interest. This system attempts to maintain the collective bargaining system for teachers but makes the consequences of a strike or lockout very serious for both parties. It will encourage both parties to negotiate even harder in order to come to a negotiated settlement, as opposed to moving into a dispute.
J. Tyabji: Further to these questions, if the minister is saying that a local matter that's not resolved can then go to the provincial level, and if that local matter is still contentious, it would shut the entire province down. How does the minister see it being determined that a local matter is significant enough to shut the province down? How is that going to work? The minister has said that we're supposed to be improving collective bargaining practices and procedures. The right to strike is inherent in the two-tiered system, but the right to strike is at the provincial level. So instead of just having a small area shut down, it would be the whole province. The minister has said that makes the stakes much higher. Well, the stakes may be much higher, but they are still there.
Who determines? Does the local bargaining agent.... When they bring that contentious issue to the provincial level, would that local unit be the one saying that this is contentious enough that it wants to strike, and therefore it will be a provincewide strike? Or will they receive submissions on local matters and make the determination at the provincial level?
Hon. E. Cull: Since I assume we're going to canvass the right to strike at the local and provincial level extensively under that section in the act, I will defer my comments until we get to that part of the act.
J. Tyabji: Okay, that's fine. So we can canvass two-tiered collective bargaining there. In terms of a technical understanding of 2(c), it says: "to promote positive working relationships in the public school system." Who is the minister referring to when she talks about working relationships? Who are the parties in that working relationship?
Hon. E. Cull: All employers and employees.
J. Tyabji: What role do parents or members of the community have in that working relationship?
Hon. E. Cull: Parents and members of the community have always had a strong role in supporting the work of local school boards. But this is a labour relations act, and it is narrowly defined to take in the roles of the employer and the employees.
J. Tyabji: If some parents begin to have difficulty with an issue at the local level, what recourse do they have in terms of maintaining a positive working relationship?
Hon. E. Cull: Depending on each district, parents have different input into board policies. Ultimately, parents have the right to elect different trustees at the next election.
Section 2 approved on the following division:
YEAS -- 34
NAYS -- 2
[ Page 11568 ]
On section 3.
J. Tyabji: It's unfortunate that we don't have some more of the debates that go on behind the scenes on the record here, because some of the more interesting debates on this bill actually occur outside of the House or in the back rooms of the Legislature.
On section 3....
A. Warnke: Order!
J. Tyabji: I think he just woke up.
Section 3(2) says: "The Labour Relations Board has exclusive jurisdiction to decide a question arising under this Act." Could the minister give us some examples of the questions arising under this act that would fall under the Labour Relations Board's jurisdiction?
Hon. E. Cull: Any matter of application, interpretation or potential violation of the act.
J. Tyabji: So when the minister talks about interpretation, application or violation.... And for the purpose of this section, we have to look at other sections. Under section 7, about the content of the collective agreement, when we talk about how we define a cost provision and whether the workload starts to be a cost provision -- which it's hard to imagine it wouldn't be -- that could be something contentious. Would a question arising under the definition of a cost provision be decided by the Labour Relations Board?
Hon. E. Cull: Yes.
J. Tyabji: To what extent is the Labour Relations Board qualified to answer questions on education, when we're dealing with issues such as workload, if the Labour Relations Board has exclusive jurisdiction on a question like that? The reason I ask that.... Section 7 is only one example, but a number of sections of this bill will be directly related to education and will now be determined by the Labour Relations Board. It does seem to resemble what's happening with advanced education institutions. Our post-secondary institutions are now, in effect, under the Minister of Labour. They are really having themselves reconstituted to be directed by the Minister of Labour. It would almost seem that the Ministry of Labour will be determining questions on this act in the other sections.
Hon. E. Cull: This is no different from any other matter that falls under the Labour Relations Code. Matters of workload, just to pick one example out of that list, are common in many collective agreements. They're certainly common in the health area. They're common in other parts of the public sector -- and in the private sector, for that matter. All labour relations matters are subject to the Labour Relations Board.
J. Tyabji: As the minister is aware, we've only had a comprehensive Labour Relations Code for a little while. The School Act has been what was governing schools on matters of how things are defined, aside from negotiations that occur at the local level. The concern I have is that the Labour Relations Board is going to be determining some of these questions, when I imagine it would have a limited understanding at best of some of the direct needs for education. We have the same concern with advanced education. The Labour Relations Board will be making decisions on something that it can't possibly have as much expertise on as would the Ministry of Education -- or as the former Ministry of Advanced Education did.
[M. Farnworth in the chair.]
Hon. E. Cull: Prior to the Labour Relations Board there was the Industrial Relations Council, I believe it was, the IRC. Prior to that there was an earlier Labour Relations Board. The history of labour relations in this and other provinces was that labour relations matters were determined in this fashion. The member knows full well that in making a decision, the Labour Relations Board would hear from the parties on each side, who would be the bargaining agents for the employer and the employees. They would be making arguments on behalf of the school district.
I think this argument is very curious, because in many cases school boards and even teachers have elected to have professional negotiators negotiate on their behalf, not people who are knowledgable about the education system per se. They rely on their constituents -- the employer or the teachers, in either case -- to provide added educational input.
J. Tyabji: It's quite clear from reviewing the School Act, however, that a number of things that can now be determined as workload were actually specifically laid out in the School Act. Although the minister has said that it's quite common for teachers and school boards to ask for a mediator or a negotiator, it is a little different than the Labour Relations Board having exclusive jurisdiction and deciding a question. I just flag that as something that I think is problematic.
Under section 3(1), we see that if there's a discrepancy between the Labour Relations Code and this act, then this act applies. Is there a reason that the minister has written that in to override the Labour Relations Code?
Hon. E. Cull: There are some minor variations between this legislation and the Labour Relations Code that are specified further on in the act. We will no doubt be discussing them in those sections, but that's why the section is in here.
G. Wilson: Whether they are minor or not is left for us to determine in a few minutes. Recognizing that in committee stage we have to stay specifically to the language of the bill, it is curious that the wording in this bill is so very similar to what was tabled today in the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 1994, which is going to vastly change the way in which health unions are able to collectively bargain and work with the government. There were incredible changes in that Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act today. The wording is curious. In that act, it is exactly the same -- the Labour Relations Board has exclusive jurisdiction -- except that section 11.3 says: "Except as specifically provided in section 11.2, the Labour Relations Board has exclusive jurisdiction to determine a matter arising under that section." That is virtually the same thing, with one exclusion. When you look to see what the exclusion is, in that act it says: "determining that a group or groups of employees constitute one or more units appropriate for collective bargaining under the Labour Relations Code."
Is it because this act specifically designates the BCTF -- which is not a member of the B.C. Federation of Labour -- and/or some other union as the bargaining agent, that you
[ Page 11569 ]
don't need to have the exemption under the Labour Relations Board with respect to the collective bargaining unit, since the government has already done it? Or is there something else at work here that I have missed?
Hon. E. Cull: It would be inappropriate and beyond the rules of this House for me to start to explain a clause in another act. I can tell the member that his assumptions with respect to why that isn't in this act are incorrect. If it were not contrary to the rules of the House, I could explain why that was in the other act. Unfortunately, we are debating Bill 52, so he's going to have to pursue that question with the minister responsible for the other bill that he's talking about.
G. Wilson: Well, it was a good try. You have to admit that if we could have got that on the record now, it would have been useful.
Does the Labour Relations Board have exclusive jurisdiction over a dispute that arises over the designation of a bargaining unit? If there is a dispute -- and there may well be -- will the Labour Relations Board have exclusive jurisdiction to make a decision as to who will bargain on behalf of the employees?
Hon. E. Cull: Hon. Chair, I seek clarification. The member used the terms "bargaining agent" and "bargaining unit." They are different, and I would ask him to clarify which one he was asking about.
G. Wilson: I meant the bargaining unit.
Hon. E. Cull: The act establishes the bargaining unit. Having done so, the normal procedures of the Labour Relations Code apply, and that's dealt with in section 5 of the act.
G. Wilson: I don't want to move away from this yet, because I am really trying to determine to what extent the Labour Relations Board has jurisdiction over the determination of the unit in relation to the establishment of a provincewide bargaining agent. I am talking about the unit. I understand you have just answered my question about the unit; now I am talking about the agent. I need to get that clarified, because this is a legitimate question and I don't know the answer to it. I am not trying to get the minister to say something that's going to entrap her in any way.
The difficulty, it would appear, is that there is some division within the ranks of teachers as to who would be an appropriate bargaining agent on behalf of the unit. If that dispute arises, and if there should be more than one union that may at some point seek to negotiate on behalf of teachers, who is going to make a determination as to which of those will become the bargaining agent for the teachers? Will it be the Labour Relations Board?
Hon. E. Cull: Again, we are straying from the section here; we are now on section 6. I am noting these not so much to be argumentative but in the hopes that, having answered these questions in advance of coming to the sections, members will acknowledge that and we will not be dealing with these matters again under the section. If that's not the case, the member should make it clear to me right now -- because there's no point in answering the questions twice, and I'll answer them under the appropriate section. But he's smiling and not shaking his head, so I assume that he is agreeing with me on that position.
G. Wilson: Yes.
Hon. E. Cull: Thank you. He has agreed.
The act stipulates that there will only be one union at the provincial level. Again, we have to go to section 6 to get to that. But having established the B.C. Teachers' Federation as the union, the normal provisions of the Labour Relations Code apply. Sections 18, 19 and 33 of the code apply and would allow the members of that bargaining unit to decide by majority decision to change their union at some point.
G. Wilson: This is the last question on section 3. The reason I raise these issues is because I don't want to allow an opportunity.... As the minister would say, if we're answering in advance of getting to a section, we're not going to come back and belabour the same point when we get to that section. But by virtue of the same point, we would hate to get to section 6 only to have the minister say: "Well, too bad, you didn't ask that under section 3, because that's where that applies." Right?
G. Wilson: I'm sure the member for Langley, who is the official opposition critic and has yet to ask a question, would like to take her turn in this debate. She will have an opportunity to do so, if she has any questions to ask -- which would be amazing, since the official opposition has yet to ask one.
The last question on this particular section is on the relationship of the code.... Section 3(1) says: "The Labour Relations Code and the regulations made under it apply in respect of the matters to which this Act applies, but if there is a conflict or inconsistency" -- and this is what the member for Okanagan East was alluding to -- "between this Act and the Labour Relations Code, this Act applies."
We can understand that, and we can understand why that's necessary. However, I'm interested also with respect to the distinctions that are made within the School Act, where there are provisions that govern things such as the designation of school operating days, student records and established closures for schools. There's a particular remuneration and expense allowance provision -- those kinds of things -- which are stipulated with respect to the board and its powers. In fact, it doesn't say "may"; it says "must" or "shall." Where those issues arise, is it going to be this act, the Labour Relations Code or the School Act that will apply to those boards? Presumably there is some kind of legal obligation that members of the B.C. School Trustees' Association have to the provision of the School Act which governs them.
The Chair: Before I recognize the minister, I would just like to remind members to avoid making comment on members' participation in debate.
Hon. E. Cull: This act doesn't override the School Act and doesn't deal with matters that are subject to the School Act. But in any event, since the member seems to think there is some overlap between this act and the School Act, you can see quite clearly that this act does not supersede the School Act.
Section 3 approved on division.
On section 4.
[ Page 11570 ]
G. Wilson: Under section 4, we're interested in the exclusivity of the employers' bargaining agent and how this provincial agent can bind with respect to the collective agreement. Again, it comes back to matters within the School Act. As we read it, there are provisions within the act that require certain things of the boards, which may or may not be altered in provincial bargaining processes, particularly in relation to the workload of teachers, educational programs, days of operation -- which I've already alluded to -- and a few others.
What we've created here with the employers' bargaining agent, as I understand it, is an association that is going to be the accredited bargaining agent for every school board and is going to enter into one collective agreement. It bargains collectively on behalf all the boards, and then whatever they agree to binds all the boards in the province. We know what happened when, by ministerial order, there was a provision with respect to school closures and the school operating day, and we know the effect that had on local school boards two years ago, I think it was.
Clearly there are existing agreements -- and I understand that these agreements are going to stay in effect until such time as they expire -- in which workload provisions have been negotiated in lieu of wage increases. It's quite understandable that there has been a practice established -- and I use the word "practice" -- within some school districts with the provision of these services, which could be effectively negated through that provincial bargaining process. I'm curious on two counts. First, do the boards then simply say: "Okay, the collective agreement supersedes the act, where those conflicts may occur"? Second, can the board defer to past practice with respect to the provision of certain services and provisions for teachers, or is it going to be bound by a collective agreement that may not take into account local practices with respect to those expenditures?
Hon. E. Cull: Let me make a number of comments with respect to that. First of all, the language in this particular bill is also the language in section 43(5) of the Labour Relations Code. The B.C. Teachers' Federation, which has submitted a number of amendments to me that it wants to see with respect to this legislation, has also acknowledged that general law recognizes that a collective agreement provision which is in conflict with the statute cannot be legally effective. In fact, the B.C. Teachers' Federation said that it was somewhat insulting to imply that there were contracts that are in conflict with the School Act.
Hon. E. Cull: No, I'm not saying that you said that. But if there are collective agreements which are in conflict with the School Act, the School Act would override. As I said a minute ago, nothing in this act overrides the School Act.
J. Tyabji: I'd like to get something on the record. Since we have an employers' association with this act and the Public Sector Employers Act, when were the school boards of the province notified of this change in the legislation? What has their response been, in general, to their new employers' association?
Hon. E. Cull: When the member asked when they were notified about the change to bargaining, I'm not clear whether it was regarding the legislation we're debating tonight or the Public Sector Employers Act.
J. Tyabji: This.
Hon. E. Cull: They were notified officially on March 10, 1994, when I made the announcement to the public that we were going to be changing the collective bargaining system. As the member may be aware, though, there was extensive discussion prior to that with all bodies about the potential for changes to the bargaining system. Both school trustees' associations did have discussion. I'm not as clear about the Council of B.C. School Districts, but with the B.C. School Trustees' Association, the matter of provincial bargaining has been under debate at least since the time I was a school trustee in 1987. Their position on provincial bargaining has evolved and changed. I think "changed" is the fair word to say, but it has certainly evolved over that period of time, and it may have a history beyond or before that that I am not aware of.
J. Tyabji: Under this section I want to ask a peripheral question. The Chair might call me, or the minister might not want to answer.
In talking to some of the school trustees since the minister's announcement in March, there is some concern that the employers' association and the change to provincial bargaining is also going to be tied to an elimination of school boards. As the minister can understand, that would be a great concern. I'm going to ask -- because if the minister has an answer that will allay those concerns, she might want to put it on the record so I can pass it on -- whether or not we will see a change in the number of school boards once this bill has been passed.
Hon. E. Cull: The member asked two questions, one of which, since I'm not the Minister of Education, I would not be qualified to answer. That's the second part of her question, about whether there would be a change in the number of boards. I suggest that it would be appropriate if you put that to the Minister of Education during his estimates.
The first part of her question asked whether the next step was to eliminate school boards. That, I think, is based on the faulty assumption that school boards spend the vast majority of their time in collective bargaining. I will repeat once more for the record a statement I have made a number of times and don't intend to make again: I was a school trustee for two years. I did not collectively bargain. When I was recruited to the school board, someone promised me three meetings a month -- it was not to be that onerous a job. I suspect that many school trustees were lured into their work with such promises of not-too-onerous workloads. I can tell you that I spent at least three meetings a week and found plenty to do as a school trustee without ever getting into the area of collective bargaining with teachers.
Section 4 approved on division.
On section 5.
L. Stephens: I have a couple of questions on the inclusion or exclusion of the employees. Could the minister tell us the test for the inclusion or exclusion, and some examples of what that may constitute?
Hon. E. Cull: The member is asking about section 5(2) in this case. They are the normal provisions of the Labour Code. One thing the B.C. Teachers' Federation made very clear to us was that they wanted to make sure that the LRB
[ Page 11571 ]
provisions applied, and this is a provision of the Labour Relations Code.
G. Wilson: I'd like to explore that line of questioning a bit further and in a bit more detail. With respect to the Labour Relations Board, it says it "may include additional employees in the bargaining unit or exclude employees from the bargaining unit...." The minister can correct me if I'm wrong -- and I'm really not that familiar with the K-to-12 system; I am more familiar with the structural bargaining in the college system -- but it strikes me that if the Labour Relations Board is going to include or exclude employees in a bargaining unit, inclusion or exclusion is generally at the request of the bargaining unit. Recognizing the changes to the Labour Relations Code brought in by this government, it would seem to me that that provides some fairly wide powers with respect to the board being able to look at other sectors of related occupations that it may deem independent of the process. There is a tradition in the labour relations field of an attempt or a demand for exclusion coming from the worker; in fact, it may be driven more directly by the employers' association, in the interests of trying to streamline bargaining. I don't say that lightly, because if you look at what you've just done to the nurses, and the HEU, and what have you in today's legislation, there's good reason to be concerned about that. So can the minister tell us whether section 5(2) involves direct application from the worker or from the unit, or is that something that is done from some other outside source?
Hon. E. Cull: The Labour Relations Code, section 22(1), says:
"When a trade union applies for certification as the bargaining agent for a unit, the board shall determine if the unit is appropriate for collective bargaining and may, before certification, include additional employees in or exclude employees from the unit."
There is no application for inclusion or exclusion. This provision, which is in the current Labour Code, was also in the former Industrial Relations Act.
I don't know if the member is paying attention right now. He is. I just want to make sure that he did hear what I said about the provision I've just read, which does not allow for any application. It was also in the old Industrial Relations Act, so this is not a change.
More importantly, on April 27, 1994, the B.C. Teachers' Federation wrote to us asking that the provincial unit -- provincial bargaining unit, in this case -- be expressly capable of being varied according to the usual rules contained in the Labour Relations Code. That's exactly what we have done. We've provided that the usual rules contained in the Labour Relations Code apply to the provincial unit.
G. Wilson: I guess where my concern came -- and the minister may have answered my question and might have even convinced me.... Section 22(1) says: "When a trade union applies for certification as a bargaining agent...." One would assume that that's talking about the determination of an appropriate unit when the unit is first being set up. If I'm not incorrect, that's what that section of the code talks about. But this act is actually doing that; it commences a unit. Therefore there is an application with respect to the bargaining agent, because that bargaining agent may wish to have the opportunity to either expand or exclude.
That's what I need to have clarified. The Labour Relations Code says: "When a trade union applies for certification as a bargaining agent...." In this case, it isn't applying for it because it's being told it's going to be that by the government. But presumably this is the creation of a new unit. Therefore I would assume that the same provisions would apply under the code now as though it had taken the initiative on its own rather than being directed by government. If that's not true, the minister could tell me that.
Hon. E. Cull: The code refers to the application for certification, not to an application for inclusion or exclusion. In fact, that section of the act applies even after the initial certification; otherwise, the certification would be frozen once and forever in time. So the LRB always has that ability to include or exclude.
But I draw the member's attention back to the request of the B.C. Teachers' Federation. One of the things that we did in the consultation prior to tabling this legislation was attempt to incorporate as many of the requests from the various groups we consulted with as possible, and this was one that we felt, since it was consistent with the code, was a good one to put in.
G. Wilson: Okay, then that does partly answer my question. But it brings me back to the concerns we had under schedule 1 of the act with respect to the lists of included -- and therefore, by virtue of their absence from that list, those that are presumably excluded, unless you take the definition of teacher, which takes us way back into a debate I don't want to go back to.... But there is some very real concern over that, and therefore it would seem that insofar as we are setting up this new process to streamline and make collective bargaining more effective, and insofar as concern exists with respect to the exclusion of employees who may otherwise be included, it would be appropriate for the section on exclusion of employees to be deleted. That argument could be mounted. With the language you've got under section 5(2), the Labour Relations Code section, the determination of an appropriate union is designed in a way for the code to be most effective for properly defining the bargaining unit when it's certified.
What we're looking at here is a series of unions, under an umbrella organization called the B.C. Teachers' Federation, that are being forced together under one provincial agent. Presumably, if there's a window of opportunity to include it, that's the time to do it. I think we need to remove the opportunity for exclusion, in light of the fact that schedule 1 has that list, which is not in itself all-inclusive.
Hon. E. Cull: To remove the word "exclude" would be to remove the application of the Labour Relations Code in this fashion, as it would apply in all other cases. I encourage the member to go back and have a look at the Labour Relations Code, because it not only applies in the case of initial certification; subsequent to that, the LRB can, on application or on its own initiative, include or exclude. That's part of the normal powers of the LRB. As I said before, the B.C. Teachers' Federation asked it to apply in this case.
J. Tyabji: Further to that line of questioning, when we talk about excluding employees, the concern that I think can be raised independent of the Labour Relations Code is where it says exclusion can be made if excluding them "would be consistent with the purposes of this Act". When we look at the purposes of the act, we see that one of the purposes is "to promote positive working relationships in the public school system." I guess where there's a significant concern -- I know I certainly have a concern -- is that that could be used with great discretion by the Labour Relations Board to
[ Page 11572 ]
arbitrarily exclude people who should be within the bargaining unit if they begin to raise issues that are deemed to be counterproductive to a positive working relationship, as is often the case when one goes into negotiations.
The other question is: why wouldn't the Labour Relations Code...? As I understand it, it already governs this act anyway. Why is section 2 necessary in order to bring about the Labour Relations Code?
The last question on that is: in the Labour Relations Code, section 22, it talks about "before certification." There's no reference to it here. Why would there be a difference?
Hon. E. Cull: Section 5(1) essentially takes the place of a certification application. That's the answer to your last question.
The answer to your second question is, again, that because section 5(1) exists, it requires section 5(2).
I'm not going to engage in the debate that would arise with respect to the questions asked about the LRB that suggest that they would make frivolous decisions to remove parties that they thought were blocking negotiations. I think that's an insult to the Labour Relations Board.
G. Wilson: Nobody is trying to insult anybody, hon. minister; we're simply trying to look at the parameters of the bill as the language provides for them.
The minister has almost convinced me that the question of exclusion is not necessary, except for section 5(1). I don't want to necessarily go back and belabour this point, because the minister did address it under the definitions section when we talked about it. Now, my understanding is.... I argued, and I would still argue, that there are two definitions of teachers in this act. Section 5(1) says: "For the purpose of collective bargaining, the bargaining unit is deemed to consist of all teachers, as defined in the School Act...." Right? That's one definition. It "includes those employees of a school board referred to in Schedule 1" -- Schedule 1 is not all-inclusive of the members of the bargaining unit -- "or" -- it doesn't say "and" -- "included in the bargaining unit under subsection (2)", which you talk about here in terms of the Labour Relations Board. My concern is that if that's interpreted to the letter, as it is written there are people currently under the unit who may well not remain there if the act sits as it is. That's why we have to remove the opportunity for the exclusion of those people when those contracts terminate.
When the existing contracts terminate, you have to go to zero-base negotiation; it is not explicit that those people are in, because they're not covered in schedule 1 or included under subsection (2), and they're not defined under the School Act. It is not implied or even specified in this act that they're in the bargaining unit; therefore there is an open door for them to be excluded. That's the concern. If the minister could alleviate that concern, maybe we could move on.
Hon. E. Cull: I don't think I'll go back and engage in debate around the definition of teacher. I think if we go back and look at how that definition is used.... We have already canvassed that quite extensively. To do as the member suggests and include those employees who are voluntarily recognized, and therefore included in collective agreements, in the bargaining unit would be to certify them when they are not certified. Again, we talked about that at the beginning. There are some employees who are not teachers under the School Act who are part of the bargaining units right now in their certification, and some who are not part of the bargaining unit certification and have been included voluntarily in the collective agreement. We are trying to be as neutral as possible with respect to the union status, given that we are creating a provincial union here, and to say that if you're part of the certification, you're part of the provincial union, and if you're not part of the certification, you're not automatically made part of the provincial union.... Those employees would still have the option through normal processes to be included, but to include them when they're not part of the certification would be to remove some rights, which I think they would object to.
G. Wilson: I don't want to go back into the debate about removal of rights. There are a lot of rights that have been removed by this legislation. So the minister is saying that once those contracts terminate, the members whom the member for Richmond East was alluding to in her earlier comments are no longer in the unit, and they have to seek certification to get in. They're out; that's what the minister is saying.
Hon. E. Cull: If these people want to be covered by the bargaining unit, to be certified into it, they will have to apply. Their contract is continued under this act, so their contract isn't eliminated.
G. Wilson: I have misread the act, if that's the case. Is the minister saying that the contract is continued beyond the expiry date? No, clearly not. Once that contract expires, their contract is up, surely. If the minister is saying that it will continue, then I must have misread it. Maybe when we get to the appropriate section, the minister might want to point that out -- or deal with it right now, because that was clearly not my reading of this act.
Hon. E. Cull: I draw the member's attention to section 10(4) and, I believe, section 10(7). I haven't read section 10(7) until this minute, but I know section 10(4) and section 10(7) apply to continuing local agreements.
G. Wilson: When we get to section 10, maybe we can go into that in some detail; that's not how I read that. The reason we were looking for the exclusion on this section is because of that. The minister has clarified that they will have to apply to get in. As we leave section 5, my understanding is that their contract will carry on beyond the life of the agreement. I think the minister said that once their agreement terminates their contract will continue. I don't know how that's going to be, because I don't know under what contract they would remain employed. If the minister could explain that, then we will move on to section 6.
Hon. E. Cull: This is getting very confusing as we delve into the details here. But the intent of this legislation in various sections, including schedule 1, is to keep the certified people certified, the voluntary people covered by the collective agreement recognized, and not to change the status quo of those people who are not teachers but are in one way or another covered by these collective agreements. If they are in schedule 1, they are certified; they come into the bargaining unit. If they are voluntary and they are part of a collective agreement, they will, by the collective agreement, continue to be covered. Both of those streams of voluntary and certification continue into the future and are continued by this act. There is no change to those arrangements unless the parties that are involved wish to change them.
[ Page 11573 ]
J. Tyabji: The minister had implied that I might be insulting the Labour Relations Board by talking about their potential exclusion of employees if they deem their activities not to be consistent with the purposes of this act.
The point that I was trying to make is that the way the minister has crafted the bill, the Labour Relations Board may feel bound to follow to the letter the purposes section of the act. In following to the letter of the purposes section, they may feel that exclusion of employees is necessary in order to promote positive working relationships in the public school system, especially given the fact that repeatedly through this debate the minister has said that the reason for bringing this bill in is that there has been unrest in the school system. The minister has cited statistics about increased unrest, and in the event some individuals cause a great amount of difficulty, the Labour Relations Board may feel compelled to exclude them from the bargaining unit.
G. Wilson: I really do want to get this clarified, and I'm not just trying to cause the minister any more grief than I know I am already causing her. Under the Labour Relations Code, a person who is bound by a collective agreement is deemed to be a party to that agreement. What we are hearing the minister say now is that if you are certified, you are part of the union; if you are a party to the agreement, your contract will continue beyond the life of that agreement. How is that possible? That can't happen. So those people who are not part of the bargaining unit are party to a collective agreement until that agreement expires. At the point that it expires, they are not part of the bargaining unit; therefore they are not under certification and will not be part of the provincial bargaining. So they are surely going to have to seek to get into the negotiations through some other process.
Hon. E. Cull: It's an interesting situation. Every time a collective agreement expires and is renewed, those voluntary people are brought back in again. There isn't anything in law, because they're not part of the certification. After the collective agreement expires, it continues to give them rights to come back in. However, by practice, this has been worked out in the districts. This will continue that practice. The local agreement that covers a non-teacher, who is not part of the certification but who has been voluntarily covered, continues until it's replaced with another local agreement or a provincial agreement that applies. At that point, those people are voluntarily recognized, just as they are voluntarily recognized now.
G. Wilson: We're on the same wavelength, and that is encouraging, because we can get beyond this. Here's my concern. This is where I think members of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, who I know were pressing this minister for an amendment to this section, have a real point. What they're arguing here -- and again, it goes back to what I said earlier and to what I believe the member for Okanagan East alluded to earlier -- is that by practice, local boards were looking for the inclusion of people who ordinarily were not within the collective bargaining unit because they provided a service ancillary to education that the boards wished to have, and therefore they were prepared to have them come in voluntarily at the local level.
The concern is that there is no consistency across the province regarding these people. If we're going to get into provincewide bargaining, where you have, under schedule 1, stipulated the inclusion of some but you have excluded others, the concern is that it's going to be very difficult for school districts -- especially some of the rural, more remote and smaller districts -- to be able to effectively get the negotiation and, therefore, the inclusion of these people. Therefore, surely if this is going to be landmark legislation and we're all starting from ground zero at the expiration of the contracts, it would be sensible to have an opportunity for individuals who seek to be certified to get certified as part of this legislation, and therefore eliminate the opportunity for the board to exclude them in the first contract negotiated provincewide. Surely that would fulfil the minister's intent, in which case the amendment that the BCTF was trying to put forward would make some sense, would it not?
Hon. E. Cull: The people covered by collective agreements who are not now certified have always had the right to apply to become part of the certification, and they still have that right now.
Hon. E. Cull: The member said that they have never needed to. If, as a result of this legislation, they determine that they need to, this doesn't change their ability to apply to become part of the certification. In bringing in the legislation and trying to balance off the interests of various parties, we stuck with the recommendations of the people we consulted with, including the B.C. Teachers' Federation. We have tried to make this section as neutral as possible, to keep the provisions of the Labour Relations Code applying and not shutting any doors on them -- not to change their status, through the legislation, either as voluntary or certified.
Section 5 approved on division.
On section 6.
J. Weisgerber: One section in this bill that I find very difficult is section 6. I know that there was some debate earlier on section 6, due to the somewhat unusual approach taken in debating this bill. But I've always found that if one waits until the section is called and then debates that section, it helps move the process along rather nicely.
Having come to section 6, I now have a few questions about it. It seems to me unusual to say the least that a piece of legislation would endorse -- would, in fact, entrench -- one union as the bargaining agent for a new grouping-together of teachers' associations. I was surprised when I started talking to teachers at some length and in some depth about this legislation. Their concern was not so much that there was going to be one agent bargaining for the employer. The concern that I heard from many teachers was the fact that this legislation was going to push them toward a greater reliance on the BCTF. They saw the concentration of power on the side of the BCTF as the most unacceptable part of this legislation. Indeed, they saw the greatest turmoil within the education system being caused by a growing sense of power within the BCTF executive.
I think I should start by asking the minister whether there wasn't a better way to draft this legislation in reference to the bargaining agent for the employees. It seems to me that there must have been a more neutral approach to this -- an approach that said that we recognize teachers are going to be represented by a bargaining agent, but that that's clearly going to be the choice of teachers, not the choice of legislation.
[ Page 11574 ]
Hon. E. Cull: I suppose we could have had the Labour Relations Code apply. That would have allowed the B.C. Teachers' Federation to become the union in any event, because they need 55 percent of the members and they already have the vast.... Well, all teachers are members of the B.C. Teachers' Federation and the union one way or another, so they would certainly become the union in any event.
What the act says is that, because the B.C. Teachers' Federation unions now represent all of the teachers, they will be the bargaining agent. But if teachers don't want the B.C. Teachers' Federation to be their union, they can avail themselves of the provisions under the Labour Relations Code. I think that to have done what I suggested could have been done, which is simply to have said that the Labour Relations Code applies and then have the B.C. Teachers' Federation get the certification because of their sheer numbers right now, would have been academic in any event. This recognizes the reality; it recognizes the request of the representative assembly of teachers that has advised us as to what their preference would be in this regard. It certainly provides all of the options that safeguard those who do not want the B.C. Teachers' Federation to be their union to sign up members for another union and seek to be represented by somebody else.
J. Weisgerber: Section 6(2) clearly provides a mechanism, but even there I think the language is less than clear. If someone were not reading this legislation with a copy of the Labour Relations Code with them, that would be even less than clear. The wording starts out with, "Despite subsection (1)," and then goes on.
The concerns that I heard from teachers were very real. They are not at all comfortable with the endorsement of the BCTF through this process in the legislation and the fact that it appears, again, to be strengthening the hand of those people. I wonder if the minister has thought at all about developing a process that perhaps would be a bit more democratic in terms of the various teachers' associations?
Hon. E. Cull: I've just referred to a couple of collective agreements that we have here with us. The vast majority of teacher collective agreements actually require their teacher members to be members of the B.C. Teachers' Federation. That's already been negotiated by bargaining agents at the local district on behalf of teachers.
I suppose, like many aspects of legislation, subsection (2) is not as clear as the member might like it to be. From time to time we find that the legal language of legislation is not as accessible as we'd like it to be. If the member has suggestions as to how he would like to publicize this provision for teachers, I'd be happy to receive them.
J. Weisgerber: More specifically, under subsection (1)(a), could the minister tell us why it's necessary to deem the BCTF as the bargaining agent, if the contractual arrangements with the teacher associations already give them that authority?
Hon. E. Cull: It's because the collective agreements have the B.C. Teachers' Federation as the bargaining agent for the local union and the local school board. This is establishing the B.C. Teachers' Federation as the bargaining agent for the provincial bargaining unit.
J. Weisgerber: One would assume, then, that the teachers' associations might indeed decide they want to appoint someone else as their bargaining agent. If the minister is saying it's a fait accompli -- if it's a fact already written into contracts -- then it seems unnecessary to bring in a section that deems them to be the bargaining agent. That's where the confusion exists in my mind.
Hon. E. Cull: The existing contracts don't provide for a provincial bargaining unit or a provincial bargaining agent. Without this provision there would be no provincial bargaining agent. The provincial bargaining unit, which is the employees -- the agent being the union -- then would have to apply to the Labour Relations Board to be certified with one or more unions. That was the option I described to you as technically possible. In any event, it would have exactly the same result because of the existence of the B.C. Teachers' Federation as the bargaining agent in all of the locals. This provision is needed because we're now creating a new provincial bargaining unit. It needs a provincial agent, notwithstanding the fact that the 75 local units have the B.C. Teachers' Federation as their local agent.
J. Weisgerber: I think we disagree here. It seems to me that the legislation unnecessarily presumes that the local associations would decide to have the BCTF as their provincial bargaining agent. If the fact that they have chosen it as their representative locally automatically causes it to be the provincial bargaining agent, then the legislation is unnecessary. If they have a choice, then the word "deemed" seems to prejudice those choices.
Hon. E. Cull: As I understand it, it's not a matter of the local associations choosing to be represented by the BCTF as their provincial bargaining agent. The fact is that, because of the collective agreements, the B.C. Teachers' Federation could immediately go to the LRB and say: "We have more than 55 percent of the members signed up already as members." Collective agreements require them to be members. So in this case they would already have the qualifications to be the provincial agent.
G. Wilson: I'm just following up on that. There's absolutely nothing in this legislation to preclude some other union from coming in to do precisely the same thing. It's interesting that the questions -- the line of questioning here -- are similar to those I was attempting to raise under the definitions section because we needed to cover it there. Sections 18, 19 and 33 of the Labour Relations Code in fact make it very clear that there is a very open provision for some other agent -- possibly one that's a member of the B.C. Federation of Labour -- to come in and take it over. The B.C. Federation of Labour would like nothing better than to get dues from all of the teachers in the province. Mind you, they may not want the headache. I was being a little facetious when I said that about their dues; the headaches might offset any kind of benefit. But this certainly opens it up to a member of the B.C. Federation of Labour, in light of the fact that the BCTF is not a member and has made the choice to remain that way. I think the minister would have to agree that that's true.
Hon. E. Cull: Actually, any other union can raid the B.C. Teachers' Federation on a local basis right now. So there's nothing that prevents any other union -- a member of the B.C. Federation of Labour or not -- from coming in and signing up enough members to force a certification vote and have the B.C. Teachers' Federation no longer be the union at the local level. So this doesn't change that.
[ Page 11575 ]
I just want to make it absolutely clear that when we're talking about the fact that contracts already require people to be members, we're only talking about the option I was discussing with the member for Peace River South. Instead of designating the BCTF, we could have left it up to the application of the Labour Relations Code. The day after this becomes law, because all of those members are already signed up right now under existing collective agreements, the BCTF would become the union in any case.
G. Farrell-Collins: Not in perpetuity.
Hon. E. Cull: But not in perpetuity, as the member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove just said. That's why section 6(2) is here.
Let's just follow this scenario along. If we had the Labour Code do it, the day after the law was enacted the B.C. Teachers' Federation would have been in front of the LRB, saying, "We have the 55 percent; certify us," and of course they would be certified as the bargaining agent. But any other union that thinks there are enough disaffected teachers who might like to be represented by another union can start their organizing drive and do whatever they wish to do that same day. All of those options are available to teachers.
We have simply recognized the fact that because teachers, by their collective agreements, are members of the BCTF right now, certification would be automatic after this act passes, with the Labour Code applying. So we recognize them as a provincial bargaining agent, but we provide to teachers, as we provide to all other workers, the ability to change their mind subsequently and decide that they would like to be represented by a different union as a provincial agent.
G. Wilson: Clearly the BCTF is not going to be their agent in perpetuity. As a matter of fact, I think a lot of people would argue, and I think even some members of this government would argue, that a B.C. Federation of Labour unit might be more appropriate. I wouldn't want to make a comment on that.
[D. Lovick in the chair.]
I am interested in section 6(1): "The British Columbia Teachers' Federation (a) is deemed to be the certified bargaining agent...." Presumably that creates some legal difficulties with this act coming into force. I think it could be argued -- in fact, it could be demonstrated fairly clearly -- that legal agreements already exist with respect to local districts and teachers' associations with respect to the B.C. Teachers' Federation. The association between them is not consistent in terms of the arrangement, the provisions for assistance and so on. At least that's true as I understand it. Having talked to a number of teachers' associations, there was some concern that the B.C. Teachers' Federation was indeed deemed to be the agent, not just because of the loss of local autonomy but because they had worked out arrangements with respect to contractual assistance in the negotiation process that was independent of the BCTF. I wonder if the minister might want to comment on that. I don't know that that's been given a lot of thought here with respect to the local associations' employees' abilities to deal with those legal problems.
Hon. E. Cull: When we come to section 8, I think the member will find that we have provided the provincial bargaining agents on behalf of the employers and employees with strike arrangements with their local unions and local employers that would accommodate these different arrangements. I hesitate to comment on your suggestion that some of them may be illegal. I don't have any personal knowledge of that. The matter of the relationship between the provincial and local agents is addressed in section 8.
J. Tyabji: I have a question with regard to the language in subsection (2). In section 3 the Labour Relations Code applies, so when the minister decided to deem the B.C. Teachers' Federation as the bargaining agent, we also know that the Labour Relations Code applies, despite subsection (1). I am curious about why the minister chose section 18, acquisition of bargaining rights; section 19, the change in union representation; and section 33, the revocation of bargaining rights. What was the rationale in singling those out when we already know that the Labour Relations Code applies?
When we talked to some of the people concerned about the implementation of this act, because those three were the ones singled out it does lead to the impression that there could be an expectation of a change in the bargaining unit. That's where concern comes in, when we start to talk about the B.C. Federation of Labour and the interest that they might have in having the B.C. Teachers' Federation or the teachers as a collective move under their umbrella. The minister's choice in the wording would lend some credence to that.
Hon. E. Cull: The reason for subsection (2) is that section 1 is different than the Labour Relations Code. To not have the second section there would freeze the B.C. Teachers' Federation into being the exclusive bargaining agent in perpetuity, because as we know, having debated it earlier, section 3(1) would provide an override.
C. Serwa: This is an unusual section, and in my belief it is most unusual in legislative packages in British Columbia in that it specifically names a bargaining agent for a group of people or an organization. Is the minister aware that this is the only piece of legislation in provincial statutes that does this?
Hon. E. Cull: I'll take the member's word for that.
C. Serwa: The concern I have is based on that particular aspect. First, it is apparent that the government is caving in to the BCTF and to the union activists in creating a superunion. There is a great deal of apprehension about the concept of a superunion, and that's really what it is. When you look at the numbers and the quality of the individuals, you have actually created a superunion. So that's one perspective that the public is very concerned about, with the bargaining position and the power of that superunion, the BCTF. By doing this you have also taken away the right of the teachers to make their independent choice. That's why I'm concerned about the unusual designation of the B.C. Teachers' Federation as the representative union through legislation.
The other aspect that bothers me is that it doesn't focus the concern of the BCTF on the professional aspect of the BCTF as it was formerly required to do -- and that was their purpose and structure. Now the focus will be on wages, working conditions and the bargaining process into a major union. We're really concerned about that, hon. Chair, because what we're hearing more and more is the opposition to what is happening through the BCTF and the public education
[ Page 11576 ]
system. And the clamour again.... It is a vital and valid concern, with one organization handling both the professional aspect and the union aspect. Even the nurses and many other organizations separate the two, because in many ways they are conflicting.
The concern I have is that with a powerful union, when push comes to shove, which task are they going to place a priority on? There's a legitimate concern. Again, there is an increasing clamour for going back to basics in education, and there will be no will to do that with this designation. Does the minister not feel that it should have been handled in a manner so that the teachers themselves made the choice of the provincial bargaining agent?
Hon. E. Cull: The teachers have done that through their representative assembly, where they recommended that the B.C. Teachers' Federation be the one designated in this legislation. However, having said that, if teachers do not feel that the people who represented them at this representative assembly acted as they wish, they have the right under section 6(2) to have another union come in and be the provincial agent.
One of the consequences of going to provincial bargaining, by its very definition, is that there will be one employer and one union, and therefore there will be an employer bargaining agent and an employee bargaining agent. If that's creating a superunion, as the member puts it, it is one of the consequences. I think that most people who have observed the B.C. Teachers' Federation would be surprised to hear any suggestion that they were not heavily involved in collective bargaining and labour relations in recent years. The member may have a point that teachers want to debate among themselves as to whether they need a separate organization to deal with professional matters. Some professional groups have such a body, but others don't.
Section 6 approved on division.
On section 7.
L. Stephens: In the first round of negotiations, if the employers' association and the BCTF fail to agree on the designation of what should be local and what provincial, the Minister of Labour may appoint a person to arbitrate the dispute. Was there any discussion given to a three-member panel to arbitrate that dispute? And is there a time line that must be met in order for the arbitration to be initiated?
Hon. E. Cull: Under the Interpretation Act, it would be possible for the Minister of Skills, Training and Labour to appoint a board as opposed to an individual person. So a three-person panel, as the member is suggesting, is not ruled out by the way this is worded. It says "a person," but a person under the Interpretation Act is a corporate person, which in that case could be a board.
With respect to time lines, I can't see how we would want to put time lines into the legislation. I think that the minister, evaluating the situation and hearing from all parties at that point, would be in the best position to determine what time limitations, if any, should be set.
L. Stephens: If there is an impasse on this issue, there must be.... How are future rounds of negotiations going to be resolved if there is an impasse? Not after the first contract is negotiated, but if there is an impasse for any future contracts negotiated, how would that be resolved?
Hon. E. Cull: It would be resolved through the normal process of collective bargaining.
L. Stephens: Would the dispute go to the arbitrator again for arbitration, or to the panel?
Hon. E. Cull: It could go to arbitration, to mediation or to any of the other provisions under the Labour Code that would apply. Generally, that would be voluntary. But the intention is that after the first round of negotiations, this would then move to be an item for negotiation like any other. Once the initial lines have been drawn, the debates about changing those lines or adding new things to the provincial or local lists will be very minor in the overall scheme of bargaining. The biggest hurdle to overcome is establishing that basis in the first place, which is why we have provided for binding arbitration in the act. Otherwise, it's simply a matter of negotiations. A mediator could be brought in; an arbitrator could be brought in voluntarily to adjudicate the matter. It could be subject to strike or lockout action, although that would be somewhat unusual, but the legislation would not rule that out.
L. Stephens: If I hear the minister correctly, the first contract that is negotiated as the master contract would go to arbitration if there was an impasse, and if any subsequent negotiations -- and this is where I'm going to ask the minister for clarification -- that looked to add some substantial issues to the contract resulted in an impasse, the parties would have to continue on until they reached an agreement. Is that what the minister is saying? Is there no dispute resolution mechanism available at that stage, regardless of whether or not the parties simply just cannot agree?
Hon. E. Cull: If there was an impasse in a subsequent round of negotiations, there are a number of options available: the parties could ask for a mediator, they could agree on binding arbitration voluntarily, or they could take the matter through to a question of a strike or lockout on it. Those are the provisions that generally apply.
One thing that all of the parties we consulted with in respect to this legislation were unanimous on -- and there weren't a lot of things that everybody agreed on this strongly, but school trustees and the teachers were absolutely in agreement on this -- is the fact that third-party binding arbitration that is not voluntarily entered into is not the way to go. I know this member will probably understand that quite clearly from the trustee's point of view, but it's interesting that this was a case where both the employer and the employees agreed that binding arbitration that is not voluntarily entered into is not supported by either side. It is certainly not supported by the government, because we believe it basically tosses off the responsibility to somebody who ultimately isn't accountable to the electorate, either at the local level through trustees or at the provincial level through the government.
G. Wilson: I don't know if it happened at the commencement of this debate, but before I start in on section 7, I want to say that I don't recall the introduction of the staff member who is with her today. That might be useful.
Section 7(1) says: "The collective agreement entered into under this Act with respect to teachers..." -- we're talking about the provincial collective agreement, I take it -- "...must include all Provincial matters and local matters that have been agreed on by the parties." Does that mean, if one
[ Page 11577 ]
school district has a disagreement on local matters, holds out on those local matters and can't agree, that it might impact with respect to the provincial collective agreement -- that one school board can hold up a provincewide agreement?
Hon. E. Cull: I was remiss at the beginning of the debate. I didn't introduce Peter Cameron, who is with the Public Sector Employers' Council secretariat.
The only way that could happen is if both parties agreed to hold up the matter. It can be referred up to the provincial table for resolution.
G. Wilson: I understand that, and we're going to get to that in just a moment. My question is: in the event that.... We heard a lot of talk about whipsawing, and this is where I'm coming from on this. There clearly are some boards that do not like this legislation at all, that want to negotiate locally and don't like the notion that a provincewide agreement is going to be struck -- which in their judgment, rightly or wrongly, is likely to have greater impact and effect on the large urban centres than on some of the rural areas which have done very well on their own, thank you. So when you've got a board and a teachers' association negotiating on local matters and they cannot agree, and they do not agree to send it up -- because they don't trust the provincial process and they don't want it negotiated in the provincial process -- does that mean the provincial collective agreement could be held up? Or is there a provision where, under the provincial matters, the central bargaining agency or authority can simply demand that the board find resolution? Or can they simply negotiate on their behalf whether they want it or not?
Hon. E. Cull: Under section 8, which I hope we will soon come to, the employers' association and the provincial union both have to establish provisions with respect to the delegation of matters to the local level, including the procedures for local bargaining. These matters would be addressed through those procedures.
G. Wilson: That's what we were afraid of. That's why I think it's critically important under section 7(2) that there be a designation of what constitutes provincial matters and what constitutes local matters. I can see that there isn't going to be any local bargaining. There just isn't.
I would move an amendment to section 7(2), to read: "subject to subsection (3), the employers' association and the provincial union must designate the provincial matters, and any terms and conditions of employment not deemed or designated as provincial matters shall be deemed to be local matters." Then there's no dispute.
The Chair: I will recognize the minister, though we are still looking at this amendment at the moment.
Hon. E. Cull: I don't need to see the amendment, because it's the same as in the B.C. Teachers' Federation proposal sent to me yesterday. We oppose the amendment. It's interesting that the member has proposed it after that course of questioning, because this would do nothing to prevent the situation he's talking about and, in fact, might even make it worse. As far as we're concerned, what is intended in this amendment is to further restrict the scope of provincial parties and to try to preserve the local bargaining system. We've already had extensive debate about this with the B.C. Teachers' Federation and have agreed to disagree.
The Chair: Could I ask the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast to just take his seat for a moment. I'm looking at the amendment, and I recognize that we dealt with this very matter in section 1. The House decided at that point to negative the amendment, and therefore I can't accept this one without challenging the ruling the House has already made. I must rule the amendment out of order.
J. Tyabji: I take the Chair's direction on this. When we were trying to get a definition in section 1 that would designate provincial and local matters separately, I believe that the minister said that we would deal with that in section 7. Now we are in section 7, trying to deal with what we would have dealt with in section 1, except that we were referred to section 7. The minister said that the amendment ruled out of order wouldn't have changed things. The only reason I mention this is that I think there would be a substantial change, in that once we get to section 8 and see that it will be a delegation down of authority on local matters, it becomes very important for the minister to provide some fairly specific guidance on what a local matter is. As we get down to subsection (4), I will be proposing an amendment to try to help with a specific designation of what a local matter is.
With regard to section 7(1) where it says: "The collective agreement...with respect to teachers must include all Provincial matters and local matters...." When the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast was talking about that section and saying that if there was a difficulty in a local matter.... Earlier in the debate we talked about a local matter, when we assumed for a minute that it had already been defined as a local matter, it had been dealt with at the local level, and there was a dispute and the dispute continued. The minister then said that that gets referred to the provincial level. At that point we were asking: "If the dispute continues at the provincial level, what is the avenue to pursue?" It would seem to me that in this one, where it says that it must include all provincial and local matters, the local matters included in that would be other than the ones where there are disagreements and then it gets referred provincially. Or does that include all local matters?
Hon. E. Cull: If there is any disagreement with respect to provincial and local matters, this section assumes that that has been resolved. Therefore the collective agreement ultimately entered into -- which would include both a provincial and a local component, similar to the agreements that occur in other places where there are local agreements but a master bargaining arrangement -- would have to include both the provincial and local matters that have been agreed to by the parties. That allows for the provisions that are here to determine what's local and what's provincial. But it also means that the parties get to agree on the local matters, and not all local matters have to be in all local agreements. The very nature of local matters means that they may only apply to one district, or a handful of districts -- certainly not every district in every case. Some local matters may apply to all districts but have a local aspect to them that puts them at the local table.
J. Tyabji: This reminds me of the debate in the fall of '92 when we were debating the Labour Relations Code. Some of the answers made my head hurt as I tried to imagine exactly what the specific circumstances would be. But in this I am hearing the minister say that there is a provincial collective agreement, and within that provincial collective agreement there are two categories of local matters: one category that
[ Page 11578 ]
applies to all the school districts, and one in which each school district's local matters are broken down. Is that what I am to understand? Based on the question I asked and the answer I received, that seems to be what the minister is telling us.
Sometimes we have to ask the question twice. The question I asked the minister was that based on her answer it would seem there is going to be a provincial collective agreement, and within the provincial collective agreement there will be two kinds of local matters. One kind of local matter would be.... The minister is already saying no, but what I heard her say was that there will be matters that will be universal to each school district, and then there will be local matters that will be different based on which school district it is. Would that be in the provincial collective agreement, then? Or is the minister saying that, in addition to the provincial collective agreement, there will be local collective agreements on local matters as they are negotiated out of the provincial collective agreement?
Hon. E. Cull: Under the law, the collective agreement will be the provincial agreement plus the 75 local agreements. However, no one's going to carry around a collective agreement of that size, so each district will, of course, have the provincial agreement plus its own local agreement as the document that is their collective agreement. But the collective agreement under the act is, in fact, the provincial agreement plus all the local agreements.
G. Wilson: I can't help but reflect on the absolute irony of this evening's discussion, because when the score is tied 2-2 and we're eight minutes into the third period, we're in a situation here where we could probably call a division. If we had all of the members in the opposition voting with us, we might even win something because people would be so reluctant to leave the television and come in and vote. But here we are without them, and that's too bad. If only we had the united opposition at this time, we might actually be able to do something.
I want to come to the cost provision part of section 7(4). The minister has talked about this local and provincial what have you, and we're not going to move the minister off that -- that's pretty evident. But what is important is that section 7(4) outlines the cost provisions relating to salaries and benefits and workload, which is clearly a direct cost impact, and then it says: "...including, without limitation, class size restrictions, and (c) time worked and paid leave." I'm curious to know what "without limitation" means, because a large number of locally negotiated agreements deal with class size restrictions, paid leave and time-worked arrangements. Can the minister tell us what "without limitation" means, and why it's in there?
Hon. E. Cull: Just in case the member is misreading this, the "without limitation" does not apply to the items in (c). It only applies to "workload, including, without limitation, class size restrictions." Then there's another item. You could actually reorder it, and it would read "salaries and benefits, time worked and paid leave and workload, including, without limitation, class size restrictions." That's the way you read that as it has been worded.
In any event, this section is here to guide the parties as they enter into the negotiation as to what is provincial and what is local. Things that fall into this category are provincial, and they're there to guide the parties as they enter into those negotiations -- and, if necessary, to guide an arbitrator who might be resolving a dispute under section 7(5).
J. Tyabji: I would like to move an amendment to this section with regard to cost provisions that I've talked of earlier. I'm sure the minister won't be surprised at this amendment; she's probably seen it as well. I should say that, although some of these amendments would be ones that she's seen, they're exactly the same issues that we identified as contentious in second reading. The B.C. Teachers' Federation found this section contentious as well.
With regard to section 7(4), the cost provisions are not specific enough, especially when we talk about something like "workload." I'd like to move that it be amended to read: "In subsection (3), 'cost provisions' includes all provisions relating to (a) salaries. (b) health and welfare benefits. (c) class size provisions. (d) time worked and paid leave that substantially affect the cost of the collective agreement."
Hon. Chair, I'm sending a copy now. The reason I'd like to move that amendment is that it makes it a bit clearer that the cost provisions are just that. I'm sure the minister herself knows, having been a school trustee, that there is really nothing in the education system that couldn't be deemed a cost provision. A textbook is a cost provision; the curriculum has a cost component. Therefore, all of it could end up being a provincial matter. However, if we're talking about budgets as they relate to salaries and to the direct, annual costs of the teachers and of things like class size provisions, then being more specific is more productive in defining what the provincial matters are. The communities can feel much more comfort that local matters which are independent of those provisions will stay at the local level, because, of course, in being guided by this section, the cost provisions being so narrowly defined, there would be much more room for local matters to stay at the local level.
On the amendment.
Hon. E. Cull: It's no surprise, I'm sure, to the member that I'm not in favour of the amendment. To agree to this amendment would restrict the definition to health and welfare, even if there were other benefits that had a substantial cost component. By adding the word "substantially" to the definition, it would lead to interminable arguments about whether or not something is substantial, or perhaps whether a change is substantial. It would allow arguments to go on that provisions that impacted class size, but were not specifically about class size, were local, even if they had a cost.
The comment about textbooks -- you would have to go back and look at it. Textbooks are not workloads, they're not salaries or benefits and they're not time worked or paid leave. Those are the categories. What (b) does, with respect to "including, without limitation, class size restrictions," is recognize that there are other workload items that have significant costs for districts and that cannot be ignored in this act.
J. Tyabji: I'm sometimes having a hard time hearing the minister, probably because she's so engrossed in the substance of the bill that she's directing her voice downward.
An Hon. Member: And worried about the game.
J. Tyabji: And worried about the game, as one of the NDP backbenchers said.
[ Page 11579 ]
When she was talking about textbooks as a cost provision, I'm assuming she was saying that's not one of the cost provisions. Perhaps the minister could put on the record a definition of workload.
I should say on the record, too, that the reason the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast wanted the minister to introduce her staff member is that he thought he looked so much like Kelsey Grammer.
The Chair: I'm sure there isn't a motion on privilege at this point, so I will recognize the minister, who may wish to comply with the request.
Hon. E. Cull: I think I'll stick to the subject matter at hand. With that comment, my mind has gone totally blank as to the question she was raising on this particular matter.
Hon. E. Cull: It was the definition of workload, thank you; it's all coming back to me. The act provides that the parties will negotiate provincial and local matters, and workload is provided here as guidance. It's not defined, and I'm certainly not going to define it. It's a matter of bargaining for the parties involved.
G. Wilson: The only comment I would have with respect to the amendment -- and already hearing the minister speak against it, I don't know if we want to carry this on too much further -- is that it seems that it is not unrealistic to recognize that in the initial negotiations around local and provincial issues there is going to be some really difficult and very contentious bargaining around the matters of leaves, workload and class size, because there are quite different agreements with respect to districts and local associations.
It seems that perhaps it would be wise if this amendment were to pass. It would allow an opportunity for both the provincial bargaining agent, on behalf of the employer association, and the BCTF, which is now designated by this government to be negotiating on behalf of the worker, to provide more definition than we see here. It would eliminate, I would argue, not create potential for conflict in that initial round of bargaining. That gives me a great deal of concern, because there's no local right to strike. There is no provision to enter into binding arbitration -- and that's probably a good thing in this initial round. There is no time frame with respect to the provisions of this initial agreement. I would argue that we're likely to have a breakdown in this negotiation through a lack of homogeneity -- if I can put it that way -- of already-bargained local conditions that are likely to be lost. They will be lost when those contracts expire and we move to a new agreement provincially. So the amendment makes a lot of sense.
I fully admit that the BCTF.... We've had extensive discussions with its members. The reason I bring it up now is that it's important that they know serious consideration has been given to this on the floor of the Legislature, not just in a backroom, closed meeting with the minister.
Amendment negatived on division.
G. Wilson: Section 7(5), with respect to the provincial agreement where there is a request of both parties.... Let me read it, then I can come to the particular section I'm concerned with:
"If the employers' association and the Provincial union are unable to agree on a designation under subsection (2) in the negotiations for the first Provincial agreement only, on the request of both parties or on his or her own motion, the Minister of Skills, Training and Labour may appoint a person to arbitrate a dispute with respect to the designation."
In the appointment of that arbitrator, there is no provision with respect to time frame beyond which.... There's no recognition, when the two parties are no longer in agreement.... Can the minister tell us whether, under section 7(5), that arbitration will be in the process of binding agreement, and therefore intended to be binding? Or will that arbitration have a reporting-out period, which would be consistent with most of what we've seen in arbitration under the code?
Hon. E. Cull: Arbitration is an adjudication, and it would be binding.
Section 7 approved on division.
On section 8.
L. Stephens: When the provincial parties designate an issue as a local issue, it's negotiated locally under the authority delegated from the provincial parties -- the employers' association and the BCTF. The provincial parties must have the policies and procedures with respect to the delegation of authority, to enter into those local agreements on those local matters with the teachers' unions. They don't have the ability to delegate strike or lockout authority, so the power to delegate refers only to delegation to school boards.
It does not mention any power to delegate to groups or associations of school boards. This may be of concern to the PERA members on the other boards who would like to join together to negotiate local issues. Has this been discussed, and is this possible in some part of the bill? If not, why were boards not given the ability to band together to negotiate local issues?
Hon. E. Cull: I'm just checking with the expert here on this one.
The way the act is worded would allow two or more local school boards to jointly negotiate a local agreement. If there were a geographical area of the province -- I guess that would probably be the most likely -- that decided there was some advantage in coming together and negotiating their local agreements, they could do so. This is not precluded. Again, the Interpretation Act would allow a local employer -- a school board, I guess, in this case.... The singular also includes the plural, so two or more school boards could get together and negotiate that agreement.
L. Stephens: There is no definition for "local agreement," so presumably the intention is that these are agreements on local matters that are to be part of the collective agreement. There's no reference to collective bargaining with non-teaching staff, and the delegation provisions refer only to teacher bargaining. Can the minister expand on the situation with non-teaching staff? Would CUPE's collective bargaining proceed as it has in the past? What changes would be made with respect to non-teaching staff?
Hon. E. Cull: There is no change to the negotiations with CUPE staff. The employer association is the accredited bargaining agent, but that doesn't affect the relationships
[ Page 11580 ]
between local boards and CUPE staff, and this legislation doesn't affect it.
L. Stephens: Regarding the decision to bump any dispute at the local level to the provincial level, I'd like to ask the minister why that decision was made. Was some kind of dispute resolution mechanism looked at to apply to the local level instead of bumping it to the provincial level if no agreement was reached?
Hon. E. Cull: It was felt that the most effective way of resolving local disputes was to do it at the local level. Failing negotiation at the local level, they could then ask their provincial colleagues to support them by making it a larger issue. That is common in other cases where there are provincial, two-tiered bargaining systems.
The Chair: On section 8, the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast. May I advise the member, by the way, that I did record a division on section 7.
G. Wilson: Thank you. In fact, we had fully intended to go to a full division on that, but with only four minutes left in the game and the Rangers winning 3 to 2, we thought that would be an unconscionable....
An Hon. Member: It's 4 to 2.
G. Wilson: Oh, it's now 4 to 2, so it wouldn't have mattered, I guess. The members will be filing in here in a moment.
I want to talk about this delegation of authority under section 8. This is probably one of the more contentious issues. This is an issue that I think members need to go on record on, because it speaks to the heart of what I think is a significant problem here. In the employers' association, this bill requires that there be policies and procedures with respect to delegating authority to school boards to enter into these agreements with respect to local matters -- except that it does not provide for authorization of strikes or lockouts at the local level. It's effectively like downloading negotiation; it's not two-tiered as much as it's downloading: "You can figure these matters out, and if you can't figure it out, you've got to send it back up."
It suggests that the union has to do the same thing, and yet it clearly doesn't say that the employers' association and the provincial union establish policies and procedures on how these matters are going to be dealt with in some consistent manner. I think there's a major flaw in the legislation because of that. Let's assume, just for a moment, that we like this -- we don't, but let's assume that we do -- and let's assume we're trying to draft something that would put this in place. My concern is that as a result of the size of some districts and the numbers of teachers and the amount of money in some budgets, there are clearly some issues at a local level that are going to be driving a much harder set of negotiations than at other local levels.
The urban centres -- primarily Vancouver, which is the largest of the areas, is greatly populated and has a huge budget -- are going to want to drive an agenda on that issue. The problem that I'm hearing from the rural school boards and the rural teachers' associations is that once that agenda gets established and once this process is put in place, we may enter into a situation where it is not only going to be difficult to get local agreement on matters but it's going to be difficult even within the bargaining units to get agreement on procedure to deal with some matters that become very contentious and that are not necessarily directly cost-related, but may be. There are some aspects of workload that could be not deemed to be workload but will have an impact on cost and make it extremely difficult to come up with agreements.
I'd like the minister to tell us what the thinking was behind having this parallel process of delegation. It speaks back to what we've attempted to get some agreement on -- and have failed to do all the way through this. Why the parallel process of delegation with respect to matters that are local and are going to have be agreed to provincially anyway? Section 7 suggests that there's going to have to be this agreement on what the issues are anyway. Then section 8 says there's going to be autonomy and local delegation. That creates a problem to me; it doesn't solve a problem. It's going to be extremely difficult, especially in the large districts, to get local agreement on those matters, as they're going to be required to do in a parallel process designated in 8(1) and 8(2).
Hon. E. Cull: The parties wanted some recognition in the statute that there would be delegation to the local level and that there would be processes established to do that. But they didn't think it was appropriate -- and I agree -- for the act itself to stipulate the internal policies of the organization and how they would go about making those delegations. We're talking here about policies and procedures -- not the matters that are going to be determined at the provincial or the local level, but how those responsibilities will work between local and provincial parts of the association. I think it's quite conceivable the employers' association might be organized differently than the union in that respect, and there would be no inconsistency and no problem created by that; it just respects the internal democratic decisions of that organization.
G. Wilson: I hear what the minister is saying. I don't agree with the minister, and clearly, time will tell which of the two of us is right. But I do fully agree with the minister when she says that the act should not be stipulating internal policies of either the employers' associations or the unions. I think we've done enough tinkering already in this act with that procedure.
Nevertheless, we have now bound into this agreement this parallel procedure for downloading of negotiations on matters deemed to be local, which is going to be determined provincewide. This further erodes local autonomy. The guise of this notion is that sections 8(1) and (2) provide local autonomy, but it doesn't provide local autonomy at all. It determines at a provincial level what's going to be downloaded to the local level, and they are therefore going to have to follow procedures set by a provincial bargaining union and a provincial employers' agent as to how they're going to go about solving these problems at the local level. Local autonomy is further eroded by this process; it's not enhanced in any way.
Surely the minister would agree that it would have been better to simply have a designation of what is provincial and what is local, then hand it down to the local level to allow boards and local associations to enter into those agreements on their own and provide them an opportunity for a dispute resolution mechanism at the local level rather than exclude them. The minister may or may not wish to comment on that. But it would seem to me that this is at the heart of our concerns around this bill.
[ Page 11581 ]
Hon. E. Cull: As I noted earlier, the provincial associations which represent school trustees -- who are, from my experience with school trustees, fiercely protective of their local autonomy -- are in support of this direction. This allows the provincial associations to establish policies that are consistent within their organization, allows for the rules and procedures of delegation of authority and allows for those to be worked out by the members of each respective party in a democratic fashion.
G. Wilson: But section 8(4) clearly indicates that the one thing the provincial bargaining agencies can't delegate is the authority to local boards to lock out their employees or to permit a strike. Can the minister then explain to us, in more detail under section 8, how the minister expects that local matters are going to be resolved? What is the process here?
Hon. E. Cull: The public was pretty clear about the fact that they did not want to see the right to strike or lock out at the local level. They were tired of repetitive local disputes that were disrupting the education system.
Having moved to a provincial system of bargaining, we then discussed with all of the interested parties what the dispute resolution mechanism might be. I have to say again that turning it over to third-party arbitration was rejected by both the employer and the employee in this case, as well as by the government, because we don't believe that's the most effective or cost-effective way of making these decisions. The alternative is one that is used in other cases of bargaining: if there is an inability to reach agreement at the local level, the parties can then send it up to the provincial table, and it can be resolved at the provincial level.
G. Wilson: Will the minister agree that it isn't going to take very long for these matters to get referred back? Having been downloaded to the local level, they get referred back because there is no resolution at the local level. It isn't going to take very long before those matters aren't even going to be delegated down. We're going to be simply into a flat process of provincewide bargaining, and local autonomy is going to be gone -- and with it, the authority of the local school boards, and therefore the need for democratically elected school boards. By the rationale that we've just heard this minister explain, if we're delegating down, or downloading, and they can't resolve it so it's thrown back up to the provincial authority.... The minister is saying that local boards are tired of having to deal with local strikes, although there are a lot of school districts that haven't had them. If there is no dispute resolution mechanism, what's to stop the provincial process from simply redesignating what constitutes local matters if they can't be resolved at the local level? By doing that, we have eroded the collective bargaining rights of teachers at the local level. Is that not true?
Hon. E. Cull: If a matter is not resolved at the local level and it goes up to the provincial table, it will then be up to the provincial parties to determine whether it's a matter that has to be resolved through strike or lockout action or further negotiations at the provincial level. The provincial parties will have to make a determination at that point as to what will finally happen to that dispute.
G. Wilson: This implies that there is going to have to be an ongoing negotiation process at the local level. As the minister will know, the bargaining of a collective agreement is only one part of labour relations. Labour relations is an ongoing question.
What is the cost? How much is it going to cost the taxpayers to put in place this central authority that is now going to not only bargain on provincewide matters but also deal with those local matters that can't be solved locally and are sent back for further negotiation, arbitration and so on? Does the minister have a figure on how expensive this particular aspect of provincewide bargaining -- the downloading and then coming back -- is going to be, given that the right to strike is not there? The strike and lockout, which usually tend to bring negotiations that aren't concluded to a head, aren't there. In the case of Vancouver, it brought it to a head really quickly, because it got members back in this House and this government legislated them back to work. What is the cost associated with this ongoing arbitration and negotiation by employers' associations and the BCTF? Is there a figure?
Hon. E. Cull: The negotiation of the collective agreement at the local level is not an ongoing process that goes on forever and ever. Eventually a collective agreement is negotiated and resolved. I would imagine that if there were still some items that had not been resolved by the conclusion of negotiations at the local level, they would be very quickly dealt with by the provincial bargaining table in an effort to conclude the provincial agreement.
If the member is talking about the ongoing administration of a local agreement, that is not sent to the provincial level. This is only around negotiations. That is resolved through the normal process of arbitrations, grievances and all of the other processes that are now in play under the Labour Relations Code.
G. Wilson: This is my last comment on this, and then maybe we need to find out where the members stand on the removal of an individual right to bargain locally. I fully understand what the minister is saying and that the ongoing administration of the contract is not done provincially. But in the provision of local agreements, given there is going to be.... This is an assumption; maybe I should have had the minister on record, but I'm assuming that once contracts terminate.... In fact, I think there is language in this bill that they all commence and end at one particular time provincewide, whether it's local or provincial, because under section 7(1) the collective agreement coming in has to include both provincial and local matters. Therefore they have to commence and end at one time. The problem is that there will be many issues that will be solved within two, four or six months locally. There may be other issues where negotiation could be ongoing for as much as a year, unless there is a process to somehow put a time restriction on local negotiation. Maybe the minister can comment on that. I had assumed that we all commence bargaining now and there is no provincial agreement until there is a successful resolution of all agreements.
Hon. E. Cull: Certainly there is no indication that the current system is conducive to speedy negotiations. But all local agreements will have to be concluded at the same time as a provincial agreement is concluded. There will be considerable pressure provincewide on those local boards that are having difficulty coming to a conclusion.
C. Serwa: Perhaps the minister can answer this question. Why did you not, under section 7(4), indicate clearly the provincial bargaining parameters, from all other matters of local issues. Why did the minister choose to confuse the situation by leaving an ambiguous line between local and
[ Page 11582 ]
provincial matters? It would have been more satisfactory if under section 7(4) you had specifically stated that those matters are provincial matters, period, and must be bargained provincially. Could the minister explain the reasoning behind that?
Hon. E. Cull: We have passed section 7; the member may have missed it. We're on section 8 right now. That question was canvassed with an amendment and I encourage the member to read Hansard.
C. Serwa: I'm sorry I missed that particular part of the debate. I've made some notes and I think I was engaged in conversation with another colleague at that time.
In agreements on local matters, again looking back at section 7 in reference to section 8, it appears to be a flip-flop situation. A matter may be local at one point in time, then be referred as a provincial matter and, I suppose, can be referred back as a local matter. Will that potential exist, or will those local matters be designated and stay as local issues?
Hon. E. Cull: A local matter is local matter, and a provincial matter is a provincial matter. If there is a dispute about a local matter that cannot be resolved at the local level, it can be referred to the provincial table to be resolved. That doesn't make it a provincial matter, it just makes it a local matter at the provincial table, so it doesn't change its status.
C. Serwa: In that situation, when a local issue is referred to provincial bargaining, is the matter then going to be concluded through arbitration at that point in time and reimposed back onto the local aspect of the contract?
Hon. E. Cull: The member may again have been discussing matters with other colleagues when I made this reference. The parties have rejected third-party arbitration as a way of resolving this. So there isn't any arbitration at the provincial level, apart from what could be voluntarily entered into under the normal provisions of the Labour Code.
Section 8 approved on the following division:
YEAS -- 37
NAYS -- 3
Section 9 approved on division.
On section 10.
Hon. E. Cull: Hon. Chair, I move the amendment that is in the possession of the Clerk; to amend as follows:
[Section 10(5) by deleting subsection 5.]
On the amendment.
G. Wilson: I can tell you how inherently unfair the system is, having been moving amendments all night. Both of us have largely the same list of amendments. The least the minister could have done was allow us to win one on this side.
Clearly we're speaking in favour of this amendment. I think this amendment is a good idea, and I would hope that all members would support it, and then we can vote down the whole section.
On section 10 as amended.
G. Wilson: I'd like to talk about the wisdom of the inclusion of subsection (3) under section 10, where it says: "Despite any other provisions of this Act or the Labour Relations Code, the bargaining unit does not include employees covered by a local agreement until the expiry of that local agreement." We simply don't need this section in there, because we have already canvassed thoroughly -- and I believe that this minister is on record as saying that those people....
I wonder, hon. Chair, if members who aren't interested in participating in this debate might want to.... I have no problem if nobody wants to participate in this debate, but they might want to carry their conversations on outside.
The Chair: The member's point is well taken. Would those members who do not wish to participate please do the member the courtesy of remaining silent so his comments can indeed be heard.
G. Wilson: It is interesting that the most telling part of this debate was the contribution by the Minister of Education just a minute ago, saying that this isn't debate, it's a monologue. The reason it is a monologue is that we haven't heard a word from that minister in the entire debate, which is quite shameful.
G. Wilson: However, hon. Chair, if we could come back to section 10(3).... I know that there's a lot of pent-up emotion, people having just witnessed the loss of the Canucks. That's unfortunate, we would agree.
We have agreed, and this minister has agreed, that there is really no need for subsection (3), because it is clear -- and I think we have already established that it's clear -- that those employees covered by local agreements will be able to re-enter negotiations or can apply for certification if they deem that necessary. So this language that says that the bargaining unit does not include employees covered by a local agreement until the expiry of that local agreement should simply be excluded, because it seems to run contrary to what this minister has been saying throughout the entire debate on this bill, with respect to the bargaining unit reflecting the status quo. Therefore I move an amendment that would simply delete subsection (3) from section 10.
[ Page 11583 ]
Hon. E. Cull: This is another one that has been proposed by the BCTF, and we have considered it already. It is totally contrary to the representations they have made to us all the way along that there be no changes to local agreements without participation and collective bargaining, and no early termination of current contracts. We have respected that. There are 17 contracts which continue beyond June 30: two until December of this year, and 15 until June 30, 1995. Those collective agreements will continue to cover those individuals. They do not become part of the bargaining unit under the definition of this act until those contracts expire, with the exception of two provisions in the act. One allows the teacher locals to unilaterally terminate their agreement and come under the provincial bargaining if they elect to do so before the end of June 1994. Under the other, on the agreement of both the employer and the employees, they can elect at any time, by mutual agreement, to terminate their contract and come under a provincial agreement.
The Chair: Member, I have to advise you that I am having some difficulty with the amendment. I think it has the effect of negativing another section of the act that has already been passed. Therefore I am not sure it can be in order. But I will allow the member to respond to the minister's comment.
G. Wilson: If the amendment has been ruled on -- and I take it that the ruling was that this amendment is not in order -- I would come back to the minister on section 10(3) and suggest that where inconsistencies may appear, they would be there with respect to the collective agreements and the viability of those collective agreements that have already been negotiated, in light of the fact that this government has deemed the BCTF to be the agent for those employees. If the act says -- and I think it does -- that they have deemed to make the BCTF the employee.... I see the minister shaking her head. I don't want to go back to visit past sections, but....
Hon. E. Cull: Section 10 is transitional. It sets out some rules that recognize that because there are 17 collective agreements that don't expire at the time that the vast majority of the collective agreements do, there is a need for some transition. The member is correct when he says that in a section we discussed earlier the legislation deems the BCTF to be the bargaining agent for the bargaining unit. But in this transitional section it says you don't become a part of the bargaining unit until your collective agreement expires or until you voluntarily, through one of the two provisions, elect to terminate it and come under the provincial agreement. You have to go back to the definitions: the bargaining agents, the bargaining units and the TF. The bargaining unit excludes these 17 until one of the sections of the act that we're discussing comes into application.
G. Wilson: On the 17 that will be excluded until their contracts expire, I have two questions. I confess that maybe I should have done this as part of my research. I haven't, and I am hoping the minister will know the total numbers in terms of membership of those 17. What are we talking about in size of districts that are excluded? It may impact on membership numbers with respect to the BCTF and the viability of the BCTF for the proposition that was made earlier. Second, what are the expiration dates of those contracts? How long have those contracts left to run, and is there a possibility that there is going to have to be negotiation on what constitutes a provincial matter or a local matter prior to the inclusion of those 17 units?
Hon. E. Cull: With respect to the number of teachers in those 17 school districts -- I think you were initially asking how many teachers they would include -- I don't have figures on that. Although the BCTF has used 40 percent as a number, I can't confirm that here tonight. I can give you the list of the districts, if that is of any use to you. Do you want me to? I can read it to you if you're interested. I don't see that that would be useful at this point. We can send it over to you. That might be the best thing to do. We can tell you, though, that two of the 17 contracts expire at the end of December of this year and the other 15 expire next June, so the longest any of the contracts have to go is to next June.
Unless one of the 17 school districts has agreed to terminate its contract and come under the provincial agreement, they are not covered by that agreement until their local one expires. In terms of what the BCTF does with respect to the negotiations of a provincial agreement, there's nothing in there that precludes them from involving the teachers in those 17 school districts in their discussions about the provincial agreement.
L. Stephens: I would like to discuss these 17 agreements a little, too. The present ones will expire after June 30, 1994, and each remains in force until its expiry date unless it is terminated by the local teachers' association by the June 30 deadline or by mutual agreement with the board. The provincial agreement in force at the time the agreement expires would then apply with respect to provincial matters. Terms respecting local matters would continue under the bridging language in the bill until a new collective agreement is executed by the provincial parties or until the agreement is terminated by a strike or a lockout. It's not clear whether there will be a duty to bargain the local issues when the old local agreement expires. If so, this effectively reopens a collective agreement, and strikes or lockouts, either locally or provincially, could be used to put pressure on the local parties to settle the local issues. Or the provincial parties could be required to negotiate them; if not, the local parties are stuck with their old agreement and, in some cases, with the imposed contracts for another six to eight months -- or whatever the length of time until the conclusion of the next round of provincial negotiations. Could the minister comment on the ramifications of this?
Hon. E. Cull: You were asking in that case.... You were referring to section 10(7). If a provincial agreement is in place, the terms of the provincial agreement apply to provincial matters as soon as the local agreement has expired. But because there has not been an opportunity to negotiate a local agreement, that local agreement is simply extended until such time as the provincial and local contracts come up for renegotiation. That ensures that no change is made without negotiation with the party to those local matters.
L. Stephens: So instead of those contracts that are expiring being rolled into the new provincial master agreement, they will simply continue until the next round of provincial bargaining is in place, and at that point they will be included in the new provincial bargaining.
Hon. E. Cull: With respect to provincial matters, they will roll in. However, there is no process for them to roll into a local contract, because they haven't negotiated it. So their existing local contract, as it applies to local matters, continues until you get to the point of renegotiating both.
[ Page 11584 ]
L. Stephens: The bridging language includes a provision requiring boards to grant employees leaves of absence without pay for provincial bargaining processes. Would the minister comment on that provision?
Hon. E. Cull: That provision is in schedule 2, and I would just as soon leave all of the debate about schedule 2 until we get to schedule 2, if the member will agree to that.
G. Wilson: I thank the minister for this list that she sent over. I realize it's not directly part of this bill, but these dates that are in this list presumably are the dates on which negotiations commence.
Hon. E. Cull: As I said in the note when I sent it over to the member, he now has the only copy of that list in the House. If I stand on my feet, I'm sure someone will bring it back to me and I can look at the dates. I simply looked at the list of districts.
There are two sets of information on here. There is an effective date of increases on here, but the dates of expiry are all shown on the right-hand side. Quesnel and Richmond expire on December 31, 1994, and all the rest of them expire on June 30, 1995.
G. Wilson: In terms of those agreements that expire in 1995, my understanding is that they will be negotiating an agreement through to 1995 that is going to remain intact. At the expiry date of that agreement, section 10 -- "Transitional -- collective agreements" -- is going to allow for those collective agreements to continue until such time as a provincial agreement supersedes them. Is that correct?
Hon. E. Cull: Perhaps I can best answer this question by giving an example. If the first provincial contract is negotiated for a two-year period starting on July 1, 1994, and concluding on June 30, 1996, we've established a provincial agreement. Those contracts that expire in June '95 will, for those matters that are provincial, be covered for one year by that provincial agreement, from June '95 to June '96. The other matters that are local, which are in their current collective agreement, will simply be continued for another year, until they have the opportunity to bargain again at the expiry of the overall collective agreement, which includes both the provincial and local matters.
G. Wilson: This brings me to the question that I was on a few minutes earlier, under section 10(3). So that means that there will be a provincial collective agreement that will apply, if we take the BCTF's numbers, to roughly 40 percent of the teachers in this province. They will not have had an opportunity to participate in its negotiation, neither will they have had an opportunity under this section, it would suggest, to participate in a strike vote or a strike on that matter. In other words, the province is going to negotiate a provincial agreement that's going to affect roughly 40 percent of the employees in one sector without them having an opportunity to participate in the negotiation. Is that right?
Hon. E. Cull: The member will understand that we had a very difficult issue to address here, because the original announcement that I made in March contemplated that all school districts, all teachers, would come under the provincial agreement at the same time. There was considerable objection to that from the teachers, who felt that was negating collective agreements that they had bargained in good faith -- and also from some school districts, for that matter, too. As a result of listening to the parties on this one, we agreed that those 17 districts which had ongoing contracts would be able to continue their contracts to the expiry date.
Now, in the scenario that I just outlined, the member is correct when he says that the 17 school districts would be coming into a provincial agreement partway through which they could not strike over or vote on for ratification. They may very well have been party to negotiations through the B.C. Teachers' Federation; they would have had the option through the BCTF to have participated in the negotiations and discussions that led to that agreement. But because we recognized that this was a difficult issue, and that we would not be able to satisfy all districts and all issues neatly and cleanly in this legislation, we provided two alternatives to districts. The teachers can decide unilaterally between now and the end of June that they would like to join the provincial arrangements immediately -- voluntarily terminate their agreement and come under the provincial agreement -- since they're eventually going to come under it in any event. That means they can then fully participate, including voting on the contract and participating in a strike, should that be the case. Subsequent to June 30, we still left the door open so that boards and teachers could mutually decide to do the same thing. We recognize that when the first provincial agreement is negotiated -- I'll be on the optimistic side; let's say we get one negotiated this fall -- one of those 17 districts with contracts that continue beyond June 30, 1994, might decide at that point that they would be better off under the provincial agreement. If so, they can do so.
G. Wilson: I think the minister can agree that members who believe in collective bargaining are going to have some problems with a provincewide agreement being struck in which you don't have the right to vote. You can't vote on it, but you're going to be covered by it. I think virtually any trade union member is going to have some concern about that. Secondly, you don't have the opportunity to participate in a strike.
My next question is: in the event that there's a lockout, I would assume that, since they can't participate in the strike and since they're not members of the bargaining unit, those districts are not going to be affected by a lockout. Is that also correct?
Hon. E. Cull: Yes.
G. Wilson: That brings up an interesting point, given that there's a provincial negotiation underway. If you look at those districts that will be excluded and won't be subject to lockout, they include Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and Victoria, which are the major districts. It's interesting to note that if you're going to be negotiating, and negotiating tough, with respect to bargaining -- and one would argue that they should, and taxpayers would hope that they're going to negotiate a fair and sensible agreement -- in which the largest of the unions are excluded from the bargaining unit but are going to be covered under whatever agreement is made, and they're not subject to a lockout, there isn't going to be the problem with some of these large, urban centres. This allows this new provincial group, the employers' association, to come forward and lock out some of the smaller communities in the province and enter into a provincial agreement that's going to affect Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, Nanaimo, Victoria, Richmond, and so on. Have I got that correct?
[ Page 11585 ]
Hon. E. Cull: The legislation allows the school districts, at the board and teacher level, to decide when they're going to move into provincial bargaining, if they have a contract that extends beyond June 30, 1994. To do anything else, to end them all on June 30, 1994, would be legislatively terminating agreements that had been negotiated in good faith. I would suspect that once this legislation has passed, those districts will take a hard look at these provisions and will make their decisions according to what they think is in their best interest.
G. Wilson: I note that the member for Prince George-Omineca wants to get in, so I will be really quick.
The minister has to agree, though, that this is a pretty shrewd tactic from the employer's point of view, because whether or not those large districts opt to let their contract run its course, they're still going to be subject to whatever is negotiated. It's a matter of time. Do we go in now or later? They're going to be covered.
If you can lock out and bring in an agreement that is very much substandard, because 40 percent of the people who are going to be affected by it are not able to participate in the negotiation because they're not members of the unit.... How on earth can this labour-oriented government contemplate that? If the Socreds had brought this in, this group would have the people on the streets, for heaven's sake. Isn't that true?
L. Fox: As interesting as the debate is, one observation I have before I ask my one question is that it seems to me that the associations will have an opportunity to vote, because they will vote at the local association level whether or not to opt into the provincial package. At that point, they will obviously have the opportunity to vote. Will it take a mutual agreement, reached at the local level between the board and the local association, to allow a decision to be made to accept the provincial package?
Hon. E. Cull: On June 30 of this year it will require both the board and the teachers' union to agree. We have provided a period of time which, as we debate, gets shorter. Until the end of June, the teachers' unions can voluntarily terminate their agreements and come into provincial bargaining at the end of June. It will start very soon, because the vast majority of collective agreements are up the end of this June.
L. Fox: I am sorry for being slow; I was trying to allow the answer to roll through my mind.
In other words, up until June 30 it does not require a board's approval for the local association to move into the provincial model, but once June 30 goes by it takes a negotiation at the local level to come to an agreement that the association can opt into the provincial model. Is that what I have heard?
Hon. E. Cull: I'll draw the member's attention to subsections 10(a) and (b). They outline those two options more clearly than I can state. The member is essentially correct in how he has paraphrased it.
C. Serwa: The question that comes to mind in this section has to deal with the right to strike in provincial matters. There is no difficulty in understanding that -- that provision was contained in Bill 20, the Teaching Profession Act.
What concerns me in this transitional situation is that if we have a provincial agreement but no agreement between the school district and the local teachers' association, what transpires then? Is there a time limit in which the agreement must be reached? I understand that if there are a number of issues, perhaps they would have to go to the provincial bargaining prior to that, as we have discussed. What happens if we have an agreement on provincial issues and not on local issues? Do they have a right to strike? I presume not.
Hon. E. Cull: No, they don't, because if a current collective agreement expires and a provincial agreement has been negotiated, provincial matters in that current collective agreement are subsumed in the provincial agreement; they come under it. The collective agreement on local matters is just extended until you get to the expiry date of the collective agreement.
Part of the difficulty is that you have to think of this as one collective agreement that has a provincial component and a local component. There's an expiry date. When your old pre-Bill 52 collective agreement expires -- if you're one of those 17 districts -- you automatically come under the provincial agreement, should it exist. Your local matters just continue as they were until you come to the expiry date of the collective agreement, where both provincial and local matters are then dealt with again.
C. Serwa: I thank the minister for the explanation, although the local issues are not quite clear to me. They will be bargained for locally outside the provincial bargaining process. What is confusing in this is that we're referring to a local collective agreement that was already reached between the bargaining system at the moment and local issues. I understand the difference. But we have local issues which, as the minister states, are a component of the total collective agreement. My question is: if there is a delay in reaching agreement on the local collective component after the provincial collective agreement has been reached, is there a time frame within which those matters have to be resolved? What recourse, for example, do teachers have if they're unable to reach an agreement?
Hon. E. Cull: Because there's one agreement, all of the agreements have to be concluded together. You can't conclude the provincial agreement and have it in effect and in force while local agreements are still being negotiated. That's why there's one expiry date. The transition period provides that everybody eventually gets to the same expiry date for both local and provincial agreements, and then they continue.
If we imagine ourselves several years out -- we've got past the transition period -- there will be local negotiations, and there will be provincial negotiations. They will have to come to a conclusion at the same time so the collective agreement can be ratified.
G. Wilson: I only have two other questions on section 10, and then I think we need to find out where the members stand on this. This is unbelievable stuff.
I notice that you've exempted the employers, presumably to be fair, in terms of their participation and so on. Insofar as local agreements will be provided for, the comment was made that teachers may be able to participate in the negotiation through the BCTF, even though they're not members of the unit. Section 10(3) says that it doesn't include employees covered by local agreements, and then it goes on to talk about local agreements being "deemed to remain in
[ Page 11586 ]
effect until the date on which a Provincial agreement is concluded."
Maybe because of the lateness of the hour my eyes are failing, but I don't see anywhere in here where it says that the employers' association is not bargaining on behalf of school boards that currently have a collective agreement in place. Is that there? I notice that employers whose local agreements have not expired must not participate in a lockout or vote, but are the boards still part of the employers' association?
Hon. E. Cull: The sections are parallel. It's a little confusing, I admit, to try to follow through exactly how all of this works. The employers' association, which is designated as the bargaining agent for the school boards.... There are not going to be any new collective agreements negotiated under the old arrangement, so the employers' association becomes the bargaining agent for the employers for this round of provincial bargaining. There isn't any bargaining outside of that. I'm not totally sure that I understand your point, but I think you're beginning to understand what I'm trying to explain.
G. Wilson: My point is simply that those local associations that have a collective agreement -- I've got a list of them here, and they include some of the largest ones -- are, on the expiry of their collective agreement, going to be subject to whatever the new collective agreement has done. When their collective agreement expires, they have to be covered by that agreement. If they want, they can vote to get in early if they think it's a better deal, but they're not allowed to participate in a vote or a strike action. Is that right? That's what I'm asking.
I recognize that, on the other hand, the employers' association is not allowed to participate in a vote or lockout under the same conditions, right? But it expressly exempts employees from being part of the unit, if they have an active collective agreement. There's nothing in here that expressly exempts boards from being a member of the employers' association negotiating the deal. So does the employers' association, say for the city of Vancouver, have the right to sit on and negotiate a contract that's going to cover the employees of Vancouver, if the employees of Vancouver can't vote or participate in the negotiations? That's my question.
Hon. E. Cull: There are two aspects here. We're continuing to have difficulty with the distinction between the bargaining unit and the bargaining agent. The bargaining unit has excluded the 17 districts whose teachers happen to have contracts that go on. They're not part of the bargaining unit. They're not precluded from having the BCTF as their bargaining agent. The same thing goes with the employers. The employers' association -- which is the bargaining agent, not the unit -- is designated as the agent for all of the boards, but they're only going to be negotiating in the initial round for the other 58, unless some of the 17 opt to come in early. So the employers' association will be bargaining on behalf of the 58. A provincial agreement will be negotiated. And the other contracts will continue their natural course until they expire and come in, unless they decide to come in earlier.
On the comment I've made about the negotiations, in any negotiations either the employer or the employee has the option to consult with all kinds of people. I imagine that should a large district like Vancouver decide to not avail itself of the provisions to come in early, they would be keenly interested in the outcome of provincial bargaining and would be involved in those discussions through their association.
G. Wilson: The minister recognizes that there is a problem when you have a membership -- say in Vancouver -- of I don't know how many hundred teachers and a board of a dozen, 16 or however many board members there are. It's quite a difference, in terms of the impact of a collective agreement under which you're going to have to be governed, when you have no right to participate in its negotiation or certainly no right to vote for it. Philosophically, that's a problem. It's a problem when you're imposing on an individual a collective agreement that they don't have a right to vote on, yet you're giving the employers' association a greater opportunity for input from the employer -- the board -- by virtue of numbers.
Anyway, let's not get argumentative over that point. We'll agree to disagree on that. My guess is that it's a problematic point for a lot of people, including boards. I think the boards would have some difficulty with this, because they're going to have to live with the agreement just as the teachers are. That's going to be expensive.
My last question may be better canvassed under schedule 2, and I'll take guidance on this if that's true. It has to do with the conditions in existing agreements and whether we really are at ground zero. When this group that has an existing collective agreement enters into the provincial agreement, at that point is there an opportunity to carry forward conditions that may be similar or parallel to the negotiation that may have taken place, and therefore to grandfather in those issues negotiated previously? Or does this strip the agreements as they have been negotiated locally?
Hon. E. Cull: First, there's a considerable similarity between the collective agreements in the 75 districts. There's a lot of similar language, so if the parties negotiate to continue that language it would remain the same as it is right now.
Those of us who have participated in collective bargaining all know that, theoretically, everything is on the table at each new set of negotiations, but in practice it never is. Of course it isn't; each one comes to the table with a list of things they want to add and things they want to take away, and they generally try to come up with as short a list as possible -- although I've seen some pretty crazy requests in my time -- so they can focus on the things they really want to add to or subtract from an agreement. But as you enter into the round in any collective bargaining, there's nothing that protects every clause in the agreement. The employer or the union can always put it on the table for renegotiation.
G. Wilson: I just want to quickly respond. In the years that I negotiated -- which were a few -- there was always an agreement prior to negotiating between the union and the employer as to what was on the table. You didn't just say that the whole collective agreement was up for negotiation. In fact, in most contracts that have been negotiated by the BCTF -- not all, but most -- there is a provision for many of the negotiated conditions to carry forward.
G. Wilson: The member is saying that I'm wrong. In fact, I'm not wrong; I am right. At the expiry date of the agreement, in most instances -- not all, but most -- there is a provision for that agreement and those conditions to continue to apply. The employer and the employee negotiate
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what's going to be on the table, and I would think there would have to be some provision to make sure that contract-stripping doesn't happen.
Hon. E. Cull: We're just dealing in semantics here. Of course, there's a provision in the Labour Code -- I think it's section 45 -- which provides that all conditions in a collective agreement continue after the expiry date and into bargaining. When the parties come to the table for the first time, they put their lists on the table and start negotiating. I'm just saying that theoretically, an employer or a union could come to the table with every item. It would be impractical; they'd be there forever. It's unlikely that they would successfully negotiate them. I'm trying to illustrate the point that there is nothing in practice or in law that says certain provisions can't be renegotiated.
Section 10 as amended approved on division.
On section 11.
L. Stephens: This section is about transitional accreditations. We talked a little earlier in section 8 about the ability of local boards to form groups or associations to bargain locally. Would they need to be accredited in some way? Would those local boards need to have some kind of formal accreditation process? What would be the process for them to follow to form those groups or associations?
Hon. E. Cull: You can't have two accredited bargaining agents with exclusive bargaining authority. You'd never be able to resolve who could do what. What this does is remove the accreditation of those organizations; I think there are four existing accreditations. We've already talked to those organizations and explained to them the problem of being accredited when there is another accredited agent. It doesn't negate what I said a few minutes ago. There is still the possibility for boards to come together and voluntarily do this. They just can't do it as an accredited bargaining agent.
Sections 11 to 13 inclusive approved on division.
On section 14.
G. Wilson: I just have a quick question. If the minister could tell me, what is the...? I just don't understand the relevance under section 43 of the code. Why are they doing this? I'm sure it's quite simple. I just don't know what it is.
Hon. E. Cull: The employers' associations, under the Public Sector Employers Act, are not designated as the accredited bargaining agents on behalf of their sector. What this does is make the education employers' association the accredited bargaining agent.
I see the member looks puzzled. There are some people who misunderstand the role of the employer associations. Under the Public Sector Employers Act, it doesn't necessarily make them the accredited bargaining agent. They are in some cases; for example, the Health Employers' Association is. I don't know whether there are any others, but it's a variable item. They are not there to be the provincial bargaining agent unless the group decides to do that, unless history has dictated that, as in health, or unless, in this case, it's the subject of this act.
Section 14 approved on division.
On section 15.
L. Stephens: I'd like some clarification on this amendment. Does it relate to allowing a change of certification or revocation of certification -- which goes back to section 6 of the act -- and make the necessary amendments to the School Act?
Hon. E. Cull: I'm sorry, there's a fair bit of noise in here, and I was unable to hear some of the question. So could the member repeat it? Some of the members perhaps could take their conversations outside so I could hear the questions.
L. Stephens: I too cannot quite hear the minister's reply, and I would agree with the minister's comment. I will repeat it.
I'd like to know and have some clarification on this particular amendment to the School Act. Does it make the amendment to the School Act -- that which is provided in section 6(2) of this bill -- that allows a change of certification or revocation of certification? Could the minister explain or clarify whether that is in fact what this is doing, allowing for this option in the School Act?
Hon. E. Cull: This section doesn't have any effect on section 6(2), if that's what the member is asking. It simply deals with the definition of teachers' union as it has been defined in this act, and eliminates the definition of association, which the member, if she is familiar with the act, will know is a provision that has not been availed of by any of the districts.
L. Stephens: No, I'm not that familiar with the act, and in particular this part of it. Do the provisions repeal the associate bargaining provisions which provide teachers with an option for non-trade-union negotiation of agreements governing terms and conditions of employment?
Hon. E. Cull: The act establishes that there is only one bargaining agent for all of them, so it doesn't permit one local to have a different bargaining agent or, in fact, no bargaining agent at all.
L. Stephens: If we can go back just once more to the employee bargaining agent in section 6(2), it says: "Despite subsection (1), sections 18, 19 and 33 of the Labour Relations Code with respect to the change of bargaining agents and revocation of bargaining rights apply to union representation of the bargaining unit." Does this consequential amendment relate in any way to that section?
Hon. E. Cull: No, it does not.
C. Serwa: I have a quick question on the repeal of the definition of association. By repealing that, we're prohibiting if in the future the teachers wanted to go to an association model. By removing that definition, is that the net effect of that deletion?
Hon. E. Cull: If in the future the teachers seek to decertify and be represented by something that isn't a union, they can do that under section 6(2). That provision is available to workers under those sections of the Labour Code that are referenced in section 6(2).
C. Serwa: There is an option at the present time. If, in the wisdom of the majority of teachers, they choose the association model, they can still bargain provincially under the
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association model rather than the union model. By repealing this, you are removing that potential. That's the net effect of it.
Hon. E. Cull: The framework that created associations under Bill 20 was a local system; it doesn't apply to provincial bargaining. As a result of going to a provincial bargaining agent, it no longer has any relevance.
G. Wilson: We need to clarify this, because I now stand a little confused. The act being amended says that a teachers' union means an association of teachers that is certified as the bargaining agent for the teachers in a school district under the Industrial Relations Act. I would assume that this means that by repealing that definition and putting in this definition, you are simply saying that you can no longer associate locally; that you must be subject to a provincewide union bargaining process. Surely that's all that means.
Hon. E. Cull: You cannot be certified locally; you can only be certified provincially.
C. Serwa: There is an organization called B.C. Teachers for Association. Will this have any effect on that group of teachers? They are members of the BCTF, but they also belong to an association model.
Hon. E. Cull: It won't have any effect on them.
Sections 15 to 19 inclusive approved on division.
On section 20.
G. Wilson: I'm sorry, hon. Chair. You did 18 and 19, which was inclusive of 28. Is that correct?
The Chair: That is correct.
Sections 20 to 22 inclusive approved on division.
On schedule 1.
G. Wilson: I just wonder why there wasn't an inclusion in schedule 1 of all other districts that have a very similar situation. The minister started to allude to this. I forget what section it was in the early hours of this debate. But there are a number of other districts where this inclusion is critically important. One of the reasons that we've pushed for this issue of whether they're in the bargaining unit or not, whether they're there by voluntary concern or should be included, and so on.... By virtue of their exclusion here, can the minister offer us full assurance that that is not in any way going to preclude their right to continue under the collective agreement that currently governs them at the expiration of that agreement? That's critically important to those people.
Hon. E. Cull: Yes, I can confirm that. Schedule 1 simply deals with those who are certified, but it does not remove the rights of those who have voluntarily come under collective agreements.
Schedule 1 approved on division.
On schedule 2.
Hon. E. Cull: I move the amendment that is in the possession of the Clerk; to amend as follows:
[In Schedule 2, delete the following:
Term of agreement/renegotiation
2. Except as provided in the Public Education Labour Relations Act, this agreement will continue in full force and effect after the expiry date in this agreement until
(a) a new collective agreement is executed between the employers' association and the Provincial union, or
(b) this agreement is terminated by a strike by the Provincial union or a lockout by the employers' association.]
Amendment approved on division.
Schedule 2 as amended approved on division.
Hon. E. Cull: Hon. Chair, I move the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendment.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Bill 52, Public Education Labour Relations Act, 1994, reported complete with amendment.
The Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as reported?
C. Serwa: Hon. Speaker, there was some confusion in Committee of the Whole. There was a request for division, and the Chair of the Committee of the Whole went through the process and left us with the impression that we would have the opportunity at this point. The reality is that we will not have an opportunity for division until third reading comes. Not knowing when third reading will be committed, we wanted to request division on the title, as we had indicated. I don't know whether it's possible to undo what has been done, but there is a point of confusion here.
Hon. E. Cull: I appreciate there was some confusion at the end of committee, and I regret that. I know that the member did want to call a division. By leave, we can have the vote on third reading now with the members who have been here all evening long debating it.
The Speaker: Is it agreed? The hon. member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast.
G. Wilson: I recognize the fact that this government is likely to pass this legislation, albeit with a slim margin. I do think it important that the vote be registered. Because of the confusion, if leave could be granted for third reading to take place now so a division vote can be taken, I think that would be an acceptable solution.
The Speaker: The question is third reading of the bill, and a division is called.
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Motion approved on the following division:
YEAS -- 34
NAYS -- 3
Bill 52, Public Education Labour Relations Act, read a third time and passed.
Committee of Supply A, having reported resolutions, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. J. MacPhail moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 10:22 p.m.
The House in Committee of Supply A; G. Brewin in the chair.
The committee met at 2:52 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD
On vote 11: minister's office, $291,891 (continued).
H. De Jong: The critic of the loyal opposition was trying to tell us last night about the uses of pesticides and fertilizers. He was reading from a report by Loblaws, which is a big chain store in eastern Canada. The sale of pesticides and fertilizers were for home gardeners, I assume, because I don't think Loblaws sells fertilizer in bulk form like Buckerfield's and Green Valley here in British Columbia. I think those comments about the abusive use of fertilizers are misleading, because Loblaws, like many other big chain stores, really don't have qualified people in the store to begin with. They don't have the staff to advise people on what should be used, how much should be used, and so on, even though there may be some directions given on the packages in which those commodities are sold.
I would hate to see a concern expressed here that the use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides by British Columbia farmers is abusive in nature, because that was not the intention of the Loblaws report. I'm sure that the member of the opposition did not intend to say that, but bringing that kind of information into the debate is misleading to begin with. If there is that kind of abuse by home gardeners, then perhaps the ministry may do well to send out some proper information from time to time to the stores that sell those materials to the general public to tell them that they must have knowledgeable staff who can properly advise the general public how to use -- not abuse -- those types of things. So much for that.
I refer back to a discussion I had last night. I note here, in the discussions held earlier yesterday afternoon on the Thompson report, that the minister made the comment: "I think you would have to agree that farmworkers should not be singled out as not being worthy of the same kind of protection as other working people have."
I do not disagree with that statement, but I think we have to be very careful, because in the agricultural community the times and hours of farm work, particularly during harvest season, do not relate to the average eight-hour jobs provided to college folk -- young people who are starting in the workforce.
I believe the most critical thing in the Thompson report is that agriculture is not considered a unique industry. I hope the minister will convey to those in charge of implementing the Thompson report the uniqueness of agriculture. Perhaps the minister may wish to make some further comments on this.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Thank you for your comments about the responsible use of pesticides. As you are aware, our extension people advise people in industry on responsible use, and the nursery tradespeople also work with them. We are leaders in integrated pest management, which is a non-toxic, non-chemical biological method. It is promoted, and the uptake has been significant. While we're leaders in integrated pest management, I would recognize that our producers are also leaders, because they pay the full price for these costly items and they want to keep costs down. I would have to see the details of the report that was quoted by the owner of Loblaws, but if there is something more that the ministry can do to encourage responsible advice by store-owners, we will certainly be happy to do that.
Your second item was the Thompson report. I recognize the uniqueness of agriculture. To some extent fisheries is unique as well. I recognize agriculture is unique because of what happens at harvest time. When the crops are ripe, they need to be harvested, and there are problems with shift work and so on. I recognize the dairy industry has split-shifts; by necessity, that is the nature of the work. We recognize that, and I think Thompson recognized this as well because quite a number of his provisions were unique to agriculture. He pointed out the uniqueness of the industry. I can, I have and I will keep that message before the Minister of Skills, Training and Labour.
H. De Jong: I was glancing over this joint news release by the British Columbia and Canadian governments regarding the Green Plan projects to sow seeds of agricultural awareness. With all the good intentions of many programs that are in here, certainly agricultural awareness is very important. I think the people in the urban centres should know what the farmer is up against. I hope they don't only
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show all the nice things about farming but that they also show some real aspects of farming to the community.
Further, I would like to ask the minister if there still can be changes made in these allocations. Are they already confirmed? The agricultural fairs have provided a real base of information for the general public. Unless agricultural fairs are combined with some high-class entertainment, which is very costly to obtain, they have real problems balancing their books. The Central Fraser Valley Fair -- and it's a well-run fair -- has tried for many years to stay as agriculturally oriented as possible; it simply did not draw the crowd. I'm sure it's the same thing in Chilliwack; they have a similar fair. Both of them have had to draw higher-class entertainment in order to get the people to the fair. Once they're there, they enjoy all of it, but it takes a special drawing-card to get people to come out on a weekend and spend a day or two at the fair.
There has been very little increase, if any, for quite a number of years in the allocation of moneys for agricultural fairs. I wonder if there is more money in this program that could be allocated to agricultural fairs. Does the minister have a slush fund that he could perhaps reallocate to give the fairs a little boost? They certainly need it; they're one of the best educational programs.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: On the question of broad eligibility for Green Plan money and whether fairs would be eligible, we think they would be. All the money has not been allocated, but the decisions are made by an advisory committee that has six farm managers on it. It's chaired by Larry Campbell. If that committee deemed that those were of high priority, then they would be granted. Funding for the fairs has generally been maintained. This year, it's $372,000. One of the criteria how the fair caters to agricultural awareness. I agree with you that fairs have a bit of a problem balancing their books. The ones that tend to be successful are the ones that charge a general fee and have a number of functions going on.
Sorry, I'm mistaken. The chair is actually John Schmidt, an Okanagan fruit grower, and he's the one who advises the Green Plan. There is some scope there. I can't guarantee that funding would be available to fairs. It would depend on the particular program, and it would have to be seen as a priority by the Green Plan committee.
H. De Jong: From his comments, I gather that the minister is in support of the fact that agriculture fairs provide a good amount of education to people. They can see many aspects of farming in action there. As I go through the list on this release, many other projects here also have an educational nature. When I look at that, I believe that the fairs should be considered. My question to the minister is whether, as Minister of Agriculture, he would make a strong proposition to the committee that the fairs that are of a general agriculture nature -- and they're all classified in certain classes -- would get a share of the available Green Plan funding.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I can't guarantee that Green Plan money will go to fairs; I'm saying they can apply for it. I won't interfere in the decisions of that committee. But we do support the fairs in a number of ways. We expect Buy B.C. programs to advertise at the fairs; we expect that there will be a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Ministry of Agriculture at a number of those fairs; and, as you know, our staff often act on fairs committees to raise awareness. But with respect to where we spend our resources -- whether we should spend more on awareness and less on support -- that's a very difficult call. I think we have to spend the money we devote to agricultural awareness carefully and try to lever it as much as we can. We think the spending on fairs provides a lot of awareness for the money, because there are so many volunteer hours involved and so much on display that you couldn't purchase for the amount we provide.
H. De Jong: I understand that the minister cannot change the direction of the committee or influence the final decision-making. However, what I asked the minister was whether he would encourage that committee to look at whether the fairs could be funded through the Green Plan.
Further to that, the municipalities of Abbotsford and Matsqui, for example, provide a grant each year to the Central Fraser Valley Fair -- which draws people and exhibitors from Deroche, Agassiz, Pitt Meadows, Langley, Delta and all over the lower mainland and perhaps even beyond -- in the neighbourhood of $50,000, which is considerably more than that particular fair was getting from the province itself. Taking that into consideration, if it's really an important project, where the community gets involved to the degree that the two municipal councils do, plus the chamber of commerce which puts on a field day each year in conjunction with that, I believe it really deserves some sincere consideration.
I certainly hope that the minister will put his best foot forward to garner that support for the fairs in the province so they can in fact not just be successful, but can be maintained as an educational process for our young people and for city dwellers.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I can be specific about one of the objectives of the Green Plan dollars, and that's to increase the level of public awareness of key activities being undertaken by the agrifood industry in addressing environmental issues. So if there's anything that a fair wishes to put forward that can support that activity, I have no problem supporting it. It's about awareness, and I think we need more awareness. And if this is the pot of money that's available to increase the amount of funding for awareness, then that's what we should look at.
H. De Jong: I thank the minister for his support on that issue.
My last couple of questions are going to zero in on the Agricultural Land Commission and its operations. There has been a lot of good work done by the Agricultural Land Commission in long-term planning and so on. As I have stated at other times when we are dealing with issues regarding the Agricultural Land Commission, the commission seems to be somewhat shortsighted in terms of the agricultural pursuits being pursued by many people in the lower mainland and, I am sure, in other parts of the province as well. Much more high-density farming is being entertained by various people -- not just entertained, but they're going into it or intend to go into it. I'm not suggesting that we ask the land commission to make a blanket policy in terms of cutting up larger acreages into smaller ones to accommodate that. I believe there are certain areas that are better for one type of farming than another. I'm thinking specifically of the floodplain areas, where the land is exceptionally good for dairy farming and crop farming on the larger scale, be it peas or corn or whatever the case may be. We do have the high-density areas, and many of the chocolate-loam types of soils up in the higher levels in the lower mainland are very suitable for a great variety of crops.
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Yet every now and then I hear a person intending to purchase a piece of land say: "I really only need ten or 15 acres to accommodate my business; I could make a good living, run a good family farm, but the Land Commission is not about to allow a 40-acre farm to be cut up into two or three pieces."
We can stand here as long as we want holding up the good aspects of the Agricultural Land Commission and the agricultural land reserve for the protection of the farmer, but it should also be in tune with the farming techniques that are currently being carried out and are intended to be carried out by people in the future. I would like to know from the minister whether the Land Commission has given any indication of looking at those kinds of applications more seriously than they have in the past, instead of just flatly refusing.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: There exists a large number of small-acre lots that are available for enterprises in the Fraser Valley. B.C. has one of the highest parceled land bases for agriculture. In other words, there are a lot more parcels per square acre than there are in most other jurisdictions. That is one of the reasons why the commission is loath to create more parcels when some already exist for operations. If you can show us an example of somebody who is interested in an operation but can't find any, and where the Land Commission cannot show us some, then I think they should reconsider that. But there are cases where they have considered subdivision. In the Okanagan, for example, 100-acre lots are being subdivided down to 35- or 40-acre lots for orchards. With a large number of parcels already, it's not seen as necessary to put a lot more on the market right now.
H. De Jong: I have to disagree with the observation of the staff of the Agricultural Land Commission, because most farms that are now being started are in the ten- and 15-acre range. The only areas where they are successful in obtaining 20- or 15-acre parcels are on the floodplains; they are not on the highland. There may be a lot of parceling that has already happened on the high land in years gone by. But the land that is available on the floodplains is not as suitable for those pursuits as the highland. The ten- and 15-acre parcels up in the highland are for sale one week, and they're gone the next week. It's not because there is an abundance of those types of acreages available for those specific crops that can be very successfully grown on those soils. Again, I believe that the Land Commission is not only short-sighted but wrong with regard to the good for the agricultural community and the good use of agricultural land.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: We'd have to examine the situation closer, and you'd have to provide me with evidence. The commission says that there are many lots and acres available in Langley and Matsqui; in fact, there are so many lots in Matsqui that the mayor is interested in having a consolidation of parcels because there are just too many available. These are not on the floodplain, though some are, but the member was concerned particularly about areas that are above the floodplain. We didn't bring all the maps, but I'd be happy to provide information on lots available.
H. De Jong: I suggest the Land Commission is wrong in its observation. Either the mayor of Matsqui or the mayor of Abbotsford propose that smaller parcels -- those in the floodplain areas, not up on high land -- should be consolidated.
R. Chisholm: I wasn't going to bring this subject up again, but the hon. member for Abbotsford did, so I will clarify the issue. Neither this House nor the people of British Columbia have been misled.
Globe '92 happened to be a rather large endeavour on the part of the world that happened in Vancouver. The vice-president of Loblaws was speaking to Globe '92 in Vancouver. He stated that in the production of food we consume, the use of fertilizer was up 900 percent and herbicides 3,200 percent. He also reported the results of a survey published in the March 6, 1994, edition of B.C. Agriculture, which said that 29 percent of farmers had decreased the amount of chemicals used in the production of foodstuffs for the population and 39 percent had not even contemplated their use.
The problem is not yet solved. As far as the minister is concerned, the sterile insect program is ongoing, and while we are developing other means, we still have to look at the chemicals, not only those used in farm application but what we as a society use, because agricultural land is affected. I hope that is clarified for the member for Abbotsford, because it is still a big problem: there are far too many chemicals in use at the present time, some of which are rather suspect.
M. de Jong: I must confess that I haven't been here. I tried to read the Blues, some of which have just been made available, so I hope the minister will excuse me if I cover some ground that he's already canvassed. In addition, I take it from the questions of the member for Abbotsford that we're now into some of the ALR areas. Is that correct?
The Chair: Not necessarily, hon. member, but the experts are here to help. If this is your time, then they're ready for you -- I think.
M. de Jong: I don't intend taking too much of the committee's time, so I'll just go through my list.
With regard to the agricultural land reserve, I wonder if the minister is aware that within the central and eastern Fraser Valley, some difficulties have occurred with applications from educational institutions, particularly the Mennonite Educational Institute in Matsqui, the University College of the Fraser Valley, and the Dasmesh Punjabi School. All these applications from the Matsqui and Abbotsford areas have arisen where organizations have endeavoured to establish and expand schools into lands designated under the ALR. It's trite to say that the ALC has some legitimate concerns about encroachments into protected and designated lands. It is not lost on me that the minister probably attended a school that was built in a rural area, as I did, and that were the same approaches now being taken by the ALC applied back when he and I went to school, we wouldn't have been going to school in those facilities. Rural people don't want to have to bus their students into town for them to go to school. In my view, they have a legitimate expectation that some schools would be built where they reside.
I would ask the minister to give us some indication of the approach his ministry intends to take in promoting this idea of allowing agricultural lands to be used to service the education needs of agricultural people. I'm sure I don't have to, but I would alert the minister to the fact that in two of the three applications I've mentioned, my recollection is that they were not applications to remove land from the ALR but were simply land-use permits restricted to that particular use.
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Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I'm told that the commission will allow agricultural land for rural schools. What we're dealing with when we're dealing with educational establishments is essentially an urban use, and they are advised to purchase urban land. In the case of the Langley campus, I understand that they bought land that was zoned for institutional development, and then they applied for their agricultural program to use some agricultural land. They were granted a permit to build their greenhouses on that, so they're using agricultural land for an agricultural purpose and using the higher-density institutional land for the institutions.
The colleges, in Matsqui and the two you mentioned, are both serving more than just rural students. It's not like an elementary school or a high school in a rural area. These are people drawn from all over the province, though substantially from the valley.
M. de Jong: Maybe I could particularize the issue a little better for the minister. In the case of the Mennonite Educational Institute, which was constructed in what is certainly a rural area, the minister is correct when he suggests that it draws a student population that is both urban and rural in nature. The fact of the matter, however, is that it is surrounded on all sides by land that has been designated ALR. In the time I have been living in the area, it has not been land that is farmed. I know the minister hears that argument all the time: "We have never seen this land farmed in our lifetimes." Nonetheless, that is the reality. The facility was granted the right to exist there. It has grown and now requires room to expand, and it is hemmed in. The authorities refuse to acknowledge the facility's need to grow. What I'm hearing the minister say is that in some of these areas, the only types of educational institutions that will get approval are schools dedicated exclusively to agricultural instruction. His response -- and it may have been unintentional, and I'd like him to clarify -- suggests that even an elementary school located on the Matsqui Prairie or the Sumas Prairie would not receive consideration from the ALR.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: We have to be aware that some of these educational institutions are looking for inexpensive land, so they choose agricultural rather than urban land. What I said, and I think the record will bear that out -- I'll use the example of Peace River or some other rural area where there's only agricultural land -- is that if a school needs to serve the local population, then that land use would be allowed because no other land is available.
In the case of the examples you mentioned, at least one was a modest institution that now wants to grow, so a modest use was approved, but it wasn't planned for; they wanted to expand. So you get a situation where they have started in one area and want to continue in the area. But they didn't foresee that they would become a larger establishment. A modest incursion into the land reserve may not bother agriculture uses of the land, but anything that's more advanced in its development will. There is the land reserve, and there is land outside the reserve that can be purchased. People have to be directed to do that if they want any significant urban use.
M. de Jong: I understand what the minister is saying. I'm not sure, however, that the response will.... It certainly won't satisfy the people making these applications. I'm not sure the logic will withstand close scrutiny by them, but I return to the original point. When you are saying to people, who look beyond the walls of the institution that they have built at land that for 60, 70 or 80 years, or in living memory, has never sustained any agricultural development or production.... To then suggest to the directors of an educational institution like the University College that they have to go elsewhere and pay top dollar and incur all of the additional costs that go along with establishing a second campus because you're not going to allow a five-hectare encroachment on neighbouring lands of marginal agricultural policy, leaves a feeling that the ALR is protecting its mandate in a very zealous way without regard for other economic realities and difficulties facing institutions like the University College, the MEI and the Dasmesh Punjabi School. It's one thing for governments to stand up and proclaim their absolute commitment to the concept of freedom of access to education and freedom to select educational institutions -- that's easy to do. It means something quite different when these obstacles are permitted to remain in the road of people who want to avail themselves of that right.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I don't know where you would draw the line. What's the difference between an educational institution and a hospital or a commercial centre that's servicing the population? There's an urban institutional use or commercial use involved, and that's different from farm use.
So I think the line has been drawn. Exceptions are not being made for larger educational establishments that have an urban-centre type use and do not need to be placed way out on agricultural land. In the case of University College, they are looking at increasing density and at alternatives for increasing their parking. So there are some alternatives within the same site.
The lands you speak of are in no cases marginal lands; that's why they're being held in the reserve. They're high-capability lands, and the fact that some of them may not be presently used doesn't mean that in the future, as demand for agricultural products increases, they won't be used. The reserve may have some land in it that the owners choose not to farm. There is no requirement for them to farm, and they may choose not to.
M. de Jong: One of the difficulties I have when I am confronted with questions on these issues is that I am approached by directors from the college board or the Mennonite Educational Institute or the Dasmesh Punjabi School who say to me: "What is the difference between taking prime, flat prairie agricultural land on Sumas Prairie, Matsqui Prairie or the Fraser River basin and putting 60 acres of glass across it, or some such activity, and letting us put our educational facility there?" The argument is put to me: "There are lots of marginal areas -- areas up in the hills, lands with marginal soil contents -- that could sustain that type of activity. We can't build our school, but we see prime agricultural land being roofed over."
I live there and drive by these facilities, and I must confess that I think the same things myself. Perhaps it's time that we considered distinguishing the uses of some of the land within the ALR.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Perhaps a more correct analogy to greenhouses would be barns and so on. You still have an essential use, but some of the uses of barns involve waste problems. You mentioned hog farms; you also have mushrooms, which are under roof and could be on the hills, but they have a waste disposal problem, so some of them have to be located there.
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With respect to greenhouses, you have a point, but we have to come back to locating agricultural activities there. Also, greenhouses have to be in an agricultural zone because people complain about the lights, for example. They're under increasing urban pressure and need a buffer from urban areas. Sure, they could go on the hills. I think we have to examine all these things, sort them out and get our thinking clear. Every time I'm brought one of these cases by someone like you who has found consistency with the commission, it's only through the consistency of saying no to certain types of operations that we've been able to keep the land reserve relatively intact. I think every one should be examined. Of course the easiest way is to put it off to the commission and explain that they're unreasonable, but I know you wouldn't do that. You want to be able to answer people, and if there's sense to it, you want to be able to back it up. My experience in the short time I've been minister is that in examining these, I find there's some consistency, but I think things are evolving. As we get into more intensive uses, we are going to have to examine the compatibility of those uses.
The agricultural reserve was designated for agriculture purposes. So we have to be considerate of uses that are like greenhouses and give them a place to operate, so they have the comfort that it is an agriculture use and is surrounded by people who understand agriculture.
M. de Jong: On the question of agricultural uses.... I didn't have a chance to read through yesterday afternoon's Blues. Was the whole issue of vermiculture dealt with yesterday?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: It was addressed by the member for Abbotsford. I recognized that it certainly looks like a farm use and probably is one. As these activities evolve, we have to be liberal in our interpretation of what farm uses are. There are many more examples similar to the example of raising worms.
M. de Jong: I take it from the minister's response that he has indicated to the member for Abbotsford that he will make representations to the Assessment Authority along the lines of what he said. I confess I'm somewhat new to the whole vermiculture trade, but I assume his comments pertain to both container vermiculture and free-range vermiculture.
I have one other question, because I have received some inquiries in that area. I realize this is an area of agriculture in its infancy. Does the ministry provide any enhancement, such as education funding, start-up funding or anything along those lines?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: There's no program for start-up per se, but there's information. It's the role of the extension people to counsel people to get involved in different kinds of activities and to look carefully at new opportunities. In some regions and in some sectors -- the Peace River particularly -- there is money. The Peace River strategy group has money of their own. If someone comes up with an idea and wants to get the information and do feasibility work, it is possible to do that with a view to introducing a new venture within the diversification of agricultural production.
The other example I've used is the beef industry development fund. It's probably one of the largest. They have money under their control allowing them to look at marketing opportunities or crop production methods that pertain to that industry. In a sense, it's start-up, but I think you may be alluding to somebody who wants to start up something that may be higher risk. No, there isn't a program addressing that.
M. de Jong: The minister mentioned a couple of general funds that he might plug people into. Is there anything similar that might be applicable in the southern part of the province for projects of this sort -- general sources?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: The programs tend to be somewhat specific, but there is the farm business management, the DATE, Demonstration of Agricultural Technology and Economics, and some of the research funds.... We mentioned earlier the Green Plan funds and the integrated pest management program. Some of those relate to specifics. If they're leading edge in those areas, there may be some funds. But any particular group or individuals would be advised to contact the ministry and look at what is available. There may be some contribution in kind that gets them to the point where a lending institution will help them start up.
M. de Jong: One of the issues that is an ongoing concern, I'm sure, for the minister and for those involved in the agricultural sector is the difficulties associated.... There are two things, really. In the grandest sense, the survival of the traditional family farm is something that I think all of us are concerned about, particularly when we see the numbers the ministry was able to provide for me. They suggest that from 1971, when there were 16,500 family farms, to the last census of that sort in 1991, that figure was down to 9,500.
I must confess there is data in these figures that indicates to me it's not as direct a drop as I've just indicated. Some of those people have gone elsewhere within the agricultural sector. Nonetheless, there is a demonstrated decline in the number of families who derive their incomes from operating a family farm.
There is an equally dramatic increase in the number of dual-income families, in the sense that they operate a farm but have to augment their income with other employment. That is the reality of what's taking place. There's only so much I can see government do, but I think government can try to look at the situation that has developed and respond in ways that take into account the difficulties these families are having.
The member for Abbotsford spoke earlier, in dealing with ALR issues, about the need to recognize the viability of smaller parcels of land. He addressed it from that perspective, and the minister responded. I think it's fair to say that there was not consensus at the end of that discussion. My point in pursuing this issue relates more to the economic reality that the offspring of farmers are no longer in a position to assume conduct of the family farm. They can't purchase it. The eldest son, the youngest son or the eldest daughter can't purchase that farm. If it's a dairy operation or a poultry operation, it's outside the bounds of their economic ability, so other ways have to be examined to ease those younger people into the farming operation. A gradual assumption of the farm implies that for some period of time, at least, most of the folks who have built up these farms -- the parents -- don't want to leave the farm. The child who wants to raise a family and run the farm obviously wants to live there, yet we place these impediments in the way of these people to the extent that we say quite boldly and directly that two families can't live there. They just won't be permitted to live on the same farm.
I wonder if the minister can indicate in a general way his view of that very real situation, and whether he would be prepared to concede or grant some leeway within the ALR to
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accommodate those sorts of situations where it is purely a case of families endeavouring to find a means of passing the farm from one generation to the next without a massive million-dollar payout, which these children just can't afford.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I thank the member for raising these issues. We did address them in part yesterday, but I'd like to repeat them because I think the source of misunderstanding may be obvious here.
With respect to the number of family farms, you're using Statistics Canada information. They changed the definition of a family farm. Now they have to include.... In order to use the same information for comparing the years, you have to take into account individual family farms, partnerships, either written or unwritten, involving family members and family corporations. If you take those, in 1991 there were 18,787 family farms compared to 18,260 in 1971. So there's a 3 percent increase over time. We're really the only province where the number of family farms, by that definition, has increased. I think there's a problem comparing apples and oranges with those statistics. We'd be happy to provide you with further details of that if you like.
With respect to off-farm income-earners, I'm not sure there's any difference statistically between the number of farm families doing double-duty compared to non-farm families. I think it's a phenomenon of the times. In order to meet the housing and lifestyle expectations, in urban areas more people become second income-earners. On a farm, it's not always to support the farm; it may be to assemble equity. In that case it is not subsidizing the farm per se. It's helping to earn equity and pay back equity, so you have to look at that. I don't know that there is an easy answer to that. I said yesterday that I thought with technological change both in the home and on the farm it's no longer necessary for every able-bodied member of the family to stay at home and work on the farm if it is possible to gain a higher income or higher return by working off. So those are some general comments.
Finally, I'd say that over the last couple of decades the number of farms that actually have a gross income of over $100,000 has actually increased. In fact, if you look at the 1993 income, we have an increase in net earnings of over 30 percent -- close to 40 percent -- for the farm families of British Columbia. The financial health of farm families in British Columbia is really quite significant, and there's a very low debt-equity ratio, which is the lowest in Canada and points to relative health. I'm not denying that there are problems.
As far as young members of the family getting started, if there's a legitimate use on the farm, and if it can be shown that they're necessary to the farm operations, any number of dwellings can be permitted. It depends on the way people in the family want to retire. If they are there and they nominally remain working members of the farm, there can be dwellings for additional members of the farm partnership. We have to examine the details. Retiring farmers on the land is an awfully easy way to increase division into parcels, but there should be no denial of housing for somebody who's required on the farm.
M. de Jong: My response to the minister, in dealing with the question of housing for farm families, is that I wish it were so. Sadly, it is not so. That may be the approach from the perspective of the Agricultural Land Commission, but my experience, and the cases that I have reviewed, suggested it is not. I will concede to the minister that the ALC in this case seems somewhat more sympathetic to the plight of these families, but there is another obstacle. That obstacle is the one these families meet when they face their local councils, and in those instances, the regulations are all but suffocating the applications being made by these people.
I don't want to read into the minister's remarks unnecessarily -- and I may be misinterpreting them -- but the minister suggested in his comments that there should be a wariness concerning the establishment of various residences on a farm, because that may lead indirectly to a form of division. I agree that if on a 50-acre, 60-acre or 100-acre farm one suddenly sees seven or eight houses pop up, that would give rise to concern. That's not really the issue. It's an issue of a family and perhaps parents residing on the farm, and those applicants are being told at the local level that this is not possible. What seems to be getting lost in the shuffle is that none of these farmers is suggesting that they want to subdivide the property. The title would remain intact, and the buildings would be on the farm. In some instances, in fact, these applicants are suggesting that once the parents have departed the scene, they will remove the second dwelling, yet they are being told it's not possible.
In municipalities up and down the valley, the regulations differ quite dramatically. The minister may be interested in knowing that many of the municipalities go to the extent of saying to these farm families that they can have a second dwelling for either the child or the parents, but it can be only a single-wide mobile home. Quite frankly, the dreams of people who have worked hard on a farm, building it up for 50 years, didn't include retiring to a single-wide mobile home. I wonder if the minister can give some indication whether he feels that this is a matter that can be dealt with by the ALC.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: We certainly recognize the problem, and the member has put his finger on it. One of the considerations here is how heavy-handed the Agricultural Land Commission could be in forcing municipalities to allow certain uses, and the way the balance has been struck to date has been to give them some leeway. What we're doing right now is dealing with the Greater Vancouver Regional District. They have established an agricultural advisory committee, whose purpose is to look at consistency throughout the area so that we can have some general guidelines there. If this is a problem that impinges on the ability of farmers to farm legitimately, then I think there is an argument that can be made. Right now we don't have that ability to override local bylaws, and I think we would find some resistance from the local municipalities to doing that. Where do you begin and where do you end? But I do think it could be examined.
I think we'll get into some of that debate in the agricultural land reserve amendments. People are suggesting that we really need to go further in terms of protecting the right to farm. I have argued that with the review of the agrifood policy, we have to look pretty hard at the regulatory environment -- local, provincial and national -- that impinges on the enhanced and continued use of agricultural land for agricultural purposes. If there's a change in lifestyles, in demographics, in family structure, in product line or whatever, I think it needs to be examined. If there needs to be an overhaul of the legislation surrounding the protection of farming, then I think it should happen. I take it from your comments that you've had considerable experience with that and have examined a number of cases and maybe one that strikes close to home for you. I understand it. I'm glad you recognize that it's the municipality of Matsqui and not the land commission.
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M. de Jong: As for the comment I heard from the minister regarding the potential this has for impeding the operation of a farm, I think that's correct. More particularly, what I think is happening -- and I must confess that this aspect of my question doesn't pertain directly to myself; I don't purport to be a full-time farmer in any way, shape or form -- is that it's impeding the ability of young farmers and the sons and daughters of farmers to assume their operation.
The Chair: Hon. members, we have been called to the other House for a vote, and we will recess for the time required to do that.
The committee recessed at 4 p.m.
The committee resumed at 4:12 p.m.
M. de Jong: When we left off, my point to the minister was the impediment that he referred to, which I thought arose through an inadvertent and improper application of a policy. I grant him that to a large extent it arises out of the municipal jurisdiction, which is beyond his direct control. I am also mindful of the comment he made that an attempt by the provincial central government here in Victoria to intrude into that jurisdiction would undoubtedly be met with howls of derision from all quarters and, I daresay, to some extent the opposition benches as well. It is not an easy task he faces.
Nonetheless, I would urge that he examine this area and seek some realignment in a way that will help facilitate the passage of these farms from one generation to another.
There is another issue I would like to bring to the minister's attention and seek his comment on, and potentially his assistance. Again, it relates to ALR lands indirectly -- the placement of second dwellings. Wrapped up in all of that are concerns that the Health ministry is applying to farm operations. The situation -- again, not an uncommon situation -- is where a farmer has sought to have a hired hand, placed the single-wide mobile home on the property and then been told by the Health ministry that approval won't be given for the required septic tank. The placement of the mobile home is contingent upon Health ministry approval.
In the particular case, Mr. Dale Schmidt was afflicted a year and a half ago by a major illness that precludes him from farming full time on his own. One son had to leave high school to keep things going, but they ultimately required the presence of a part-time or full-time hired hand, and they are being told no, that's not possible. The Health ministry is simply saying that they're not going to approve placement of a second septic field on the property.
Obviously it's not something I'm laying at the feet of the Agriculture minister. Yet, it is another example of obstacles and impediments that are placed in the road of people trying to sustain a family farm in British Columbia. All I can properly do in this forum is to bring the matter to the minister's attention and ask that he offer some assurance that cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats are made aware of the difficulties that these people are facing.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: The Land Commission recognizes the problem and has brought it to the attention of the Ministry of Health. We have to recognize, however, that the problem is around the failure of septic systems. It doesn't have to do with the second line; it's that some of the septic systems are failing. That's very real, and we have to find some way to deal with that problem.
Last fall in the lower Fraser Valley, a group was brought together with the commission to see what flexibility the Health ministry had to accommodate these needs. More recently, the resource coordinating committee has been established within the Ministry of Agriculture to try to coordinate agricultural matters within the government. They've asked Health for a meeting on this. I believe this particular case is actually under active consideration at the senior level of the Ministry of Health.
M. de Jong: The only other matter I would bring to the minister's attention on this issue centres around the fact that the Ministry of Health, in seeing two applicants like this, is going to apply requirements that have been established for subdivision sites. Of course, it's trite for me to say this to the minister, but it's very frustrating for applicants who know full well that on the one hand their land will never be subdivided, because they know that from the ALR, and then to be told by another branch of government that they must meet are subdivision level requirements. There's a basic inconsistency there, and I know that the minister will follow that up and try to seek some redress and some equity. I really do think it's a matter of equity for these people. I might add that this is not an issue related exclusively to my part of the province; I think it's something that has arisen throughout the province. If I am pointing a finger at the villain, in this case I am pointing a finger at the Ministry of Health, and it's a matter that I will pursue with the Minister of Health in those estimates.
From human waste disposal to the matter of livestock and organic waste disposal. During our short break I noticed that this issue was canvassed briefly yesterday afternoon, and I'm most concerned here with dairy and poultry operations. What progress has been made within the ministry towards establishing a set of organic waste storage facilities for farms in the various agricultural sectors?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: It's our considered opinion that considerable progress has been made by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environment and the producers in dealing with the codes of practice. Where an operation can meet the codes of practice, they should have no problem constructing and operating those facilities. I know of one or two cases where people don't see enough progress being made, but often it's local government who asks for very stringent application of regulations and restrictions on farming operations. Short of some kind of civil litigation, it's very difficult to decide what the final outcome should be. We think a lot of progress has been made on that. We continue to work on it and to devote resources to getting Environment to agree to reasonable codes that seem to meet most objectives for environmentally appropriate waste disposal. I'll remind the member that all the Agricultural Land Development Act funds are available for best waste management plans to be brought into fruition.
M. de Jong: Can the minister indicate what coordinated work has taken place between his ministry and the Ministry of the Environment to deal with the issue of nitrate leaching into the Matsqui-Abbotsford aquifers at the eastern end of the Fraser Valley?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: A quick review of the situation would indicate that the jointly funded monitoring program, which followed the study of the problem, found a small problem. The nitrate levels are still above drinking-water standards. Pesticides were detected in very few wells, none of which
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were close to drinking-water standards. Ministry of Agriculture staff are still working closely with farmers to help develop waste management practices that will reduce nitrate levels even further. Change is occurring quickly. Evaluation of the recently concluded soil conservation program found that over the winter 60 percent of poultry producers cover their manure piles, compared to only 16 percent before the program, so considerable progress has been made.
M. de Jong: The indication is that to date we are dealing with a program that relies upon education and voluntary cooperation among the agrarian sector, is that correct?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Beyond education, there is financial and technical support for them to develop these plans and to put them into practice. Should cooperation fail, the law comes into effect. This peer advisory group is sponsored by the Federation of Agriculture to work with people and to assure them this isn't just a bureaucrat coming to tell them what to do, this is the considered opinion on the best waste management that the industry can provide. The big stick of the law is there, should somebody not comply.
M. de Jong: My perception is that there is an advantage in bringing new young farmers into the business, since they are more cognizant of these environmental matters -- for example, they spread manure on days that are more environmentally conducive to that sort of activity.
During the break I reviewed very quickly some of yesterday's discussion about the levels of inspection and the personnel who are being dedicated by the ministry to survey what is taking place in this particular area. Can the minister indicate what dedicated personnel there are? What is their modus operandi, and to what extent are inspections taking place? These are words that I saw as I perused the Blues; maybe the minister could tie them together.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Because we provide an advisory service, staff at the local level and in Victoria are allocated to this work part-time. I would have to take your question on notice to provide specifics, but let me emphasize how we're trying to work together here to the best advantage of the producers.
We participated with many other ministries, in particular the Ministry of Environment, at what was called the Developing Solutions conference, which the B.C. Federation of Agriculture held, until recently, in Richmond. We had farmers sitting down with people from the various ministries and grappling with these problems, and this topic was very much on top of the agenda. I haven't seen the final report, only the draft report, but I understand that there was considerable progress made in dealing with some of these issues. It comes together on the peer committees, where farmers work with other farmers alleged to be contravening the best waste guidelines. They bring their knowledge to bear in trying to give the person a solution -- a way out -- in a most cost-effective manner.
M. de Jong: Just one further question, which I will try to phrase in a way that will relieve me from having to return to the minister. Aside from the difficulties that farmers face on a day-to-day basis -- and I don't have to tell the minister that they make decisions daily that can affect their livelihood -- they have learned over time to work with the bureaucracy. In the dairy sector, for example, the milk tester arrives, and that has become an accepted way of doing business and something that people in the dairy business gear their operation around. Does the minister foresee ever-increasing amounts of his budget being dedicated to similar levels of inspection in other areas of the agricultural business, such as waste disposal, carcass disposal and that sort of thing? Are we moving in that direction? Perhaps it is improper to ask the minister to comment on future policy directives, but what do we glean if we look at the ministry's budget for the fiscal resources that have been dedicated to that enforcement and inspection aspect of managing the agricultural sector?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: The question was a thoughtful one, and it gives us an opportunity to step back a bit and look at trends. We are very much aware of that, because, having very little extra money, we find ourselves needing to adjust priorities. What we've done in the extension department is try to balance what might be seen as inspection. There's no heavy inspector coming down to enforce a regulation. Our ministry is not a regulator and, as a result, enjoys a high degree of comfort in dealing with the clientele. Through the education function of extension, we can provide information to people who, if they get that bit of technical education and follow the advice, should not need to be regulated as much.
But I think the other side of that is.... And I know from personal experience, because I spent a little time late last night and early this morning talking to my two sons, who are both working on our farm and who, because it was raining, were going to spend the day in town. They were going to see the WCB, the electrical inspector, B.C. Hydro and so on about a hookup for a pump or something. They had to get some literacy and knowledge that I haven't been able to impart to them. I could if I were there. I expect that they are going to get up to speed very quickly. I think it underlines the point that instead of them pursuing a career in law, which they both would like to do, I've suggested they take technical school education in farming, or at least consider that as being a very useful thing. I think we should try to achieve a degree of literacy at the high school level in anything to do with land management -- things such as waste management and business management. We have to encourage that basic level of literacy at the high school level; beyond that, farmers coming in to the business will get a jump-start if they have a crash course in current trends, because there are other pressures and values that have to be respected.
The ministry is also making adjustments to assist that. The whole direction of funding is towards programs that allow people to adapt very quickly to changing requirements. Marketing alone -- the relationship between the environmental practices of the producer and the end-market result -- is something that farmers haven't, except for the last few years, had to pay attention to. You'll understand what I mean when I say that with respect to farming, there is a paradigm shift in what you need to know in order to be able to be a farmer. I think that's onerous on people who have been farming for a long time. This idea of lifelong learning on the farm is critical. I recognize it takes more and more of a farm manager's time, but there's no easy way around it. The highest efficiency is going to be achieved by correct planning, by getting good advice, knowing the rules and having time to adapt to new rules.
We're trying to give producers the best advice we can to cope. With respect to our approach, we're trying not to replicate within the ministry an environmental section or a labour relations section or whatever to assist farmers. We think we're there to help them produce their products, not to help them deal in the first instance with other government departments. We have had to do that, because clearly other
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reasons have been coming down on farmers and we've had to have people assigned to help them cope. I don't think we're going to see a major move back towards the kind of extension that was oblivious to the need for people to understand in some detail the regulatory environment around them. So the ministry has made some of those adjustments, and they will continue to try to take the newest and latest matter that a farmer has to deal with and give some advice very quickly. I think we do that fairly efficiently.
M. de Jong: I appreciate the minister's comments. I will resist the temptation to delve into the whole question of agricultural education, or I'm destined to be here, quite frankly, much longer than I care to be -- or that we have time for, which is perhaps a better way of putting it. It is a fact, though, that we are experiencing some difficulty attracting young people to some of the agricultural programs that are offered around the province, and we may have all sorts of theories of why that is. I suspect in the end it partly relates to a perception among those prospective applicants that there is not a particularly lucrative future in the agricultural business.
This is the last area I wish to explore with the minister; I will be quite brief. Several months ago one of the ministry officials attended the chamber of commerce in Abbotsford; I would gladly quote the name if I could remember what it was. He gave a very good summary of the various agricultural sectors -- where they have been, where they are now and, in his view, where they are going. The overall message he left with an audience of about 300 or 400 people was that if you're going to be involved in agriculture in British Columbia, get big or get out. He came to his considered opinion through an analysis of the effects of NAFTA, free trade, the GATT rulings and all those things. It was something he felt needed to be said.
I'm not sure if I agree with his summary, or if I'm looking at this through rose-coloured glasses and don't want to acknowledge his summary. Is that the message, I ask the minister, that his senior bureaucrats are giving him? Is he aware that this message is being spread across the province? Ultimately, my message to the minister is that if this is the considered opinion of the ministry and senior officials, then it's a shame. I think that if we are going to move purposely in a direction away from family-run farms to a more corporately structured environment in our province, then we are destined to miss out and lose a lifestyle that has been a very good one.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Let me give just a quick summary. I don't think you could take that official's view as being policy, but if you look at farm profitability, the size of investment and so on, it keeps creeping up to the point where you have to be over $100,000 a year gross income to be in a net profit situation. The advice is that you have to be big enough not to lose money. B.C. farms on the whole are smaller than they are in other parts of the country, but I have to remind you that we think the number of family farms will increase, just as employment in farming has done. It has increased from 30,000 to 32,000.
It is true that there's a new competitive environment with the internationalization of the marketplace and the new trade rules. We expect that there may be some consolidation, which then creates a size problem for people starting out, but I don't think we're going to see the moderately sized farm disappear. I don't think that's the case. If you want an opinion, I feel fairly upbeat about the future of the family farm. I think there will be lifestyle choices made when people decide to stay on the farm at a modest income as opposed to working off the farm or getting bigger and trying to get that more lucrative income.
A. Warnke: I appreciate the opportunity of becoming involved in this part of the estimates debate. Before I switch subjects, there is one particular subject I'll mention while I'm getting up on my feet. I was quite impressed with the exchange between the minister and my colleague from Matsqui. I would perhaps even go so far as to say that the moderate-sized farm should be encouraged. I say that because in two provinces, Ontario and British Columbia, which have some similarity in their agricultural sectors, the family farm is having all kinds of trouble. That has been well described in the media. I would agree with my colleague from Matsqui that our vision of the old family-run farm is being subjected to all kinds of strains and difficulties.
By the same token, my colleague from Matsqui also pointed to this one phrase: "You have got to become big." I want to say that this is not necessarily the way to go, either. As a matter of fact, I can actually recall from the top of my head that many years ago there was an attempt by a particular individual who wanted to farm in a big way. I believe it was for the purpose of setting up a large dairy farm to sell milk products to the People's Republic of China. The end result was that the farm got into some very serious financial difficulty and didn't make it.
There is a bit of a fallacy to suggesting that the only option is going big and getting on some sort of treadmill that becomes a large corporate farm. From what I can see in both Ontario and British Columbia, farms that go in that direction do not seem to have been successful, despite all the talk of international competitiveness and all the rest of it. I could be wrong -- and certainly the Minister of Agriculture knows this better than myself -- but from my experience, it just seems that has not been the case.
On the one hand, we have the traditional family-run farm having gone through some terrific strains, and perhaps that kind of system will disappear. On the other hand, going to the other extreme of being big may not be desirable. I think this is what my colleague from Matsqui was getting at as well. For what it's worth, I will add my general impression that it doesn't seem to be working there either. It seems to me that some sort of compromise between the two, the moderate-sized or mid-sized farm, however one wants to define that -- is the best way to go, and perhaps the only way to go. It still has its connections somehow to the family-run farm, and maybe that should be encouraged. I will just pause there and see if the minister has any further comments on that.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I think if you compare us to, say, California, our farms are very small. You get a number of agricultural producers together in the same room, and they will argue whether $100,000 or $1 million is the target in gross income. So the size varies by commodity group and by region of the province.
My advice is that you have to look at what you need. First of all, you have to be profitable, otherwise you are losing ground. When you look at that, I think the threshold has been moving up. For example, ten or 15 years ago if you had 100 cows and a beef operation, you'd probably do all right. Now it looks like you need 200. That has been because of higher costs and needing to be efficient in a different way.
The fact is that for the size of their farms -- look around at how many dairy cows there are and how many acres in vegetables or whatever -- people have accumulated a lot of
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equity. They've gained; they're at the point where there are virtually no bankruptcies. So profits are up and are being reinvested to the point where farms are fairly healthy with respect at least to people's ability to borrow and make investments. I think that encouraging the family farm or the moderately sized farm is a matter of staying the course with respect to assisting people to adjust to new markets and new production methods. There's something about a family farm with a supply of labour that isn't always paid but is there, adjusts and is easy to manage. I think one of the magic things about the family farm is the long-term interest people have in it. They're there for the lifestyle, and they like what they're doing; there's a high degree of job satisfaction and usually significant financial rewards.
We're finding, though, that things can change and that we need to look at security programs. That's why farm stabilization has to become a new part of the era; government is not going to move in on an ad hoc basis if there is a crisis. So we have to look at the different lines of financial defence that farmers have. When they have that in place, and if they're good planners and producers, they will survive in that modest form. However, the pure lifestyle farmer who is not concerned about adapting production techniques and so on, and is not looking for a bit of edge that keeps them in the black, will continue to have problems. We'll continue to see some turnover.
I think that for psychological reasons we have to break this myth that farming is not the place to be because it's insurmountable. I think the farmers are coping. They have some frustrations as we go through adjustments. However, they are well positioned to compete internationally. I quote the president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. I don't know if you were here when I spoke about his view, but he said clearly we are in a such a strong position that we should be able to occupy the American market when we go through the next downturn. If you look at the land use problems that people are grappling with, they pale in comparison with the land use problems in the Pacific northwestern United States; they're different from issues in the east. If we keep the right attitude, we will encourage young people. If farmers themselves don't encourage young people, I don't think the government alone can do that. I don't think we could create any financial incentive that would change that. There's always something more than just the bottom line that people take into a position to be stewards, forward thinkers, and to care about issues of self-sufficiency for the nation. Those are examples of the things that give more to the farmer than financial return, and that keeps them on the land producing in a sound way.
T. Perry: I greatly appreciate the member for Richmond-Steveston yielding to me for a moment. I was just passing by in the corridor and was thrilled to find the Agriculture debate still going on. I have one very quick statement and two questions to pose.
I wanted to say how pleased I was to see that the conflict-of-interest commissioner completely cleared the minister. Out in the field, in Vancouver-Little Mountain -- a thriving farming community -- I heard a lot of very good comments about the minister's performance. I see some eyebrows being raised, but in fact we do have farms in Vancouver-Little Mountain. They're just small backyard vegetable plots. Further afield, I met a cattle rancher from Keremeos, for example, who was very impressed with the minister. I have reasons for knowing that he is bringing a particular enthusiasm to the job, and I think it's very good that he's still here defending his estimates and carrying on with the job and the good work he's doing.
I have two questions. On behalf of Mr. Stephen Huddart, a former very successful restaurateur in Vancouver, purveyor of organic beef from the Beaver Valley near the minister's own homestead and now director of education for the SPCA, I have a question about humane standards of production for domestic animals. Perhaps it's more a comment than a question.
Mr. Huddart believes there could be a substantial niche market and a competitive advantage in the American market for animals produced in Canada under some kind of certified humane standards. That does not necessarily mean free-range or that you can't use modern production techniques, but it does mean that the animals are allowed to see the light of day once in a while. I leave that partly for stimulation of the minister and his officials. At the marketing board dinner the other evening, I found that the suggestion seemed to be met with some humour from the marketing board people. But these niche markets have a way of expanding into major markets, and the history of Canadian marketing seems to be that companies that ignore the developing niche markets miss out in the long run.
I'll just get the other question out and then sit down. I suspect it is familiar to the minister, perhaps grievously so. It is in regard to Workers' Compensation Board standards or the regulations governing pesticide application and re-entry into the fields. This is one that the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association mentioned to the government caucus committee on sustainable economic development, which I co-chair. I've just actually finished dictating a letter to the chairman and CEO of the Workers' Compensation Board, copied to the Minister of Agriculture, inquiring where the regulations come from. From a scientific standpoint, it seems rather dubious that when one pesticide, which is judged safe to allow workers re-entry into a field one or two days after application, is mixed with another pesticide with a similar safety standard, the board applies the requirement that workers must not be allowed back in for four or five days. They simply add the two post-exposure durations.
Having some familiarity with organic chemistry and a slight familiarity with toxicology on a professional basis, I find it hard to imagine what conceivable scientific rationale there could be for this. The agriculture community seems to argue that neither the health protection branch nor the federal Department of Agriculture nor the USFDA have a similar standard. I wanted to raise it to perhaps help the minister put a little heat on the Workers' Compensation Board if it's in fact as arbitrary as said. I'm also curious to know if he's aware of any scientific basis for protecting agricultural workers.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I thank the member for his comments. I too am relieved that I can continue my job here and serve the farmers of Little Mountain or, more particularly, the consumers of your constituency.
I think the awareness by the consumer is critical, and my advice to producers is to be aware of the sovereign -- the consumer. In the end they are going to buy these products. If there is potential for a niche market, then I think they really have to look at that. We encourage niche markets. For example, we're leading Canada in the organic certification of agricultural products. Perhaps there will one day be a parallel with some kind of indication of how products are raised. We know that free-range chickens, for example, are a very popular item that is now provided for in the marketing system. I think that's the example. If members of the
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marketing board were amused by your comments, it may have been that they had to deal with that and did deal with that, and I think it has sort of opened the door to further expressions of that kind of interest.
On the point you raised about re-entry requirements and concerns of the tree fruit growers, there is a meeting set between the Workers' Compensation Board and the Ministry of Agriculture to deal specifically with this and to have another look at it. They are open to examining the evidence and looking at their regulation. The Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Agency, which is dominated by producers, will also be meeting with the WCB to re-examine this. I think we have to say that we'll stay on top of this until we get a resolution.
R. Chisholm: I'd like to go back to the land reserve for a few questions, and then on to Buy B.C. and the food industry.
The questions I have on the ALR, or ALC if you will, will complement those asked by the hon. member for Matsqui. I have one question here that comes directly from the BCFA -- from the president, Jake Janzen, as a matter of fact. It's two questions. I'll read it the way he has it here so that you get exactly the way the BCFA is looking at this issue. It says:
"...farmers through the B.C. Federation of Agriculture have asked for the abolishment of the ALR primarily because: (1) the government has determined to terminate farm income insurance, which was originally instituted as a method of insuring the opportunity for profitable agricultural enterprise in exchange for the imposing of the ALR; and (2) there is the judgment by farmers that the ALR is only very arbitrarily linked to future agricultural production capability, because the Agricultural Land Commission only considers soil type to be the determining factor for such capability and consequently, particularly in densely populated areas, the ALR is effectively also a means whereby to preserve green space which is deemed to be outside its intended purpose.
"...the ALC has been awarded a nine percent budget increase which is part of the agricultural budget.
"...these funds seem destined to be used to accelerate the processing of large numbers of applications for exclusion which for the most part are systematically disallowed in any case.
"...farmers should logically be the most likely supporters of the ALR and are in an informed position to assess the effect of the ALR relative to its intended purpose.
"Therefore, how does the government plan to address the perceived link between the establishment of the ALR and the now discontinued FII programs, aside from offering substitute programs giving much less support, and how does it plan to establish, after more than 20 years of existence, whether the ALC is in fact achieving its intended purpose with efficient and effective use of its funding?"
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: It feels like we've gone over some of these things time and again. I'll try to be clear on this. It does concern me that farmers would try to use the pressure tactic of getting rid of the agriculture land reserve as a way of getting attention for matters that concern them.
We have to deal with the problems, and one of them is this perceived link to farm income assurance. With subsidies being taken away from them, farmers feel that they can't cope and that they therefore should be allowed to subdivide their land. The simple matter is that a few would get rich and the rest would have depressed prices, so that's no answer. The laws of supply and demand would not give them any benefit from taking it out of the land reserve, and I think what they would be doing would be a grave disservice to future agriculture in the province. The land itself has to be seen as, and is, one of the factors that contribute to comparative advantage, because there is a supply of land available for farming.
On the greenbelt situation, it's not true that it is seen as a greenbelt by the Land Commission or that they look only at soil. They look at the zoning and the complex of uses there, so it's zoning and soil capability that are considered. What is true, I think, is that more and more of the urban public will see it as a land reserve rather than as an agricultural reserve, so the greenbelt is a perception problem for people who don't understand farming. I think that's all-pervasive, but it's changing. The agricultural advisory committees, for example, and the Greater Vancouver Regional District in particular, see the ALR as an area for planning, not as greenbelt. I think we've kind of gone beyond that.
The fact of the matter is that the farm income insurance type of program, where you support the costs of production, doesn't force efficiencies or require change in markets. It caters to this idea that you can produce something and sell it at a profitable price even if there's no market. That's the wrong way to go. We cannot pay people to do the wrong thing. We have to give them incentives.
The changing trade rules are not insignificant when it comes to putting pressure on national and subnational governments to change the rules by which they fund agriculture. Right across the country, there's a move away from farm income assurance, and I think that's recognized. Some commodity groups who've tasted the bitter pill of trade disputes and countervail actions have actually asked for that type of programming to end.
So how do we intend to address it? We will address it by consulting with the farm community through the development of agrifood policy, where we'll look at everything, especially solutions. We will look at the situation farmers find themselves in and at the ALR as a foodland resource that contributes to the comparative advantage of agriculture in this area. We will try to put a long-term view on where we're headed in agriculture and food production in the province. That's the long and the short of the answer to the concern raised by the president.
R. Chisholm: I believe you answered his second question as well in there, so I won't bother with the second one. I'll give you a copy of this for your own records so you can see it.
I have a few questions of my own concerning the educational situation, and the hon. member for Matsqui brought up a few of them. We might have a school which was built 15 or 20 years ago right on the border of the ALR and a municipality. Civilization has of course built up around the school, and there is now a problem. It's not just in the municipality of Chilliwack, say, or Kelowna. We see this problem all over where there may have been a lack of planning ten to 15 years ago, but the problem is now presented to us. We have the ALR on one hand, and the ALC very zealously protecting it. I commend them for that, but I wonder if common sense hasn't gone astray in some cases. When a community has been built up around a school that is now too small to house the numbers and can't expand, because the land procured is in the ALR and schools are not allowed to utilize it, this presents a problem not only for this ministry but for the government.
The problem is that we do not have the capital to build new schools wherever we want to; we found that out very quickly in the last couple of years. We have schools already in existence that could be modified to house students. If we do build a new school, a whole community of children will have to be bused five, ten or 15 miles to it. Meanwhile, we
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have the ALR sitting there, and we have land which has not been utilized in the ALR. The Richardson Ave. school in Chilliwack, for instance, is problematic. I've heard of similar problems in Kelowna, Prince George and Abbotsford. I wonder if we are not cutting our throats with the left hand while the right hand is out there screaming, because there is no money to build schools. We have a problem with the educational system.
I wonder if the ALC should have another look at this issue and perhaps insert a little common sense, because we do not have the money or the resources to build the luxurious schools we would like. We have to utilize what we have right now. Unfortunately, whether or not there was poor planning 20 years ago, we have to live in the present, because that's what we're confronted with. Would the minister ask the ALC if common sense has departed? When you're talking at the municipal level about zoning bylaws, you have to use common sense.
We're bringing in a new housekeeping bill right now to bring our operations and those of ALC into line. The fact of the matter is that it is a housekeeping bill, because we've been practising this in the past; it just isn't law. Perhaps this is another similar case. Again, the bottom line here is we do not have the resources in the educational system to build these magnificent schools in some other areas. Could the minister respond and could he discuss this problem with the ALC?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: There is always reconsideration of past decisions, but the fact remains that you have to make the decision now to preserve agricultural land. You can't go back and decide to preserve it in the future after it's built up. I would have to argue that it was probably common sense, as the member defines it, that allowed someone in the first place to say: "Oh, what's wrong with a little school here? It won't hurt anything." You could make that argument about anything. "What's wrong with a little industrial park? There's lots of unused agricultural land." That kind of common sense will allow an incremental change to the ALR. If you treat everybody that comes before you in the same way, it will allow tremendous incursions into the reserve. I think that's the problem.
If there is a problem of development, then it has to be dealt with. There are approximately 45,000 hectares outside the ALR in the lower mainland. Perhaps growth is occurring in areas where it shouldn't and needs to be redirected. Every municipality thinks they want to grow, but maybe every municipality can't grow if they are in the best food-producing areas of the province. There has to be another order of planning.
Some of the schools you talked about aren't built-up around. There are three sides of ALR around one of the schools. You talk about capital for new schools. The land price is significant, I admit, but that doesn't affect the price of schools. It doesn't cost any more to build a school on one site than on another. If you think that agricultural land should subsidize schools, then I think society has a problem. As a minister I say that we have the Agricultural Land Commission there to protect the land, to put a different value on it and not put it in the same market as urban land. There has to be more careful planning for growth and development in order to achieve the dual purpose of continuing to house and provide services for people and at the same time protecting land for future production.
R. Chisholm: I understand your principle of protecting land, and, as a matter of fact, I fully agree. If the former government hadn't protected land 20 years ago, I don't think we would have land now for agriculture; I think it would all have been developed. So I am fully in support of the ALR.
My problem is that we have a community that is fully built at this point and has to enlarge a school. The community will not be built any further because the land reserve defines its boundaries. The only way they can enlarge their school is to temporarily utilize two or three acres of the ALR. That community will not be enlarging, and as the children grow up, there will be no need for further schools. But for the time bring, for the short term, we do need facilities in that community, otherwise we have to build a major establishment in some other area and bus the children, which doesn't seem a very economical or wise solution to the problem.
I'm just talking about one case. I know the cases you're talking about in Matsqui where they're surrounded on three borders by the ALR. I'm not going to argue specific cases. I'm saying: let's go back and look at all the cases and ask if some of them are communities that cannot grow any further. Are some temporary phenomena because of poor planning 20 years ago? Are there some for which we can temporarily do something without doing major construction that would permanently damage and remove the land from the ALR? I suspect there are some. There are some areas where, of course, the decision would not be changed, and I fully agree with that too. I just wonder if all cases have been judged adequately, and that is what I would like to see happen.
My next question concerns the increase of productivity for land. You raised to $2,500 the amount that has to be produced on a farm to maintain its status as agricultural land. That's been a year now. I wonder if there have been any repercussions or any hardship due to raising the amount of moneys that have to be produced off the land. The minister knows the reason I bring this up. I gave him a case involving seniors who could no longer farm their land and were now in this predicament that they could not produce the $2,500. These people were 70 years old. All of a sudden they were going to lose their farm and were about to be kicked off their land, because they couldn't produce enough to get the agricultural status to get the proper tax assessment.
Here's another area where I say that common sense should prevail and that each case should be looked at. We changed the rules on them; they didn't change the rules on us. All they wanted to do was to live out their lives. This is another area where I ask: is common sense being used by the ALC? I certainly hope it is, because if it's not, we're not being very humane to the citizens of British Columbia. Other than this area, I am for the ALR. But is the common sense and humaneness there? Are we talking these cases into account?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I take your point about the B.C. Assessment Authority and the change. My understanding is that this $1,500 requirement as minimum income to qualify for a farm was set in about 1976, and it was changed to $2,500 in 1993. If you look at what that $2,500 represents today, it's probably way less than a third of that $1,500. In other words, if you took the equivalent today of $1,500 in 1976, it's probably well over $2,500. So, in fact, there is relatively less required in terms of income today than was required back then. That shows you one of the problems of not making periodic adjustments with the change in the dollar value.
In the case of the couple you mentioned, again, it sounds onerous not to allow a couple to retire. But it seems to me that if the land was once productive and qualified for land classification, then there ought to be a way to lease or rent that and get the equivalent income. I think that would be the
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solution. But I would have to say that my sympathies are with the couple that wants to retire. Part of the retirement should be trying to find a plan for the use of the land through some kind of leasing or renting arrangement. Very few hardship cases have come to my attention. But if it is seen as a detriment to preserving land in agricultural use, then I would say it has to be examined. I would again wrap it into this all-encompassing review of food policy, because we want to preserve the foodlands. If taxation is one way of doing that, then we have to examine that.
R. Chisholm: Again, I may have misguided the minister in this, I'm not too sure. I'm looking for assurance from the minister that the ALC will look at these cases and use some common sense and humanity when they come to their decisions. After all, in that particular case, we changed the ground rules; they didn't. They were already retired. They are 70 years old, and they're hardly in a position to be able to do anything about it. All I'm asking here is a guarantee from the minister that these cases will be looked at. They shouldn't have to come to our level for you and I to discuss. They should have already been taken care of by the ALC. They should have already been looked at by that point.
It goes right back to the same old thing about schools -- common sense again. Can we afford a new school? What are we supposed to do -- give the children poor education because somebody did not make the proper plan 20 years ago? I don't think that's a solution to the problem. There is possibly a temporary solution for the next 15 to 20 years for two or three acres of that land. Like I said, that community will not grow. All I'm looking for is some assurance from the minister that these things will be taken into account and that, before these problems come to us, hopefully the ALC -- the commission itself -- will have looked at it first and it won't come across as hardship or whatever the case may be.
The last question I want to discuss with the minister is with reference to secondary industry on agricultural land. We seem to be having a problem in the area of Kelowna and other places, with people who have -- we'll take the Kelowna instance -- an antique store on the property. They are in conflict with the businesses in Kelowna, but they're doing this to augment their farm. I talked to the chairman of the ALC, Kirk Miller, and he said that regulation would be coming down that would govern this and assist these individuals who want to augment their farm to make themselves more productive. I was just wondering when we're going to see this regulation to curtail the problems we're having in this area.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I'm very familiar with the case that you've brought up. This case has been examined by the land commission, which has said that home-based business is compatible with the land reserve. The problem is that the municipality does not permit that use in that area, because it is competing with people who are paying commercial rates downtown. So the solution would have to be the heavy hand of the provincial authority forcing municipal government. The member for Matsqui, earlier in the discussion -- I don't know if you were in the room -- said there would be howls of derision from local government if we decided we would impose agricultural land zoning and our interpretation of compatible uses. Clearly, here's a case where there's got to be close cooperation between the municipalities and the land commission. We don't have an instant solution. I think if the right to farm were the answer, it's fine. But this would sound like the right to do secondary business in the ALR as an adjunct to the farming operation. That's going a lot further than the right to farm in the ALR. So in this case the problem lies with a local government that is not willing to accommodate secondary uses to the primary farm use.
R. Chisholm: My question to the minister is twofold. I want his assurance on those previous questions and an indication of where we are in the policy and the regulation that I talked to Kirk Miller about. After all, the commission sent out a number of pages asking for people's opinion on this particular policy. I wonder when we're going to see the policy. I guess the last part of that was assurance that the ALC will have much better scrutiny of these hardship cases in schools before they go ahead and squash it.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: On the latter question about the regulations with respect to home-based business, at the end of June a policy will be considered. There was quite a bit of input, and it was generally supportive. There was discussion on this yesterday; I don't think you were here when we talked with the member for Prince George-Omineca.
On the other issue of hardship, I think common sense and compassion need to be used by decision-makers, but they have to be consistent. If you base a decision on sympathy for an individual in one situation, who decides a year later to sell, then you've got a new parcel of land on the open market. It's very difficult to protect agricultural land when everybody wants to make a little change. But I assure you that I will lean upon the commission to use common sense and humanity when they're developing their policies, and making and implementing their decisions.
In the case of the schools, I don't think we can make a hardship case. A few blocks down the road from this school in Matsqui, there is an example where the school board said they couldn't find land. A month later they found land, and they're actually building the school outside the ALR. So everybody has a hardship case until you say no. Then, all of a sudden, they can find some other alternative. I think we have to look at that.
Other than the desire by some people to develop land, I have not been presented any evidence and can see no compelling reason to change the way the Agricultural Land Commission handles things. They will deal with block exclusions. Where there's no other alternatives but agricultural land, they will take the land out, and they did in the case of Dawson Creek. So they appear to accommodate growth needs. But to say that you could allow a city like Kelowna to double its population on agricultural land, then the answer is probably no. There has to be consideration for planning satellite developments that make up for the lack of planning in the past. If somebody made a decision 15 years ago to allow a school on a certain site, it was probably with the best intentions, but it created a bigger problem because that was the thin edge of the wedge. We have to be very careful of that.
R. Chisholm: I'm not here to argue for the Matsqui school and the solutions they found. I'm talking in general terms around a lot of the cases I've heard of in the province. I mentioned the Richardson school. I know for a fact that there is no land within that community for them to expand. There's only one solution, and it isn't forthcoming.
In Kelowna they're having the same problems in some cases. If the ALC would scrutinize those a bit better, it might help to alleviate some of the antagonism. It might help the problems with our schools in the public school sector. If we have to go out and procure land, it is going to increase the cost of schools, because in some of these communities the
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only land that remains is out of reach of what we would want to spend to build schools in those areas.
For the last question -- I guess this is more of a statement -- I said I'd talk about the Thompson report and then pass you some of these documents. I'd like to close on that note until a little later this evening. I wasn't going to debate the Thompson report because, as we both know, it isn't law, but there was the discussion around it. We're having the same problem with the Vince Ready report and the Kelleher report, and there are some similar situations between agriculture and the fishing industry.
I received a letter from Gerry Shaw of Kelowna, and I'd like to read just a few of the points he makes. Then I'll give you the others from Money's Mushrooms and the other industries that have voiced their opinion on this particular report. I will quote Gerry Shaw:
"We have just received a letter concerning the Employment Standards Act review. There was a review done by Dr. Mark Thompson, an economics professor from the University of British Columbia. With no disrespect to Dr. Thompson, I think his suggestions concerning agriculture are utterly ridiculous.
"These are his suggestions:
"Be required to pay overtime after eight hours and double time on Sunday.
"We are orchardists and our apples cannot tell the difference between Sunday and any other day. When the crop is ready, it has to come off. This is like penalizing the farmer because the sun shines and the crop is ready on the wrong day. If I could, I would play God and pick on only certain days, but real life isn't like that. Rain or shine, when the fruit is ready to come off, it has to be done. The point of paying overtime after eight hours really emphasizes the fact that Dr. Thompson does not know what our workforce is like. We wake up and hope that our workers are all going to show up. We never know if they were out on a binge the night before, or if they wake up and just don't feel like working that day. They may start at 8 o'clock and quit at noon. On the other hand, they might work until dark. There is no penalty if they don't show up, but a farmer and his employees usually understand each other and work together to get the crop harvested."
Another point he makes is about sending employees home for 32 hours of rest in every work week..
"The employees that we have do not come so they can rest. They come to make as much money in as short a time as possible. Some employees last a couple of days, others stay the whole season. A lot of the employees are transients. They could be from anywhere. Where do we send them for their rest -- the Holiday Inn? Weather conditions do not permit us or our employees to choose when we will take a rest. Thirty-two hours of rest could become a permanent rest in the unemployment line; there would be no work, crops would all have fallen on the ground. I'll bet you an apple that anyone in the fruit industry, whether grower or worker, will want to work while they have the chance.
"Not allowed to pay piece rates.
"Piecework is a very important part of our system. I can't imagine how many employees we would have or how much work we would get done if we were forced to pay one picker who picks three bins the same as one who picks eight. Pickers are a group who get paid for what they do. How hard they want to work is up to them. We are not slave drivers and do not stand around with a bull whip telling them to get to work. Our workers work at their own pace and get paid for what they do -- pay for performance.
"No longer be able to use a farm labour contractor, but rather will have to hire from a 'union-style' hiring hall.
"This clause will really sink the farmer. We're not dealing with white-collar workers. We are dealing with people who you cannot judge. Some of these workers -- the biggest percentage -- live from day to day. Hiring from a' union-style hall' is just one more way of scaring our workforce away. Next you will be asking them for union dues and taking the bread out of their mouths as well as the mouths of their families.
"May I ask why you can't leave some things alone and quit wasting our tax dollars on such things as this review? Not everything needs changing. I also want to suggest that if you need some other ideas about the agriculture industry, try asking someone in it rather than a pencil-pusher.
"I am very concerned about this review. The government already has us tied to our land through the ALR and has taken away support programs. Farming is already a struggle without more ludicrous and impractical rules and regulations such as those listed in the review. If Dr. Thompson's recommendations are put in place, there will be a lot of empty fields with no crops, because you will have buried the farmers and subsidiary industries -- i.e., packing houses, trucking companies, etc.
"Agriculture should be considered before any harsh judgments are made."
Then he signs it:
"At your mercy, a frustrated fruit grower."
Hon. minister, I'll give you the other documents from different companies like Money's Mushrooms and the Raspberry Growers' Association. There's half a dozen here, and I've got more for you that you can read through in the future. You can see that this same sort of idea is throughout the whole agriculture industry. It's not just the tree fruit growers who are saying this; it's the raspberry growers and the blueberry growers. Anywhere you need piecework or you have this kind of labour, you have this problem. I do hope the minister will take a good, long look at this report and discuss it with the Minister of Labour before it is implemented.
On that note, given the hour, I move that we report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The Chair: I think, hon. member, we'll hold that. I think the minister would like to have a few words in reply to your comments.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I didn't want to miss the opportunity to get into the record. The problem is the date on that letter. I hope it was dated before the Thompson commission report came out. If that's not the case, then the person writing the letter didn't read the report. It was not requiring overtime after eight hours; it was overtime after ten hours and after 60 hours a week. He did not recommend double time on Sunday. Similarly, I don't know where he got the 32 hours of rest. Thompson recommended the continued existence of piece rates. So I don't know where that person is coming from. I think he would be advised, though, to read the commission report and get some interpretation from his own organization on that.
I think I can assure the member that these issues have all been brought to the attention of the minister responsible for the Thompson inquiry and for employment standards. We've been working very closely to try to find some way to accomplish the means to ensure that there is adequate rest so that people aren't hurt and that employees in the farm industry are treated properly. Very real problems exist with the farm labour situation in some areas of the province, and we have to deal with those; we can't ignore them. That's one of the reasons for the Thompson inquiry. It wasn't just about agriculture. He was reviewing employment standards which hadn't been reviewed in a very long time. The world has changed. There was ample opportunity for people to give comments both before and after the Thompson report, and
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those will all be seriously considered. The tree fruit growers have met with the Minister of Skills, Training and Labour, and have raised all of these issues.
So with that as a response, I'd like to move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:38 p.m.
The committee met at 6:43 p.m.
[G. Brewin in the chair.]
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD
On vote 11: minister's office, $291,891 (continued).
R. Chisholm: I'd like to discuss the Buy B.C. program, the marketing council and the fisheries. I'd like the minister to give us an update on Buy B.C., with reference to projects we have in the pot, so to speak, the money we're spending and the groups which are applying for assistance to promote their products.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I'm going to give a very general answer. There are many specifics I could put into the record, but let me just say that last week when the Premier and I launched a TV advertising program, we summarized by saying that every project we had funded had been successful, according to early indications. Our partners have reported increases in sales, be it blueberries, salmon, beef or whatever. We anticipate spending $2.5 million this year, which is more than we had anticipated earlier. The program has ramped up earlier than we had expected, and there's significant demand.
To give you a flavour of some of the projects, we've approved 31 so far. They involve salmon, vegetables, blueberries, grapes, turkey, the food and beverage consortium and farmed salmon. Other participants include the Jersey Farm Shippers, the B.C. Dairy Foundation, the Christmas Tree Council, the Ginseng Growers, the Saanich Peninsula Direct Farm Marketing Association, Valley Organic Farmers, the Comox Valley Farmers' Association, the Peace River Agricultural Society, the Beef Consortium, the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board, the Wine Producers of B.C., the Food and Beverage Marketing Association, A Bite of B.C., which is a restaurant food show that will take place this fall, B.C. produce growers, Commonwealth Games, B.C. Egg Marketing Board, B.C. Nursery Trades Association, United Flower Growers' Co-op, the Western Greenhouse Growers' trade proposal and consumer promotion, the B.C. Vegetable Marketing Commission, Fraser Valley Mushroom Growers' Co-op, B.C. Turkey Marketing Board, B.C. Salmon Marketing Council, B.C. Sheep Federation and the Penticton Mainstreet Market Society. Those have been funded to date, and they really end up with a total of about $1.3 million from the partnership program.
R. Chisholm: This was a five-year program. How much is left in this program, and are there any plans to increase the moneys put into this program, seeing that it has been successful to this degree?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: The program is $9.5 million over five years. The first year, '92-93, we spent $687,000; in '93-94 we spent $1.8 million, and in '94-95, $2.8 million. We anticipate $2.5 million for next year and $1.6 million in '96-97. This year will be the biggest year. Next year will be slightly smaller unless industry contributes more, in which case our dollars will have leveraged more dollars. At the rate we're going it wouldn't surprise me if it will be more than a $9.5 million program.
R. Chisholm: This program, as you know, almost got cancelled once, and since being implemented it has turned out to be quite a success. My question to the minister is: now that we've seen how much of a success it is in our local -- local being the B.C. marketplace -- are there any thoughts of somewhat expanding our horizons with the Buy B.C. program? Or is that going to be left with the other ministry? Finally, are we are going to branch out with this program or will we remain internal within B.C.?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I'm not sure where the member got the information that the program was almost cancelled. We have no indication in my reviews of the program that it was ever almost cancelled, and since its inception, it has been a healthy program well thought of within government. I'm sure we're not debating that. The issue is that we agree it's a successful program.
To answer your question about expansion, B.C. Trade Development Corporation will retain responsibility for export promotion. What does happen, though, is that marketing success can lever dollars that can then be used in the export markets. If you prove the product here, you can probably find success in the export markets. We expect that the money spent by industry and government in the domestic market will then either lever or free up dollars that could be spent in the export market.
R. Chisholm: This program was on the chopping block in 1991, and it was brought back in during the lettuce and cabbage fiasco and the dumping problems with the Americans. That's where the idea originates, and that's when it was somewhat reinstated. It wasn't just rumours. It was a $5 million program that was scrapped, and it evolved into a $9.5 million program over a five-year period during the next six months. That's past history, so we don't need to dwell on that too much.
My next question concerns the fact that there are a lot of new products out there which you see in the local marketplace, such as baby vegetables and this type of thing. What in the Buy B.C. program is giving people incentives to get into or promote this? Are the groups themselves promoting these things through Buy B.C.? What in your ministry, along with Buy B.C., is assisting them to get into these different products?
Another area of concern that you can probably answer at the same time is fish, particularly salmon. If you go to a grocery store you'll see salmon in a can. You don't see it dressed up with a few potatoes so that it becomes a full meal in the frozen foods section. I wonder if there is anything in the Buy B.C. program to help promote this? If not, is there anything in the ministry to help foster new products? It seems we're missing the boat on this one. If we can make a product more attractive, we have a very viable value-added industry that we're not capitalizing on. We see other provinces and states capitalizing on this, but we're not dressing up our own products.
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Hon. D. Zirnhelt: We like to work with groups because they can find the packaging. For example, the Food and Beverage Marketing Association has a working program called the Table Top promotion, which packages different products. The vegetable and mushroom growers have a program where 15 commodities work together. At the launch dinner they showed these things working together. A Bite of B.C., scheduled to take place this fall in Victoria, will feature all these foods blended together. The wine and salmon marriage was celebrated and very successfully marketed. These are some examples.
With respect to marketing new products, you mentioned baby vegetables. If a particular group wants to promote such a product, they can apply to do so, but it's more likely caught up in their general marketing. If there's something new or catchy there, I'm sure it will be used as a feature item. The program allows industry to do consumer promotion, so it's really important in launching new products, since they will feature them. In some cases there are old products that just haven't been marketed very well. The beef promotion is an example I know well. This is a case of an old product that's been around, but people don't buy it because it hasn't been identified. We can enhance marketing simply by making people aware. The Buy B.C. program represents new marketing promotions that have to go beyond the regular promotion. This is extra money, not substitute money, for promotion.
R. Chisholm: Then if you had salmon, added a few vegetables and boxed it up like a TV dinner, is there any agency in this ministry to assist, promote or advise industry representatives about the way to go? What ministry would assist in helping them branch out into other areas? We are missing the boat on a lot of such products, which could be very attractive, but we don't make them attractive. We're allowing other jurisdictions to monopolize this.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: The ministry does provide a lot of advice on technology transfer, which relates to the mechanics of packaging, so we do support that. Of course, we can't provide creative service to every commodity and product line; they have to do that. But if they've got something that can be promoted, we usually help them with the commercialization of the techniques so that they can then launch the product through Buy B.C.
R. Chisholm: I'm not looking for handouts to an industry or anything along those lines. I guess what I'm looking for -- and I've used this word before in these estimates -- is leadership in advising and motivating these people to go this route, which would enhance their industry and, of course, help fill the coffers of British Columbia through tax dollars and all the rest of it. So I'm looking for leadership to give these people these innovative ideas.
I mentioned California, which is a trend setter in the food industry. If we watch the California market, we'll see what's going to happen ten or 15 years down the road in other jurisdictions. If we're on top of that, it can be an area where we are right on top of the issues, where we can be the person, the province or the industry that is being innovative. If we look a little beyond our noses and see what other people are doing, especially the innovators in the marketplace, that can only benefit British Columbia and our industries.
The Chair: Hon. members, that is a division. We will have a short recess while we do our duty in the other House and then return.
The committee recessed at 6:58 p.m.
The committee resumed at 7:07 p.m.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: We were discussing the leadership shown by the food industry branch, which works with sector specialists and companies to identify opportunities and partnerships with respect to the development of new products. New products have also been developed as a result of work done by the fisheries branch. Through the fisheries development and diversification program, we provided incentive money to lever private sector funds. Examples from 1993-94 include new marinated marine fish fillets, the surimi wastewater technology project and the pasteurization of canned and jarred salmon roe.
We're really trying to develop new products. There are eight projects proposed for this year: dogfish processing; the promotion of Pacific whiting as a new product; value-added squid processing; abalone hatchery development; Asian fishery product development; pink salmon roe, salt fish and mackerel development; crawfish harvesting and market development; and fish silage technology. If the member thinks grass silage smells, he should smell fish silage.
R. Chisholm: I'd like to turn to the rumblings I've heard from the marketing council. One story concerned a company like IGA or Thrifty's, which had its own infrastructure between itself and the marketing council. It tried to work with the government, but the bureaucracy did not seem to be able to react to the system that was already in place and wanted to put its own system in. Subsequent negotiations collapsed, and the stores backed out.
If this is true, I wonder why we are not trying to accommodate the system that's already in place. It would be a little heavy-handed for the bureaucracy to walk in and not accommodate what is already there. After all, these people are comfortable with their own infrastructure and their own way of doing business. If we're there to assist, maybe we should be a bit more accommodating; we might be successful rather than having programs collapse like what happened in this story.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: If it's the case that we think it is, the B.C. Food and Beverage Marketing Council had a promotion with one of the stores you mentioned. The council itself couldn't get sufficient participation by its members to launch a successful program. When the partners themselves aren't ready to go, they will often drop it as they have in this case. They express some frustration, but the rules are there for everybody and were developed in concert with industry and the advisory council, so we think they're reasonable. If somebody can show an obstacle that we can remove, we'd be happy to do that. Without getting into the particulars of the case, I think that's what happened. I certainly wasn't made aware of any missed opportunity. It may be that some of the people just didn't see an advantage to working together on that particular project.
R. Chisholm: I'll get the details from the marketing council person and give them to you so you can look into that particular situation. I don't think it was from the beverage side. It was another situation where the three parties weren't accommodating the infrastructure that was already in place. Then the industry itself -- not the commodity group -- said: "No, we're not going to have anything to do with this, because this is how we do business, whether it be with Safeway or whatever." So I'll get some more of those details,
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and then I will turn them over to you so you can look into this situation. I would hate to have the government lose this business and the commodity groups lose opportunities; that seems to be the case in this situation.
I've got a few more questions. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a budget of $89 million-plus to date. The bulk of that money has been spent on supporting primary agriculture and handed to marketing boards and other groups involved in primary agriculture. The future of the industry lies in processing; that's where the bulk of the new business is generated and long-term employment lies. The Buy B.C. program is clearly geared for primary agricultural groups leaving companies on the processing side to wade through financial requirements that are completely unworkable for them, because they do not have the grower levies or government assistance moneys to draw from to satisfy the upfront money requirement. These problems have been pointed out to the ministry staff many times in the past, but no compromise has been made.
The questions that the marketing council stated to me are: could the minister tell them if the ministry has any plans to actually consult with or direct any of its future programs to the food processing industry? Could the minister tell them why the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is the only provincial ministry in Canada that does not financially support its processing industry association? In fact, it makes it difficult for the processing industry to take advantage of ministry programs, even if they are, in reality, public relations exercises to appease the growers of lettuce or whoever.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: With respect to the Buy B.C. program and how it can fit in, it is specifically targeted to matching primary producers with food processors in an attempt to see their product marketed to its maximum value-added. We are doing that. In defence of ministry activities, I have to say that the processing industry would be dependent on purchasing out of province without a strong primary production. I think we would agree that that is not the best thing for the B.C. economy.
We work with these groups, but we don't directly fund operational funding. It's ministry policy not to fund particular groups' operating costs. If that's what they're asking for, that's not the policy we have. To change that policy, we would have to fund the 40-odd primary producing groups out there as well. The food processing industry can work with us to develop a strategy for their part of the sector, and I fully expect that in the agrifood policy discussions, we will identify processing as an area that requires some extra effort.
More than 88 B.C. companies have applied for and received the program users' guide licensing them to use the Buy B.C. logo on packaging and promotional materials. Quite a few companies dealing with processed food are availing themselves of this program.
R. Chisholm: Could the minister tell me how much money we spend out of our budget on the processing industry, and how much we spend on generic advertising and that type of thing?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I'll be getting the figure for you. There's no direct subsidy to the food processing industry. I have to say that, and there are some historical reasons for it. They have come on and developed after there has been a long-established relationship with the primary production group. I think it has been less required -- before free trade anyway -- than it was with the primary production. We spent $6 million in the food industry.
What have we spent it on? What is that figure? I just said we don't spend on it, so I'm not going to say that. What I'd like is what that figure is.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Well, I wouldn't want to contradict myself.
The Chair: Would you like a moment to consult with officials?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: We spend $6 million of our budget out of the $80 million-plus on the food branch, and that goes into providing services. A lot of that is salaries and operating costs in the ministry. To say we don't spend anything means we don't hand money over to the industry. The money is spent providing advisory services and development services. That is a significant amount of money that the people in the processing industry get by way of services. They get information and counselling, and they get some development services and some research.
R. Chisholm: What measures do we take to ensure that we don't have overlapping programs among the federal, provincial, Buy B.C. and industry programs? Are we looking at this to any great degree to make sure we're not duplicating services? Are we making sure our dollar is going to the best ends to get the best rewards for our money?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: With respect to overlap in market development, we're part of the federal-provincial market development council, and they work on precisely that. They make sure the overlaps are reduced. I can't think of another sector. We work closely with the federal Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans. We're partners in the seafood marine products sector campaign. So those are levels of government and industry working together. That idea of the various levels and the various related sectors working together is well established.
R. Chisholm: I wonder if any of the minister's advisory council members are being paid -- the chairperson or any of the members -- for their advisory capacity. How many employees did we hire to administer this particular program?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: No one is paid on the advisory council. They get their transportation costs and expenses paid. Four people are working on the Buy B.C. program as we know it, and the council is only part of it. That feeds into the program; the entire program is administered by that, and the council is only one structure attached to the program.
R. Chisholm: I see a potential problem with another area in the food industry -- for instance, our processors who are freezing foods. We have Bellingham Frozen Foods in competition with Lucerne or FraserVale; we see Royal City paring down and others closing up. I'm getting a little concerned about these industries leaving. These are value-added industries that bring profits into the province. Of course, they also pay tax dollars to help finance where we're sitting right now.
The problem I see is that this industry seems to be decimated either by dumping -- or even before the
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dumping, by competition. We don't seem to be supporting this industry, and I wonder if the ministry is taking a look at this area of endeavour and ensuring that we give incentives or assist these industries to stay here in British Columbia. They employ our people to put the value-added into the products we're growing in our soil and then exporting.
We see Lucerne and Snowcrest in trouble. We see FraserVale being moved out. Mind you, that was a decision by Pillsbury, and it might even be related to NAFTA, but it's not the point. The whole picture indicates that we're losing. Is the ministry actively enhancing this industry or trying to make it attractive for them to stay in British Columbia?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: We are helping the companies you've mentioned with information on dumping if that's the issue. We don't provide direct information for them to build their case. They're going to have to assist themselves even though they're small. We will work with them in putting together their dumping or competition cases.
You know your party supported the NAFTA; we're seeing some negative results of NAFTA. We're trying to live with them, and I think this is why we leaned on the federal government. As Trade minister I asked for adjustment assistance so that federally induced problems would be federally assisted. Of course, those programs are not forthcoming. We recognize that there's going to be a tough period ahead for a while.
With respect to the incentives you mentioned, I'm not sure what those incentives are. The ministry will help any industry that looks like it can stand on its own two feet with a little nurturing. We're doing what we can, and we can always do more. In terms of adjusting to the new trade environment, we knew what was coming, and we're assisting them with information and trying to help them prepare their cases.
R. Chisholm: I'm not just talking about dumping; as a matter of fact, dumping wasn't the main theme of that question. It was about making it more attractive for these industries to be in this province. Whether NAFTA is a problem or not is immaterial. It's a fact of life, and now we have to adjust around that.
All I'm saying to you is that we have a problem right now. The problem is that these industries are leaving. We still have an agricultural sector which is producing the commodity that needs to be processed. If we do not make it attractive for them to be here, all the value-added will be shipped out to the state of Washington or to Alberta. We saw the same thing with the hake -- the whitefish -- where all the value-added was shipped to offshore factory ships or to the state of Washington to be processed. This isn't helping our unemployment situation, and it's not helping this economy. I couldn't care less about NAFTA. I'm just wondering what the ministry is actively doing right now to help these people stay in business in this province. Are we doing anything at all?
I realize that we are taking the case on dumping and going to the minister in Ottawa, and that you have sent letters off to Paul Martin -- I have myself. I'm talking about what we are doing. We can't just go around and blame everybody. We have to say: "Look, that's what the situation is." Whether my particular party federally did this is immaterial; I'm a provincial Liberal. This is the situation we've got right here in this province at this time. I couldn't care less about what the federal Liberals did and about what has happened in the past. Dumping is a situation we have addressed. What are we doing to address the situation of keeping business here and the value-added basis to keep people employed and our industry viable, and to ensure that the agricultural sector, in turn, stays viable and that the tax dollars stay here to pay for all the social welfare and whatever this government wants to pay for?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I don't think you can ignore the fact that when we opposed NAFTA, you voted against us. So you can't just say: "Well, forget that we helped create the problem. Now you solve it." I think that point has to be made. In my comments to your previous question, I didn't just address the assistance on the dumping. I did mention that we're assisting in production with technology and market development through Buy B.C. We're doing all those things, and some industries are going to have trouble. It's a competitiveness issue. Not all industries are going to find it easy to compete. Some of them are doing very well. I think our milk industry and beef industry are very well positioned. If we get a bit more assistance on the international side, our grain industry will be well positioned. So there are a number of product areas where we are doing well.
The processing industry is a problem. We anticipated that when NAFTA was on the horizon, and we knew we weren't going to have an easy time of it. But you can't say that because the federal government signed a trade agreement, we should then turn around and pick up all the pieces. We don't have the capacity to pick up all the pieces, but we will work with those industries wherever we can, and we are doing so. We share information, and we give them information, but we are not carrying specific industries. We intend to review that under the agrifood policy review to see what we can do to help them be competitive.
R. Chisholm: Enough on that subject. That should really make the industry very comfortable.
The next subject I have is just a couple of suggestions that have been sent to me. You might have copies of them, I'm not sure. We're talking about advertising local farmers and local produce when it becomes ripe for picking or for buying by the population. The suggestions that were brought up are about the signs. I realize there's a committee out there. But we have been spending a lot of dollars on the Trans-Canada, advertising what's wrong with the roads ahead, and so on. In the summer and the fall, there's not a heck of a lot except to watch out for falling rock or for stray deer on the road. Someone suggested a generic sign could be programmed to indicate, for example, that the blueberries are ripe and where in that particular area they can be bought. The signs have been purchased and paid for by the Ministry of Transportation. You could take that to the minister as a suggestion for some free advertising by utilizing the resources we already have.
My last point is about the Buy B.C. program. I'm not sure if we're developing anything on dining establishments for advertising with tourism. I know we have the marriage, if you will, between the salmon and the wines, as well as the other products, and winery tours are going on.
I've been watching other provincial jurisdictions, and they have some ideas, too. In Nova Scotia, for instance, they have A Taste of Nova Scotia -- you know about that program -- which advertises at all airports a few of the pertinent restaurants throughout the province that specialize in produce particular to Nova Scotia. We could do likewise here. I wonder if we are doing this with our Buy B.C. program to catch tourists coming into the province at various places, and whether we are approaching Buy B.C. in this manner.
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Hon. D. Zirnhelt: With respect to signage, we have had discussions with the Ministry of Transportation. They will allow specific signs on available products to be erected. We're working with the Restaurant and Food Services Association to look at point-of-sale advertising so that things that appear on your restaurant table.... The food industry development council has a subcommittee that develops a program for food service. These are a couple of examples.
R. Chisholm: With regard to the signage I was referring to, I realize there was a committee struck to look at that. I'm referring particularly to the electronic signage that we see on some roads -- the Coquihalla and the Trans-Canada -- and whether they'll utilize that.
I realize the other signage is being studied by that committee, but that is a specific question for the Trans-Canada and the Coquihalla, which are very well used; these signs are noticed by a lot of people.
As for the particular program they use in Nova Scotia, I'll pass you the brochures so that you can have a look at them. This committee might want to utilize the same type of program here.
K. Jones: I'd like to ask a couple of questions. The first is with regard to the agricultural land reserve and the golf courses that had been approved by your predecessor for go-ahead, since they had received third reading in the various communities where they had to fight through city council. I wonder if you could tell us what the status of these projects is now, with the previous deadline for completion coming in June, I think. As a result of changes in the legislation, several have had difficulty with their financing and only now are starting to get things back in order again.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Cabinet exempted 42 proposals subject to the facilities being substantially completed within two years. I think that's what you're talking to as well as to restrictions on the sale of the land. We have looked at the situation, and some that are not substantially completed have had notices given to them, and others that are substantially completed will be okay. But a number will not because they have not met the deadline, and it can't be extended. Under the legislation you can't extend the deadline.
K. Jones: Are you saying that those people who haven't already got their project underway, although they are now in a position to move ahead with their financing...? The decision to put this on hold caused a lot of people financial difficulties, because people couldn't hold indefinitely, but now they're getting their finances in order as various economies are starting to build back. Are you saying that even though they've got their projects well advanced, they've spent extensively on them, they've done all their planning, they've got all their approvals and the property is zoned and ready to move ahead, they are not going to be allowed to do that now?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: It depends on what their deadline is. If the deadline has arrived and they have not substantially completed their project, they won't be allowed to go ahead. They can reapply to the commission, and each will be judged on its merits. That was the point of giving them two years; two years is a long period of time to reassemble and get back on track. I'd have to know the specifics, because there may be some of them for whom the deadline has not yet arrived. If it hasn't arrived and they can substantially complete the project before the deadline, they're okay. There are about 18 whose deadline is June 19, and one that is July 20. On April 6 there were 23, and those that weren't substantially completed were told it was too late, they were out of luck. We expect that one-third of those 23 will have been completed or substantially completed by now, so there will be two-thirds that won't make it.
K. Jones: Could I get that date again in July when one was going to be complete?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: July 20.
K. Jones: Could the minister give us a list of the projects that are going to be approved and of those that are falling into difficulty for each of these dates -- which ones are completed, which are going to get an extension and which are being rejected?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: There is no extension to any of them. We don't have the list of names of the companies here, but we can provide that for you.
K. Jones: Thank you. Could you provide that within a day or two -- would that be reasonable? I think the list of approved projects from two years ago has already been prepared so it should be fairly easy to have the list monitored as to how they have substantially completed. It would not be asking too much of you, would it?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Yes, it is asking too much. By early next week, we'll have it for you.
K. Jones: I will deal with the particular interest of a constituent next. Maybe you could tell us whether their project is being allowed to complete. It's called Bakerview, and it's at Sumas Way and Highway 1. That's in Chilliwack, is it? No, it's in Abbotsford.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Our best recollection is that it's one of the ones whose date comes up June 19, so between now and June 19 they will have to be substantially complete. I can't be absolutely 100 percent sure of that, because we don't have all the records here with us, but that's our recollection.
K. Jones: What are you going to do with these lands that have been already preloaded in preparation for becoming golf courses? We have several of them around. Barnston Island has at least one but possibly two that are preloaded and no longer available for farmland. Would it not be appropriate to do something with that, or are you going to expect them to remove the preload and put it back as agricultural land as a result of the rejection?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: If it's the same one we think it is, there hasn't been a significant amount of preload done in the area, only approximately an acre. If that's the case, we'll have to review it when the time comes, and the commission will decide what to do. They will look at extenuating circumstances. In this case, it was probably some dredging from the river that was dumped there. I don't know the details. It will have to be reviewed, but if they are not in compliance with the commission's requirements in the ALR, they have to consider what actions to take. My understanding is that they aren't going to be too onerous on people.
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K. Jones: Could you clarify for us exactly who will be making that decision? Will that be the Land Commission or yourself?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: There is no capacity in which I can make that decision. It will be the Land Commission.
K. Jones: I understood they were previously established by legislative decision, and the minister announced who was approved and who didn't make the cut. Is this now changing?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Yes. You are talking about the Golf Course Development Moratorium Act, which was passed by the Legislature, and the spokesperson for government would be the minister. When the legislation was passed, he would have communicated what was in the act. That allowed two years for substantial completion, and it was established in the act that the commission would review and administer the act's provisions relating to golf courses. Right from the day the legislation was passed, it was established that the commission would do the reviewing and the administration.
K. Jones: Thank you, hon. minister. It's not the kind of answer we were hoping to get. Certainly there's going to be a lot of people a great deal out of pocket. I don't know how you're going to deal with the financial claims that might be brought for the losses they've incurred. They certainly will not be inclined toward this government's direction in not giving them a fair chance to go beyond the economic cycle that's kept them from being able to complete within the short deadline that was provided.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I don't think a single company can argue that they weren't properly advised. There was a meeting with them. They were given the act. They knew they had two years; that's what happens in business. You may sometimes be out of cycle. I don't think this government will apologize for the Golf Course Development Moratorium Act. They were given two years. We took advice on what was appropriate in terms of any damages that might be sought from the government, and we put it into legislation so that there would be a certain procedure. So everybody knew what would happen at the end of two years. The rules weren't changed after the legislation was introduced.
K. Jones: I have one last point. The Minister of Municipal Affairs changed the rules to accommodate those people who were going to lose their positions as elected officials because they didn't file under certain circumstances. I think it was because they were acclaimed. Perhaps the minister could give a serious second thought to measuring the circumstances these people are in and at least review each one on its merits. Allow representation to come before you to look at how much these people have involved themselves in the project and what difficulties they have addressed. Then, if merit warrants, you could allow exception to the process so that there would be an opportunity to give fair play to these people on an individual basis.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: There's no capacity under the legislation for any ministerial review. They can make a new application to the commission, and the commission will give fair and due consideration. The legislation was there to stop the development of golf courses on agricultural land. As I recall, your party voted for that legislation. So if you have a constituent who has a concern, they need to know that there was broad support in the Legislature for this moratorium. Two years, I think, was fair. We took guidance from standards of industry and from the law which advised us on what the time period should be; two years was considered to be adequate at the time.
K. Jones: I'd like to ask another question about the greenhouse industry; there are quite a few in my riding. Great concerns are being addressed now to the increased costs of operating in the greenhouse area. Two factors appear to be of great concern to them. I wonder what the minister is doing to assist these people in providing a very needed service in the domestic and export production of floral and agricultural products. Could you tell us what you are doing to assist in getting a realistic natural gas rate to support these people? I understand they are being assessed as if they were a regular industry rather than an agricultural industry that doesn't have the capability of other industries to change prices. One of my producers with a large greenhouse operation noted that, although Hydro rates are tiered, the costing works in reverse for greenhouse people, because they have to use it at the peak price in winter to keep their operations going year-round. They don't need the heat during the summer, so they are not really getting any benefit out of the reduced prices.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Yesterday in estimates we agreed to look at the issue of Hydro rates for greenhouses. We'll have to investigate to see what it is doing to their production costs. We have some market development for the greenhouse industry, which will thrive if it has a healthy market. It is thriving, and it is one of the better sectors within agriculture. But with respect to the natural gas rate, we would have to agree to look at that. We don't set those rates, so when the Hydro subsidiary that was in the natural gas industry was privatized, the government lost the ability to use pricing as an industry incentive.
So those are a few comments on it. We are concerned that the industry remain competitive, and we'll have to look at all the input costs that are government and non-government related to see what we can do to assist them. Right now I don't have an easy answer for the natural gas situation.
K. Jones: The minister is probably aware that the B.C. Energy Council, although it will be defunct after the end of the year, is mandated to bring down a B.C. energy strategy plan this year. Is the minister bringing representation on behalf of the agriculture industry to that new energy strategy, so there's a recognition that this industry should have a different type of rating structure from the regular industrial or residential rating structure?
I note also.... Well, I'll come to that later.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: We always do our best to represent the agriculture industry, but other industries that find competition difficult make the same arguments. The heavy industry in metals makes the same argument that in order to be competitive it needs special rates, etc. To the extent that the agriculture energy has energy needs, we will comment to the council on these needs. We will rely on the industry to advise us on their needs.
K. Jones: Hon. minister, you say you will bring forward the concerns of the agriculture industry before the Energy Council. Does that mean you haven't done anything so far in bringing representation on behalf of the ag industry to the Energy Council in the development of the energy plan? I
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understand that the plan is almost finalized and that a report will be issued this fall. Hasn't the minister brought anything forward previous to this?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: What would the member like us to bring forward to the council?
K. Jones: What we've been discussing for the last five minutes: a support plan recognizing the different needs and requirements of the ag industry. When developing this energy strategy for British Columbia, I would have hoped that the minister had brought forward such a plan. It sounds like it may be a little late for him to do so.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I thought the member's original question concerned whether we will comment on the report's impact on the agricultural industry. If the industry made representations and asked for advice, we would have provided it. We didn't brief the commission on the necessity of special treatment for the agriculture industry. I told the member before that every industry argues that it needs special treatment to be competitive. If the member is aware of any presentations made by industry, I'd be pleased if he would share them with our ministry. I would encourage any industry group that feels it needs special treatment to come to us. We don't always initiate things on behalf of industry; many groups don't take kindly to our intervention. If they requested assistance, however, I assure you we would have given it.
K. Jones: The natural gas increases came into effect in November 1993. There was no planning time made available for greenhouses and other agricultural operations. They got an overnight increase in excess of 25 percent. That's pretty hard for them to accommodate within their price structure and operating expenses. The minister is the Minister of Agriculture, I believe. I would think that he would be their advocate and that he would be well aware of the proposals involved in such an important decision as the British Columbian energy strategy. A vital decision is going to be made, and if the minister is not involved in that process on behalf of his industry, the industry will be shortchanged.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I really don't know how to respond to the member. If a matter is brought to our attention by an industry group, then we pass it on to the appropriate authority. But you're talking about pricing in the private sector, and we would probably not be notified of that in advance. If we were, we would say: "That's going to affect the greenhouse industry. Maybe you shouldn't do that." We have close relations with the greenhouse industry. When they bring matters to our attention, we take up their cause or help pass on their concerns. The ministry is not there simply to advocate for those who decide they can't advocate for themselves. That's not the way it works. We will work with them, and if there is a provincial government responsibility to make a comment on it, we will do that. As I say, in this case I'm not aware that the greenhouse industry came to us and asked us to petition a body on their behalf. If they did and we didn't do it, I'm not aware of it.
R. Chisholm: I'd like to change the topic now from gas and electricity to fish -- finally.
The first thing I'd like to hear from the minister, I guess, is an update on the Pacific Salmon Treaty. As you well know, we had the motion before the House, and we did debate it in ministerial statements. The most recent issue that has come up is that while the Prime Minister was in Normandy, he apparently discussed the problems with the salmon treaty with President Clinton. I'm just wondering if you have been updated as to what came out of that discussion. I'd like to know exactly where we stand now as far as the situation with the treaty is and whether you have any new information. Then we'll take it from there.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: We knew of the possible discussion between the Prime Minister and the President. What we don't have is a report on that. It's a little too soon to expect that, although by tomorrow when I meet with Mr. Tobin -- he's out meeting with stakeholders and the provincial government -- we expect a report on that. We'd be happy to pass it on, but we don't have an update as of today.
R. Chisholm: Maybe the minister can give us an update to this point. Where are we with what you're doing as a provincial government and with what you've talked to Minister Tobin about? As you know, I've spoken to him too, and to Herb Dhaliwal, and I'd just like to hear exactly where you are in this picture, what you plan on doing and what you're in the process of doing. Then, once we get that update, if you could give it to me, I would be most appreciative.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Yesterday we were briefed on the status of the development of the fishing plans that the federal government is working on with stakeholders. Tomorrow and the next day there will be a series of meetings with stakeholders. Virtually all of the actions that can be taken with respect to a fishing plan development and execution are with the federal government. There's not much that the province can do, except to represent the interests of the various communities and constituency groups. What we will be doing is making an assessment based on the stakeholder consultations so that we're satisfied that the plan is as good as can be developed under the circumstances. We will then decide to support or not support a fishing plan and do what we can where we're called upon to help in the execution of it.
Primarily we will be lending our support to the federal government's fishing plan and continuing to keep lines of communication open with stakeholders. In all probability, there will be adjustments to the fishing plan through the season.
R. Chisholm: Is there any lobbying going on between this government and the Governors of the states that are involved in this situation? Is the Premier lobbying the Governors of these particular states to see if they can make headway that way?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: The Premier has written to his colleagues -- the Governors -- and in some cases there will be meetings established. They will be followed up with further contact by myself with my counterparts. I don't have dates for that, but that will happen. The judgment was made when we were in Washington that it was unlikely that there would by any kind of agreement this year. As a result the efforts on the salmon treaty won't be fruitful, so we are attempting to put in place a fishing plan that looks after British Columbia's and Canada's interests. Any lobbying will be public relations work to make sure that our position is understood. Fundamental to that position is that conservation needs will be taken care of in the fishing plan on a national basis. The best conservation and the most equitable distribution of the fishing will be done under the treaty. However, not having the treaty we have to do the best
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we can with the wherewithal we have in terms of places to fish and our ability to allow escapement of stocks. There will be official level contact open between the government of Canada and the federal U.S. government in Washington, D.C., and there will be contact between the provincial and state governments.
R. Chisholm: Could you describe, as much as you are able, the plan that is being put together and what the federal government has decided to do? In some of my conversations with various officials and with Minister Tobin, we talked about increased costs of fishing licences, over fishing in certain areas and this type of pressure being brought to bear. If there is anything you can divulge about the details of that plan and what they've now come to a consensus on, it would be most appreciated. The last time I talked to them about this issue was a week and a half ago, so I expect my information in that area is dated; you might be up on it.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: If I were I able to, I would be happy to divulge more information. The fact of the matter is that it's all up in the air until the various options are signed off by the stakeholder group. I'll have more information tomorrow and on Thursday; I expect that's when the announcement will be made. The whole fishing plan has to be announced rather than sign off on various parts of it. Not until everything is agreed to will the whole package have general acceptance. As we speak here I'm sure there are consultations going on in an attempt to get the maximum amount of buy-in and support from the stakeholder groups.
R. Chisholm: I'd like to turn to another area. You may have wondered why I used Gerry Shaw's letter earlier. I wanted to bring a point home to rest here; maybe we can straighten up this particular situation. I have mentioned the Vince Ready report and the Kelleher report. One of the problems we seem to have a lot in government is a lack of communication with the interested parties and interest groups. Whether they are Gerry Shaw in Kelowna or the Pacific Trollers Association here on the coast is immaterial. We don't seem to respond very well. To bring the point home I decided I would read this letter into the record to show you his misconceptions, because he didn't have all the facts. Granted, the report had not been tabled.
If we take the same scenario, Vince Ready in '92 was supposed to look at the fishing industry and talk about unionization. He never once negotiated with the interested parties. I have five or six letters here if you want to see them: one from the Pacific Trollers; one from the fishing vessel owners. I have three from various aboriginal fishing vessel owners, the Native Fishing Association, and I can go on with the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia. The problem here is that nobody is talking to them. Vince Ready, as far as they're concerned, did not talk to them. When the Kelleher report came along, he had a mandate to implement it, not discuss whether it should happen or should not happen. These people had not discussed it with them, and they didn't know particularly what was in the report. They finally got a little scared, and they came over to this building to talk to the Minister of Labour, but they only got to talk to the associate deputy minister, I believe it was. The very next day the bill was tabled in the House. Then we wonder why people like Gerry Shaw have a problem or misconceptions, or don't understand, or go on hearsay and rumour.
I guess my point is that this particular government -- and every government -- should be making the promise to listen and to go out and talk to the people. But I don't think we're doing it very well. The Kelleher report is an ideal example of where we didn't do a very good job, and another one is the Thompson report where the subject matter is very similar. Possibly there's a lesson here to be learned by us in this chamber to start opening up a little more and be a bit more timely.
I brought up earlier that there were no timely responses to the cattlemen; as a matter of fact, you didn't even talk to them. If I take a look at the Kelleher report, I know for a fact that one of the boat owners lives four doors away from the Minister of Labour, but he couldn't get to talk to him. This is wrong, and the only point I want to make here is that, for some strange reason, we are not facilitating the people we're supposed to be governing. Maybe you could pass on to the particular ministers involved that they should have a time line making it a little easier for constituents to talk to them and to know what's happening to them before it happens.
The main question I have on this particular area goes back to the Pacific Salmon Treaty. You were down in Washington, D.C. lobbying the U.S. federal government on the Pacific Salmon Treaty. At the same time as you were down there lobbying in Washington, this bill was tabled in the House and the Kelleher report came down. That does not look like very much support for this industry. We have an industry here that is failing, and another country is trying to take advantage of that. Meanwhile, you're fighting for survival, and another minister and his government are pulling some of the underpinnings out from under it. I sometimes wonder whether the right hand knows what the left hand is doing within this building.
I guess what I would like to ask is: how come you were lobbying to save this industry, which I think is your responsibility to do, while another minister is turning around and destabilizing that same industry at the same time? It certainly sends the wrong message to the various groups I named earlier, all the fishing vessel owners' associations and the trollers. I would like to hear how this happened and why the timing was the way it was.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I think I'll start with the Ready-Kelleher sequence. It's been no secret that there was a recommendation that the Labour Code apply to the fishing industry. That recommendation was out there; it was widely known and widely reported. If journalists for a particular association didn't report it widely, there was nothing more the government could do on that. Kelleher went out and spoke to industry groups, so there was lots of consultation. Maybe every single vessel owner wasn't spoken to, but the associations were. So if groups don't participate in their industry associations and the industry associations are consulted, it's not the government's fault. Every attempt is made to go to the individual business people who are involved, but if you want a reasoned approach coming back and a reasonable consultation, you go to the associations. If the leadership of organizations doesn't go to its membership, then the government still has to deal with the representative organizations.
The Kelleher report was out there for a very long time. We were in touch with the groups, and a lot of them did not make a contribution to or a submission on the Kelleher report. They got concerned and started to take things seriously when almost outside the minister's time frame. We don't know what happened. I trust it was not a deliberate attempt. Industries have an opportunity to consult. If they don't get their way, often they will say they weren't consulted. There is not always agreement between government and industry groups; there never will be
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complete agreement. A number of meetings took place between the various ministry representatives and the industry groups. I've met with them and have taken their concerns to the minister.
With respect to the tabling of the legislation, when we were in Washington, the legislation was ready. It was introduced into the House for debate at the earliest possible convenience. We don't expect major changes to the way in which the fishing industry is there, by recognizing agreements that are there, just as agreements that have access to the Labour Code don't dramatically change the nature of the industry and, in my view, don't destabilize it. A fish processing task force is taking place, the salmon treaty negotiations are underway, watershed management plans have to take place, and there are issues in and around management of watersheds under the Green Plan.
There's an awful lot going on, because we have problems in some of our resource management areas. We have over capacity on this coast with respect to more boats chasing what might be fewer fish, if we don't do an excellent job of concentrating on the fish stock. While there are many problems out there, the representative organizations have been given lots of time. Though they say there wasn't time for consultation, the report was advertised in the newspaper and contacts were made with the various groups. As to being accountable for every step in the consultation, I leave that undertaking to the Minister of Skills, Training and Labour, since it is his responsibility. He did meet with the groups and recently met with them again. They provided some criticisms of the bill, which he is considering.
R. Chisholm: I find it highly unlikely that these organizations and associations would put pen to paper, or that their executives would sign a document indicating they have neither met with me nor discussed this bill with me. And they're not talking about themselves; they're talking about their executives and their associations. As a matter of fact, they say they have not had discussions with any affiliated people. If I were to pick up a document of the fishing vessel owners the first thing it says, as you and the government know, is that this legislation is being drafted by people who fail to consult with their industry in any meaningful way. And it goes on like that. I know the minister finally met with them the other day, because they came down to my office shortly thereafter and met with me. The problem was that they came in a week earlier and met with the assistant deputy minister. And the very next day the item was tabled. I would like you to pass on the message to these particular ministers that if they are going to have legislation that affects your jurisdiction, they should get it out there and discuss it with the interested parties well in advance, and ensure that people have discussed the bill and the report. I'm not going to sit here and say you have misled this House or that I'm misleading this House. If these people are willing to sign their names to these documents, and I'm able to table them in this House, obviously there's got to be something to it. It puts you in a bad light, hon. minister, since you are the minister in charge of fisheries. This does have an effect on your ministry. As I said, I'd like you to pass the word on this particular case to the Minister of Labour.
The next area I want to talk about concerns the movement of canneries in this province out of the province. We're seeing canneries or lines moving to the states of Alaska or Washington. I wonder what this ministry is doing to help this industry stay within British Columbia and put the value-added into our own fish. There is not much sense in sending the raw product to Alaska, Port Angeles or wherever; we should be doing that here. I realize that some of these lines move to Prince Rupert to service Alaskan salmon, but I think we can do more to enhance this industry. After all, we are not getting top dollar for our product. We are getting the raw-product moneys where we should be getting the value-added moneys. That's where the profit is for governments and for this province.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Within weeks of my being made minister, we set up the fish processing task force, which is led by people in the industry and has major contributors from the industry -- all industry people on the task force. They have considerable resources at their disposal, and they have consulted with communities and industry stakeholders in looking at policies, legislation and ways to enhance fish processing. We expect them to report out by the end of June, and we hope to be able to take action on most of their recommendations. In a nutshell, having a task force of industry that is going to make recommendations on what more we can do is about as much as we can do until we hear what their recommendations are.
We are also working at the same time on the diversification of fish products. I mentioned some of them earlier in discussion around Buy B.C. We feel that by developing new products, we can expand the season of processing and thereby create stability in jobs that are increasingly being lost to technical change and through competitiveness. The fact remains that we import more fish than we export. That being a favourable balance, hopefully we can maintain that.
R. Chisholm: That leads into my next question. How much are we spending on this fish processing strategic task force, and how much of the resources -- I'm talking about bureaucratic resources -- are directed in this way?
While we're on the subject of the task force, I received a letter from the Deep Sea Trawlers' Association, and their concern was that they didn't have representation from the ground fish industry on this task force. Their exact words were: "This association is a major player in the ground fish industry, and there are no active trawl fishermen or trawl fish processors on the task force." They were concerned about that.
Perhaps you could tell me what resources we are expending in this area, and possibly you could pen a letter to this organization in case there has been some kind of slight directed their way, which they don't understand.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: The representation was not picked to have every organization there. We picked people who had experience and could contribute from a number of perspectives. But as I said, I think the basic interests are all represented at the table. Further, they can participate by sending in a brief. Erling Olsen, who is the president of Leader Fishing Ltd., a ground fish harvester and a resident of Delta, is on the task force. There is representation from the general ground fish sector.
R. Chisholm: I'll give you a copy of this letter dated March 7, 1994, from the Deep Sea Trawlers' Association. It is signed by Douglas H. March, the managing director of the association, and that's one of his complaints. Maybe you can address it directly there and correct the fault, if there is one.
The second part of that question was: how much in the way of resources are we directing toward this committee, and how much of the bureaucratic personnel is working with this commission at the present time?
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Hon. D. Zirnhelt: This process was not set up to be bureaucratically driven, but we are contributing, part-time, a major legislative analyst and a policy adviser. At part-time, ADM Stuart Culbertson works very closely with it, and then another almost full-time person works with the task force. So there are three people putting a major contribution into it.
In 1993-94 we spent $150,000 on the task force: helping the project management services, a special adviser, $82,000 in research and then per diem travel expenses for the task force. This year we propose to spend $81,000, and there are a number of ancillary activities that have been generated around that. As far as I know, the task force, which I keep in fairly close touch with, is happy. They think they can do the job. It will be under $300,000 by the time they report out.
R. Chisholm: When is this task force expected to report out?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I expect a preliminary report next week, I'm told. I just heard that -- at the end of June. As far as I know, they're on schedule, and I'm looking forward to receiving it.
R. Chisholm: The subject that I'd like to discuss right now is the hake industry. You made mention of it with respect to Buy B.C. When I first brought up this subject it was 1991, I think, and the towns of Ucluelet and Tofino were looking for seed money to upgrade their waterworks to enhance value-added production in the hake industry.
At that time they were capable of processing 6,000 tonnes, and we had a quota then of processing 15,000 tonnes. It's now at 35,000 tonnes, and I'm just wondering exactly what we are able to facilitate or add the value to at this stage. It's now three years later. Are we still sending most of it offshore? Have we increased the amount we are able to process? Have we increased the amount of production in these two communities, and did they ever get the grants to enhance their waterworks in order to allow commercial companies to increase their size and handle the quota?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Of the 35,000 tonnes available, we expect applications to cover 17,000. So that will see just about a threefold increase since the discussions around hake took place. So that's quite dramatic growth. I realize there's more that can be done.
With respect to the development of infrastructure there, we think that by the end of July decisions on the infrastructure funding -- federal, provincial and municipal -- should be made. At least, I'm hopeful that this will happen.
I know that from time from time there's a problem. You could put the infrastructure in, but you have to have a taker. I trust that the industry is there, ready to make investments in the processing so that when an infrastructure is developed, there is a taker.
R. Chisholm: It pleases me to hear that we have increased our capability in this area, and I have to congratulate the ministry on following up on this one. It is exactly the way we have to go to put the value-added on our products and bring the dollars into this province. Hopefully we can take it from that $17,000 up to $35,000 in the next couple of years.
My next question is a bit of a dicey one, and that's the Kemano completion project. Does the minister feel that salmon spawning in the Fraser River will be greatly jeopardized if the Kemano completion project gets the green light? If the Kemano completion project does get the green light, can the minister assure B.C.'s commercial Pacific salmon fishermen that they will continue to have a viable future?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I don't have the exact figure, but the Nechako represents a minority of the fish in the Fraser. In answer to the suggestion that there might be some threat to reduction of base flows in the Fraser, I think the base flows will accommodate the major runs of the Chilko, the Horsefly and the Adams River, which constitute the vast majority of Fraser fish.
Actually, there is nothing stopping the company right now. There is a review, but in a sense they've been given the green light because there were some fairly firm commitments given in 1987. The information is starting to come out now, and I don't think we have fully analyzed the reports. As you know if you follow the press, there are contradictory reports coming out with scientists on both sides making contentious statements. I think the healthiest thing that has happened is that the hearings are allowing the scientists -- retired or presently working for the department -- to get this information on the record so that we can assess its impact.
I trust that since mitigation of impacts was part of the original design of the project, we will see an adequate evaluation in the Utilities Commission hearing. I'm hopeful that all the facts will be on the table, and we'll have a better idea of the impact on the fisheries. We should be looking at maintaining habitat wherever we can, and I think our record stands. Former developments in British Columbia were such that we have generally good stocks that return home and spawn.
R. Chisholm: I'd like to talk for a minute about cooperation between the DFO, the BCFA and your ministry. In the past few months we've seen a lot of conflict between DFO and Agriculture over habitat and an automatically antagonistic approach to situations, such as automatically taking an individual to court. I wonder if you have discussed this with the federal minister and BCFA and have come to a resolution. I had a discussion with BCFA and with Herb Dhaliwal and Brian Tobin about the same issue. It seems to me we are spending an awful lot of resources. Whether they be federal tax dollars or provincial tax dollars, they're all tax dollars to the taxpayer. It's a very antagonistic situation. It is not solving any of the problems.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
I think it would be more constructive if, for instance, BCFA talked to the individual farmer about his indiscretions in the same manner as the WCB does, where the industry takes care of things at the first stage. And if the person does not comply, then DFO can go its legal route. Right now I think all that is happening is that we are generating a large legal industry, which is wasting a lot of resources and a lot of time on the part of the DFO, the farmer and everybody else involved, such as the BCFA. I'm sure some of your ministry staff have been involved in these altercations to some degree. I know the Ministry of Environment has been involved. I wonder if you could hold some discussions with the parties involved and see if you can come to a resolution that would be productive for everybody instead of having all this present conflict.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Yes, quite often the federal government will say: "If you want to protect resources or you want to
[ Page 11613 ]
protect industries, then put your money where your mouth is." We have made a considerable effort through the CSERF programs to try a new cooperative approach. We think a couple of them have been very successful. One that I've watched very closely for precisely the reasons you've mentioned is the Bonaparte River program, where the various agencies did cooperate, and we did see some restoration of land that was subject to erosion from flooding as well as the restoration of salmon habitats. So there are some successes out there. I think there's a long way to go, and after yesterday's discussion, particularly around erosion, I undertook to challenge the federal ministry.
I just want to say that if the B.C. Federation of Agriculture can't get a successful resolution with a federal agency, by default it falls upon us to get resolution. We're prepared to help, but we are a federal system, and we don't assume all the responsibility for the federal government. It's clearly an area where there ought to be less overlap and more cooperation, but you recognize that we have limited resources to do that. We can't set up a counterbureaucracy just to solve the problems that might be created by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
If we look at the salmon treaty and at the Skeena mitigation, then I think we've shown some success. We used our political weight there, as it were, to say: "We want some accountability from the federal ministry. We want to work with you." If we can use that model to get into other areas of fisheries and habitat management, then we're going to take a leap forward. We want to do that without increasing counterbureaucracies. What we ought to have here is shared federalism, where the federal government feels accountable to the provincial government for doing a good job of administering the resource on behalf of the citizens of British Columbia. I will raise that. If there's any time at all tomorrow, I will take the opportunity to build on the successes we've had to tell the federal minister that we need more cooperation here. We are putting money into this kind of cooperation through the CSERF program, where farmers' organizations can actually apply for funding to solve common problems. I hope they know enough about the program by now. Being one of the administrating agencies, the Ministry of Agriculture has the information available, and if there's a problem, I'm sure our staff are making it known to farmers' associations that the funding is available.
R. Chisholm: I'm not asking for any resources to be allotted to it; I'm asking you to use your good offices to intercede and facilitate. I've already done this. I've had the DFO in my office, along with the BCFA. The groundwork has started; it just needs a little extra oomph, a little push. I think they will go for it, because they see what they've done is not constructive. They see where people consider that the law has been struck down in certain court cases. In fact it hasn't, but after this the law basically has no validity. They've got to put that back in, otherwise this is detrimental to the environment and to what we are all here for -- i.e., managing the resource and not ending up in court squabbles, which squander resources. All I'm asking is that you use your good offices to intercede and to mention this to them, and possibly we'll come to a resolution.
I'd like to turn to aquaculture. This is another area where we have various ministries which do not cooperate, answer or get involved. It's their jurisdiction, but it affects your ministry. This is from the B.C. Shellfish Growers' Association. I'll read it exactly the way they gave it; that way it'll come out the way they'd like to see it:
"The B.C. shellfish farming industry is over 60 years old, producing high quality oysters, clams and scallops. Our farming methods are 100 percent environmentally sustainable, economically viable and generate significant export revenues.
"Given these facts, we cannot understand why our industry continues to suffer a moratorium on new tenures, initiated without justification by the former Minister of Lands, the hon. Dave Parker, in 1990. Shellfish farming in general -- and more recently clam farming in particular -- has proven itself as a viable industry. This has been recognized by the hon. David Zirnhelt, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, MLAs Leonard Krog and Margaret Lord and the managers that regulate our industry. Why have we been unsuccessful in our requests for a meeting with the hon. Moe Sihota, Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks, or Ms. Lynn Kennedy, director of the land programs branch in answer to these questions?"
Hon. minister, maybe this is another area where you have to intercede and bring it to the minister's attention that he is affecting your ministry.
The second one comes under another jurisdiction, but it is a problem for this industry.
"The second issue is of equal or greater concern in that while we cannot obtain new farmland to grow, we are losing farmland to pollution closures. For example, just recently, 400 acres of prime shellfish lands were closed in the Baynes Sound area south of Courtenay due to leaking septic tanks from the upland homes. At a public meeting recently held in Courtenay, which included both federal and provincial government representatives, and MLA Margaret Lord, the 'finger-pointing' was disgraceful, with no ministry accepting responsibility for cleanup. The local health inspector, who is supposed to oversee the septic systems in the area, didn't even bother to show up. Why is the hon. Paul Ramsey, Minister of Health, not ensuring that the septic systems near sensitive habitats are properly functioning? We are told that the upper Island health unit has different septic regulations than the other Island areas -- a 50-foot setback from the marine waters rather than the 100-foot setback that is standard everywhere else."
This is a segment of your ministry that is being affected by two other ministries, and they can't get answers. They have had public meetings, and people don't show up. This is possibly another one the hon. minister could run with. A copy of this was addressed to me. I believe you have a copy of this. Maybe you can look into the situation and address the appropriate ministries.
I have already talked to the Environment minister in his estimates, but I didn't get much in the way of results. I'm hoping that you will run with it and maybe come to a solution for these people. If you want to make any comments in reference to this, I'll sit down, and then I'll go on to the next question.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I am certainly aware of the issues you have raised. On the first issue, there is significantly underutilized land already out there. I don't know whether you're aware of it, but there is going to be an auction of 85 unused tenures. That's a significant amount of land coming back. It's a bit premature to say we need new Crown land to be alienated and put into this use when we've got unused tenures out there. I don't know how many hundreds of hectares that will involve, but that will be a significant addition, and that is going to be happening in the near future.
I will raise the issue with the minister responsible for Crown lands as well. That industry is a very clean one and is environmentally friendly, but it needs a clean environment. If there's anything we can do, we will ensure that Health
[ Page 11614 ]
does a better job of regulation. "Regulating" -- that word! If any of them were farmers, I'm sure you would have jumped up on your feet and told me not to overregulate them.
With respect to the farmland closed due to pollution in Baynes Sound, I'm aware of that. It has been six weeks since the meeting held by the MLA for that area. One of the issues here is standards. I don't know that there are different standards in different parts of the province, unless there are different soil conditions or whatever. We would be happy to lean on the Minister of Health on that one and assist the shellfish growers to see their industry operating in areas where they are now closed.
[G. Brewin in the chair.]
R. Chisholm: Thank you, hon. Chair. I'm glad to see that you're back.
The Chair: My substitute was not appropriate?
R. Chisholm: Your substitute was quite appropriate, but I missed you in your absence.
The next question to the minister is in reference to the Atlantic salmon. Throughout the years I've discussed the viability of farming Atlantic salmon in British Columbia. Now it's one or two years later, and I'm just wondering if we can have an update on how this endeavour is faring, whether we're having problems with escapement and interbreeding, and if any sort of problem has cropped up now that could put this industry in jeopardy. Or is this the golden industry that everybody is hoping for?
While we're at it, I would like to get an update on the particular lakes they were being farmed in and how those lakes have survived, considering they were in a captive sort of area with all the effluent.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Sixty to 65 percent of the production is with Atlantic salmon now. We have ten years of history now, and while occasionally there are some problems -- there were some escapes last year, for example -- we're taking steps to prevent that in the future. There's no history of documented interbreeding with Pacific salmon, so the comfort level of the industry is being raised all the time. Industry is taking its message out to the communities, and we're assisting them there. We can't do all their job for them, but we're assisting them. I think the comfort level of local governments, economic groups and environmental groups is increasing all the time.
With respect to the lake-cage culture, the policy is still under development, and we're working very actively with the Ministry of Environment to ensure that there are clear guidelines for the use of lakes in rearing fry.
R. Chisholm: A second part to that question is: have the escaped salmon had any effect that we know of on the wild stock? I remember hearing that 350 to 400 escaped last year, and I'm just wondering how this fits into the bigger picture.
At one time there was a problem with morts, and I'm wondering if the problem with the morts and what to do with them has been solved. After all, some of these issues we're talking about created a very poor image in the public's mind of what is definitely a sunrise industry, which could be very valuable to this province if it is put in place properly.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: With respect to escapement, we have found no evidence of interbreeding. Nobody has brought any evidence to us.
On the second one, morts, I think that's a really good success story. There's going to be three composting operations -- one at Oyster River, one at Port Alberni and one at Port Hardy. At least one of them -- Port Hardy -- is using the compost as an aid to fertilizer in the forest industry. Two of these operations are selling compost material on the open market, so in a very short period of time we've seen a problem turned into a wonderful opportunity.
R. Chisholm: This particular industry, as we both know, is very valuable to this province and will be much more valuable as it develops. But as it was brought in and put into place a number of years ago, the previous government tried to run with this industry instead of crawling and walking and evolving into a good industry. It picked up a lot of bad vibrations in the population due to this, due to the unknown and due to the lack of education, and they're still wearing some of it. The Social Credit government was the one the fault would have to lay with. I'm just wondering if this government is doing anything constructive to educate the public as to the whys and wherefores of the aquaculture industry and to alleviate any problems where people think it might be affecting the wild stock or the rivers and is too close inland and this type of thing. Is this government actually going out of its way to educate the public of British Columbia on this industry?
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Within two weeks of my being made minister, I met with them and made the point that we weren't going to do it all for the industry, but we would work with them. Part of the review is of public education materials and there have been various studies which have led to a dozen publications. This is new information that you probably don't have. Over the next few weeks we will be releasing information on the whole range of issues surrounding aquaculture. It will be going to associations, industry associations, environmental groups and schools, and be available through distribution by the ministry. That will help, because we now have enough information to state facts and try to deal with some of the myths and perception problems that were out there.
R. Chisholm: The last problem I'd like to bring to your attention is about Creative Salmon Co. I don't know if you have received this letter. Their problem involves the aquaculture licence that they're describing in this letter. The beginning of this letter describes their change in locations. In farming, one year you might not plant, and the next year you will, and so on and so forth. It is the same thing with aquaculture. They had to move all their smolts within a certain time frame. Due to politics, restrictions and regulations -- that word again -- they ran into a problem where they were running up to the deadline. I don't know if they ever met the deadline. This particular problem is very critical and crucial to this industry. Otherwise they will lose the stocks. I wonder if the minister is apprised of this situation. What is the ministry going to do to ensure that it doesn't happen to another company? Companies can ill afford to lose the stock they have in any particular farm. If too many of these things happen, obviously the industry is going to find greener pastures elsewhere, where it won't happen to them. Somewhere else they will be getting cooperation from the various levels of government; that's where they're going to come home to roost. As I've discussed before, it is a very viable industry in this province. I think we should be trying to enhance it and ensure that what happened to this company does not happen to any others.
[ Page 11615 ]
R. Zirnhelt: I thank the member for raising that issue. When we became aware of it, our ministry worked very hard with the other ministries involved, and an alternative site was found. The smolts were in the water, the deadlines were met and considerable efforts were expended to accommodate the needs of the industry. So we can see a successful resolution there.
R. Chisholm: That was the last question I'd like to ask of the ministry and the staff. I'd like to thank the minister for his open and candid responses, and I would definitely like to thank the ministry staff for their cooperation and help to get through these estimates. It was very much appreciated. I've been to only three of them, but this has been the best one we've had so far. I appreciate your effort in making sure that it came across.
Vote 11 approved.
Vote 12: ministry operations, $63,090,010 -- approved.
Vote 13: Provincial Agricultural Land Commission, $2,242,819 -- approved.
Vote 14: British Columbia Marketing Board, $519,380 -- approved.
Vote 15: Okanagan Valley Tree Fruit Authority, $3,000,000 -- approved.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I move the committee rise, report resolution and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 8:56 p.m.
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