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 21, 1994
Volume 16, Number 19
[ Page 12197 ]
The House met at 2:08 p.m.
R. Chisholm: Sadly, I have to rise today and announce that at 3 o'clock this morning while on United Nations peacekeeping duties in the former Yugoslavia, Master Corporal Isfeld was killed and Sergeant James and Sergeant MacMillan were critically injured by land mines. They remain in the former Yugoslavia. All three members are from CFB Chilliwack. I'd ask this House to send a letter of condolence to the base commander.
The Speaker: Is it agreed that this be done?
Some Hon. Members: Aye.
The Speaker: Thank you. It shall be done.
The hon. member for Kamloops-North Thompson.
F. Garden: Cariboo North.
The Speaker: I'm sorry, hon. member.
F. Garden: This happens a lot between me and my colleague.
The Speaker: It's been going on for three years now, hasn't it? [Laughter.]
F. Garden: It's my pleasure today to introduce to the House quite a few members -- and I don't have all the names here -- of the Cariboo Communities Coalition. These are constituents of mine and my hon. colleague David Zirnhelt. They're down here meeting with several representatives of government, and I believe they'll be meeting with the opposition. I know they're not all in the gallery, and the ones I mention are those I recognize: Tim Menning, who is a logging contractor; Harvey Arcand, who is with the IWA; and also Bob Long, who is the administrator with the Cariboo Regional District. They do a fine job representing a great area, and I want you to make them welcome.
A. Hagen: It's my pleasure today to welcome two guests: Frank Grasby, who is a business person in New Westminster and other areas of the lower mainland, and Harry Eastman, who is a person who knows this building very well. He worked for 33 years in this building, retiring in 1976 as one of the people who helped to keep it the beautiful place that it is. I'd like to ask all of you to welcome both these gentlemen to our precincts today.
D. Jarvis: I'd like the House to welcome two friends of mine from North Vancouver-Seymour, Jean and Jack Loman. Would the House please make them welcome.
L. Reid: It's my pleasure to welcome to the gallery today a dear friend visiting from London, England. Her name is Jan London. I would ask the House to please make her welcome.
K. Jones: Touring the precincts today are some students from William Watson Elementary School in my riding of Surrey-Cloverdale. There are approximately 55 grades 5 and 7 students and their teachers, Ms. Joyce Singbeil and Jym O'Malley, along with several parents. They are touring Victoria and the precincts, learning a little bit about the history of this area. Would the Legislature please make them welcome.
COST OF GOVERNMENT ADVERTISING
G. Farrell-Collins: My question is to the Premier. Traditionally across Canada, television stations routinely grant free access to the public for a Premier when they have been asked for the time to make a public service announcement, as long as it's a non-partisan announcement. We now know that this government was turned down by both BCTV and the CBC because its request was seen as an abuse of this privilege, and nothing but an unadulterated political campaign and advertisement. Will the Premier commit today that the New Democratic Party is going to pay for the Premier's political campaign, not the taxpayers of the province?
Hon. M. Harcourt: We can see the contempt in which the Liberal opposition holds the forest industry and forest communities in this province. Yesterday they said they were prepared to invest $500,000 in reforestation. Today they are saying that the future of our forest communities and families and of the economy are not important. That's basically what they are saying with these facile questions about a public policy announcement of great importance to the people of British Columbia. That's where they stand on the forest industry and the forest communities -- they don't care.
G. Farrell-Collins: If we want to talk about contempt, we should talk about the contempt this Premier has for the taxpayers -- and for the people of Nanaimo in the fact that they have ripped off charities in Nanaimo. That's contempt.
Yesterday the Premier said outside this House that his advertisement tomorrow night was going to cost $40,000. We have now learned that that has been jacked up to $55,000. We are wondering what the top limit is. Can the Premier tell us just how much the taxpayers are paying for this production, including the media gurus, and especially the image consultants? Can the Premier confirm that these image consultants, unlike other ones the taxpayers have paid for, will have a performance bond?
Hon. M. Harcourt: The Liberal opposition has shown how little importance they place on the forest industry. They voted against the Forest Practices Code, which is going to be a model for this country.
The Speaker: Order!
Hon. M. Harcourt: Then they quietly came on board when they saw the support for the Forest Practices Code. They belittled and they said that they weren't supporting the forest renewal plan, which will renew the forests of this province, when every sector came out in favour of that plan. Now they are saying that the Premier of British Columbia should not communicate directly with the people of this province about the most important industry in this province and about a land use plan that is of importance to all British Columbians.
The Speaker: A final supplemental, hon. member.
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G. Farrell-Collins: Everyone in this House knows how important the forest industry is to this province. The difference is that if the government wants to turn it into a political re-election issue, they should be paying for it out of their party funds and not out of the taxpayers' funds. The Liberal opposition has come into possession of four different full-page newspaper advertisements that the NDP is about to run in papers throughout the province. We understand that the public is about to be hit with the most extravagant and wasteful media blitz since the dying days of the Social Credit Party. Media reports put this campaign at upwards of $1 million. Will the Premier answer one question today? How much has he budgeted, and how much are the taxpayers going to have to scoop into their pockets in order to pay for his re-election, "I need a job" campaign?
Hon. M. Harcourt: Finally, the Liberal opposition and this government agree on one issue, and that is that this will be a political, re-election issue. We're on different sides of this issue. They said that they were against the forest renewal plan. They were against every provision in the Forest Practices Code until they quietly and meekly came on board. They will not deal in substance; they will only nibble around the edges about issues of communicating with the people of this province. It's about time that they started to be held to account. Where do they stand on anything of substance?
M. de Jong: Last night during the news, amid the ads for beer, pizza, toilet paper and such things, I saw an ad announcing the Premier's speech. Only the NDP would advertise a paid political advertisement. Let's keep it simple for the Premier: how much money is he spending on his pre-advertising advertising campaign?
The Speaker: The hon. member has a further question?
M. de Jong: This is the K-Tel government. They advertise their failed budget; they advertise their Island Highway project for their friends. But wait, K-Mart shopper, there's more, because now this government is using taxpayers' money to advertise the Premier himself. My question to the Premier: how long and how much is the B.C. taxpayer going to have to spend on his NDP re-election campaign?
Hon. M. Harcourt: The budget had such a lack of success that this Liberal opposition hasn't stood up in question period and asked one question about it -- not one. They haven't had the guts to ask any questions about this budget, which brought down the deficit, increased jobs, and froze taxes for three years. They haven't even had the courage to ask one single question. I'll be interested in what they have to say about tomorrow night's announcement and whether they're going to take on one of the most important announcements to renew our forests in this province's history.
The Speaker: Your final supplemental, hon. member.
M. de Jong: The Premier is half-right: the questions have been asked; it's just the answers he doesn't remember, because we never get any on this side of the House. I guess the Premier has forgotten his promise to cut spending, because it looks like the floodgates of propaganda spending by this government are open, and it's out of control. Why does the Premier constantly ignore the pleas of taxpayers and only listen to the advice given by his high-priced image consultants? When will this taxpayer-paid-for re-election campaign come to an end?
Hon. M. Harcourt: Well, I'm going to be interested in seeing what the people on Vancouver Island have to say about this Liberal opposition's opposition to the Vancouver Island Highway, which for years wasn't built by the previous government. This government is building it in six years -- on time, on budget, with no strikes or lockouts.
We're coming in with one of the most important forest renewal and land use plans on Vancouver Island, that the previous government couldn't carry out and that the Liberal opposition won't carry out, because they don't have any idea of what to carry out.
An Hon. Member: What's the cost?
Hon. M. Harcourt: The cost is exactly what I said yesterday -- $40,000 for the most inexpensive way of communicating directly with the people of British Columbia and $15,000 for the production cost. This opposition doesn't want to hear the answer; they just want to continue to repeat their questions.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR LAND CLAIMS NEGOTIATIONS
J. Weisgerber: My question is to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. Yesterday the government waffled on my question as to whether this government supported the seven principles for land claims negotiations adopted by the previous government. Does this government -- yes or no -- stand behind those principles for land claims negotiations?
Hon. J. Cashore: This government stands behind the principles of this government, which are firmly stated in the task force report the Premier referred to yesterday. With regard to the programs of previous governments, the hon. member will have to speak for that. This government is very comfortable and confident with regard to the principled stand we have taken on the issue of settling treaties. We know this is going to provide certainty for the future for all British Columbians, including people of the first nations. The principles are implicit in that statement.
The Speaker: Supplemental, hon. member.
J. Weisgerber: The minister obviously hasn't read the Treaty Commission documents. They're process documents. The province needs principles to guide its negotiators. Either it accepts the seven principles adopted by the former government, or it should table its own principles for land claims negotiations. Will the minister either accept those principles or table his own?
Hon. J. Cashore: This hon. member is fully aware of the principles that underlie the position this government has taken. Those principles were stated very clearly prior to our becoming government. They were implicit when we received the mandate to be government, and they are present within the principles of the task force report. The principles that this government is following are far beyond any principles of the previous government.
While we're mentioning principles, I would like to advise this hon. member that the other day when he said, "The Northwest Territories and the Yukon gave all residents of those jurisdictions an opportunity to vote on the land claim
[ Page 12199 ]
agreements reached," he was absolutely wrong. That's absolutely false. While I don't believe he was deliberately misleading the House, that was an incredibly misleading statement, and it needs to be clarified. If that member wants to engage in this type of dialogue, it must be based on factual statements, not false statements.
The Speaker: The final supplemental, hon. member.
J. Weisgerber: If the minister feels strongly about this position on the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, perhaps he'll make a ministerial statement and provide an opportunity for response.
But the question is: does this minister accept the seven important principles for land claims negotiations, or has the government adopted a new set of principles?
Hon. J. Cashore: There is no question that this government has followed a very principled approach with regard to land claims negotiations. It is an approach that's inclusive of third parties, it's inclusive of first nations and it's inclusive of the interests of all the people of British Columbia.
Let me say that this hon. member, who has obviously been seeking to incite discomfort and disrespect with regard to the process we have embarked on, should be very aware of the fact that he had a key role in bringing this government into negotiations. Why he would want to destabilize the work he had done is beyond me.
COST OF GOVERNMENT ADVERTISING
W. Hurd: My question is for the Premier, who has admitted a shocking revelation to this House: his government intends to spend over a million dollars in an expenditure tied directly to the re-election chances of his government. While in opposition, the NDP whined constantly about Social Credit advertising. This government is making the previous administration look like pikers. Why has the Premier turned his back on the principle that the taxpayers' money should not fund the re-election campaigns of any government?
GITKSAN-WET'SUWET'EN LAND CLAIM
G. Wilson: It's the role of the Attorney General to provide legal counsel to this government. We note that the government has managed to get the Gitksan-Wet'suwet'en to withdraw their legal claim on the matter of title. Will the Attorney General commit today to table in this House what legal advice his ministry has provided the government with respect to the question of title in the Gitksan-Wet'suwet'en case?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: The member is wrong about what's happened with the Gitksan-Wet'suwet'en. The appeal was launched to the Supreme Court of Canada by the Gitksan-Wet'suwet'en peoples. They have now agreed with us to put that appeal in abeyance for 12 to 18 months while negotiations proceed.
The Speaker: The bell terminates question period.
The member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove rises on a point of order?
G. Farrell-Collins: I believe that in the last round of questioning, the member for Surrey-White Rock had one question, rose on a supplemental and was not recognized. Perhaps the Speaker can explain.
The Speaker: Order! As all hon. members know, there is no commitment to the order in which questions may be asked, and the Speaker is entirely free to make those decisions as he deems appropriate. However, I do appreciate the hon. member's submission, and I will give the undertaking to meet after question period with members who have questions about question period.
J. Tyabji: I rise today under standing order 35 to ask leave to move adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely the preservation of the basic civil rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom to organize to protest publicly.
We live in a free society where we value an individual's rights to speak and act within the law without fear of prosecution, especially prosecution by the heavy hand of government. Today in the courts of Victoria we see that this government is proceeding with criminal prosecution against an individual....
The Speaker: Hon. member, with the greatest of respect, I think it is apparent to everyone that the matter you are raising, if it is not sub judice -- I'm not able to say precisely -- appears to be a matter that is inappropriate for standing order 35. Could the member, however, conclude with her general remarks on the question, and avoid the specific subject matter?
J. Tyabji: You're asking me to conclude....
The Speaker: The general concern that you have.
J. Tyabji: Okay. To conclude briefly, the people of this province need assurance that this House supports freedom of speech, of assembly and of protest within the laws of British Columbia.
I ask leave to table some documents.
Leave not granted.
The Speaker: Hon. member, I will consider your remarks and report back to the House.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Hon. Speaker, I call third reading of Bill 46.
CHILD, FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SERVICE ACT
Bill 46, Child, Family and Community Service Act, read a third time and passed.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I call Committee of Supply B to hear the estimates of the Ministry of Skills, Training and Labour.
The House in Committee of Supply B; D. Lovick in the chair.
[ Page 12200 ]
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF SKILLS, TRAINING AND LABOUR
On vote 49: minister's office, $372,200 (continued).
L. Reid: We left debate before noon today on the question of ESL funding at Vancouver Community College. I can indicate to the minister that I have placed a call to the Hon. Sergio Marchi, and I am willing to stand in support of those programs being continued at Vancouver Community College. I trust that I can report back to the House in terms of what he may say when he returns my call.
When we began the discussion about private trainers, and just before we recessed at lunch today, we talked about criteria for providing those kind of services. I talked about levelling the playing field and whether it would be possible for the minister to give some indication to other private trainers in the province as to what their criteria might be. We established that they would all be members of the Private Career Training Association, and we touched on cost.
Could the minister give some additional criteria for what would allow this ministry to purchase service from private trainers in the province?
Hon. D. Miller: The very simple and short answer -- and I'll go back to the comments I made prior to adjournment at lunch -- is that the clear focus of the ministry is to provide training that is relevant, that allows the recipient of the training to acquire skills, that will allow that recipient to have a much better opportunity at finding employment in today's job market, and that provides training for the real jobs that are being created in our economy. By saying that, I don't wish to diminish the broader and serious issue of the structural unemployment rate that many of the young people who are sitting in the gallery will have to contend with when they graduate from their schooling.
Just by way of example, I had a very good conversation with a high school teacher in Chilliwack who phoned me yesterday. They are very interested in trying to put into place -- particularly in the latter years of the K-to-12 system -- courses such as the technology courses I outlined that are in place in Kitimat and that give young people the real skills they are going to need to give them the ability to be flexible in their future choices, whether they are going directly into the workforce or on to community college or university. All opportunities for training are going to be judged against those kinds of standards.
If that satisfies that, I should say that I appreciate the member's activity with respect to her federal colleague, and I should say that I have now acquired the press release issued by the Minister of Immigration, Mr. Marchi. I am even more disturbed after reading it, because while the rationale for discontinuing the English-as-a-second-language funding at Vancouver Community College is a rationale that says that we have to be efficient, we have to be mindful of the resources that we have. The minister indicates that the new policy, overall, will result in a saving of $11 million nationwide. The question was put: "Are you then going to use the $11 million?" Here is his paragraph from his press release, and I think it's important to this House and to British Columbians. On page 2 of the press release, the minister says -- and he refers to alternatives in an attempt to find some solution to the problem:
"Regrettably, these alternatives would significantly reduce funding for the actual services to immigrants. Covering the cost of fringe benefits would amount to about $11 million, which can be equated to language training for some 3,200 adult newcomers."
A nice statement. The question was put, then: "Are you going to take the $11 million saving and redeploy it to expand English-language training for newcomers?" The answer was no. So there is no rationale for what they are doing.
That further bit of information may assist my Liberal critic in trying to convince her Liberal colleague that they should change that position. I wish her some luck. As I indicated before lunch, in my own small way I am also attempting, through reason, to convince the federal government to change their position. Who knows? Maybe reason will prevail.
L. Reid: For the record, I have no indication that the answer was no. I think where we are today is some discussion about whether or not those dollars will go toward future ESL programs for those 3,200 students. If I hear differently, I certainly will report back to the House at the earliest opportunity.
Your ministry looks at $1 million additional funding for ESL programs. I am wondering if you can comment on where that $1 million might be. Will those dollars in fact flow to VCC for the delivery of such a program?
Hon. D. Miller: Again, I did deal with that prior to lunch, as I indicated. The $1 million is not strictly for ESL in isolation, but rather for the innovative way -- and I would recommend to all members who have not had the opportunity, that they visit the Vancouver Community College campus -- that they are combining two elements. One is English-language training, but the other is skills training in different areas. That allows the recipients to not only receive the language training but the skills training at the same time. We think it's a worthwhile program that gives people what I talked about earlier: the real skills they need, relevant skills to find real jobs that do exist in our economy. I was very pleased that the Premier was able to announce the $1 million spending at Vancouver Community College to deliver those programs.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's comments about the $1 million under the Skills Now budget. Regardless of whether it's going directly to ESL or is combined with training, will that $1 million find its way to VCC?
Hon. D. Miller: I believe I indicated -- and I could get a copy of the press release; I'd be surprised if the member had not seen it -- that the $1 million was for Vancouver Community College.
While I'm on my feet, I might just take the quick opportunity to indicate what the budget is for Vancouver Community College. Members may find that information useful. I should say that these are not the total dollars but the base operating grants. Other questions may arise in the course of this estimates debate about various institutions and what their budget increase was.
I did indicate there is a 3.4 percent increase across the board in the amount of money that I had available for grants to colleges and universities. Vancouver Community College last year had a budget of $39,786,515, and this year they are looking at $41,010,317, for a total increase slightly in excess of $1.2 million -- just over a 3 percent increase. Given the realities of the fiscal situation these days, 3 percent is not bad. I was struck by some comments I heard from a college instructor in Alberta about cuts as high as 20 and 30 percent
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to the college system there. Therefore I felt very pleased -- and clearly the government is pleased -- about maintaining a reasonable increase in the face of the fiscal realities.
Given the reputation of Vancouver Community College, I know that they will use that money in a very good and efficient way to provide the kind of training I have witnessed on that campus. In fact, I would highly recommend that those who have the opportunity drop in on the campus while they're in downtown Vancouver. They have an outstanding cafeteria and an outstanding Chinese-cooking course. They have a cooking class that has won the gold medal for British Columbia. In fact, I think they're off to Norway again this year. The Premier and I were delighted to attend the ceremony that we have every year for the Premier's excellence awards, where we recognize the top high school graduates in British Columbia who are going on to a post-secondary institution. We had a very good lunch there. Not only was the lunch good, it was a pleasure to sit with the students and their parents and talk about these kinds of issues. If anybody gets a chance to drop in on the campus, I would highly recommend it.
L. Hanson: Last year at the Kalamalka campus of Okanagan University College, classroom instruction was offered in the adult basic education program for people who had not yet learned to read. It was apparently cut off this year. I'm told that in the process, the base funding for that program was not authorized for this year. Yet it seems that the Penticton, Kelowna and Salmon Arm campuses have it in their base budgets and are offering it this year.
I have a number of constituents -- adults who have never learned to read -- who found the program tremendously helpful. They feel that a lot of people are going to be deprived as a result of this class being cancelled this year. Maybe the minister can enlighten me as to the reason for that. Was it a discretional decision on the part of the college board, or is there some other reason why the base funding wasn't provided?
Hon. D. Miller: I actually have not had a chance.... I became aware of the situation in a private conversation with the member, and I've asked my staff to get back to me on that. I have not yet received the details.
Let me say that it's my understanding that we do not direct in that specific a manner. In other words, we fund the college with a base budget. Clearly there's discussion with the ministry about program content, etc. But with respect to adult basic education and where it might be delivered within the college system -- in other words, in which communities -- I don't believe that's a call of this ministry; I think that's a call of the college itself. That's the advice I'm receiving. If I'm in error there, I will certainly double-check that. As that member was a former member of cabinet himself, he may understand the arguments that are sometimes deployed when particular programs aren't offered, such as: "We didn't get the kind of money we needed from the senior level of government." Fair enough. I'm not trying to throw stones at anybody.
As I did with VCC, I will just quote the total budget to give an indication to the member and the House of the kinds of increases in funding that we have provided in this particular budget. In the last fiscal year, Okanagan University College had a budget of $31,396,932. I'm happy to say that this year their budget is $32,867,698, for an increase of just under $1.5 million, or about 4.7 percent. Again, I'm not trying to throw stones at Okanagan. We think the increases we've given are justified. We clearly think a case can always be made that there needs to be more money given. But given the relative size, I think the member will appreciate that we've tried to do our best by the university college that serves his region.
In addition to that, we have also granted Okanagan College the autonomous right to grant degrees -- something they had only in conjunction with an existing university. So there very clearly exists some significant new opportunities for people who live in your particular region of the province -- and a very nice region it is, having visited there on a fairly regular basis -- to acquire a university degree without having to leave their region or having to go down to the lower mainland or come over here to Victoria. I think that's going to benefit the region. Clearly the college will want to look at what kinds of degrees are relevant to the kind of economy that exists in your region.
I think I'll leave it at that, with respect to the financial numbers. But I will say to the member that I'm still checking for some more detail on the question of the ABE classes, and as soon as I receive those I'll get that to him.
L. Hanson: I find the minister's digression into degree-granting interesting, because in second reading of that particular bill I suggested that that was a good and proper move, and that colleges had earned the right to become degree-granting. Whereas there were some other things in the bill that were not nearly as....
Hon. D. Miller: We don't want to debate the bill.
L. Hanson: We're not debating the bill, and that's why I was sort of surprised at the minister's remarks.
The reason I asked the minister is not that the course has been discontinued in all the locations of the college. It's been discontinued at one particular location. In talking to the people responsible, they suggest that the base funding was not authorized this year. I am trying to find out from the minister where the decision point is that decides that the Kalamalka campus should not offer that course, whereas Penticton, Kelowna and Salmon Arm do offer that course. That was the question I posed to the minister.
I recognize that the minister hasn't had the opportunity to investigate it, but it doesn't seem to be a tremendously difficult question. If the minister would give us his undertaking to come back to estimates and state the answer to my question when he does have the information, I'll leave that subject for the time being. But I would like to have it on the record for obvious reasons.
Hon. D. Miller: With all due respect, I think I did give an answer. Even though I expanded to provide additional information on the budget of the college, I gave an answer. I also said I would double-check, and I will double-check. The information I receive from my staff is that that level of detail is not something this ministry is involved in.
We provide base funding, for example, for adult basic education. The decision about which communities to deliver that programming in is one that the college has. Therefore the decision is one that the college is responsible for. If in the course of events the college wishes to say, "We would have liked to have had more delivery, but we didn't get enough money," fair enough. But the decision to put it in Penticton and Kelowna rather than Vernon is an autonomous decision made by the college.
If I'm wrong in that -- and I want to be just a touch cautious -- and if, for example, we have done something that has influenced the location of delivery, then I will indeed
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come back to the member and give him that advice. But the advice I'm getting at this point is, in the immortal words of someone I used to work very closely with: it ain't my problem; it's the college's decision.
L. Hanson: That's the point I was trying to make. The minister seemed to suggest that that was the situation, but he was uncertain of it. The reason I am asking the question is that a number of people in my constituency are concerned that the program that was offered last year is not offered this year. I'm trying to find out from the minister where that decision-making process is. If he is absolutely certain that that decision lies only with the college board, that gives me an indication of where I should go to ask why it was discontinued. The minister seemed a little uncertain if that was exactly the case. I just wanted a confirmation of the situation on the record.
Hon. D. Miller: Mr. Chairman, I may rise at my own peril. I will give that member an absolute confirmation. I am fairly confident at this point that those kinds of decisions are localized decisions made by the college board and administration.
L. Hanson: That's not what I'm arguing about. I just wanted to know who to go to.
Hon. D. Miller: Right, okay.
L. Reid: While we are on adult basic education, it's my understanding that the funding is received based on the number of students who need that service. If I am correct, funding from the ministry will be based on the ministry coming forward with the number of full-time-equivalents who require that service. It's the needs of the population that determine funding. I think I am correct in that.
Hon. D. Miller: At least in the college system, unlike, say, the K-to-12 system, where the budget is clearly driven by demand.... In other words, the state has assumed responsibility for providing a basic education to all students. It is therefore demand-driven. If there is increased enrolment, we have an obligation to provide the educational service in the K-to-12 system. In the college system, it clearly varies, because it is budget-driven. I think we have done very well. In fact, over the next few years I think we will emerge as the province that probably devotes a good part of our resources on a per capita basis to post-secondary training. But the college system is not demand-driven.
L. Reid: With the minister's indulgence, I'd like to spend a few moments on the issue of research and development as it pertains to universities. As the minister knows from being in opposition, a number of individuals have pressing issues, and if we can spend a few moments trying to raise concerns and receive some answers for these individuals while getting the minister's comments, that would be useful to me and to the individuals who bring these questions to me for this purpose.
I speak specifically of research and development opportunities that flow from universities. A student comes up with an idea at the university and is interested in marketing that product and creating a commercial outlet for it. The issue right now is Canadian regulatory processes. Apparently there is some feedback from your ministry on regulations as they impact on ideas that come from universities. I'm not clear on that, and I would ask for your guidance on that question.
If I can just take a moment and expand for the minister, it seems that some very fine ideas are stuck in some kind of regulatory bottleneck; they are not able to move forward. In fact, because universities are governed by the Ministry of Skills, Training and Labour, some of those concerns come back to your ministry. I'm not clear on how that communication works, and that will basically be the tenor of my questions over the next few moments. How can we best ensure that that kind of communication between the university and the ministry improves, and is your ministry able to take any interest at all in ensuring that those communication lines are open?
Perhaps I can give you an example which might clarify where I'm headed with this. Let's say there are devices on the market today that are going to have to be regulated in some form. When the university is responsible for the creation of that idea and hopefully the utilization of that product -- i.e., at some point they want to generate a profit, and hopefully those dollars will flow back to the university -- those kinds of guidelines....
I understand there is some connection with the division of science and technology in the Ministry of Employment and Investment. But my understanding is that some of that direction either needs to come from your ministry or perhaps needs to be shifted to where that direction may be more readily available. It seems to be very confusing for individuals today. I'm wondering if you can shed any light on how universities can best approach the problem of miscommunication around regulation, when the idea generates at a university.
Hon. D. Miller: I've had a little difficulty following the question, because it has been very generalized. I'm not trying to avoid any specific answers. We do not directly fund the kinds of pure research activities that quite often lead to the patenting of devices that may be useful or could be commercially produced.
There are lots of examples of the relationship between the university, the research that's done and the private sector. I don't have it here with me, but the number of private sector companies that have been spun off -- out of UBC, for example -- as a result of the kind of research efforts that are undertaken is quite significant. I might have to confirm the absolute numbers at a later date, but a significant number of private sector companies -- over 200, I think -- now provide employment to around 2,000 British Columbians, if I'm not mistaken.
So to the best of my knowledge it's a system that is working. The obligation of the academics is to attract research grants, of course, some of which may be available from government or quasi-government, a lot from the private sector through foundations and a fair amount through the area of technology transfer, I think.
I must say that in my discussions with any of the universities I've not been made aware of the details of any particular problems there. I'm not saying they don't exist, but they certainly have not been raised with me as an issue by the universities. If the member has a particular issue or case where she feels the ministry could be of some assistance, then I'm happy to pursue that.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's comment that his ministry does not fund direct research. I don't have any issue with that at all.
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My question related to full-time graduate and post-graduate students who generate some idea that needs some kind of commercial application and in fact can generate some dollars back to the university. I appreciate that the minister doesn't have concerns that have come from the university per se. I simply ask: to whom in your ministry, who may be able to help them, should I direct the people who have come to me? They're not representing the university. These are individuals who have come up with ideas, if you will. Who can I direct them to?
Hon. D. Miller: There are any number of people; Dr. Rubidge in my ministry.... Really, if people have questions or issues they want to pursue, they can contact my office. Perhaps that's the easiest. Depending on what the questions are and what area they lie in, we can redirect them to the appropriate officials in the ministry.
L. Reid: Thank you, hon. minister. I appreciate your comments, and I'll certainly do that.
If we can move on, then, I want to ask some questions about the cost of provincial exams. I understand there are now five opportunities -- five sittings of provincial exams -- in a given calendar year. We have some questions regarding exam security and marketing costs. My understanding is that it used to be a smaller number of sittings in a year. Has it increased?
Hon. D. Miller: Perhaps the member could be more specific about which provincial examinations. The colleges and universities conduct their own examination process. We don't do that through the ministry. Is the member talking about some other area?
L. Reid: I appreciate that the minister doesn't set the exam schedule, but you certainly provide the funds for those institutions to set those exam schedules. My question relates to the necessity for five opportunities in a calendar year. My understanding is that there used to be substantially fewer opportunities. Could you indicate what the additional cost is of providing increased opportunities?
Hon. D. Miller: Hon. Chair, I really apologize; I don't have the answer to that question. Certainly I can attempt to get that while we're here today, but it's a fairly small detail, I must say. I'm happy to put my staff on the hunt for those details that are nonetheless important, but it really is an issue that.... We provide global funding for the colleges and universities. I can't recall in the time that I've been in this ministry.... Generally, I'm a pretty good weather vane. As the minister, I tend to get the issues where there are problems, and I honestly can't recall once in the last eight or nine months when somebody has asked me this question, except for today. I don't wish to belittle the member's question. Certainly we're taking note of it, and if I can get some more information, I'll attempt to respond.
L. Reid: That's all one can ask for in this life, hon. minister. If you can come back to me at some point with the answer to the question, I can present it to the person who posed it to me. That will be very helpful.
I want to spend a few moments on Japanese and Mandarin Chinese classes as well. I understand that that's a current issue in high schools. But the question comes from something like the University of British Columbia deciding not to have an examinable subject preference given to those two subjects. I'm wondering if the ministry has any intention of encouraging or suggesting to the university that perhaps they may want to relook at that issue and come back to the table with an answer.
Hon. D. Miller: No, hon. Chair. The issue, I think, is being dealt with where it properly should be, and that is in the K-to-12 system. The University of British Columbia simply adopted what I understand was already in existence at Simon Fraser University. Given the competition for access to the university, it was felt that to be fair in making choices about who could get in, they should rely on those courses that are provincially examinable. The difficulty was that there were no provincial exams in the two Asian languages that you are talking about. The Premier, along with the Minister of Education, I believe, have since addressed that issue and indicated that they intend to deal with the issue of exams in the K-to-12 system. That should correct the problem. But I don't think that the University of British Columbia did anything wrong in taking the position they took. In fact, I think they were entirely consistent with the policy that already existed at Simon Fraser University.
N. Lortie: I seek leave to make an introduction.
N. Lortie: I am pleased to introduce 33 delightful young people from my community of Delta North. They are grade 7 students from Hellings Elementary, led by their teacher, Mr. Brown, and several adults who almost look like teachers. Would this House please make them very welcome.
L. Reid: Just for the record, I'm certainly quoting the Simon Fraser University position when you talk about UBC falling in line with SFU. Simon Fraser University also admits students on a percentage basis using the final marks from four grade 12 courses, but those courses do not all have to be provincially examinable. That is where they sit on that issue. In fact, UBC is not falling in line directly, because SFU certainly leaves the door ajar. I'm wondering if perhaps your ministry could have some contact or correspondence with....
L. Reid: I know, but it's quoted directly from the other quote, thank you, hon. minister. I have done my homework on this issue.
The point is that certainly if you have some vision for where we're headed as a Pacific Rim trading partner, it does make sense to have those languages be provincially examinable. It seems that the University of British Columbia has been somewhat arbitrary in that determination.
L. Reid: The minister is suggesting that David Strangway has never been arbitrary. Well, I'll allow the record to show that that has not been my experience.
For me, the very specific question is: will this minister indeed suggest to the University of British Columbia, in whatever manner is deemed appropriate, that the door remain ajar on whether or not Japanese and Mandarin Chinese are examinable subjects? I'm not convinced that it is indeed in the province's best interest to close the door on those two subjects when they are going to be critical -- if not today, then certainly in the next number of years -- for
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whether or not British Columbia has reasonable trade with Pacific Rim countries.
Hon. D. Miller: Gee, I thought my last answer was reasonably comprehensive. I indicated that steps are being taken to address the problem. I personally think that they should be, and my personal opinion has been supported by the Minister of Education and by the Premier. We can all recall.... When I went to school, and it wasn't that long ago, the language that was most often chosen.... Latin was still being taught in junior high school when I started grade 7, and not many students took it. In fact, one might conclude that there was a very narrow range of students who would even have had any particular use for Latin. Therefore it was a bit of a dead language for the vast majority of students. I see the Chair smiling; I'm trying my best to get a pun going here.
The other two languages offered at that time were French and Spanish, and I recall the great debate I had with many of my fellow grade 7 students about which language to take -- French or Spanish -- and believe me, it was based on which one people thought was easier to learn. As a result of that, a lot of people ended up taking Spanish -- which again, I don't know.... It's not that I'm opposed to the concept of learning the language, but I'm just not convinced that at that time it was a particularly relevant skill that would be required later in their lives. Yet clearly there was an opportunity, from both a national perspective and an international perspective, for the use of French.
Now the world has changed, and the Asian languages, I think, are particularly appropriate to British Columbia. We are seeing the increasing development of trade links with Asian countries. Many of the immigrants to Canada who have enriched our lives here in British Columbia have come from Asian countries. I think it's entirely appropriate that we have the ability to learn one of those languages, and that the students in British Columbia have the ability to learn them in terms of their future opportunities. Certainly I would have loved to have been able to speak Japanese when I was over there a couple of years ago. I believe we are moving to develop an examination for a couple of Asian languages, and hopefully that will resolve the problem.
The Chair: Following on the minister's comments about Latin, I think it's appropriate to now say incipit, Richmond East.
L. Reid: Thank you, hon. Chair.
In keeping with the minister's comments, certainly his ministry and the government have put out a number of press releases about how important it is to foster those trade relations and about how British Columbia can have the strongest economy if we plug into what's happening in the Pacific Rim. I think you and I agree on that issue. I trust that we can allow students in this province who have that skill, and can demonstrate it, to incorporate it into their university entrance. I think that's the issue. If you say that you believe in it, can you back it up and do something about it? I trust that will happen.
I want to spend a few moments covering post-secondary education programs. I have some questions about where the application of the Fraser Valley University Society currently sits and where this minister is headed in terms of looking at opportunities for the Fraser Valley. I would ask the minister to address that.
Hon. D. Miller: I believe we are making significant progress.
L. Reid: I'm going to spend a few moments referring to the Fraser Valley University Society. The minister has just stated that he believes the ministry is making some progress. It certainly seems to be the intent of the Fraser Valley University Society to establish an independent degree-granting university in the Fraser Valley. I would be very interested in the minister's comments. I can perhaps tell you where the official opposition is coming from on this question. We are not looking for another free-standing university, in terms of good fiscal sense for this province. For a population of approximately three million people, as of this September, we will have four free-standing universities. We certainly don't want to deny opportunities to individuals who happen to live in the Fraser Valley, but we're wondering if the minister can perhaps come back to the table with some alternative delivery systems around post-secondary opportunities, because I think that's where the ministry is headed. Perhaps he can embellish and expand upon whether we're heading in that direction. That would be most helpful.
Hon. D. Miller: I did deal with this topic on Wednesday. In fact, in a rare move of unanimity, I was thanked profusely by the member for Chilliwack. I indicated that we have not made the final decisions, as the member might appreciate. I don't want to pre-empt any discussion I may have with my colleagues on the form, if you like.
I also indicated quite clearly that this government is aware of the growing need for expanded post-secondary facilities in the Fraser Valley. I was absolutely astounded by some of the growth projections I've read. Over the next decade or two, we are looking at growth rates that will exceed 150 percent in some of those Fraser Valley communities. It's staggering when you think about it. On the other hand, when you look at the situation in British Columbia in general, it's pretty clear that the population here is going to grow at a fairly significant rate. In my view, that means we will have a dynamic and growing economy. I think we will see an influx of people with the ideas and capital required to expand the economy in British Columbia. In fact, it's the bright spot in Canada in that regard.
There are always issues that you have to be careful about, regarding growth. Clearly, the ability to keep pace with that kind of percentage increase is difficult. It requires major contributions from the taxpayers for increased budgets for capital and programs. We see that with the demand on the growth side in the K-to-12 system that's again being created in the Fraser Valley communities, despite the fact that in the last two years the government has committed $1 billion in capital money for new construction. It's very clear that there are communities where even with that significant capital expenditure the facilities are not adequate.
We're always trying to find a balance and, of course, it's subjective. But I constantly remind members that, on the one hand, we are berated by some on that side of the House who used the simplistic slogan: "Cut your budget." On the other hand, we also hear from members on that side who simply say: "You need to spend more money here and you need to spend more money there." I agree that it's a subjective issue, and one that members are free to have opinions on.
We have committed $1 billion on the K-to-12 side across the province. We will deal with the growing demand for post-secondary training in the Fraser Valley. Members should also draw some signal from the direction we've indicated in the Skills Now package: we're interested in
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having institutions capable of delivering education and training that's relevant to the needs of our economy and, therefore, to the individuals who receive that training.
L. Reid: The minister's correspondence of January 12, 1994, refers to the report of phase one of the Fraser Valley Committee on Post-Secondary Education being released in July 1993. It states: "The ministry is now considering alternative approaches for phase two of this review and will be communicating its intention in the near future." I have been made aware of the intentions of phase one of the review. I'm wondering if phase two has indeed become public and if you have communicated your intentions. I'd be most interested to learn what they might be.
Hon. D. Miller: The answer is no.
Perhaps I could indicate to the member the budget of the University College of the Fraser Valley. Again, I was pleased to be able to include University College of the Fraser Valley in the announcement of those community colleges that will have the autonomous right to grant degrees. Their budget for last fiscal year was $19.5 million, and their budget for this year is $22.576 million. That's a whopping increase -- if I can use that term; it's usually applied to fish, but nonetheless -- of over $3 million. If I'm not mistaken, that's the largest increase of any college in the system. That is a 15.6 percent increase, a wonderful increase for the University College of the Fraser Valley that I know they will use. We talked about the demand side; it's clearly there, and the ministry has responded in a very positive way by allocating what I would modestly describe as a significant budget increase.
L. Reid: Could the minister comment on whether or not there would be any ceiling in place for private funding for something like a Fraser Valley university college? I think that is probably the venue, not to presuppose what the minister's intentions will be when his review is released; but my thinking, based on what he said earlier in terms of the Skills Now initiative, is that we're heading to an expanded university college model in the Fraser Valley. I wonder if he has given some thought to private funding for that institution.
Hon. D. Miller: I'm not quite sure I follow. The universities and the colleges do have private fundraising drives. I have previously talked in this House about what I think may be the most successful fundraising drive in the history of the Canadian university -- the World of Opportunity fund-raising drive at the University of British Columbia, where I had the opportunity to share the stage with your leader, albeit not at the same time. We congratulated the university administration for raising in excess of $100 million from the private sector. I have also been to other functions -- for example, the opening of Green College. Significant donations were made by Mr. Green, who has made his fortune and is bestowing it on universities around the world, and he made a very generous donation to the University of British Columbia. So they do engage in private fundraising.
L. Reid: To take this discussion one step further, as the minister has stated, we have institutions which receive enormous sums of private dollars. Would the ministry ever support the creation of a private college or university in this province? We don't have any universities in British Columbia or Canada that are completely private. I am wondering if the ministry has given any thought to that kind of opportunity and economic investment for this province. If we look at the track records of some well-known American institutions in terms of the students they graduate and the dollars they are able to accrue.... Could British Columbia perhaps be home to a private university?
Hon. D. Miller: I must confess that I have not given the topic that much consideration. There are private universities that are available to British Columbians. I recall the individual who formerly occupied this chair in the Legislature, who is now deceased. There was some debate about the initials that were tacked onto that individual's name and whether the degree was real; I think it was obtained in California.
We've got our hands full here in British Columbia providing what I think is one of the better post-secondary systems in Canada. Our college system is a standout. There is no other system that compares to what we do in British Columbia. We have a decentralized model. We have colleges around the province that deliver programs. I was reading an article the other day -- and I may get a chance to quote it -- from a woman in Terrace who said she received her degree without leaving Terrace, British Columbia. I think that's marvellous. We've got post-secondary institutions. The three universities in the province have been rated as world-class, and they are leaders in Canada. We have a brand-new university starting in northern British Columbia, and we're looking at opportunities for post-secondary expansion in places like the Fraser Valley.
There is no prohibition on anyone who may want to offer post-secondary training, except that they must come under the provisions of the Private Post-Secondary Education Commission and the legislation that requires registration; I talked about those issues earlier. I have not heard about anybody who is particularly dying to come to British Columbia to start a private university. There are private post-secondary institutions. I don't know that it's particularly an issue, either with people who may want to do it or with people in the existing public institutions.
L. Reid: To leave the Fraser Valley discussion, I would only ask the minister's time line as to when phase two of that review is going to be out. It says in the near future. Could he perhaps indicate a month that I might look for that report?
Hon. D. Miller: I have made it a practice, ever since I entered the political arena, never to set deadlines for myself that I did not think were absolutely obtainable. It has proven its worth -- to me, at least. Therefore I think I'll continue the practice. We clearly recognize the importance of the issue, and we are moving.
With no disrespect to the members, I must step out in the hallway for a few minutes. I would ask my staff to keep note of the questions that are being asked. I shall return, as the old saying goes, as quickly as I possibly can.
The Chair: I think what we will do, unless any member wishes to jump up and speak, is to simply accept an informal five-minute recess, if that is agreeable.
The House recessed at 3:28 p.m.
The House resumed at 3:40 p.m.
The Chair: I thank members for their patience. Now that the tension has mounted and the suspense has reached a high point, I recognize the member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi.
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D. Mitchell: I welcome the minister back to the committee. We didn't pass any of the estimates while he was away, I can assure him.
I would like to pick up where we left off. The minister was indicating that it's not easy to satisfy the requirements for post-secondary education and training in the province, but he feels that we are making some progress. I think that is true as well. But the truth is that there are also a number of students who are being turned away -- students of all ages, not simply the traditional students we think of in the 18-to-24 age category. Students of all ages are having difficulties availing themselves of opportunities for training and education that they would like to obtain. I wonder if the minister could share with us in the committee this afternoon whether or not his ministry compiles any statistics on turnaways.
The reason I raise this issue is that I know his predecessor as minister made a big deal in the committee last year about the new centralized registration program for post-secondary education that the ministry was going to be implementing. This centralized system for application to post-secondary education was going to allow the ministry to give us some accurate figures as to the numbers of people who are effectively turned away from gaining admittance to institutions in our post-secondary training and education system. I wonder if the minister can tell us, for instance, how many students were effectively turned away in the last fiscal year. Could he also tell us whether the centralized registration system is up and running now, and whether he considers it to be effective?
Hon. D. Miller: Working from the bottom up, the centralized registry system is not in place. It was anticipated that it would be, and an announcement was made prior to my assuming this portfolio. We've not been able to do that. I made the decision as minister that I am not going to allow a system to start up that is not 100 percent functional. Therefore it will not be up this year. It will have to wait until next year. The critics can say what they will, but when it's up and running, it will work. The central registry will give us a much better ability to determine just how many turnaways there are.
One of the difficulties in British Columbia is that in order to try to get the kind of course load they want in any given year, students typically do some blanket booking. In other words, they will book across the system and effectively hold courses that they might not end up taking when they enter the institution in September. That kind of duplication has caused difficulty in forecasting demand. I think it's fair to say that people are turned away; there's no question about it. Some of the estimates are as high as 20,000 applicants. I'm not convinced that it's that high, quite frankly. But we will have a better ability to assess that. I think we will have an even better ability after September of this year.
You know that we have targeted a significant increase in full-time students at post-secondary institutions under the Skills Now package. That has been broken down into a lot of different component parts, but there are about 5,300 in total going directly into colleges and universities this fall, as opposed to 2,700, which was the targeted increase last year. We've increased that in a significant way. In addition to that, we have other FTEs in a lot of the new programs that are coming: some of the applied programs at the college level, some aboriginal participation, and the skills centres, which we will be establishing in 20 communities around this province over the next two years. That totals in excess of 8,000 new spaces in our post-secondary institutes -- or at least involves a post-secondary institute. That's a pretty significant increase. If the estimates on applications are in the 10,000- to 20,000-range, you can see that we have moved to deal with that pent-up demand in a very significant way.
I'll go back to some of the comments I made earlier. This province is expanding. One only needs to look here, at the southern part of Vancouver Island, and at the Fraser Valley communities to see the tremendous potential for growth. We are taking the position this year that we're challenging the institutions. We cannot continue to say that education will always be delivered only one way: in a classroom with a professor and some students sitting down in chairs in front of that professor. There are innovative ways for people to learn, and we think that can increase the system's capacity considerably.
Distance education is one of those opportunities. A woman I talked about.... I didn't quote the newspaper of June 20 from my hometown of Prince Rupert, but I will now. "A recent UNBC graduate...said there are many benefits to attending the university. She did her entire degree while living in Terrace. 'I liked it, because it was financially easier staying closer to my family. It's easier to stay here than relocate down south'."
An Hon. Member: Where did she graduate from?
Hon. D. Miller: The story says UNBC, which I find difficult to believe, since they are just opening -- although they did have some students last year. I think what was really happening here was that the student was at Northwest Community College and took courses through the Open Learning Agency or the open university.
My point is that it is possible to teach in innovative ways; it's possible to learn in different, non-traditional ways. We need to look at the whole area of prior learning assessment to get a better ability to determine what an individual's knowledge really is. We tend to be fairly rigid, and perhaps there's nothing wrong with that when you have the luxury of saying: "There's only one way things are going to happen here: you have to enter in September, come out in April and come back next year; we are going to teach in a fairly rigid way." We're trying to change that. We're trying to change the whole culture around education and training to some degree -- I'm not really talking about the more advanced academic training at university -- at the college level, at least. We are also trying to refocus, as I said, and to offer encouragement to people to consider the kind of training they can get, particularly at the college level, that's more relevant to the economy.
We will have the system up and running next year. We will increase the number of full-time-equivalents this year. I'm satisfied that we probably made a bigger impact in this budget, with this Skills Now package, than has ever been made on dealing with the issue of backlog or the pent-up demand for post-secondary access.
D. Mitchell: The minister indicated that the government has abandoned the idea of establishing the registry this year. Could the minister indicate what specific problems there were with getting the centralized registry off the ground? His predecessor seemed to be very firmly committed to it. I'm wondering if the minister can simply inform the committee, since we did approve funding in this committee last year for that centralized registry, what the specific problems were. Why has it not been able to get off the ground? Could the minister also tell us if the centralized
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registration centre is still planned for Kamloops, as his predecessor indicated?
Hon. D. Miller: Yes, it is. There were some system difficulties and some recruitment difficulties. I don't know if you want to get into more detail than that. Just for the member's edification, and to indicate the kind of growth that's taking place in British Columbia -- the system growth, if you like.... Across the community college system in 1990-91 there were 58,700 full-time-equivalent students, projected to 67,846 full-time-equivalents this year. So you can see that the government has financed significant growth in the college system right across the province.
Hon. D. Miller: Those are for the college system; that's correct.
Again, we've done it in areas where the demand has been greatest. Areas such as the Fraser Valley and the Okanagan have seen some fairly significant increases in their budget and in their ability to deliver those educational opportunities.
D. Mitchell: I wonder if I could ask the minister to confirm something about the picture that he's painting with his comments today about post-secondary education in British Columbia. He's indicated, through the statistics he's just read into the record, tremendous growth in participation for full-time-equivalent students in the post-secondary education system at the college level. We know there's been growth at the university level. We know that demand for technical and vocational training is also increasing.
The minister previously indicated that there may have been as many as 20,000 turned away. That might be a high estimate; we don't know. I certainly had that estimate provided to me as well. As many as 20,000 British Columbians could not get spaces, because there is no funding for spaces in our various institutions.
The minister has also indicated that even with the growth that's occurred in the last few years, the population of British Columbia is growing exponentially. Is the minister really saying that whether it's the year under approval today in this committee or in the future, regardless of the tremendous progress that has been made -- and I applaud the minister for the progress that he's indicated not only for providing full-time spaces but for trying to develop innovative ways of delivering post-secondary educational programs -- we're not going to be able to give training to every British Columbian who wants to get the advanced education and training they require, because the population is growing too fast? Is that what the minister is saying today?
Hon. D. Miller: No, that's what the member said.
D. Mitchell: I simply sought clarification, because the minister is painting a picture of tremendous growth and the inability of the system to meet the demand -- the demand is exceeding the ability of the government to provide the training and education that is wanted. That's what I understood the minister to be saying. If that's not the case, and given the fact that we don't have the ability through the ministry to count exactly how many British Columbians are seeking education, because the centralized registry that he's referred to isn't in place yet, how can the minister be confident that either in the year under review, in the year ahead or in the future, British Columbians who want to get an education won't be turned away -- that there will be fewer and fewer turned away, to the point where the capacity can actually meet the demand? Clearly that's not the case today. How are we going to get there?
Hon. D. Miller: I'm not quite sure of the member's point. Perhaps he could tell me where he's trying to get with this.
D. Mitchell: For the minister's benefit, I'm saying that the minister has indicated that perhaps as many as 20,000 students were turned away last year in British Columbia. They could not get into colleges, universities or training institutes. However, the minister has indicated that he's making progress, and I applaud him for that. He's making progress in providing more spaces, and I think the Skills Now program is a good advance in that area.
Having said that, the minister has also indicated that the population is growing rapidly in British Columbia. If that's the case, how are we going to keep up? Even with the tremendous progress the minister has indicated, the population is growing. How are we going to meet the needs in British Columbia, given the population growth forecast that the minister himself has provided to the committee?
Hon. D. Miller: First of all, I don't think that there is any particularly simple answer to that question. It depends to a large degree on the growth that takes place in the population. Pretty clearly, the trend over the longer term is for the British Columbia population to grow at a fairly significant rate. When I spoke to that issue a short while ago, I also said that that will have a positive impact on the economy. In other words, the economy will also expand.
I happen to think that one of the difficulties we have in this country -- at least in terms of developing a stronger economy from a more national point of view -- is that it is relatively sparsely populated. I understand the arguments to the contrary; nonetheless, I'll advance this at whatever risk it may entail. Our population tends to hug the border; we're stretched out; we have some difficult problems with respect to economies of scale -- whether that's service delivery, transportation delivery or you name it. As we're seeing, the growth in the population, particularly in areas outside the lower mainland, will strengthen and expand the economy over the longer term. Using that theory at least, this would allow us to increase our capacity to deliver new opportunities.
I suspect that unless you're in a province where there is an actual decline in population -- unless you're in a position, for example.... Newfoundland is really not a good argument, because I think they've got some other peculiar problems that will be resolved to some degree by their ability to do the kind of training that we're proposing under our skills initiative. But unless you're actually in a province where the number of people who would normally require post-secondary training are declining, there will always be an imbalance. I don't think you can predict what that imbalance may be at any particular point in the future. It's really quite a hypothetical or, dare I say, perhaps an academic discussion.
Future governments will deal with that. Hopefully it will be this one, because I think the record we're going to lay down with respect to the skills initiative will stand the test of time. It will make a significant change in the way we look at the issues of education and training. We'll meet those tests sometimes by having to commit additional provincial resources. For example, we may have to increase debt loads
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at some future point to construct new facilities. When and if we do that, it might be helpful if we get more than a knee-jerk reaction out of members of the opposition, such as that member, who simply -- simplistically, in my view -- likes to run around and complain that the deficit and the debt are growing. The deficit is getting smaller, in fact, but the debt is growing. To claim that that is the evil of all evils, and then stand in debate here and ask how we're going to meet this demand that we're going to be faced with in the future....
That may be one of the options that future governments consider. They may consider it prudent to offer the kind of training that I have characterized as being fundamental to economic growth.... They may consider it prudent as only being achievable by expanding the amount of capital and facilities they provide. I find it strange that despite the rhetoric I have heard in this country, we get that member -- who is a former Liberal, and I don't know what his position is -- and a bunch of federal Liberals saying that the province should take over Royal Roads and turn it into a college, and we've got a bunch of Reformers saying that the province should take over Royal Roads and turn it into a college, notwithstanding the fact that it's a federal responsibility and they've dumped the cost on us. In the process, they are showing total disregard for British Columbia taxpayers. But contradictions do exist.
I think we will meet the challenge. I also think we need to change the way that we look at post-secondary training. I don't think the static model of "there's the classroom and that's the only way we can do it" is going to work. We're going to find, particularly with telecommunications, a revolution in learning. People are quite capable, despite the member's comments the last time we debated these estimates about the Open Learning Agency....
An Hon. Member: No, the Knowledge Network.
Hon. D. Miller: By the way, I have had some discussions on that, and I think some people are going to be getting in touch with you to try to educate you on that.
As I said, education is a funny thing. You can supply all of the facts and statistics and still not be successful. I think we're going to change our way of thinking about education and training. I hope that we can foster the notion that learning is a lifelong process. The economy has changed. Working people need the opportunity to upgrade their skills -- not to wait for change, but to anticipate change. We are developing 20 community skill centres around this province, and the communities that I have been in and the people I have talked to about this notion are very excited. They see this as a significant opportunity to expand post-secondary training. So we will meet those challenges in a variety of ways.
The member may wish to criticize our spending habits. I would be pleased to hear the member say that he either agrees or disagrees. Should we be spending more? Should we be increasing our capital debt load to provide more facilities? I would be interested in the member's position on that. Our spending on the post-secondary side under this government has exceeded our growth. Maybe the member disagrees with that. Maybe he thinks that's wrong -- that we should not do that. But we are dancing in the realm of hypothesis here, and while I enjoy the debate, as I always do, it may not be in the strictest sense.... Far be it from me to try to be strict with respect to the rules of debate; it should be free-ranging. Hon. Chair, I will leave it to you and others to judge that.
D. Mitchell: I am absolutely whelmed by the minister's answer. He digressed a bit, and I'm sure we'll get a chance to talk about the skills training centres he referred to when we talk about that program later on. I know the official opposition critic intends to get into that, and I look forward to that portion of the estimates.
I would like to ask one further question of the minister. I would like to make it a specific question, because his answers mystify me, quite frankly. I am not really sure that I'm getting through to him. I only want to understand where British Columbia stands with respect to post-secondary education. Perhaps I should ask a comparative question, because he might have some data on this. The minister has asked me where I stand, and I don't mind telling him. I believe that the investments made by his ministry are perhaps the best investments that could be made by the government of British Columbia. The best returns on investment of tax dollars are likely to take place in education and in advanced education and training, and I think those are dollars well spent. We want to take a look at where they're spent, understand how they're spent and understand where we stand in relation to people outside of British Columbia -- the rest of the country.
So I wonder whether the minister could tell us about the participation rate in post-secondary education. Where do we stand today? In the fiscal year 1994-95, where will British Columbia stand in participation in post-secondary education compared to other provinces in Canada? There was a time when we were among the worst. Is that still the case?
[F. Garden in the chair.]
Hon. D. Miller: Yes, without having the numbers right at my fingertips, I think we in fact were on a couple of counts -- participation and investment per FTE, if you like. I said earlier that I think this skills announcement will take us back up. I'm advised that it will probably land us in fifth or sixth place in Canada with respect to participation and the kinds of resources that we allocate to the system.
D. Mitchell: Would the minister agree that it would be a worthy and realistic goal, perhaps, to be number one in Canada? Why would British Columbia not be able to be in first place in terms of the participation rate for British Columbians of all ages, not just the young people who graduate from high school? Why wouldn't British Columbia be able to be number one in Canada when it comes to advanced education and training? Would the minister agree that that's a realistic goal? It's a worthy goal. And would he be willing to commit himself and his ministry to achieving that goal in British Columbia?
The reason I ask the question is that the picture the minister painted earlier was a grim one, quite frankly, because he stated that there will always be an imbalance in a province that has population growth like British Columbia's. The minister said -- and I was making notes of his comments -- that there will always be an imbalance. That's discouraging for the many British Columbians who are trying to get training and who are being forced to go outside of British Columbia because they can't get a place in a college or university or at BCIT.
So does the minister not agree that it would be a worthy goal? Is he prepared to commit today that British Columbia should be number one in participation in post-secondary education and training? That's a simple question, hon. Chair.
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Hon. D. Miller: As we weave around these topics and probably take too much time to talk about them -- although I'm always happy to do that -- I am absolutely surprised that this member did not listen to some of my previous responses. He wants to use yardsticks; he wants to use simplified measurements. If a province that has really experienced an out-migration, and as a result of that out-migration -- in other words, that reduced demand -- is holding the status of number one in terms of the participation rate, should that be the target that we follow? Does the member advocate, from a policy point of view, that we simply home in on whoever is number one, regardless of why they're number one? In the case that I cited, because they've had an out-migration of people and therefore the demand has disappeared, should we simply set that as our policy target? What nonsense!
If this member were the minister in charge, and unchecked by Treasury Board or cabinet, he would drive this province so deeply into debt that I shudder to think. And if that is how.... Is it the independent party? What party is it? I can never keep it straight. If that's how policy is determined there, then really I.... What can I say? A man with such a wealth of business experience advocating that kind of approach to policy, hon. Chairman, is surprising, to say the least.
So I hope the member understands the point I'm trying to make: the relentless pursuit of "number one" regardless of circumstances, it seems to me, is utterly foolish. What we want to do in British Columbia -- and I think what we have achieved in large measure -- is, first, to have institutions that are recognized for their quality. Clearly the universities that we have now and the new one coming on -- I'll just deal with the three we have now -- have been recognized nationally by educators, academics and students for their quality. Their quality is up there at the top. As I've previously explained, our college system is in some sense unparalleled in the rest of Canada. It's decentralized; it serves British Columbians no matter where they are. It has expanded fairly rapidly. It has experienced nothing but growth since about the early seventies -- when the previous NDP government gave the college system in this province its real start, I'm proud to say.
This isn't a political commentary; this is historical fact. The Dave Barrett administration started the college system in the real way -- elements of the college system were existing prior to '72 -- with the designation and appointment of college boards in the regions of this province. That really got things off to a good start. The member is a historian; he's written a couple of books about British Columbia. I'm sure he might want to go back and check those facts -- and they are facts. Our college system has grown consistently over the two decades.
We are now talking about a major increase in its capacity. At the end of the day, we will weigh up all the participation statistics. It's important that our citizens have those opportunities to participate. But we'll do it in a sensible way. I love the idea of saying: "Yes, we're number one." I suppose all of us should aspire to excellence -- I think someone wrote a book about that once -- and we do. We are making meaningful progress in terms of increasing participation. But you don't change overnight the kind of neglect that has existed. Because you may be behind, do you say: "Well, we're going to have to increase to number one in a year. Do we have to do it over two years?" You do it in a prudent way, in terms of your capacity to expand.
I'm struck by the demand I constantly hear from members of the opposition, on the one side saying, "Spend more money, spend more money," and on the other side wanting to have -- indeed, some having -- the luxury of also standing up and saying: "This is a terrible government because they're spending too much money." I've yet to hear anybody on the other side stand up and defend, or offer some kind of explanation of why this fundamental contradiction exists. Since I've just posed the question, the member may want the opportunity now to offer some rationalization of his position, because he's as guilty as others in that regard.
I've tried to put the rather simplistic question the member asked in a broader context, and I hope he appreciates that context. I'd be happy to answer any further questions he might have.
D. Mitchell: The minister sat a very short while ago on the opposition side of the House. He will remember that. I know he will, because he projects his behaviour when on the opposition side of this House onto members who serve on the opposition side today. He projects his irresponsible ranting and ravings when he was in opposition onto opposition members today.
The truth is that's not the case at all. This minister, after seven or eight months as minister with this portfolio, claims with arrogance to know it all. He claims to have mastered the fine art of advanced education and training. He claims to have mastered a portfolio so complex that I think it's safe to say predecessors who served in that portfolio, during periods of time less complex than today, will admit quite frankly that it's impossible to master a system as complex as the advanced education system in British Columbia. Yet this arrogant minister claims to understand it all and refuses to answer simple questions from the opposition who seek information.
There's an information-seeking role. The minister may not remember that when he was on the opposition side, one of the roles of an opposition member or of any member in this Legislature is to seek information from government. It's very difficult to do with this minister. He refuses to answer questions. He seeks to stand up and make partisan comments about previous administrations. He refuses to recognize the salient fact that in the advanced education sector in British Columbia today, administrators in our universities, colleges and training institutes never thought they would be in this situation. But today they are in the situation where they actually look back nostalgically to the previous administration, which members now in government used to call penny-pinching. They said the previous administration had a terrible approach to advanced education and that they were starving the system. Yet it's interesting that people who work in that sector today look back fondly to the days of the previous administration, when at least there were more than token gestures made toward increasing the FTEs and spaces and opening up the system. At least there was a goal. At least there were objectives with the previous administration to try to satisfy the needs and demands.
This minister, instead, paints a grim picture. He tells us there will always be an imbalance. He tells us that British Columbians will always be turned away in the thousands, because he cannot come up with a way to devise a system whereby British Columbians aren't forced to go to other provinces or to other countries, in fact, to seek the training and advanced education they require.
It's a sad day in British Columbia to have a rookie minister stand up in this House, pretend to know it all, demonstrate the height of arrogance that he demonstrates and ask this committee to approve his spending estimates for the next fiscal year.
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I'm not going to carry this any further. It's a waste of my time, this committee's time and the Legislature's time to ask this minister to answer some basic questions. He refuses to do so; I regret that. Hon. Chair, I can tell you only one thing: I am now forced to move a motion, reducing this minister's salary to $1. I move that motion.
The Chair: The motion is in order and is before the House.
Motion negatived on division.
Hon. D. Miller: I really regret.... I see the member is leaving the chamber. It is too bad he doesn't stick around, because he likes to stand up and make speeches.
I would say only this, hon. Chair: I am quite prepared -- and I started out this set of estimates -- to give candid answers to specific questions posed to me as the minister. If they are factual questions or are a matter of statistics that I have at my disposal or can readily get, I am quite prepared to offer them, and I have done that. If members want to raise hypothetical scenarios and they want to get into philosophical discussions, I am quite prepared to do that as well.
I think the member was completely out of order, particularly in his last little tirade when he stood up and talked about previous administrations paying all this attention to post-secondary education. He forgot that when he spoke previously, he complained of British Columbia's standing and that we were so far down in terms of our participation rates. If the model that member wants to use to determine whether we are being successful in post-secondary is participation rates, which it appeared to me to be from his questions, then he has completely contradicted himself again. I can only conclude that he's gone out of this chamber in a little pique, because he wanted to enter a fanciful argument and somehow didn't feel that he bested the argument.
I want to assure all hon. members that I'm not here to waste my time or theirs. I'm here to answer questions with respect to the performance of myself and my ministry in the critical area of post-secondary education. I repeat that we have launched the most significant post-secondary education program in this province in a long time. It's under Skills Now, and it will increase the opportunity for participation to in excess of 8,000 full-time student equivalents in this province over the next year.
L. Reid: In the minister's previous comments, he touched on Royal Roads Military College. I'm in receipt of a proposal for the use of that college. It was given to me by my colleague the hon. member for Saanich North and the Islands. I would like to take a moment to touch on this proposal and enter it into the record, because I think it brings to bear the fact that there are some very thoughtful British Columbians who come forward and bring some very fine ideas to the table for debate. The author of this proposal is Catherine Regehr, and she states:
"This letter is to outline one of the possible uses for Royal Roads Military College when it is closed in 1996.
"My idea is quite simple. It could be turned into the world-renowned Royal Roads horticultural college and gardens.
"Everything is already in place for use in such a learning institution: classrooms, accommodation, administrative offices and, most importantly of all, the 650 acres of magnificent gardens and grounds.
"Fees would be charged for the different courses available, and the admission fee charged for entrance into the gardens would add to the overall profitability of the college.
"Merrist Wood College in the United Kingdom very kindly sent me their prospectus and fee schedule, of which I am enclosing copies, to give you an idea of the courses that could be available at the horticultural college.
"Apart from my contact with Merrist Wood, I have also spoken to Prof. Michael Alder, foremost in his field and principal of Writtle College, the largest horticultural college in Europe, and he is very kindly sending me a prospectus of his college, along with fees and differing degrees that the college offers to the population at large. Professor Alder has students from all over the world apply to his college, and in some cases there is not the availability of spaces.... If more information is required, Professor Alder has offered his expert help in this matter.
"The overall running costs of the horticultural college should be taken care of by the entrance costs to the gardens, which would be part of practical work carried out by the students, and consequently would be of no extra cost to the college or government.
"Other factors that should be taken into account is the economic boon to Colwood, Langford, Metchosin, Esquimalt, Sooke, Port Renfrew and, of course, Victoria in general. Tourists would flock to the Hatley Castle Gardens at Royal Roads horticultural college, and all the area surrounding would benefit from this tourist influx."
The writer goes on to say that Butchart Gardens is world renowned. They generally have 750,000 visitors to their gardens each year. Fees vary, and they also cater to bus tours and have special events.
"Simple mathematics show that with a fee schedule similar to Butchart Gardens, there can be great profit made from the horticultural college. On top of this profitability, the students can be learning in a practical as well as a theoretical base.
"Apart from the profit and gain of a horticultural institution, something that Vancouver Island, known as the "Garden Island" in Europe, could support as our climate is so amenable to all things that grow, Royal Roads would become a brilliant jewel in the heritage of British Columbia and Canada, there for all future generations of Canada to visit and enjoy."
Again, the author is Catherine Regehr. I bring that to the minister's attention. I know that his ministry has received a copy in the past. I think that rather than the continual debate around the future of Royal Roads Military College as to whether or not the province should take that magnificent 650 acres for $1.... We can debate whether or not the federal government is off-loading -- probably for many hours.
The question is: when such a fine idea comes forward to the table -- and certainly this idea bears tremendous scrutiny and exploration, I believe -- is this ministry prepared to take the initiative? Is this minister, as the Minister of Skills, Training and Labour, prepared to accept what is in fact a windfall from the federal government? If indeed we can acquire 650 acres for a dollar, surely we're not going to deliberate on that question; surely we're going to take the initiative and then hopefully put that acquisition to use for the people of this province. I hope it is something similar to Ms. Regehr's proposal. I would ask the minister to comment.
Hon. D. Miller: I think the difficulty, if I could characterize it this way, is that.... I don't disagree. I'm not personally that familiar with the Royal Roads Military College, but I am convinced -- I've read enough supporting evidence -- to appreciate the comments that are made. It is indeed a magnificent site. There was a good column in the
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Globe and Mail by Robert Sheppard the other day that talked about that. It's clearly a historic building, and I don't dispute at all that it's in a very nice location, and all the rest of it. Nor am I opposed to looking at innovative ideas in terms of how that facility could be used in a productive way. Indeed, in addition to the proposal that you've outlined, others have come in.
I should have said right at the outset that the responsibility for negotiating the use of Royal Roads lies with my colleague the Minister of Finance, and I don't want to impinge on any discussions that she may have had or indeed will have with the federal government. But let me try to deal with some of the issues and public policies that you raise.
The member talked about the place of private training institutes in the province. We currently offer, through a mix of private and public training, horticulture courses in this province. I should tell you that there is an opportunity for the expansion of those horticultural opportunities in other parts of the province. I've got requests coming in from areas outside the lower Island and the lower mainland. People in the regions of this province are saying: "We think there's an opportunity, and we need to be considered for these kinds of programs."
We have to go back to the issue of relevance. Does it meet the test? Yes. Are there real opportunities in the field of horticulture? Yes. Is there an unlimited amount of money? Can we put horticultural training in every college region and in every community? No. Where is it appropriate? Is it appropriate to look at the demand in the regions? I say yes. We offer that in Langley; we offer it here in Victoria, at a private institution called the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. So those are the kinds of issues you have to look at. You can't just say: "Horticulture is nice. It's a nice site; ergo let's offer horticulture at Royal Roads."
You also have to consider the policy issue. I don't know of any post-secondary institution that was created almost as an economic development project to boost tourism. In other words, you're mixing two policy issues here. Because of its grandeur and location, etc., you're saying that it would become a very desirable tourist location, and I have no reason to dispute that. In fact, a pure economic argument could be made around that. But you're asking us to combine that economic argument with an educational argument. I don't know that that's ever been done. I'm not opposed to innovation. Again, I don't want any of my remarks to prejudice any discussions that may take place with regard to that institution. But is that a sound policy basis? I don't know. I'm not aware of any major discussions on that, and I think that's something you have to consider.
I'd really be pleased to hear what members may have to say. The member for Chilliwack and my hon. friend the critic raised the issue of the expansion of the community college system. The hon. member who left in a fit of pique just moments ago raised the issue of the expansion of the community college system. Fair enough. I think we recognize that there is a demand. Where is the demand? Where is it located in our province? Is it in the Fraser Valley? I see the member for Surrey-Cloverdale nodding his head vigorously. He's saying yes. I cited statistics earlier indicating that in some cases we're looking at a population growth projection over the next few decades of as much as 150 percent. Do we have an obligation to meet that demand? Yes. Are there scarce resources to meet those demands on the capital side and on the program dollar side? Yes. When we're faced with those kinds of choices, as we frequently are -- that's really what the business of governing is about -- I'd be interested in the members' views.
The report of the B.C. Buildings Corporation identified.... I saw in the paper the other day that somebody indicated a potential capital cost just to stabilize the facilities of some $26 million or $27 million. I leave it to the member for Surrey-Cloverdale: faced with a choice, would he rather see that money go here to Royal Roads or would he say -- and I presume he would: "No. I'm living in a growing community where young families are pouring in. I want to see those facilities built there." We have to weigh our decisions with some of the elements that I have outlined. I want to be very clear that I'm not trying to prejudice any of the debate that might take place, but it's a useful debate to look at in the context of the delivery of post-secondary opportunities.
I certainly support the retention of buildings that are part of our history. Years ago I was very active in my own community as a member of the heritage advisory committee, even before it was fashionable in some circles. I believe in preserving history, and I like old buildings. I like the fact that the grounds are so spectacular. But we have our own fiscal problems in this province. We've talked about it, and even though we've talked about it, I don't know if it has been given enough emphasis. The fact that the federal government has capped transfer payments to British Columbia -- and now that policy is being extended by the current Liberal government -- means that B.C. was short changed $2 billion. Had there not been a cap on transfer payments, which the federal government freely entered into with all the provinces, we would not have an operating deficit today in this province. We would have an operating surplus and the luxury of more manoeuvrability with respect to issues like Royal Roads.
And I remind members that it's not just Royal Roads. Masset, one of the small communities in my constituency, is faced with the potential loss of up to 50 percent of its economy as a result of the impending closure or automation of Canadian Forces Base Masset. Do we have an obligation as a province to try to convince the federal government that they should not simply abandon communities? Do we have an obligation to deal with those small communities in distress? The answer is yes. All of these kinds of issues come to bear on the decision-making around Royal Roads.
Really, the minister and I, and others in the government, have tried to express some ground rules in simple terms, without prejudicing any discussion we may have with the federal government. As a government we will not tolerate the constant vacating or dumping of federal responsibility in this province. If your only response when the federal government leaves a hole is that we'll come in to fill it, I think, quite frankly, that is simply sending a signal to the federal government to bail out even faster. If you let them off the hook that easily, where does it leave you?
We talked about Vancouver Community College. The federal government is bailing out of providing funding for Vancouver Community College for English-as-a-second-language training. This is a vital training component in this province, given the kind of in-migration we're getting. The federal government simply bails out. The first question I was asked by the paper today was whether we would come in and fund it. Would the province simply come in and fill the federal vacuum? I said no, and quite rightly.
So members should consider the broader context of federal off-loading. If we are simply here to fill the holes left by the federal government, that is indeed an encouragement for them to bail out even faster. In that context, is there some
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possibility that Royal Roads has a future as a post-secondary educational institute? Quite frankly, I don't know the answer to that, because I don't know what the federal government is really prepared to offer. The member talked about offering the facility for a dollar. They're not prepared to offer the facility for a dollar; they're prepared to offer a lease for a dollar.
Hon. D. Miller: Unsaid at this point.
If the federal government's opening offer had been, "We're prepared to give you the property for a dollar," and they then said, "We're prepared to have some fairly extensive discussions about how we might fund some post-secondary training there," that would have perhaps been a better starting point. But all we ever received from the federal government.... It was quite insulting, quite frankly. Federal ministers were saying publicly and through the newspapers: "We've offered it to them for a dollar." They didn't even have the courtesy to send us a letter. There was nothing on paper. We read about it in the newspapers. Is that how you do business? No, it's not.
R. Neufeld: Was that a Liberal government?
Hon. D. Miller: Yes, that was a Liberal government, hon. member for Peace River North. But I must say that I was equally dismayed by the Reform MP for Victoria, who jumped on the bandwagon and said to the provincial government: "You've got to go in there and spend all kinds of money, because the Liberals are bailing out." I always thought -- when listening to their rhetoric -- that the Reformers were the ones who talked about fiscal prudence. I hope that's not just talk. In the very first opportunity that the new Reform MP for Victoria had to exercise some fiscal prudence, he said to the taxpayers of British Columbia: "You'd better rush in there and spend some money." Quite frankly, as much as I'm dismayed by the federal Liberals, I have to say, with all due respect, that I'm somewhat dismayed by the federal Reformers for their completely inconsistent performance.
To sum it up, my colleague the Minister of Finance...
Hon. D. Miller: They don't give him an opportunity in the House, unfortunately.
...who I think is known for her toughness, has been charged with the responsibility of negotiating these issues with the federal government. No doubt she will do an effective job, as she has done in bringing down a budget in British Columbia which has significantly reduced the operating deficit and which has allowed the Premier to indicate that we've frozen taxes for three years. I can tell you that if she does the kind of job with the federal government that she has done on the budget of British Columbia, then we'll get a good deal -- that is, if the federal government really wants to negotiate.
L. Reid: The minister started out by suggesting that he wasn't in a position to impinge on the bailiwick of the Minister of Finance. That was not the question. The minister raised the matter in debate as to whether or not you could partner economic viability with an educational opportunity. I think that for government to be successful, that has to happen. That has to be where this government heads and where thinking governments head. The tenor of our remarks during the course of this estimates debate on Skills, Training and Labour has had to do with whether you could partner initiatives to make them more responsible and more viable.
I would suggest to the hon. minister that this initiative does bear thinking about -- not to take away from the hundreds of other proposals the minister has alluded to. I support the notion that there are probably many proposals on the future of Royal Roads. My purpose in bringing this particular proposal forward was to ask this minister to advocate for the acquisition of that property at the cabinet table, because I can't imagine that even the Minister of Finance would make a unilateral decision. I think it will come back to your cabinet table for discussion. At that point, I trust that this minister would stand in support of some kind of economic viability around an advanced education opportunity.
To continue with the minister's comments, I think successful governments know that they cannot continue to rely on transfer payments to the extent they have. If those payments continue to come over the next five to ten years, they will be a bonus for thoughtful, productive economies; they will not be something we can continue to rely on. Frankly, a simplistic government stands up and bashes somebody when the money doesn't come. But this is about being self-reliant. Surely this ministry is in favour of teaching self-reliance and independence. So it makes no sense for the minister to stand up and lament the fact that a transfer payment may not appear in the quantity he may have wished. There are some broader issues that need to be addressed. I would ask the minister to comment, and then I would ask the minister to receive some questions from my hon. colleague from Chilliwack.
Hon. D. Miller: I can hardly believe what I'm hearing. I really am flabbergasted. I just asked my director of finance to give me some numbers on.... Just on established programs the financing is $1.3 billion, and the member seems to suggest: "Don't do that." You don't have to give the federal Liberals much of an excuse to cut back funding to this province. In fact, you don't have to give them any excuse. But to stand up and say we can no longer rely on transfer payments....
Hon. D. Miller: We are a thinking government, and we are dismayed at the $2 billion we have lost so far. If the member is saying that the federal Liberal agenda is to increase the dump on the provinces, there will be one heck of a battle in this province. There are a lot of British Columbia issues we can talk about in B.C. During question period the Premier identified some of them today, but if the issue is whether the provincial Liberals support the federal off-loading in British Columbia, then let's get at her. On reconsideration, I am sure the member would want to back up a touch on her remarks.
Hon. D. Miller: Let's go. The old politician in me starts to twitch. Let's go.
Hon. D. Miller: It's old enough.
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Hon. D. Miller: No, but I'm looking forward to the next go-round, believe me.
The Chair: Could we have a bit of order. Please make your remarks through the Chair; and will the members refrain from speaking from their seats without being recognized.
Hon. D. Miller: Thank you for that, hon. Chair. They've thrown me off my train of thought.
I don't want to get into protracted debate. This is clearly not the venue for that kind of debate on one specific topic, but I did raise what I thought was a reasonable issue. Let me rephrase it, because it may be that none of the members opposite wish to talk about it. What about the capital costs of accepting -- at least from my information -- the one-dollar lease? It appears to me that we would be setting ourselves up for a capital expenditure at some point -- it may not be tomorrow or next week, but it will be there -- in excess of $30 million. My question to the members is: is that something they are prepared to say we should do, particularly in view of the fact that there is significant demand from those members -- and members of my own party -- for facilities at the community college level?
I have just spoken about the kinds of choices you have to make. Should we in British Columbia accept an obligation for about $30 million because of the federal government bail-out on Royal Roads? Members opposite may have an opinion on that point. On the other hand, they may not. I will take my seat, but will close by saying that if I don't hear them venture any opinions, then I assume they don't have any.
R. Chisholm: I have a point on this agricultural college idea. I don't particularly want to talk about Royal Roads, but I do want to talk about agricultural colleges, wherever they may be positioned in this province. I am not sure that it should be at Royal Roads, in the Fraser Valley, the Kootenays, or wherever. The problem is that we do not have an agricultural college in this province. We have an ad hoc series of programs with community colleges and with UBC. The problem is that we really have not done this industry justice. It's a $13 billion industry, and it has 211,000 employees, yet we don't have anywhere where agriculture is taught. This particular subject is getting very technical and detailed. I can quote jurisdictions like New Brunswick that have agricultural colleges -- and we're sitting here in British Columbia, where a much greater portion of our economy is based on agriculture, and we don't have one. If we want a future in this business, we have to be able to educate our younger people and make agriculture attractive to them. One way of doing it is through a college.
As you've noticed, hon. minister, we've been going through programs such as GATT, free trade and NAFTA in the last number of years. They all have restrictions on exactly what we can and cannot do. If you look at the Agriculture ministry -- and I have spoken to the Minister of Agriculture in estimates on these various subjects -- you will see that programs have been cancelled. For instance, FII, which is worth tens of millions of dollars, was cancelled because it's not a green program; it's an insurance program. These are moneys that become available. An agricultural college with research and development is a green program; it is something we can get into to enhance agriculture and be of benefit to British Columbia without being in contradiction to GATT, free trade, NAFTA or whatever.
These are areas that we need to talk about. We need to talk about advanced education in agriculture and having a permanent home for it in some location. We need to bring all the ad hoc programs together and do it in a consistent manner, one which is going to do justice to the industry and to the province. I think, hon. minister, with your leadership and the cooperation of the Minister of Agriculture -- and possibly other ministries could be involved -- we could enhance this industry and be of help to this province.
I'd just like to hear some of the views on this subject from the minister. I don't really want to get into the downloading. I'm talking about the provincial domain; I'm talking about moneys that are already within the provincial budget. Let's just talk about what we are no longer able to use within our provincial budget, like the FII program that has been cancelled. I know moneys have gone elsewhere, but the point is, they're there -- and we could use them to enhance this industry.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I would like to ask leave of the House to welcome a special group from my constituency.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: We have approximately 35 grade-3-to-12 students visiting from Maranantha Christian School in Williams Lake. They're accompanied by their teacher Mr. Taylor. Please make them welcome.
Hon. D. Miller: Hon. Chair, the member is right: there is no centralized facility. I have not had an opportunity to canvass this issue with those in the field, so I'm really speaking on an off-the-cuff basis. I wonder, though, if there may be some merit to the system we have in that it allows the creation of specialties throughout the province. In other words, various agricultural courses or whatever are offered through the college system that specialize and zero in on particular facets of agriculture. Agriculture, as the member is aware, is not a homogeneous issue. It's quite widespread, whether you're talking about tree fruits, soft fruits or dairy; there are the vegetable and cattle industries; there's grain in the Peace River. It's quite a diverse and important industry in the province, and I would hate to see a centralized system that would lose the capability that currently exists at the community college level -- whether that be Northern Lights, Cariboo, Kootenay or Selkirk -- to offer courses in the agricultural sector that are relevant perhaps to their geography. Nevertheless, I understand there are some linkages there. But it's an interesting topic and one that may be worth pursuing through some further discussions. I agree entirely. In fact, my sense is that over time, agriculture will become even more important. It's currently going through some very difficult times with respect to trade. Supply management, which has always been a bit of an issue, will become even more so vis-a-vis free trade.
When I look at the massive subsidization that takes place in California and Mexico through the diversion of very scarce water supplies, it leads me to believe that in future years we might see British Columbia become even more critical in some of the key agricultural areas. That goes back and reinforces, of course, our belief that we should always maintain the capability through the agricultural land base.
So the member has raised some interesting and good points, I think. I'm not that familiar with the subject. I've not been approached by members of the agriculture sector to talk about an agricultural college. Indeed, I'd be interested in
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any further information the member might have in that regard.
R. Chisholm: I'm glad to see that the minister is interested, because I believe that agriculture will be very important in the future, as it has in the past. It has taken us through some rough times in this country, and it will do the same thing in the future. It's a family-based industry which is fairly stable. It doesn't sound its horn too often, but it does need help once in awhile. This is one area where we could help. The thing I would like to emphasize there.... We talked about these little programs in the community-based university colleges. They're nice, but they have a tendency to get lost and not get the emphasis within the community college that they should. If you brought them together....
For instance, I'll give you Chilliwack, the community college there in the Fraser Valley. If you take a look at that particular university, they have a program on how to milk a cow. Well, that's fine. Let's say that is germane to that area. But if you take a look at their horticulture, they'll show you where to put in bricks and how to make a nice patio. This is not really agriculture, and it really doesn't do justice to the industry. I don't think it is training our young people for what they're going to have to face when they get into it. We can debate and discuss this at a future time and put this time to better use. If you are interested, hon. minister, I'd love to have a meeting with you and talk this particular subject over.
My second question pertains to the university colleges, whether it be of the Fraser Valley or whatever college you want to talk about. I'm talking about general interest programs. I realize that there are cutbacks in the system, and the cutbacks have forced the colleges to cut back in what they offer. It would seem that the main percentage of what's offered and what's cut is general interest programming. This goes against the grain of what a community university college is. I believe that the college is there for learning throughout your life; it's there for community involvement. When you start cutting all of your general interest programs, the college is alienating the community. It's alienating those people who would utilize those courses, which are being cancelled due to the cutbacks. I'm wondering if the minister could look at that. I'm not talking about a specific college; I'm talking about throughout the province.
I have another fear with regard to the same cutbacks. If we cut the general interest programs, I wonder if the trades programs will be next, while all these colleges strive to go to degree-granting. Then we alienate the community even further; we alienate the community college fabric in these communities. I'd hate to see that happen. I'm watching these courses be cut now, so I'm afraid that may happen.
I realize this is a funding problem, but possibly with leadership from the ministry and the minister, colleges could change their ways to some degree. They might not take all of their emphasis and throw it toward degree-granting. They might not forget about the community they're there to serve -- to facilitate and not alienate it -- and get back to the principles of lifelong learning. I'd just like to hear the minister's thoughts and comments on that.
Hon. D. Miller: I think the member raises a good point. It would certainly be my hope that members of the boards of community colleges reflect their communities. Certainly, from my discussions with them, I think that is true. If there's a sense in any given community that they're losing touch, then I think all of us should be prepared to talk to those board members and raise those issues.
Continuing education is important. I'm very pleased to advise the member that we have increased funding for those very programs as part of the Skills Now announcement. In fact, we've provided an additional $2 million to the community outreach partnerships initiative with the community colleges. Three essential components of that initiative are: developing a policy framework for the provision of continuing education; community service and part-time, short-term technical-vocational career programs; and infrastructure grants and program funding targeted to equity groups. We've clearly moved to address the issue of continuing education. You know, $2 million isn't the greatest amount of money in the world, but it's certainly an increase in funding to respond to the concerns that the member has raised.
R. Chisholm: This is my last question. I gather this $2 million would be in response to the studies that were done by Bill Day and others. Was the increase that came for continuing education the result of those studies? The leadership I'm asking for from the minister is.... I realize that these boards do have a responsibility to try to maintain the fabric of the community, but I'm afraid that because of degree-granting and striving to be icons, these boards have a tendency to forget that the community college is there for a purpose, and that is to serve the community. That's the point I'd like to see the minister confront. They're there to serve the community, not just to be degree-granting -- even though that's what they strive for. Board members have a tendency to forget that sometimes. Possibly the minister can make mention of that when he's talking to board members at different colleges and just try to restate what these colleges are there for.
Hon. D. Miller: The $2 million increase is not in direct response to Mr. Day, but I understand he's done some very good work and has identified the fact that a heck of a lot of training takes place through the continuing education courses that are offered. I remember taking a welding course once. It was at night school, offered through the local college. I think a lot of that kind of training takes place.
Just a caution, I suppose, but we don't want to tend to either-or these things. I don't think it's necessarily true that because an institute may now do degree-granting, it's somehow automatic that they will forget their role in the provision of continuing education. It may be that they need to be reminded. There's such an overwhelming need for degrees in applied fields that I really want to encourage all members and the institutions themselves to carry out that role in a much different way than just the traditional university setting of allowing people to acquire degrees that give them the kinds of skills that employers want. I think that's important as well. We need to keep our eye on all of the balls. I appreciate the member's comments.
L. Reid: From the Kimberley Daily Bulletin of June 10, "College Entry Services Put Under One Roof," it seems that anyone wishing to attend a post-secondary institution, including East Kootenay Community College, will have to apply to Kamloops. May I just give you some clarification on this issue? "The Ministry of Skills, Training and Labour recently announced the formation of the post-secondary application service...which will be located in Kamloops by 1996. It will be the main post-secondary application processing centre in British Columbia." My question to the minister looks at this kind of clearinghouse approach. Is it indeed the direction of this ministry to have applications
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handled in one centre? And in some respects, are we moving away from the face-to-face contact that a lot of institutions have? However, I'm aware that a lot of them are moving to telephone registration, anyway. Indeed, is this direction one of the cost savings of having a central clearinghouse? What is the cost saving to the ministry and, indeed, to the individual institutions that might participate? Perhaps the minister would kindly comment.
Hon. D. Miller: Well, hon. Chair, I did canvass that issue at some length not that long ago, but I don't mind responding. Really, it's a question of efficiency. I have talked to some of the smaller colleges that had expressed the same concern you have -- you know, the loss of the face-to-face. I don't see it as a problem.
I think you'll find, particularly in the regions.... I was going to use the words "more remote," and I don't really mean that. Perhaps the smaller regions.... For example, let's take Northwest Community College or Northern Lights. I think you would find that the vast majority of students attending those institutions are from the region. I was at East Kootenay Community College, in a program of early childhood training, and there were clearly people from other parts of the province there because of the nature of the program. It was a good program; word had gotten around. So people don't just stick in their own neighbourhood. I think you'll find in those cases that the vast majority probably come from the region.
[D. Lovick in the chair.]
The telephone system is really designed to be more efficient. We talked about the -- who knows? -- 20,000 people who may want to get in, but we don't really have a good, accurate number there. Through the use of telephone registration, the system that is going to be put in place, we can be much more efficient. We can give the individual students much better information about what courses may be available and where, allowing the students to make better choices and, I think, allowing more efficiency in terms of placement. That way we won't have the situation where somebody may hog courses that they eventually don't take, thereby depriving others of the opportunity to take those vacancies. So it's system efficiency. It's good for the students, and it's good for the institutions, and when it's up and running, I think it will give us some good results.
G. Wilson: If I might move to a very specific area of questioning, it has to do with training institutes that are being established primarily for aboriginal communities and how those training institutes are being developed in relation to programs that will develop apprenticeship-type programs in respect to resource sector industries. Can the minister tell us, first of all, how many training institutes are envisaged, what aboriginal communities they will exist in, what the overall cost would be and out of which ministerial expenditures those moneys might be financed?
Hon. D. Miller: It's a complex subject. Currently there really is only one, and that's the Nicola Valley Institute. Although there are other.... I've forgotten the name now. It's in Mission, where the tribal police.... Perhaps some of my staff can enlighten me. People in, I think, the on-reserve fire departments, tribal police and others are trained there. I want to talk about that in just a second, after I try to give a broad answer to the member's question.
By the way, the Nicola Valley Institute currently is an offshoot, for funding purposes, of the University College of the Cariboo. There may be others established in British Columbia -- in other words, "aboriginal institutes," but not exclusive or closed to anybody in British Columbia. In other words, I think there are some reasons why, to some degree, some "aboriginal institutes" make sense -- but not exclusive or closed to anybody in British Columbia.
We're currently engaged in a broader kind of policy discussion about future directions. Where do we go in the future? I have some concern about segregation, quite frankly. Sometimes in pursuit of laudable goals, we tend not to deal with what may be unintended consequences. I would hate to see segregated education in this province. We don't have to look too far, whether it was the U.S. south in the sixties or the struggle in South Africa, to see where people fought for integration.
With that statement, I also want to say there should be and are opportunities for aboriginal institutions. There are some good reasons for it. I was very impressed.... In my former role as Minister of Forests, I and my ministry participated.... Members may be aware that we have aboriginal unit crews in the province. They're quick-response forest fire fighters. They're very effective. They're stationed around this province. We made a conscious decision to recruit aboriginal unit crews. They have proven to be as effective as any unit crews. Their job is to get in early when a fire is discovered and to put it out early. They have saved this province literally millions and millions of dollars.
We wanted to go farther, so we recruited the top dozen or 16 students from the 200-plus members of the unit crews and used the institute at Mission that I referred to. I really apologize for having forgotten its name; I think Coqualeetza is the name of the institution. We put these students through a very intense course as fire suppression technicians, a job that clearly has a role in this province in both the public and the private sector.
The training was not just the standard kind of classroom training. It dealt with those people as part of a group. The training allowed the group to deal with some of the lifestyle issues that were really part of some of the difficulties that exist. It encouraged those who were faltering to stay together as a group. They emerged from that.... If any member wants to come down to my office and look, there is a series of posters that was developed by the Forest Service as a result of that first training exercise. They show a group of young people that....
I don't think any other institute could have done what that institute did. I had the honour to go with my wife to the graduation, and I just had a burst of pride -- the same one I had when I watched my own kids graduate -- because I saw a group of young men and women who had learned a skill. We followed that up by offering those graduates direct employment with the Ministry of Forests in a real job, not a make-work job, out in the districts of this province performing a very valuable function as technicians. I use that as a simple illustration, where I don't know if we could have done that kind of training anywhere else.
We should be mindful of the statement I made earlier with respect to segregation and integration, but I don't think we should close our minds to the notion that there could be specialized institutions that can do what others cannot. As I say, it's a very large policy issue that we are working on. There's no sort of final position, if you like, with respect to these issues at this point.
I realize there's a demand; we're seeing the growth in some parts of the province. Aboriginal people are in some
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cases seizing the initiative. The Nisga'a are an example of a tribal group in British Columbia that has been very progressive. They have now signed a kind of protocol, if you like, with the Open Learning Agency, the University of Northern B.C. and Northwest Community College. They are delivering programs. They want to expand that in the Nass Valley -- again going to the model that I talked about. Through distance education it is now possible to offer those courses on a distance basis. There is legitimate growth in the demand. I think it's quite healthy. I am quite pleased, because it's a demand for education. Any time you see people out there fighting for education and the delivery of education, that's a very positive sign. My only frustration at times is that as minister I don't have the funding to fuel some of these proposals.
It's fairly safe to say that we will see some growth. In my view, we will see the designation of institutions that are, in the main, aboriginal, but we have to be careful in terms of how and where we proceed. Most important, we have to be mindful that we never want to have, at the end of the day, some notion of segregation in this province.
G. Wilson: I thank the minister for what was a fairly long and somewhat detailed answer. I would argue strongly in favour of the opening commentary from the minister with respect to running the danger of a potential segregation. In the interest of trying to do something that is deemed to be socially desirable we create a problem. It was the same argument I was trying to advance earlier to the Minister of Social Services on a separate piece of legislation. I would hope this minister might get together with his colleague and talk about this.
I am also interested in the question of the provision of negotiations on land claim matters. As a functional part of those negotiations, education is now becoming a more critical component on how that eventual resolution will occur -- not necessarily education in terms of post-secondary education and K to 12 -- and I echo the minister's comments 100 percent with respect to the loss of transfer payments from the federal government. I would argue that if we can't get resolution on that, we ought to look at collecting the taxes in the province and deal with them here first; then we will submit what's left, if this keeps up. But that's another issue and another argument.
The problem is that we run into the difficulty of.... In the interest of trying to provide skills training and opportunity for aboriginal people post-negotiation.... Negotiations are underway right now with respect to joint stewardship arrangements and contracts between forest companies and aboriginal communities in which training is a major component of the success of those agreements. To what extent is this ministry involved in the delivery of that kind of training? Is there a role for this ministry to play in terms of providing institutions that would be specialized, to the degree that they would meet the demand that would be created out of those kinds of agreements in terms of skills for potential jobs that might come out of joint stewardship agreements with communities in the forest industry, for example, or in the mining industry -- but primarily the forest sector?
Hon. D. Miller: The answer is: very much so. As the member is aware, I am interested in apprenticeships. I think there are some opportunities. I was in Kamloops the other day, and to illustrate the point.... An anecdote frequently illustrates a point quite well. I talked to some people at the friendship centre in Kamloops about the concept of harnessing the capital spending power that exists in the aboriginal community in that region in house and day care construction, and in a variety of areas. The question was: how could we organize or assist in organizing so that given the amount of work that needs to be done, we could organize apprentices in specific trades that would be occupied in that construction? Some aboriginal groups have successfully put that model together. Using the issue of the expansion of housing on reserves as a result of C-31, there has been a fairly phenomenal increase in housing. In some cases you see the work being done by people in the community, but all too often, I'm afraid, you see it being done by outside contractors. That is really an issue of organization. My ministry staff and I will be working to see where we can play a productive role to assist those communities in organizing.
Once an apprentice comes on, they're part of the system. Wherever the training may be offered, whether it's at the particular community college in their region or they have to go to another one, they will be taking the curriculum developed by the trade advisory committees of the Apprenticeship Board. So the system has come together. Whether an apprentice is black, white, pink, blue, male, female, aboriginal or non-aboriginal, if they want to get that TQ at the end of the day, the course content is determined on a provincial level. We look for any opportunities we can to enhance that.
I agree with the member. I was involved very briefly in the early seventies with the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation. It was one of the first examples in the forest sector of a marriage between a tribal grouping and the private sector. What I liked about it and why it has stood the test of time is that it was properly organized in the first place. An extensive training component was part of the original organization. Last year I was very pleased to go to Burns Lake as the Minister of Forests for the opening of the second phase. The first phase, a very efficient mill built in the seventies, continues to run to this day. The second phase was a value-added operation, but it is no longer 20 percent aboriginal and 80 percent private sector; it is 50-50. Because there was that training component, the aboriginal people in that plant are in there being trained. They've got the skills and it's a real winner. I will do whatever I can to assist those kinds of partnerships.
G. Wilson: My last question on this particular section is: can the minister tell us how many of these kinds of institutes or programs he envisions being established in this fiscal year? I'm aware of negotiations on four or five, but I'm hearing as many as eight -- not full institutions, but programs -- being designated for communities based on this sort of apprenticeship model tied to joint stewardship arrangements.
Since this is not funded out of Aboriginal Affairs, I'm assuming that it's funded out of post-secondary education. Could the minister enlighten us on that? Once again, I believe the federal government, which is the authority that should be financing this, has passed the buck. If it isn't coming out of those ministries, I'm curious to know where it is coming from.
Hon. D. Miller: I'm not really in a position to do that, because there are a couple of areas here. There isn't really a limit to the opportunities. Through the changes we're witnessing on the forest side -- in the forest renewal program, for example -- there are clearly provisions for some of those arrangements. As the minister involved in
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assisting in delivery through Skills, Training and Labour, I will certainly encourage programs that are aimed at aboriginal communities.
Let me back up for a second. In forestry we deliberately had a program where we went out and worked with aboriginal groups on a silvicultural contract. It left some lasting capability that is there to this day, and now aboriginal companies are competing with others for silviculture contracts, winning those contracts and employing people. So training really does leave that kind of lasting legacy. Wherever those opportunities come up, we will pursue them.
The other issue is the institutional question. There have not been any final decisions made. So I really can't offer any kinds of numbers with respect to the institutional question. I would say that on the program side it's open-ended.
L. Fox: On May 18 I asked the minister a number of questions with respect to student loans. At that time I pointed out -- and rightfully so -- that when this government came into power, the previous Minister of Advanced Education really lambasted the previous administration for the state of the student loan program. Yet over the course of the last two years we've seen substantial growth in student loan defaults. There were 2,180 defaults in 1991-92, 2,854 in 1992-93 and 3,600 in 1993-94. I was quite astonished, actually, when I asked the question in the House during question period. Given the importance they placed on the fact that the previous administration had not looked after the student loan program efficiently.... As I said earlier, the previous minister lambasted the previous administration for how they handled that whole program. I was quite dismayed that the current minister didn't have a handle on the student loan program, particularly the defaults. Can the minister tell me what action he's taken since I asked the question on May 18 in this Legislature with respect to the aggregate amount of $63 million that is presently owed in defaulted loans?
Hon. D. Miller: Is the member asking what we are doing about this? Well, we will try to collect, hon. member. The numbers speak for themselves. It seems to me that the last time I tried to talk about this, I was faced with some heckling. So I'll take my chances today, I suppose.
It seems pretty clear that if there has been the expansion in the default that we've seen, it's an indication that students are having some difficulty. In fact, I understand that if you look at the statistics across this country, you see roughly the same kind of pattern.
We are dealing, I think, in as good a way as any province does -- in fact, a better way than some provinces -- in terms of the economy and jobs. Is the member suggesting that we stop issuing student loans? You know, I've been faced with a barrage of questions about access and more access. We have tried our best to increase access, and we're going to increase it. We've increased by about 5 percent the number of people who can qualify for student loans. But at the same time, if the economy and the conditions are such that we are seeing that kind of difficulty in terms of repayment, I think we have to be diligent. I think we should continue to pursue students who don't pay back those loans, and we will continue to do so.
In fact, the Ministry of Finance, I think, through the loan administration branch, at some point takes ownership of those debts. I believe that a year or so ago the then Minister of Finance indicated that where those debts were held outside the provincial borders, he had turned them over to a collection agency.
We think it's important to continue to fund student loans, and we will continue to fund student loans. We've increased in this budget to some degree -- a very small degree -- the maximum debt load that can be assumed as a result of student financial assistance. I've already spoken about the change at the federal level, which has resulted, in my view, in further inequities, particularly for those students with needs as opposed to single students. I've recently committed an additional $2 million to the student financial assistance program as a result of those federal changes, so that our students can take advantage of the federal program, which requires a 60-40 split between the province and the federal government. In that sense, we're driven by that system.
I don't know what else I may offer the member. It's clear there has been an increase. I've not gone back and tracked this over a long period of time to see how it runs, but it wouldn't come as a surprise to find that it tracked the economic cycle. I may not have answered the member's question completely, but perhaps he has some further questions.
L. Fox: I guess the answer the minister gave was somewhat of a justification for the position the government's taken with respect to allowing more loans to be defaulted without looking for an explanation. He's prepared to accept the fact that the economy is less than it should be -- despite this government standing up every day, saying that jobs are up and the economy is strong -- and now, in terms of these delinquent loans, he's prepared to blame it on the poor economy and the poor job market. To some degree, those two conflict, I would think.
However, let me say that if I were in charge of that program and there were a rise of such large proportions, from 2,180 defaulted student loans in 1991 to 3,600 in 1993, I would want to look into those loans to find out why, not just accept the fact that there's a poor economy being driven by an NDP government. I would want to examine whether we really are delivering a program which meets the needs of students but yet is fundamentally structured in a way that it can repay itself. We are going to receive more and more requests with the growing need for education, technological advances and the Skills Now program -- which is, by the way, an excellent program and a program that I support. But we're going to see more and more demands for student loans. So when we have these kinds of defaults in the existing system, it seems to me we should be exploring to see whether or not we can't redesign the process in order to try to get some credibility back into it.
I want to point out one major change that this government has made, and that I think may lead to this large number of defaults. Two Advanced Education ministers ago, under the previous administration, when they revamped the whole student loan program they brought into that program an application which was designed to show need; it was designed to prove that the student indeed had a need for funding. What we've seen come in under this administration -- perhaps not under this minister, but it's certainly a form that is being used for 1994-95 requests -- is a worksheet to help you calculate how much money you may request: "Do not include this with your application, but please keep it on hand. You may be audited." They no longer have to prove need to the minister, whereas they did on the earlier form. In fact, that form had to be approved by the loan assessor and the ministry. And those numbers were proven to be factual or the loans weren't granted. So I ask the minister if in fact he perceives that it's not necessary to worry about these large defaults, since he even makes it easier for students to qualify,
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based on how much they want rather than on what they need.
Hon. D. Miller: I'm not quite sure of this member's point. Is he opposed to the level of student financial assistance we provide in this province? If he's opposed to the level of student financial assistance, stand up and say so.
Hon. D. Miller: That's not the point, he says -- fair enough.
Then he makes the spurious....
Hon. D. Miller: He says that he knows that, but hon. Chair, when I hear what I thought I detected in the member's comments, that somehow we've changed the form to make it easier to give money away, it seems to me implicit in that is the suggestion that we, in fact, are simply giving money away. That's not the case. I deal with lots of MLAs. You should see the mail I get as the minister responsible -- lots of MLAs saying: "These students deserve assistance."
C. Tanner: Not from me you don't.
Hon. D. Miller: Perhaps that's the case.
We have simplified the form....
An Hon. Member: Simplified it?
Hon. D. Miller: Yes. What was it -- a dozen pages? We've simplified the form. That's a worksheet, hon. member, with all due respect. What you are holding in your hands is a worksheet, not the form, and you should know the difference. We've simplified the form because it was over 12 pages and an impenetrable maze. Because we have an expanding system and more students, we have also tried to stretch those dollars in the best way we can. One of the unavoidable consequences of what we have done is to increase the debt load ceiling. We're not giving money away, and we're not just giving out these generous donations and saying: "You have no obligation."
I would remind the member that the default is triggered fairly soon after the repayment schedule is due to kick in. It doesn't take a long time; it's 90 days or so in which the lender can send the form to the province, and then technically those loans are in default. Don't assume that because you see the figures before you that money is not going to be repaid. Clearly, there will always be an allowance for some of that which will not be repaid, but don't assume that the number you see is final in any sense. The province hasn't written that money off, and we will make efforts to collect. We're continuing to monitor the situation. We're also going to be working with institutions to see if there are patterns that suggest there needs to be some corrective action -- perhaps better financial counselling. We'll take those actions. We'll work with the lending institutions as well. Sometimes it may be a matter of simply having a more flexible repayment schedule to get some of that repayment starting to come back. I appreciate the member's point with respect to having a system. You don't want a system where you simply give the money out and don't worry about it coming back in. We don't do that.
Members are free to make any comments they want about the economy. But I repeat that there has been, and there continues to be, a serious problem in all of North America and in the industrialized nations of western Europe. For gosh sakes, why else would the G-7 leaders have a summit in Detroit earlier this year on one issue alone: structural unemployment? Why did the world leaders come to this one-day summit and leave without having arrived at any particular conclusions about how the issues are to be resolved? I've talked to lots of students, and it's very clear that they have difficulty now, as compared to when I was young -- and even previous to that, when the member opposite was young -- finding...
Hon. D. Miller: I thought that would get your attention.
...employment in the summer that will generate the revenue they need to finance their education. Why else would we have seen the tremendous increase in student financial assistance? That is a fact of life, regardless of political stripe, anywhere in North America or the western industrialized nations.
We talked in very simple terms about those issues in a different forum, and it is surprising what comes back to you. When you talk about the fact that the minimum wage in British Columbia has 22 percent less purchasing power today than it did in 1986, do people think there's a connection? Is there a connection? When we talk about the growth in part-time employment in this province and country, is there a connection with students' ability to earn the money in the summer that they need to finance their education? I would say that there is.
I worked for 20 years in a mill that, prior to 1982, used to regularly see a huge contingent of students come in and work for the summer at good rates. Every one of them was able to get enough money to finance their next year's education. Those opportunities are more and more limited, and students are out there scraping and scrapping for any jobs they can find -- quite often not to finance their next year's education, which is going to be financed by a student loan, but simply to keep body and soul together.
It's a harsh reality not just here but across the country. We think it's important to support students; we think it's important to refocus. Perhaps not enough attention has been paid in the past to refocusing education to make sure that it is relevant to the jobs being created in our economy. We're trying to do that through the skills package. We'll continue to work with the lending institutions, the educational institutions and the student associations -- in fact, I've got a meeting on Thursday with some people from the Canadian Federation of Students -- to make sure that the money we loan out, on the basis that we loan it out, comes back to the taxpayers, because then it's available for future students. And that's important.
We're not shirking our responsibilities; we're not closing our eyes to our responsibilities. I've indicated that we've taken some measures and will continue to take measures to ensure repayment of those amounts. But just because a loan can be in default after 90 days does not indicate that there's no ability to collect in the final analysis.
Beyond that, and very briefly, I've had some discussion -- not in depth at this point.... I think we need to watch what the federal government is doing. Some proposals are around that call for income-contingent repayment. I'm not absolutely convinced that that is the system we need to go to, but I'm flexible with respect to any way we can deploy the funds that we do have to achieve more effect. I'm always open to ideas when it comes to that.
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L. Fox: Perhaps the minister can tell me, then, if he is exploring this, what percentage of the defaults are by people who have gone through the university system? What percentage are in the colleges? And perhaps, what percentage are by individuals who have either flunked out or quit their courses?
Hon. D. Miller: I'm advised that I don't have that detail here. I'm prepared to get it. I will attempt to get it over the dinner break and come back with it this evening. I understand we will go till about 8 o'clock tonight. If I don't get it by that time, I clearly make a commitment to the member that I will get it to him. I don't anticipate that estimates are going to conclude today, so there should be another opportunity for the issue to be raised.
L. Fox: I think it's very important that we have that kind of data to continue along the kinds of concerns that I have. I just have one very quick observation. I know there's another member that wants to get in prior to the break.
I guess one of my real concerns is.... The minister talked about having discussions with the bank. The bank really is at no risk in this program. In fact, I would suggest that one of the problems is that the bank is only too eager to default a loan and not work with the student, because they clear off their over-60-day books and bring their accounts up to date. If you're in a collection position in a bank, you've got your superior on your butt to clear off those over-60-day or delinquent accounts so the bank doesn't have that expense. Obviously responsibility for the whole process as we presently see it falls back onto the Minister of Skills, Training and Labour or, subsequently, onto the Finance minister. But the program is flawed inasmuch as there's no real initiative taken by the banks to collect a loan because of that particular clause.
Hon. D. Miller: The member may know more about the banks than I do. In fact, he may be correct that the incentive for the bank to be diligent in terms of pursuing the loan is simply not there. Rather, after the identified default period of 90 days, they would simply shove it over to government.
There are some risk-sharing proposals around in other provinces. I personally don't have any knowledge of them, but they may be worth exploring. In other words, when the bank actually shares an element of the risk, that presumably creates a situation where the bank has a vested interest in pursuing the so-called defaulter. They may have an interest in saying to the potential defaulter: "Look, if that repayment schedule is a little tough for you, let's sit down and work out something that makes sense." The main thing is to get the habit of payment in there. Again, we're quite open to looking at those concepts.
But I also do say.... I'll go back to one of my earlier answers. I think you can track these kinds of issues on an employment curve; it's pretty clear. I think the member appreciates what I'm saying. Significant changes are taking place. We're really talking about people after graduation now. I have been struck by some of the things I've read lately. There was an announcement last month -- or an article in the paper, at least -- that talked about a program at the University of Victoria that was put in place to assist UVic graduates in finding employment. If I'm not mistaken, it was a federal program of some $200,000. Surely that's an indication that many of our graduates, particularly at the university level in the general arts field, are finding it very difficult to find employment. But a lot of our graduates at the college level in technical and vocational fields are not finding it difficult, and that's why we think that refocusing is needed.
But I appreciate the member's comments, and if there are other suggestions with respect to the system itself and better methods of collection, I'm quite prepared to accept any suggestions the member has.
C. Tanner: Could the minister tell us at what stage of delinquency the collection agency steps in? Who asks the collection agency to step in? What percentage are you paying the collection agency?
Hon. D. Miller: I am advised that when the debt becomes a bad debt, the issue is handled by the Ministry of Finance's loan administration branch. I don't wish to avoid the question, but obviously neither I nor my officials are part of the Ministry of Finance; therefore I'm not in a position to give you any detailed answer. I can say that that is the system. When the loan is in default, it is transferred to the loan administration branch to take whatever measures they can with respect to collection. I did indicate that the Minister of Finance had indicated, either last year or the year before, that those debts of persons outside British Columbia had in fact been turned over to a debt collection agency.
C. Tanner: How would that appear on the ministry's books, in that case? If there's a sum set aside for this program and the sum is not collected, plus the interest, how would that appear in the ministry's books? Has the minister no idea of what the collection rate on these debts is? Has he no idea of what it's costing the province of British Columbia in fees to a commercial collection agency?
Hon. D. Miller: Well, it is indicated in the estimates book, hon. member. Actually, if you compare 1993-94 to 1994-95 under the student financial assistance line item, you'll see an increase from $64.6 million to $87.9 million. The bulk of that increase is an indication of the amount set aside for doubtful accounts. For 1994-95, $19 million is expected to be required, representing 25 percent of $76 million in new loan guarantees. So that's where you'll see it in the budget, if that was your question.
C. Tanner: Thank you, Mr. Minister, I appreciate that information. But my question still isn't answered as to what it is costing the government in losses that have been written off by your ministry or the Ministry of Finance, if they're doing the collection. What are we paying in fees for a commercial collection agency to chase these bad accounts?
Hon. D. Miller: As indicated, hon. Chair, the issue at that point is turned over to the loan administration branch in the Ministry of Finance, and no doubt those figures are in the budget. I don't have them at my fingertips. There clearly would be -- and perhaps your research staff could indicate -- what ultimately is a write-off, if you like, for.... Ultimately, that's what the province does, as I suppose any lending institution does at some point. Having exhausted every means to collect a debt that's owing, we write off debts that we consider uncollectible. I don't have those numbers for any previous fiscal year. In fact, I believe they would be under the Ministry of Finance.
L. Fox: I may have missed it. I think the question was asked, but I don't know that it was a definite answer. At what point do you write off these loans? At what point are they considered uncollectible? Are we talking a year down the
[ Page 12220 ]
road or two years down the road? Are we talking, then, about a series of actions to consider them uncollectible? How is that defined, or how do you come up with that definition?
Hon. D. Miller: As explained earlier, it's possible that after 90 days the lending institution could come back to government and say that a loan is in default, and kind of turn it back to government. We then turn it over to the loan administration branch in the Ministry of Finance, and it's really their call. Clearly it depends on their success or lack of success in pursuing some form of repayment schedule. You know the circumstances of students. It's not something that any lender lets go of easily. So in terms of the broader issue, the answer really does lie with the loan administration branch as to when they make the calculation that all avenues of collection have been exhausted.
I've seen some examples in other areas. In my former capacity as Minister of Forests, I occasionally had to recommend to Treasury Board that a loan be written off for a business -- a loan that was made presumably on the basis that it was a good one at the time, but ultimately the business went bankrupt and the individual lost the ability to repay. In those very tight circumstances the last resort is to write the loan off.
I was struck -- again, to put issues in context -- by the fact that the western diversification loans.... There was a very good story last week in the paper about the loans made by the western diversification fund to a variety of businesses in western Canada that in fact turned out to be bad loans and were written off. It may be used in a discomforting way, but we had some extensive debates in this House about the loans that were made by previous governments to businesses and were written off. In fact, I think the Premier prior to the one we have now halted the loan program to business -- because, I assume, people in the Ministry of Finance had alerted her to the fact that the write-off was way up.
I'm not making this argument because I think one justifies the other. But clearly governments in Canada have a history of making loans for a variety of purposes and for writing off those that they are unable to collect. I would suggest to hon. members that the amount of money written off that has been loaned to businesses over the years is probably so much more than the amount of money loaned to individuals to further their education that one probably pales in comparison to the other. That's just an instinctive reaction, but I'm curious now, and I think I may be right.
Hon. D. Miller: No, no, all I'm saying is that one of the hazards of loaning money is that there is, and always will be, provision for doubtful accounts. I don't care whether you're a public institution or a private one; in fact, that is the case.
I appreciate that the member is saying we must be diligent in pursuing taxpayers' money that we have lent to people for post-secondary education. I'm saying that we are, and we're open to any ideas about how we can be more effective. But I'm also saying to just bear in mind that there are a lot of other areas where governments are in the field, and there are a lot of other areas where governments have written off staggering amounts of money.
Once again, I appreciate the member's concerns. And really, if there are other suggestions in terms of how we can improve our operation, I would be quite happy to receive them.
L. Fox: What a difference two years makes. That minister should look at the Blues for the period after they formed government in the spring of '92 and read the multitude of tirades from the cabinet, the Finance minister, the previous Advanced Education minister and the backbenchers. They talked about how the student loan program was out of control and mismanaged by the previous administration. That minister should read the Blues and recall some of the statements of his colleagues and his government over the mismanagement of the student loan program prior to this government coming into power, and reflect on his comments that he made a minute ago.
I have been in business most of my adult life -- if not all of my adult life -- and I have written off debts. But a business examines that to see how they might improve in the future so that same circumstance does not happen again. They explore what their options are in terms of collecting. The humane element enters into it and says: "Hey, this guy or this gal has had a tough time and we're not going to collect it." That also figures into it, believe it or not. Some of the backbenchers on the NDP side probably won't understand or agree with that, but it does enter into it.
When you look at how the defaults have increased since this government took power -- since they made those statements in the spring of 1992 condemning the previous administration for its lack of management ability specifically around the student loan program -- this minister should be ashamed of himself. What we can read into it is that this ministry and this government has made things three times worse than they were prior to taking office. Let's deal with the reality, hon. minister.
The other thing that I want to point out and I've got in my hands...
R. Neufeld: Secret information.
L. Fox: Yes, secret information.
...is the "Review of B.C. Student Assistance and Barriers to Post-Secondary Education Participation: Final Report." It was actually submitted to the previous Minister of Advanced Education. One of the recommendations in this really concerned me, because of my concerns over the remission program. The federal government increased the minimum course load you had to take to qualify for a loan to 80 percent of the prescribed course load. If you did not do that, the recommendation here was that the province remain at 60 percent, thereby allowing a student to take a three-year course over a five-year program, I guess. It takes a lot more dollars to go to school for five years and end up with the same degree as you would taking a full course load over three years. So obviously that's going to expand the remission section of the student loan program.
I guess the first question has to be: did that recommendation in fact happen in the ministry? Is that the current guideline we're operating under?
Hon. D. Miller: Yes, it is.
Given the hour, I'm prepared to have further discussion following dinner. I only say to the member that he shouldn't feel too bruised about the drubbing he took in '92. Such are the vagaries of politics, hon. member. I wouldn't take it too seriously.
There are many other exciting things we need to get on with. I appreciate the member's strong support of the skills initiative. We look forward to the kind of growth in the system that we think will pay real dividends in the future.
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Given the hour, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Committee of Supply B, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. J. Cashore: I move that the House at its rising stand recessed until 6:35 p.m.
The House recessed at 5:58 p.m.
The House resumed at 6:40 p.m.
Hon. D. Miller: Hon. Speaker, I call Committee of Supply.
The House in Committee of Supply B; D. Lovick in the chair.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF SKILLS, TRAINING AND LABOUR
On vote 49: minister's office, $372,200 (continued).
G. Farrell-Collins: I understand that the member for Prince George-Omineca had asked a question earlier, before we recessed, and the minister was going to try to get some information back to him. If he's done that, I'd be glad to yield to the member. They can continue that discussion, and after they're finished, I'd like to get into the Labour portion of the minister's estimates.
Hon. D. Miller: No, hon. Chair, we've not had time. The officials haven't been out of my office, so we'll just continue with Labour.
G. Farrell-Collins: I know the minister has already made his opening statements, but historically there has been a Ministry of Labour and a Ministry of Advanced Education in this province. I know they've been moved around, etc., from time to time. This is the first time we've had the estimates process for the new ministry formed last fall, Skills, Training and Labour, which includes post-secondary education.
I, as the Labour critic for the opposition, intend to focus my comments on the Labour aspect of the ministry. I will focus primarily on the ongoing impact of the changes to the Labour Code -- some of the things that are taking place there and some of the policy decisions the government has taken since then -- and the impact of the fair-wage policy over the last year, which we all know has now transformed itself into legislation and been passed by this House.
Then my colleagues -- the members for Richmond East, Richmond-Steveston and Surrey-Cloverdale -- and I will be spending some time talking to the minister about workers' compensation, although that won't happen this evening. We would like to share with him some of the findings of the six public meetings that those three members experienced as they travelled around the province.
I think it has been an eye-opener for them to learn firsthand what impact the Workers' Compensation Board really has on the injured workers and employers of the province -- to hear, quite frankly, some of the horror stories that are out there, and indeed some of the good things the Workers' Compensation Board is doing and some of the challenges they have before them. I know they will want to address that at some length, so we will probably do that tomorrow or tomorrow evening. I just let the minister know that. I did advise him and his deputy that I would let him have a bit of advance notice so he could bring the staff from workers' compensation and have them here when that debate took place.
With that, I'd like to dive right in and ask some quick questions on the Labour Relations Code, the Labour Relations Board and the changes that have taken place there. Perhaps the minister could advise us what has really taken place in the last little while. I know -- and I've got some numbers here -- that there have been some dramatic changes as a result of the changes to the Labour Code in October 1992 -- changes in the number of certifications and the spread of those certifications over the size of the bargaining units.
G. Farrell-Collins: The member for Kamloops is just thrilled, as usual, with all of those sorts of things.
F. Garden: Cariboo North.
G. Farrell-Collins: Sorry, Cariboo North. I don't see him up speaking very often, so I'm not as familiar with his riding as I am with others. But I would certainly encourage him to participate in this debate a little bit, too. I know he has a background in the labour movement, which is something he can be proud of. Perhaps he would wish to participate in a constructive way when we get to the analysis of the Workers' Compensation Board, because there are an awful lot of injured workers, members of the trade union, who have a number of complaints and problems and who would like to see the board be a little more responsive. I know that that member probably has some good ideas for seeing that that happens. So I would be glad to have him participate in the debate at a later time, too.
I'll get back to the area I want to address. After the Labour Relations Code came into force in the late fall and early spring of 1992-93, there were some major changes to the certification statistics in British Columbia. The main impact -- or, I suppose, the most dramatic impact -- was in the small and medium-sized businesses. I would say that in even the small businesses -- the one-to-ten-employee group and the ten-to-20-employee group -- there was a dramatic change.
Perhaps the minister can tell us what the impact has continued to be and what he foresees it being in this next fiscal year, which is the area we're really focusing on today.
Hon. D. Miller: First of all, I should say very clearly that the change in the labour code was recognized as one that would allow more certifications, and I want to say that there is nothing wrong with that. The hon. member opposite has not suggested there is anything wrong with it, but has asked about where those certifications have taken place. He may wish to confirm that he is of the view that there is absolutely nothing wrong in our society with working people having the opportunity to organize, to apply for certification and then to negotiate for wages, working conditions and other benefits -- fundamental rights in our society that were in fact somewhat frustrated by the previous labour act in this province.
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I will give some statistics -- first of all, general statistics that run from the year 1981 to 1993 with respect to.... I think the real issue here is where the certifications are taking place. It is interesting to note, if you track this -- I'll cite some of the numbers just to indicate the trends -- that in 1981 there were 643 certifications granted for a total of 8,962 employees. This is, I think, the interesting statistic. In bargaining units of one to 50 employees -- in other words, the smaller firms -- a cumulative percentage of certifications in 1981 was 95 percent. Going back to my first column, the number of certifications granted has varied throughout the little over a decade I'm talking about from the 643 I just cited. In the following year, 1982, there were 706; in 1983, 441; in 1989, 263; in 1990, 250; in 1991, 244; in 1992, 197; and finally in 1993, 509.
We can see, first of all, that 1993 is not the year where the highest number of certifications were granted. Similarly, with the total number of employees affected by those total certifications, the figures range from 8,962 in 1981 up to the current 11,535. Again, we find the kind of variation that you might expect relative to the number of certifications. The actual high point was in 1982, with 10,640 employees -- that is, until 1993. Then it reduced to 6,000, 6,365, 5,900, 5,400 and 4,600. So there has been a bit of variety there.
When we track the last column, where the size of bargaining units is one to 50 employees, as a cumulative percentage of all certifications, we see that the numbers start from 95 percent in 1981 and go to 94.9 percent, 94.1 percent, 88 percent, 92 percent, 90.5 percent, 90 percent and 89.4 percent in 1993. That would suggest that there has not been a wide fluctuation. Despite the fact that more employees in total are impacted -- slightly more than in 1982 -- the percentage of smaller firms has not fluctuated widely with the advent of the new Labour Relations Code. A further breakdown....
Just let me be clear about where the numbers come from. I'm advised that this is the first quarter of this year. Certifications break down in the following manner, and this is by number of employees: zero to 10, 51 percent; 11 to 20, 17.5 percent; 21 to 30, 12.4 percent; 31 to 40, 2 percent; 41 to 50, 2 percent; 51 to 60, zero percent; 61 to 100, 8.3 percent; and over 100, 6.2 percent. It clearly shows that the bulk of the certifications were in the small firms, but the broader cumulative total, I guess in the one to 50 employees.... There hasn't been a wide fluctuation overall as a result of the code.
G. Farrell-Collins: I was specifically looking at the one-to-10 and 11-to-20 ranges. I thank the minister for all of the numbers, particularly the numbers leaning all the way back some 13 or 14 years to 1981, when I think the economy of this province was substantially different than it is now. I'm not sure how relevant those numbers become in light of the way the economy has developed since then. There have been some fairly substantial changes, and there continue to be substantial changes. But that's fine.
If the minister has numbers going back that far, it would be very helpful to me to have a breakdown of the one-to-10 and 11-to-20 ranges. I don't know if those statistics were kept at that time, but if so, it would be helpful. The minister is shaking his head.
Hon. D. Miller: No, I don't. I'm sure the statistics are available. It may be that the member is trying to zero in on a point with respect to the smaller firms. It's clear from at least the statistics of the first quarter, which I cited, that that is the case. It may be that the member is absolutely correct that the growth in the economy, if you like, has been with the smaller firms. In the main, it's an area that has tended to resist organization, and also has not particularly been a target for organization, and there's clearly some change in that emphasis.
The fundamental point is that the Labour Relations Code needs to be a document that provides the unimpeded opportunity for workers in any particular workforce to make a free choice about their ability to come together collectively and determine whether they would like to have representation for their interests.
That is not an unusual situation in our society, whether we are dealing with individual employees who may make that decision in a particular workplace, or whether it's groups of businesses making that decision with respect to advancing their particular interests. Certainly there is a variety of groups in British Columbia -- whether it's the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Council of B.C., the employers' forum or you name it -- that have made a decision to combine into an association to advance their interests. So it's a well-accepted principle.
G. Farrell-Collins: I certainly don't want in any way to end up in a debate with the minister over the right to bargain collectively, if employees or indeed employers choose to do so. The minister and I can agree on that basic principle. Where we may disagree and diverge is on what role the Labour Relations Code has in refereeing that process.
I certainly don't want to relive the eight weeks of extreme ecstasy and pleasure that we all went through during the debate on the Labour Relations Code. But I do want to reiterate that it's up to employees to determine on their own whether or not they wish to be represented collectively and by whom they wish to be represented. The government has a role to play in the legislation, which, as I said, referees that. We would diverge on how much involvement the government should have and how that legislation should be drafted. That's where we disagree. Quite clearly, I believe very strongly that employees should have the right to not just express their opinion by signing a card but to express that opinion in a secret ballot. The minister will disagree with me on that one. We've had that debate many times before. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands, so I don't want to go into that yet again. I think that has been done well.
I do want to convey to the minister some of the experience I have had as the opposition Labour critic. I'm sure that the member for Okanagan-Vernon will have some comments on this also. I can tell the minister that, aside from his ministry, I'm probably the largest distributor of copies of Bill 84 in the province. I find myself and my constituency assistant playing that role because of the large numbers of requests we get -- not just from businesses, as the minister might suspect, but from a large number of individuals who've been approached by a trade union, an organizer or one of their fellow employees to join a trade union and sign a card. They want to know what their rights and freedoms are; they want to know what their constraints are and what they can and can't say. What happens if they talk to their employer about it? Is the union going be upset? What happens if their employer finds out? Indeed, I put out a lot of copies of Bill 84 to businesses, particularly small businesses that can't afford to pick up the phone and be charged $400 and $500 an hour to some big lawyer in a legal firm in downtown Vancouver. I hand out a number of copies of Bill 84 to those people who have questions.
[ Page 12223 ]
I find that there is a huge calling and a huge void of service to be provided by the government, quite frankly. Perhaps it can be done through chambers of commerce; perhaps it can be done through the employment standards office on behalf of employees. I don't know. But I'd like to know what the minister is doing to address some of the questions that come forward -- without these people, both employees and employers, having to go to the expense and complication of seeking legal advice, which is something that's not really readily at hand for them.
Those people don't know what their rights are. Employers don't know how much they can talk to their employees without getting slapped with unfair labour practices. Many of them don't even know that the sections on unfair labour practices exist. They assume they can communicate freely with their employees. And in many cases these are employers that I think the minister would consider decent, honest and fair. They don't know how much they can communicate; they don't know where that line is. They have no idea. Even if they read Bill 84, they don't have time to know what that threshold is. There's certainly nothing in the code that says that. They need to know what their rights, responsibilities and duties are.
I'm wondering what the minister and the ministry are doing to help those people, both employees and employers, to grapple with the fairly dramatic changes in the code -- particularly small businesses and small bargaining units, where the relationships are much closer and are sometimes much more strained by a certification drive.
Hon. D. Miller: I think the member raises an important point. I'll say that we would be pleased, if you're finding the burden of distributing the bill too onerous, to make some arrangement for referral so that we can do it.
But I want to say a couple of things. Not to go on at too great a length, but my own view is that we will ultimately make some progress in this society if we follow the advice of economists that I quoted earlier in this House, particularly Lester Thurow, who is really now advocating that the strongest economies are those with that kind of partnership.
I've worked in a variety of areas myself, both union and non-union. Historically it's the case, at least in the great struggles, such as that emerging from the Industrial Revolution, that unionism is essentially driven by the kind of conditions that cause people to say to themselves: "We don't like what's going on. How can we change it?"
I think those kinds of things also gave rise to areas like the cooperative movement. Certainly right across Canada there's a very strong cooperative movement that was formed in the fishing industry, which I know better, in response to, at least on the north coast, fishermen saying: "We're at their mercy as individuals." This wasn't essentially a union issue, but....
Hon. D. Miller: I'm sorry, I'm speaking uncharacteristically quietly.
They didn't have the ability to negotiate issues such as price with companies. There had to be a way that they could combine to strengthen their position. Out of that kind of thinking came the great cooperative movement that is still very strong in this country -- and, I should say, the credit union, which indeed had a similar underpinning.
So unions were not simply created in the minds of social activists. They really came out of conditions, primarily -- and this is true not just in North America, but historically -- that caused people to seek that combining to strengthen their position. We have now got to the point where we will make more progress in our society, where we are able to form partnerships between unions, employees, business and, where it's appropriate, governments to recognize areas of mutual interest and strength. I see some very positive signs in this province, and some people have understood that. As someone who has been engaged in union and political life in this province for almost 30 years, it gives me a great deal of optimism. I'm very thrilled and delighted at what I see in that regard. I also think it's important that in an unorganized setting, there really is some difficulty in dealing with a group of employees because there is no cohesive unit that one can deal with.
Having said that, I also think there is a need for more education. I know there was some criticism raised with respect to Mr. Lytle, who has been hired by the board. Leaving aside any criticism people may have about the individual, the reason behind that was to start providing better information from the board to the people the member talked about -- whether to groups of individuals who are considering immunization, or indeed to individual enterprises who were concerned about what is going on and what their standing is and who didn't have the money to pay lawyers for that kind of advice.
We have a layperson's guide to the code, and I'm happy to make that more available if the member or any members wish to avail themselves of that. I've also considered, but did not acquire funding in this fiscal year, for a little broader approach to that.
[G. Brewin in the chair.]
I go out once a year to the Harrison Winter School, which is essentially a labour school, if you like, that deals with a variety of issues. They do a lot of work around the Labour Relations Code. They put on classes, and they educate people about the code. I think it's quite legitimate to take that same kind of approach, perhaps, with employers' organizations.
I don't have funding in this budget for anything of any magnitude, but I'm quite prepared to.... It's an area I have some interest in, because I think education tends to, at the very least, allow you to discard the uncertainty and the fear or the lack of knowledge about an issue. At least you bring it down to points of disagreement, maybe. I think that's important for a code that's going to function well. I suppose it's difficult as well, given that new firms are emerging and you've got to stay current.
But I don't disagree with the member that the more we can do to give people advice about the code and its operation, the better. I think we have to exercise care that we do not get into the position that is properly the jurisdiction of the Labour Relations Board, which renders positions or views with respect to some of the matters that might arise out of the code. I have to be careful as the minister that I don't start getting into interpretations, but I don't disagree with the member's suggestion.
G. Farrell-Collins: I'm addressing a couple of the minister's comments first. Certainly it was stated on my part during the debate on the code that I did not feel that the government needed to include the sections -- I believe it was 53 and 54 -- with regard to the comanagement sections of the bill. I didn't think that it was something the government should be legislating, but that it was something that all wise and progressive employers would be looking at anyway, in whatever form that took. Whether it was an informal process
[ Page 12224 ]
or a formalized process would be up to those groups to determine.
The minister and I differ on that, I suppose. He felt it was something that should be written in the legislation, and I think it's something you want to convince people of, rather than legislate. We differ on that one, and I can accept his reasoning on that, although I disagree with it.
I want to explore a little further what the Labour Relations Board or the ministry is currently doing and how it intends to expand that over the next little while. The minister says that no money has been allocated within this budget allotment to do much in that area. Without having any statistical base to make the argument, I would put forward that a good deal of money, a good deal of time and a good deal of resources of the Labour Relations Board could be dealt with in a much more proactive way by having better advice given to employers and by working with employer associations -- whether it's a chamber or an industry association that has both union and non-union employers -- to hold seminars, like the minister is talking about.
I think organized labour does a very good job of educating its people on how the Labour Relations Code impacts them. It's the one tool they have, and it's the law that they live or die by, so they tend to spend an awful lot of time, money and resources on it. I think the minister will find, if he goes out there and talks to business and the individual employees, that the non-union employees who probably have never even thought about joining a union.... It hasn't crossed their mind, and all of a sudden the organization certification drive starts and they're approached, and they have a whole bunch of questions.
They may want to know what their rights are: "Gee, do I have to sign this card? What if I don't? What if I sign it and then I change my mind? What if I don't sign it, the certification is made and then I want to sign it -- how does that work? What about the union that's certifying me? How can I find out some information about them? Do they serve their members well or do they have a history of abandoning or neglecting small bargaining units? How can I find out some information about that?"
Those are the questions that I get. That's why I know there's an appetite out there for answers and for information. Then you look at the other side -- particularly small employers, because they don't have access to the lawyers; at least they don't have the money to do it. They have a lot of questions too. Of the unfair labour practices that we find, some are fairly profound, some are petty and some are marginal. They vary along a continuum. But I think a lot of the low-end ones, the little technical violations, could be avoided just by those people knowing what is going on. When the certification drive happens, or when they hear about it, they could look in the phone book and phone the Labour Relations Board, the ministry, or just the government -- Enquiry B.C. -- and be forwarded on to somebody who could give them advice. It may be that the Chamber of Commerce could do it or somebody could be a reference where they could go and get some quick answers.
I know the minister is cautious about the amount of money to be spent on that, but I think it could be done relatively cheaply and there would probably be a return. As I said, without having any statistics, I think there would be a saving or at least it would break even in the long run by freeing up a lot of the resources of the Labour Relations Board to deal with the more important things, the more controversial and difficult problems that they encounter on a day-to-day basis.
I know the minister generally approached that. I would like to see more done in that regard. Maybe he has some ideas about how we could do that or how it could be sped up. Perhaps we could get a commitment from the minister that he would look in more detail at that over the next fiscal year and try to bring something in a year from now, if they're still there. I'd like to see some of those programs put in place or at least planning made for them.
Hon. D. Miller: Certainly, as I've said, I am interested in the educational aspects. It's very clear that where there's a better knowledge of the process on both sides, people generally get off to a better start. There's a better footing, and the fear and apprehension are gone. I should also advise that there is a guide to the certification process, and there has been discussion by the board with business organizations. I'm quite prepared to pursue that. As I indicated, the more we can do in that regard the better.
I guess I.... Well, it's not so much to be cautious. I think we've got to assume that people do have the capability of digesting information that they're given. I don't want the ministry to be everywhere; I don't want the ministry to be in every aspect of everybody's life -- if the member takes my point.
I think there are educational opportunities at the board level, and they are pursuing them. I'm certainly going to encourage them to continue to do that and, as well, consider what efforts I might take as the minister responsible to assist in that process.
G. Farrell-Collins: Can the minister tell me if either his ministry or the board has approached any of the business organizations, particularly the small business organizations, to start a dialogue on planning some response to that need, some sort of training process, or is it just something everybody's thinking about at this stage? Has there actually been any movement in that direction at all?
Hon. D. Miller: I understand there have been discussions with various elements of the business community around the points that we've discussed. As I indicated, I'm interested in encouraging that and assisting from my ministry where it's appropriate. I think those discussions, particularly with the people who perhaps are less familiar.... I think the large employers in this province clearly have a history of activity in the field, and they understand the issues quite well. If there's a target audience, it has to be among members of the small business community.
I've given the member every indication that I subscribe to the notion of education. I encourage it at the board level, and I'm prepared to do what I can within the limits of my budget -- with the caveat that I've got to be a bit mindful about being involved in everybody's life at too many stages.
G. Farrell-Collins: I think that's the first time I've heard a comment like that from the New Democratic government, but I'm glad to see it. I certainly don't think what I'm advocating is an intrusive system, but rather one that's there to be called upon by the people who need the advice and guidance through a period that is sometimes short but fraught with all sorts of pitfalls and mistakes they can make, which the minister well knows can lead to some difficulty in the bargaining process in obtaining that first contract and to a souring of the relationship that can last over a number of years. Anything that the ministry or the board can do early in the process would be helpful. I am glad to see that the minister agrees and that the board is pursuing that to some
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extent. I would like to see it quite vigorous, if for no other reasons than selfish ones -- it would take a big load off my constituency assistant for her do other things -- with the hope that if certification takes place it's one that's going to work, that people will be comfortable with, and that can serve both the employees and the employers; and that if certification doesn't take place they understood the reason and feel they are being represented.
I want to spend a little bit of time on the Labour Relations Board, but I want to ask a couple of other questions first. I would like to ask the minister for some statistics, some indication of how unfair labour practice filings have gone over the.... I know there are some changes. I know that in our discussions with organized labour during the debate on the code, they stated that there was a dramatic increase in unfair labour practices with the advent of what was known as Bill 19, and that they wanted to see that changed. Can the minister give me an idea of the number of unfair labour practices that are on the books right now and that have been over the last three years, so that we can get some sort of a perspective of the trend in that regard?
Hon. D. Miller: I have some statistics that speak to the issue of certification to give you some sense.... I don't have a cumulative total, but I think the member will get the information he is seeking here. These are applications filed and disposed of in 1993 and '94, as of March 31. Certification applications filed in 1993 were 183; filed in 1994 were 158. Complaints of unfair labour practices, broken down by subject, bearing in mind 1993 and 1994: regarding internal union affairs, two in 1993 and nine in 1994; regarding the duty to bargain in good faith, seven in 1993 and 24 in 1994; regarding the duty of fair representation -- which I assume would be led by individual members -- 35 in 1993 and 29 in 1994; under the heading "Other Unfair Labour Practice Complaints," 222 in 1993 and 229 in 1994. Just to kind of narrow that down, a footnote suggests that the 222 applications in 1993 were included in 70 files. We are really talking about 70 actions, if you like. In other words, the 222 complaints were not filed as a result of 222 separate applications, but rather in what the board characterizes as 70 files. And in 1994, there were 75 files. So there may be a number of allegations about unfair labour practices regarding a single application for certification.
G. Farrell-Collins: Are those numbers the minister gave for 1994 since January? That's the first six months of this year. If that's the case, if those are numbers for 1994 to date, compared with 1993 numbers for 12 months.... First, is my assumption there correct? Second, does the minister not have any numbers for 1991 and 1992?
Hon. D. Miller: Yes, that is correct -- or at least that's the way I'm interpreting the documents. That's March 31, 1994. It doesn't have a start date. The heading is "Applications filed and disposed of in 1993 and 1994," so it's clearly a status report. I assume that means calendar year.
Just to add two subsequent columns to the statistics.... In other words -- whether they be applications for certification, unfair labour practice or appointment of an officer to resolve a dispute where a collective agreement is in effect -- what was the result of those applications? It appears from the numbers that.... For example, going to just the other unfair labour practices, 222 -- the larger number -- were filed in 1993, but 187 of those were disposed of in that year. Similarly, of the 229 that were filed in 1994, 215 were disposed of.
So it appears that there is an ability for the board to deal with the issues that do arise, whether they be in the area of certification, unfair labour practice or failure to resolve a dispute. It seems to me that that is some indication the system is working.
G. Farrell-Collins: I want to clarify these....
The Chair: Hon. minister?
Hon. D. Miller: I'll try to confirm this definitely, but I want to go back and retract what I said a moment ago. It is not a comparison of the total of 1993 with the first quarter of 1994. In fact, it's a comparison of the first quarter of 1993 with the first quarter of 1994. So the time period for both sets of statistics is similar, which on the face of it makes a heck of a lot more sense.
G. Farrell-Collins: I was assuming that's what we were getting at when you mentioned the March 31 date.
There's still a whole area of unanswered questions that I'd like to continue to pursue. For the first set of questions here, just for comparison's sake, do you have the first-quarter numbers for '91 and '92 -- the pre-Bill 84 figures?
Hon. D. Miller: I don't have '91, nor do I have the breakdown by quarter. But I refer the member to the annual report, page 45, which for comparative purposes has a breakdown of applications and complaints filed and disposed of in 1992 and '93.
G. Farrell-Collins: Later perhaps, I would like to look at a broader range, not at just the first quarter but the other quarters too, if at some point we can. There are activities which take place in this province.... Given the climate, the construction industry tends to gear up through the summer, not in the first quarter. There are other industries that are not very active during that first quarter, too. That doesn't necessarily mean that's when the complaints are filed, but I think it's worth looking at.
The reason I'm asking this is that I'd like to know if, as a result of Bill 84, the minister has seen a dramatic reduction in the unfair labour practice filings that have come forward. Has a change been seen as Bill 84 has come into play?
Hon. D. Miller: We're getting into some real statistics and attempting to draw statistical conclusions. It's somewhat difficult in this venue. My instinctive view would be that the number of complaints would have increased but that the percentage of applications may not have. I apologize; I have not broken that down. I hope the member takes my point. Although there has been an increase in the number of complaints filed relative to the total applications for certification, it may be smaller than what is normally the case in British Columbia. You have to view both of those statistics in relation to each other.
It may also be fair to say -- and this is clearly a generalization.... Going back to our original discussion about education and the lack of knowledge that some have or don't have about the code and the certification process, it would seem logical to me that, given a new code, one might see a larger number of complaints than would ordinarily be the case. I'm not saying that that is the case, because as a statistical comparison.... We can say whatever we like about statistics.
We had occasion to talk about the WCB, and we will again in these debates. One of the issues that has come up is
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administrative costs. It's quite legitimate to canvass those kinds of financial statistics as a judge of performance. I think I indicated in a previous debate that while total costs are up, when we compare those costs to a number of other benchmarks in the system -- in other words, the number of cases as a percentage of cost per case, all of those kinds of things -- we find that we compare quite favourably.
I am willing to concede as a general statement, but with a strong caveat...that as a percentage of the number of applications, the number of claims of unfair labour practices may have in fact declined.
G. Farrell-Collins: That's essentially the answer I was looking for, for a couple of reasons. With the introduction of the vote for certification during the term of the last government, there was a large increase in the claims or filings of unfair labour practices. Those figures were drawn to my attention a number of times by senior representatives in the labour community.
I'm glad to hear the minister state that those statistics are really things that one should take with a grain of salt, because they can be manipulated, depending on whether an organization, a trade union or group of trade unions sets out a policy of filing every single instance of unfair labour practice that they can possibly imagine, or that they can see may or may not have happened, in order to drive those statistics up. I'm not saying that was done, but I'm saying that is a possibility. I think the minister will accede to that.
At the same time, there is also at play the reality that you have a new labour code with a new set of rules. Because of the education issues that we talked about and the lack of understanding of the new code, those statistics may well be driven up, not because of a wilful attempt to perpetrate an unfair labour practice -- if I can put it that way -- but rather because of a misunderstanding and a lack of knowledge on behalf of the employer or trade union in fair representation suits. They are a smaller number, but they still exist.
If that is the case, then the whole argument which the previous Minister of Labour used -- really, the only argument the minister used -- in justifying the changes to the certification process would be based on false or perhaps erroneous assumptions, statistics and information. I'm not saying that is the case. I'm saying that the minister, given his earlier comments, would have to agree with me that it's certainly a distinct possibility. That's something that should be taken into consideration. That's why I asked the minister today what changes have taken place since the last change to the labour code in 1992. From looking at these numbers -- again, I'd like to hear what the ministry is using for figures -- I see there has been either a levelling off or a slight increase in the number of unfair labour practices, yet again because of a change in the labour relations code.
If that's the case, one could argue that the cause of the increase in unfair labour practices isn't the individual procedure that you're using for certification, but the fact that you're changing the process and that people aren't aware of what the rules are. People aren't educated as to what the changes are, what the process is, what they can and cannot say or what they can and cannot do. So I have to ask myself -- and I would have to ask the minister -- if that's the case. Is there a demonstrable argument for saying that the process of certification, whether it's a vote or not, is the cause of the increase in unfair labour practices?
I think it's a question worth asking, and the minister should be prepared to stand up and tell me that. He should be able to say: "Look, I've taken the time in the last couple of years to look at the impact of this code and to see what the effect has been." I gained assurances from the previous minister that this was something he'd be monitoring very closely and that he understood the concerns and the risks to individual freedoms in not being allowed to vote, or in removing the vote. He realized that there was a small risk there, and he could see my point of view, but he wanted to monitor that very closely. Indeed, he wanted to monitor the whole code very closely and recommend changes if necessary. So I'd be very interested to know what's happened to those unfair labour practices claims. According to the minister, they seem to have climbed, and I'd like to know what effect the changes in the rules have had on that.
Hon. D. Miller: Let me confirm that as a percentage of the certification applications, the number of claims of unfair practices has declined.
Hon. D. Miller: I suggested that. I didn't have time to digest the numbers when I was on my feet previously, but let me say very clearly that as a percentage of the number of applications for certification, the number of claims of unfair labour practices has declined. Let me further offer some conjecture that had we not changed the process, I suspect that the number of claims of unfair labour practices would have seen a dramatic increase.
I suppose the member is talking about change and has suggested as the premise -- at least, the one that I've been able to detect -- that change is not always easy to accommodate. In fact, it causes people who are not aware of change to end up -- at least, when we're talking about labour relations issues -- filing complaints of unfair practices.
I remember when I was driving my kid to hockey about five one morning, it was pitch-black in Rupert, and it was snowing. I drove down the street that I always drove down, and I turned the corner that I always turned, and lo and behold, the red and blue lights came on behind me and a policewoman pulled me over. She said: "You didn't stop at that stop sign." I said: "I've been driving down this road for 15 years, and there has always been a yield sign. It's five in the morning, it's pitch-black, it's snowing, and I didn't notice that you'd yanked out the yield sign and put a stop sign in place." They'd made a change. Because of the circumstances, it was the one and only time that my rational explanation for why I didn't do what I was supposed to do was accepted by the young constable, and it may have been that she took mercy on me as a parent. Those of you who've been in this situation understand what I'm saying. At five in the morning, when you're tired and you're driving down to the hockey rink so your son can go to hockey practice.... Maybe that was a mitigating circumstance. But my point is very clear: to some degree change always creates uncertainty. I don't care what field you are talking about. Look at the great debates we are now engaged in with respect to land use. Do they not cause fear and uncertainty? Of course they do. Are we not convinced that at the end of the day we are setting up a structure that will eliminate that fear of uncertainty, to the degree that it is possible? I think we agree.
I don't know if there's much more I can say. I have given statistics. It seems to me that, on balance, when we look at this system.... My test is to listen to people, hear what they are trying to say about any particular system and form some opinions about whether or not it's working. I'm not saying it is perfect, but I am saying that the code does provide an opportunity for working people to make a decision about
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their future and whether or not to join a union and apply for certification.
It makes it easier in the sense that where there's a clear majority recognized by the board, certification is granted. As a person who took a fairly active role in the debate over the labour bill that was tabled in 1987, I took some offence. I was very active in the trade union movement for most of my working life, and I met a lot of honest people whose only interest was to further the interests of the people they represented. I've never been involved in a vote that was rigged in my life, and I've been involved in a lot of them.
I took some offence at the former Minister of Labour and his government, who suggested that things were otherwise. Finally, I was struck by the apparent contradiction when the government that said we had to have a labour code that forces a vote, because it has got to be honest, was the same government that during their convention in the interior, when the Premier was under assault and members of his party were demanding a free vote, called in Don Phillips to rally the troops. Don made a million-dollar speech, and guess what: there was no democratic vote. I took offence at that. I still maintain, and will maintain, that there's nothing at all wrong with a system where, when there is a clear majority, the board has the right to grant certification. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that whatsoever, and I suspect that if there had not been a change, you would have seen even more claims of unfair labour practices.
To conclude, the member is absolutely right. This is a debate that was substantially held during debate on the bill itself. I'm always happy to revisit debates that I didn't have an opportunity to engage in that much. I was busy with forestry issues. We could actually relive it.
Hon. D. Miller: Oh, I was on the bench.
G. Farrell-Collins: That's right, hon. minister. You were suspended at the time of that debate. I remember it well, and my left ear has yet to recover from the heckling. I do remember that debate.
I'm certainly not asking these questions for no reason, and I think the minister is aware of that. I am leading to the impact of the Labour Code now, a year and a half later, and to what the government is doing to adjust to that change and deal with it. As the minister knows, there was a provision in that code -- section 3 -- and there was a private member's bill in my name on the order paper during the previous session that anticipated section 3. That section sets up a committee to advise the minister on the impact and effect of the Labour Code, and whether ongoing changes need to be made, whether there are problems that need to be addressed or whether everything is wonderful.
I know that if the minister was being practical about it, he would want to know those answers, too. It's important to have feedback on that impact, and because that section of the code hasn't been activated, so to speak -- I know it's been proclaimed, but it hasn't been activated in that no committee has been set up -- there have been other ways in which organizations have gone about trying to provide the minister with some feedback on the impact.
The small business coalition, which, as the minister knows, is a coalition of thousands of primarily small businesses in this province -- but there are some medium-sized businesses -- did a survey of their members who had had experiences with the Labour Relations Board over the last year and a half -- primarily since the introduction of the code, although I imagine many of them have had experiences with the board over a longer period of time. I assume the minister has had the time to look at that, or at least to have it watered down or condensed for him so he can have a look at some of the issues there.
There was a fairly profound dissatisfaction not just with the certification process and the way the board relates to it but also with the level of service they received from the Labour Relations Board. That could be caused by a number of things. I doubt that an employer who has had a certification drive and wasn't anxious to have it happen would go to the Labour Relations Board and be happy about the way the certification process went. I can't foresee that there would be many of those people, although I might tell the minister I have talked to a number who have gone through a certification process and have come to me and said: "You know, it wasn't as bad as we thought. We've got a good group of people working for us. It's a little different structure, a little more formalized, but we're doing okay."
So it's not everybody, obviously. But certainly there is a fairly large percentage of people who've had contact with the board who would say that they are dissatisfied. Indeed, it harks back to the comments I made earlier about what the board is doing to help those businesses and employees know what the process is, and to help guide them through it.
The survey showed that 44 percent of those surveyed indicated dissatisfaction with the assistance from staff at the Labour Relations Board. Can the minister tell me if he is doing any sort of an analysis -- a customer satisfaction survey, if you want to put it that way -- so that he can look at the quality of service the Labour Relations Board is giving to those people who rely upon it, and at whether or not, in their opinion, they are being well served? They are the customers -- the client base, if you can put it that way -- who are being served by this. Is there any assurance or response afterwards to find out how those people felt the process went? In my mind it would be something that the ministry and the board would be eagerly looking at, to improve the process and make it more responsive to the needs and demands of the people who rely upon it. Can the minister tell me if any quality assurance of that sort is being done?
Hon. D. Miller: Yes. In fact, the board has cooperated with a survey the Coalition of B.C. Businesses conducted about the issues of certification. As I understand it, they will be following it up in terms of the opinions that were registered as a result of that survey. I think you have to be careful in policy-making that.... I could name half a dozen topics that you could do a survey on, and I can guarantee what the response would be. That's not the ultimate in terms of policy-making, as indeed members of the Liberal Party have probably discovered internally by now. But I was remiss in singling out the former Social Credit administration for refusing to allow a vote by secret ballot on the very contentious issue of leadership at their convention in the interior. I neglected to remind members that I understand that within the Liberal Party itself, in fact, there was a refusal to give their members a secret ballot vote on the ability of members to change the constitution. I'm not trying to embarrass anybody. I appreciate some of the arguments that have been made and that have existed with respect to the ability of people to have an automatic certification when the sign-up numbers warrant it. It may be fair to say that some people always seem to cry democracy simply because they don't like what's going on.
When tailoring public policy, we always have to be careful to ensure that we're doing the right thing, that there's
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a balance and that we're providing legitimate opportunities for expression. By and large, the code has passed that test. I also think any document needs to be reviewed in a timely way. We have the opportunity to do that under section 3 of the code. I anticipate that I may be in a position to make a statement in the near future with respect to exercising the provision of the code that looks at some areas, some of which the member has raised. I don't think it's possible to get perfection, but I do think, to the degree that it is possible, that we need a working document that works and that is perceived to be unbiased -- albeit it does contain the kind of policy that I talked about.
In my view, the key to labour relations is the ability of parties to have confidence. I try to do that as the minister. I try not to get involved and take sides on issues, but I exercise the real mandate of this ministry. I work similarly with the code. Our job is to try to assist parties where their own ability to reach agreement has broken down. I must say that in some instances it is a considerable challenge -- and that's an understatement.
G. Farrell-Collins: I certainly am not in the least embarrassed by the minister's comments, because I know full well that if he didn't bring it up, there would be at least one other member of this House who would. I was well aware that those comments were on their way. The minister should be careful when speaking about that of which he knows not terribly much, to put it mildly. The minister certainly didn't attend that convention, nor did he understand the large number of questions that needed to be decided in a very short period of time, which would have made that process prohibitive.
G. Farrell-Collins: I understand the point the minister is trying to make. Indeed, the end result of the whole process was so overwhelming that it made it quite clear that any way the ballots were counted or cast would have made absolutely no difference whatsoever. But the principle is still there. The minister is aware of that, and so am I. We're all mindful of trying to uphold that whenever possible, but there are often extenuating circumstances and constraints when bringing a large group of people together for a short period of time to make a larger number of decisions.
Hon. D. Miller: Completely unconvincing.
G. Farrell-Collins: Thank you. I didn't want to leave that unanswered, although I'm sure the matter will be raised again by at least one member in this House before these estimates are finished, and that's fine.
I do want to come back to the question of how well the Labour Relations Board is responding to the people they're there to serve. I'm glad to hear, if I understood the minister correctly, that the board has met with the Coalition of B.C. Businesses. I hope they're taking the results of their report and survey to heart. I agree with the minister that one can't achieve perfection, because everyone has a different opinion of what perfection is. Certainly the way you do public policy is not necessarily by polls -- although the current Minister of Finance would probably disagree with the Minister of Labour in that regard, certainly given what has taken place in the makeup of the last budget and since. But that's another matter.
I do want to explore a little the application of section 3. As the minister mentioned earlier, moments ago, there have been rumours out there in the labour relations field that this minister is anticipating making some sort of announcement which would deal with the application of section 3. If I can put it bluntly, he may well be prepared to appoint that committee and have it up and going. I guess I can ask the minister outright if we're pretty close to the mark with that one.
But more importantly, regarding the structure of that committee and those people appointed to it, are the appointments to that committee going to be made by the minister himself? That's what the legislation states. Or is the minister going to seek appointments or nominations from the various players out in the field? Can he assure us that part of...?
I don't know exactly how he would do it, but I think it would be worth the effort to try to ensure there is someone on that committee representing the non-union employee -- sort of representing themselves. The reason I ask for that -- one of the things we talked about in the code debate -- is that the code is obviously there to deal with the management of the collective bargaining process, but also to provide a process whereby people can enter into or depart from the collective bargaining realm, so to speak, whether they choose or not to become part of a collective bargaining unit. In doing so, it does have major implications for those people who aren't yet part of it or who may want to leave it.
It's important, I think, that there be a voice out there not completely consumed with the history, structure and baggage that goes along with collective bargaining in the history of this province -- somebody who can look at it from a perspective of: "When everybody's heading down the path with their own blinders on, my job on this committee is to say, 'Whoa a minute here; look how this is going to affect those people out there who really don't have much to do with this structure at this point but may well encounter it in the future'."
That's a valid concern, which we raised during Bill 84. I'd just like to know if the minister has a plan, aside from what's actually written in the legislation. If he were to get that committee up and running, how would he go about selecting the members to sit on that committee?
Hon. D. Miller: The member raises some very interesting points. I don't believe I said earlier in debate, talking about the relationship of business and employees, that of course, one of the difficulties is how you consult with a large group where there is no union or organized structure. To a very real degree, the member is asking me to find -- and I hope this is not sexist -- the classic everyman. How on earth would I find an individual in this province to represent the "non-union employee"? Where would I look? What would be the criteria? Who would they represent? By its very nature there's no structure, so how could one choose an individual to provide that kind of representation? I obviously don't want to pre-empt any decisions that have yet to be made with respect to naming individuals, etc. But I can assure the member we're looking for appropriate balance. I know it's not my place to ask questions, but inevitably here's what's going to happen. I can tell you that the various employer organizations will attempt to represent the non-union employee. I might ask the member whether the individuals there should take that representation as legitimate. That question is quite interesting. Does the Business Council of B.C. or whatever the employer organization happens to be...? I'm not picking on anyone, nor am I trying to slang anyone. I'm simply saying: do they represent the interests of the non-union sector? It is literally impossible to find an individual who would represent the interests of that sector.
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G. Farrell-Collins: The minister makes a good point, and I would be loath to say that those non-union employers would have a much better angle on representing the views of their employees than would the union employers. So I would tend to agree with the minister on that one. But if the minister thinks about it and tries to be a little creative, there are ways to find people who have an understanding of the way the employment workplace process works without having to be part of the collective bargaining structure, whether the employer or a member of a trade union.
I think he wouldn't have to look too much further than his own employment standards branch for people who deal on a regular basis with employees who are not part of the union process and aren't organized collectively. I think it's worth exploring; it's something that I don't think the minister should dismiss out of hand. I know it's difficult to find that everywoman or everyman, as the minister put it, to identify all those.... But it might be nice to have somebody who's relatively informed about the workplace and the things that affect workers, but who is not part of the collective bargaining process and can be there to look at it from the outside and say how it represents the people they come in contact with.
I think that's worth exploring. I would encourage the minister to think about that, mull it over and bounce it off some of his staff, to see if they can't come up with some creative way or some people who are involved in that. That's certainly an option. I know the business community doesn't like to see the employment standards branch and the Labour Relations Board anywhere near each other, and certainly not on the same bus going in the same direction. They like to keep them separate, and I can understand the rationale for that. But I think it would be good to have somebody there to deal with that, and I would encourage the minister to look into it.
I know that we have other business to take care of this evening. If the minister wants to respond, that's fine. Then I assume we will be wrapping it up for tonight.
Hon. D. Miller: I simply want to say that under our system, the individual in society is in fact represented. Although there are disagreements across the floor with respect to policy, etc., the individual's interest in this province is represented here in the Legislature.
We are all democratically elected by our constituents. Under our rules, it could be as low as 30-odd percent or could be as high as.... And I was overwhelmed and gratified by the kind of vote I got in my constituency. Nonetheless, we do represent, by necessity, the broader public interest. So I say that I understand what the member is saying with respect to considering the range of opinions and the requirement for balance, but ultimately, if there is to be legislative change, it comes to this chamber. Notwithstanding the issues of democracy and majorities, it's been my sense in the time that I've been here that issues are canvassed and governments do pay attention to what members of the opposition say.
Hon. Chair, I will cede the floor, then, to my hon. friend to adjourn debate.
G. Farrell-Collins: Just a quick comment for the minister, and then we can wrap up this portion of the evening.
During the debate on Bill 84, I recall distinctly at least half a dozen members of his government standing up in this House and saying that the non-union workers and employers have no right to have their views brought forward with the Labour Code because the Labour Code deals with union workers and unionized employers. I heard that time after time after time. What I'm saying to the minister is that....
G. Farrell-Collins: Yes, that's okay. But I want to make it clear to the minister that that wasn't what was brought before this House when Bill 84 was debated. We certainly brought it forward, but his government did not. If it gets up and running, I would like to see some representation of that panel under section 3. I would like to see some attempt by the minister to have the non-union workers and the potential impacts on them represented.
We can pick up the debate later. I would move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed; D. Lovick in the chair.
Committee of Supply B, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. D. Miller: I call committee stage on Bill 50.
RESIDENTIAL TENANCY AMENDMENT ACT, 1994
The House in committee on Bill 50; D. Lovick in the chair.
On section 1.
V. Anderson: Perhaps the minister would explain this section. In spite of the Infants Act, I understand that it allows for the fact that when people under 19 enter into contracts, they're enforceable. Does that apply to a nine-year-old or a ten-year-old? Where's the limitation on this? What area does this cover, and how is it explained?
Hon. J. Smallwood: This specific section deals with young people, in particular. I can think of a particular example where a 17-year-old or 18-year-old leaves home to go to college or university. This would allow for that individual to be held responsible for any tenancy agreement they would enter into.
[ Page 12230 ]
V. Anderson: I understand that. I know that there are some other definitions in the Marriage Act, for instance, regarding people who are independent and on their own. But this is wide open. A 12-year-old or 13-year-old is covered by this, just as a 16-year-old or 17-year-old is. What I am trying to get at is: where is the line drawn? In the Child, Family and Community Service Act, they've made a distinction between youths who are 16 to 19 and children under 16. I can't understand why the same definition would not have been used here, instead of this wide-open definition.
Hon. J. Smallwood: This is simply a permissive section. It recognizes that landlords are responsible adults who enter into contracts with responsible tenants. In this particular case, the Infants Act would have made it impossible, or at least very difficult, to hold responsible a 17-year-old or 18-year-old who, as I said, may have left home to go to college or university and is living on their own. Without this change, the Infants Act would have stood on its own.
V. Anderson: I understand the reasoning. I'm still trying to find out where the protection is for an 18-year-old or 19-year-old who is involved in prostitution, or whatever, and, under intimidation, forces an 11-year-old or 12-year-old to enter into a contract so that person is now coverable -- or if the person does it on their own. There are many young people out in the street who are ten and 11 years old who will want to rent accommodations. Where does the break-even point come?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'll simply say that this is permissive. It recognizes that landlords are responsible and use good judgment. Those ten- and 11-year-olds are likely on the street because no one will rent to them. We are not encouraging a rent relationship between adults and infants, but by this particular change in the act are recognizing that some young adults who would have been caught by it otherwise should be held responsible when they are themselves responsible tenants.
The Chair: Shall section 1 pass?
L. Hanson: I'm not sure how you are dealing with this, hon. Chair. Are you dealing with section 1 and then moving on? Are you going to deal with each subsection in some of the longer ones? It's a question of clarification.
The Chair: I think that until we get to section 4 they are relatively straightforward. When we get to section 4, we will invoke our usual procedure, which is to deal with them seriatim.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
L. Hanson: In section 2, we seem to be emphasizing the 20-year lease without prior municipal approval. Is there some reason for that? Have we had circumstances where that has been a difficulty? Maybe the minister could tell us.
Hon. J. Smallwood: We had before us a situation where a company had designed a process to avoid not only the Municipal Act but, by some of their other activities, also the Real Estate Act and the Residential Tenancy Act. People were finding themselves in situations where they thought they had certain rights under the contract and those rights were not respected. In this particular instance with 20-year leases, the member may be aware that the Municipal Act requires approval for a change from a rental situation to a condominium. By using this particular provision, it avoided that. People were finding that in some instances the seismic conditions were not being brought up to snuff, as well as a number of other issues.
L. Hanson: The minister is suggesting that they have been using extended leases to avoid the strata subdivision process through municipalities. That's been a fairly common problem, has it? I haven't heard of one.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Luckily, it hasn't been all that common. There have been a number of examples, particularly in North Vancouver. The issue was brought to our attention by the UBCM. Along with the Attorney General and the Ministry of Finance, we have brought in a number of amendments this session to deal with this and other like situations.
G. Wilson: With respect to 2(7)(b)(i) and (ii) -- "...6 months from the day the tenancy agreement was entered into, or (ii) one month after the sum owing under paragraph (a) is paid...." -- is there a provision in this section for a notice of payment? I understand what this is intended to get at. It would seem to me that there could be a provision whereby notice of payment could be made and the tenant would relinquish their right upon payment. That has been done in instances I am familiar with; there has been a process by simple agreement between the tenant and the landlord on amounts being reimbursed to the tenant. With respect to the debt being paid by the landlord to the tenant, that can be done by notice of agreement. There is no provision in here for that. It would seem to me that if an agreement can be made between the landlord and the tenant, notice of payment can be made that could affect the tenant leaving. Why is there no provision for that?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm not altogether sure that the member has not got it out of context. This section follows the section on the 20-year leases. It is specifically with regard to those residential leases and that loophole that we are closing. Perhaps the member could ask the question in a different way, because I'm not quite getting his question.
G. Wilson: Maybe I have misread the section -- and I would certainly be prepared to stand down if that's the case -- but it says: "If a tenancy agreement is void under subsection (6), (a) the sum of all payments made by or on behalf of the tenant under the tenancy agreement is a debt owed by the landlord to the tenant, and (b) the tenant may occupy the residential premises until the later of (i) the date 6 months from the day the tenancy agreement was entered into, or (ii) one month after the sum owing under paragraph (a) is paid in full." There is a possibility for a notice of payment schedule.... For example -- either through litigation or direct negotiation -- there can be a payment schedule and therefore a notice that would override this act. All I am asking is whether there is a provision whereby that can apply -- because there's nothing in here that says it may -- and a tenant may exercise the right to one month after full payment, even though a notice of payment schedule may have already been entered into and the landlord may wish access to those premises.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I would like to draw the member's attention to the wording "the tenant may." That assumes that there is an agreement between the landlord and the tenant, and that would govern a situation where they had already signed.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
V. Anderson: For clarification, when you say "an order under this section," what is the order that is referred to, and who is giving that order?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The arbitrator. In the case of this legislation, the residential tenancy arbitrator and court are interchangeable; they are the same person.
V. Anderson: Did you say that the arbitrator and the court are the same person? The arbitrator is only a court? There's no arbitrator apart from a court? Are there arbitrators that
[ Page 12231 ]
are given court status, or is there something different from the court?
Hon. J. Smallwood: This particular piece of legislation is absolutely as clear as mud, and I think that was referenced by a number of members during second reading. This legislation has been amended, counteramended and changed for almost 20 years. Where the legislation in different sections says "arbitrator" and in other sections "court," they are referring to the same person. As far as the legislation is concerned, the hearing would be held by an arbitrator. An individual would always have the option, of course, of going to court, which is different and distinct.
V. Anderson: Let me try that once again, because that's part of the confusion. A hearing is held by an arbitrator in mediation between the landlord and the tenant. That arbitrator is appointed by whom and responsible to whom? When that arbitrator makes a decision -- and there could be a group of arbitrators, I presume, around the province -- then that decision can be appealed to the court. So the arbitrator is separate from the court.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The arbitrator is separate from the court. The appeal of an arbitrator's decision is judicial review. At the time these amendments are proclaimed -- and we are targeting December of this year for that proclamation -- we also hope to have an arbitration review panel in place providing additional support for individuals who feel that the arbitrator has made a mistake or has not heard significant information. That arbitration review panel will provide for a review separate from a judicial review. We clearly recognize that a judicial review is not always an option for landlords or for tenants.
V. Anderson: So there's a third category? An arbitrator can make a decision. If either the tenant or the landlord disagrees with the decision of the arbitrator, they will be able to go to an arbitration review panel. And if they disagree with the review panel, they can then appeal it to the court. So there are three stages, if I'm hearing you right.
Hon. J. Smallwood: An individual could take advantage of that process only if there had been technical breaches or if they could provide significant additional information. It would not be simply because the individual disagreed.
V. Anderson: That's what I wanted to clarify. There are three processes, I understand. The regulations will spell out the differences and the requirements of moving from one stage to the other. That's not contained in the act, so when you disagree with the arbitrator the regulations will have to spell out what you can take to the review panel and what you can take from the review panel to the court, and the basis for those reviews.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The arbitration review panel that I referenced was in Bill 67, which was brought in in the previous year, and the specifics of how a person could avail themselves of the arbitration review panel process are outlined in Bill 67.
Section 3 approved.
On section 4, section 9.1.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Hon. Chair, I move the amendment to section 4 standing in my name on the order paper today.
[SECTION 4, in the proposed subsection 9.1(1) by deleting "the court, on application, may" and substituting "the court may".]
On the amendment.
G. Wilson: With respect to the amendment, it speaks to an issue that I wanted to raise. I see that by deleting "the court, on application, may" and substituting "the court may," what we're doing, essentially, is removing the process of application and allowing the court to make a decision without that, I would argue. That doesn't change the area that I think is problematic in the bill. I'd have to think for a moment about what the implication of that is, but it would seem that the amendment doesn't change the fact that the court is able to provide for a reduced value of the tenancy to the tenant as a result of the landlord's failure to comply.
Two things need to be looked at here, and we can deal with it through the amendment or afterwards as the Chair sees fit. It seems that the court is being put into a position where it has to provide some kind of determinant on value with respect to a non-compliance of the landlord under sections 9(2) or 9(3)(a) of the Residential Tenancy Act. I don't know how the minister feels that that value might be determined. Presumably, if there's an application, one might deem that within the litigated process a tenant may be arguing that the value of the agreement may be diminished on the basis of a failure to comply. Could the minister flesh that out a bit? That would seem to put the landlord at a serious disadvantage if a court, in deeming non-compliance, might bind that landlord to renting that unit at a submarket price.
The Chair: I would suggest that we debate the amendment before we deal with the rest of section 9.1, if that is acceptable.
L. Hanson: One point that I'd like clarified is the reference to the court. I think I heard the minister say that we should interpret that as either the arbitrator or the court. It could read that the arbitrator, under the Residential Tenancy Act, could make this order and be interpreted as the court.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Just on procedural grounds, I'm wondering if we could deal with the amendment itself. Then we will deal with the questions that were asked about that specific section, which deals with the substance of the last two questions.
L. Hanson: The point I'm trying to clarify has some bearing.... If "court" means the court, then we're striking out an application to the court. If it means arbitrator, then it has quite a different meaning, in my mind.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Are you asking if court means arbitrator in the amendment?
V. Anderson: Where in the act does it clarify that court means arbitrator and when court is court and arbitrator is arbitrator? They're two different things. Where in the act does it clarify that one is the other? I agree with the minister's statement that it's as clear as mud. It certainly makes a difference.
On the amendment, "on application" is one thing, but for the arbitrator or the court to make this decision on their own whim without dealing with the person involved is totally unacceptable.
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G. Wilson: The member for Vancouver-Langara has hit the nail right on the head. I couldn't agree more. If the intention of this amendment is to remove "on application," which suggests that the court and/or the arbitrator can act without the involvement of the tenant through application, then I think this is entirely unacceptable. Could the minister clarify if that's what's intended here? If not, maybe the minister could just tell us why she has taken out the words "on application, may."
Hon. J. Smallwood: That's exactly what I was trying to do -- deal with the amendment and then deal with the subsequent questions. Section 9.1(1) is amended by removing the words "on application." This will enable the arbitrator to reduce a tenant's rent without the tenant having to make a separate application for this remedy. So the removal of the words "on application" simply clarifies for the arbitrator their role in dealing with this particular problem. It streamlines it and doesn't create an additional hoop for the tenant to jump through, understanding that this was the intent all along.
G. Wilson: Just to refer back to the act we're dealing with here, we're dealing with the failure to comply with an order under section 9(2)(a) or 9(3)(a) of the act. We're dealing with someone who is already under a court order and is in violation of that order and, in the opinion of the arbitrator, has failed. Presumably the court has to have some notice to that effect. They're obviously not going to follow up on their own order; they'll assume that once the order has been given, it's being complied with. That is normally the case. Somebody is going to have alert them to the fact that the order has not been complied with. Would that not constitute an application, then? Surely you're not suggesting....
So what you're dealing with here is just a simple notice, rather than having to formally go back through litigation or an arbitration process -- it's that simple.
Hon. J. Smallwood: It's simply to streamline the process. That was the intent of the change in the first place; it was not to make the tenant go back through the hoops. The tenant had already applied and had gone through the process. This is just holding the landlord accountable and enforcing the arbitrator's ruling.
On section 4, section 9.1 as amended.
G. Wilson: I wonder if I could come back to my other question, then, now that we've sort of clarified that. Section 9.1(1) says: "...commensurate with the reduced value of the tenancy to the tenant as a result of the landlord's failure to comply with...." Then section 9.1(2) says: "A reduction in rent under subsection (1) does not apply to rent that becomes payable after the landlord complies...." My question is: how is it intended that the court is going to make some assessment on value that is going to presumably bind the landlord until such time as that landlord can comply?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me share with the member a particular example. A house that is being rented has a roof in disrepair, the leaks are making one room of the house uninhabitable, and people are not able to enjoy, in full, the premises they have rented. With that information, and based on the arbitrator's experienced judgment, the arbitrator would likely reduce the amount of the rent by one-fifth, by the value of the property that is not accessible to the tenant.
L. Hanson: I would read subsection (3) to say that if a repair hasn't been done, the tenant can deduct the cost of that repair from the monthly rent. Then as a penalty, if the landlord hasn't done it, they could also have their rent reduced by whatever amount the arbitrator feels is fair under the circumstances.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The member referenced subsection (3), and I'm not sure what he's looking at. But let me speak specifically to the point he made. The arbitrator has the option, depending on the circumstances presented to him or her, to make a ruling requiring a landlord to deal with the repairs within a given period of time. If those repairs are not carried out, the arbitrator also has an option to allow the tenant to take action on the ruling. Depending on the value of the repairs and on the situation, the tenant may be directed one of two ways. Upon the landlord's failure to do the repairs, the tenant may be directed to do the repairs and deduct it from the next month's rent. The other avenue the arbitrator has is to direct the tenant and the landlord to reduce the rent, ongoing over a number of months. That would be based on the circumstances, the value of the repairs and the relationship -- with the information the arbitrator has before them.
L. Hanson: In the simplest of terms, I'm asking: is it either-or, or can it be both? The way this is written, it would seem to me that it can be both. Let's say a $500 repair has to be done, and the arbitrator orders the landlord to have it done. The landlord doesn't do it for four or five or six months, so the tenant goes back and says: "He hasn't done this yet." The arbitrator might say: "I give you authority to deduct the $500. You do it, and have the $500 deducted from the monthly rent. On top of that, I think you've suffered a $100-a-month loss of use because the roof was leaking." That's really my question: is it either-or or both?
Hon. J. Smallwood: In the example you gave, the arbitrator could compensate the tenant for the loss of the use of those premises over five months. I would suggest, though, that in making his ruling, the arbitrator would also put in a time line, and it would not drag on for five months.
L. Hanson: But it could be both.
Hon. J. Smallwood: It could be.
V. Anderson: Perhaps this will come up later, but it is relevant here. If either the landlord or the tenant disagrees with the decision of the arbitrator -- the arbitrator may say, "I'll deduct $100 a month," and the tenant may say, "That's not enough; I want $300 a month" -- can either one of them appeal the decision to the courts?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The avenue is judicial review.
Section 4, section 9.1 as amended approved.
On section 4, section 9.2.
G. Wilson: It says: "...'emergency repairs' means repairs to (a) major leaks in the pipes or roof, (b) damaged or blocked water...." Generally speaking, we're dealing with matters that would be of a severe enough nature to cause
[ Page 12233 ]
some disruption in one's ability to remain in an apartment or dwelling. Then it goes on to say: "...that are urgent and necessary for the health and safety of persons or the preservation and use of the residential property or residential premises." Subsection (e) has the word "or," where it talks about: "...in prescribed circumstances, the residential premises or residential property that are urgent...." I just wonder if subsections (a) through (d) can also be tied into the matter of urgency on health questions. It isn't caveated out by that word "or" at the end of subsection (d)?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The answer is yes on the question of subsections (a) through (e).
G. Wilson: Section 9.2(4) says: "A landlord must reimburse a tenant for the tenant's expenses under subsection (3) except expenses that the court, on application, finds to be (a) not for emergency repairs...." Are there any limits to this amount? Presumably some very extensive kinds of emergency repairs may be created by a whole variety of different events that are well beyond the normal control of a landlord, yet there's nothing in here that covenants the total amount. No limit is suggested in this -- "to a value of" or "to a percentage of." You might look at an annual rent or whatever. Were there any discussions about putting in limits? Have you rejected the notion of limits? What's the case law with respect to history on that question? The way it stands now, it looks like landlords could get stuck with pretty substantial bills if the court deems that.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I would like to speak to the process, and then answer the specifics for the member. This section only kicks in when the landlord has not responded to at least two attempts by a tenant to contact the landlord or his or her designate. A good landlord has a responsive property manager or repair person designated, or responds themselves to the tenant's call for emergency repair. As the member can see in the legislation, emergency repair is very clearly spelled out. It covers major leaks in pipes or roof, damaged or blocked water or sewer pipes or plumbing fixtures, the central or primary heating system, and defective locks that give access to residential premises. It then goes on to refer to health and safety, as we talked about earlier. To reiterate, the only time a landlord would be in a situation where a tenant had initiated these emergency repairs and had paid for them out of their own pocket would be when the landlord had neglected his or her responsibility. So a good landlord would not have to respond to this.
With regard to a limit on the amount of money that a tenant can put out for a repair, I am sure that the member would agree that most tenants are not in a position to put out thousands of dollars for emergency repair. These specifics are to deal with health and safety. As a safeguard, however -- and the member refers to subsection 4 -- a landlord has an appeal process if he disagrees with the actions of a tenant or if he disagrees that it is an emergency repair. If the landlord disagrees that the amount of money spent on the repair is justifiable, the landlord can appeal through the arbitrator. The arbitrator will hear that and make a ruling with regard to the lawfulness of the tenant's actions.
G. Wilson: Maybe I will just take one last shot at this. If all landlords and all tenants were like all hon. members in this chamber, maybe we would have no problems at all -- or maybe not. Often with this kind of legislation -- and I said this in second reading debate -- what you are really legislating against are the extremes: unscrupulous landlords who are out to gouge tenants; or tenants who may seek to gain from their landlord, for whatever reason. It's unfortunate. In the vast majority of cases, the relationships between tenants and landlords are good. At least that has been my experience, and that seems to be the information we have from both sides. Both sides have a very active lobby on this question, as the minister well knows, who have been seen around the halls a great deal over the last little while.
Notwithstanding that there may be occasions in which repairs deemed to be an emergency may have been attempted, the tenant cannot simply take it upon themselves to enter into work on the property, contract whomever they may need to provide services that may well be well above market price, and hit the landlord for changes to that facility on the basis of emergency repair. The minister may say that that doesn't happen frequently, and it may not.
My only concern is that if there are no limits put in place to the amounts, it would strike me that there is an avenue where dispute over what constitutes an emergency or over whether repair has been effected may well take place. You can attempt to repair and not have it repaired. A leaking roof is not an easy thing to fix -- as the minister would know, if she ever had to do it. My motto is: if it isn't raining, it doesn't need to be fixed; if it is raining, you can't get up because it's too wet. The problem here is that a landlord may attempt to do it, tenants may enter into it and then repair, and the cost of that repair may be well be above the market value the landlord ordinarily would have paid if that repair was contracted by the landlord. All I'm arguing is that presumably there should be some protection from the unscrupulous on either side of this equation.
Hon. J. Smallwood: We also were concerned about that and in every section of this act ensured that there was a balance and protection for both parties. I'm going to quote right from the bill -- section 4, section 9.2(4):
"A landlord must reimburse a tenant for the tenant's expenses under subsection (3) except expenses that the court, on application, finds to be
(a) not for emergency repairs,
(b) for emergency repairs for which the tenant failed to comply with subsection (3) or (5),
(c) beyond a reasonable cost for the emergency repairs, or
(d) for emergency repairs the need for which arises primarily from the actions or neglect of the tenant or a guest of the tenant."
It then goes on to lay out that the landlord has an appeal process:
"(5) A tenant must provide a landlord with a written account, with receipts for each expense incurred, for emergency repairs made under subsection (3).
"(6) If a tenant complies with subsections (3) and (5), the tenant may, in addition to other remedies the tenant may have under this Act, withhold from rent...."
And it talks about the remedies that the tenant has.
We have built in protection for the landlord in two ways. In this section, we've specifically spelled out the process for both tenant and landlord and have specifically identified what an emergency repair is. And we have provided an appeal process for the landlord, where the tenant has not been able to produce the receipt or justify that it is an actual emergency qualifying under this act, or has acted in violation of this section in some other way.
V. Anderson: Under subsection (3), if the landlord.... I'm thinking of a single house at the moment, not an apartment or anything. A single house is rented to a tenant, and the landlord happens to be away for the weekend or the week.
[ Page 12234 ]
Are you saying that whenever the landlord is away, someone must be available during that period of time? If that person is not available over a long weekend or even a day or two, what's the reasonable effort there in trying to contact that person? That's one part of the question. And does the tenant need to contact an arbitrator and get permission to do that? Or does the tenant do that completely on their own?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Again, I'd like to refer to subsection (3) for the member:
"If emergency repairs are not made within a reasonable time after a tenant has made a reasonable effort on 2 or more occasions to contact the person at the telephone number referred to in subsection (2), the tenant may have repairs made, but the landlord may take over the completion of these repairs at any stage."
So the landlord is required to post an emergency contact number.
In the particular example that the member talks about, where it is a private home and the landlord is going away for the weekend, the landlord is required to have an emergency contact other than himself or herself. The tenant then can reliably assume that the landlord's agent will fill the landlord's role in responding to emergency repairs. It's a simple matter of having an answering machine on the other end of the phone and someone responsible for taking the messages. In that way, the tenant is able to record that they tried at least two reasonable attempts.
V. Anderson: I don't want to push this -- but yes, I do want to push it. I think it's important. Say a landlord is a single mother who is working during the day and is out with the youngster at night, staying overnight. So she is the landlord and she's renting the house, and she's at work for the day and the night. The tenant in her house phones at midnight, and there is no one home. He phones at 8 o'clock the next morning, and there's no one home. So they order repairs that day. What the minister is saying, if I'm right, is that every landlord has to have a second number every hour of the day in order to be covered, so that if something happens suddenly, there is someone who can authorize repairs on their behalf.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me give the member another example. This particular home is in northern British Columbia. It's below minus 40, and the furnace goes out. One can only assume, as far as good business practices are concerned, that a landlord not only will be concerned about the tenant but will also be concerned about their asset. If they don't deal with the tenant's very real emergency situation, the pipes are going to freeze. They'll have a much higher repair bill than if, as good business people, they had ensured there was a responsive emergency contact number.
V. Anderson: Am I to understand that the minister will be providing these rules and regulations to every tenant and every landlord in B.C. so they will be aware of them before the situation arises? Once this is put into effect, every landlord and every tenant is under legal requirements. So will you be notifying each of them of these requirements?
Hon. J. Smallwood: It's the intention of our ministry to work very closely with landlord and tenant organizations in the next number of months. In addition to the changes in the Residential Tenancy Act, as the member well knows, we have enhancements in our budget to provide opportunities for our residential tenancy officers to do more extensive outreach and education in support of both landlords and tenants. So yes, to the best of our ability, we will provide the information and support landlords and tenants on an ongoing basis in their good relationships. Where there are problems, we will help to resolve those.
V. Anderson: I have one final question. Subsection (4) refers to the court. Are we assuming all the way through here that the reference to the court really means the arbitrator and not the court in the normal sense? And why was it written in this way? We said earlier that it's the arbitrator first, and then the arbitrator.... So it's the arbitrator that's making the decision about the emergency cost and how much of it may be paid by the landlord or the tenant. It's the arbitrator, not the court, that's making that decision.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The member is correct. In this case, as in others, "court" is interchangeable with "arbitrator." The only point that I would make to the member is that if both parties agree not to use the arbitrator but instead to use the courts, they could exempt themselves from the residential tenancy process and the arbitration process and go straight to court.
V. Anderson: Each time, we get another wrinkle brought in here. Is that written some other place in the act, or is it just understood that you can bypass the arbitrator? And unless both agree, is the arbitrator automatically the first line of approach? What I'm trying to get at is: do both have to agree to go to the court without the arbitrator, or is it automatically the arbitrator if only one of them agrees?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Section 13 defines this relationship in the Residential Tenancy Act. Referring specifically to the landlord and tenant opting out, the landlord and tenant may agree in writing at any time that subsection (1) of section 13 does not apply.
Again, I want to acknowledge and share the member's frustration in dealing with this act. This is an act that we have inherited; it's 20 years old. While these sections help to deal with a number of specific outstanding issues with the Residential Tenancy Act itself, it's very clear that the whole act needs revamping in plain language.
V. Anderson: May we ask why that wasn't done -- why the whole new act wasn't brought in, rather than piecemeal parts?
Hon. J. Smallwood: We actually are exploring that process. I am advised at this point in time that it would take two years from today if we started the process now. I am not happy with that answer, and we're looking at other options to expedite it. At this point in time, the resources required to rewrite the act in plain language are also very significant. It is a major management challenge, and I don't have the answer as to whether we'll be able to engage in it at this time.
The Chair: I wish to advise all members that that exchange was totally out of order, but in the spirit of conviviality, we have allowed that.
Section 4, section 9.2 approved.
On section 4, section 10.1.
G. Wilson: I think I agree with the intent of this section, but it completely reverses the existing section 10(1) of the
[ Page 12235 ]
Residential Tenancy Act. In fact, it seems to contradict what is in section 10(1), yet it is introduced as section 10.1 rather than replacing the existing section. So I have read through the existing section to try to find out why, and clearly in the existing act it says: "...a landlord or tenant shall not, except by agreement or under an order of a court, alter a means of entrance or access to residential premises...." Then it goes on to say in this section: "If the court, on application, is satisfied that a landlord may contravene section 11, the court may" -- and then it goes on to suggest the remedies that the tenant has with respect to the locks.
I understand why, and I'm not necessarily opposed to what you are attempting to introduce. But it doesn't read consistently now with the existing act. It looks like there is some contradiction between the intent of the existing section 10(1) that tenant and landlord rights be equitable -- so that the landlord has some provision for entry -- and the intent of 10.1, which very much gives the tenant the initiative with respect to protection against unwarranted or undesired entry by the landlord. It just seems to be inconsistent, and I'm not sure it is good legislation as a result. I wonder if the minister has some comment on that.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Again, I am not clear as to what point the member is making. So while he is formulating his question, I'd like to table for the House's information.... Perhaps more effectively, I can quote from a letter obtained from the fire commissioner with regard to issues of emergency access raised during second reading debate. In this reply, the fire commissioner states:
"This is in reply to your memo dated June 14, 1994, regarding alleged fire safety risks for tenant-only keys. The City of Vancouver fire department pioneered the use of building lockboxes in the mid-1970s because of the fire department's inability to gain access into the building, and this resulted in delays as well as damage to the building due to forced entry. The lockboxes were promoted as a means of reducing response delays and forced entry-damage. The lockboxes contain keys to the main building entrance as well as keys to service areas. Keys to individual suites are not normally included. Forcible entry into the suite is still required if the tenant or manager is not available to provide access to the suite. I am not aware of the fire service identifying this as a serious problem.
"The lockbox concept has been copied throughout North America. A sample of an advertisement for a lockbox is attached.
"For those rare occasions where a tenant is allowed to change the locks, as per Bill 50, the tenant may wish to include their suite key in the lockbox. It should be noted that for security reasons, the building owner/manager does not have access to the contents of the lockbox. The fire department should be the only agency that has a key to the lockbox."
The Chair: Thank you, minister. We can't table the document, minister. Suffice that it has been read into the record.
G. Wilson: Again, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with what the minister is saying. I just think there's a problem in the language.
In the existing Residential Tenancy Act, section 10(2) makes a distinction between a residential property and residential premises, because it says: "Where there is a reasonable threat to security, a landlord in an emergency may alter the locking system on a door that provides access to residential property, but a landlord shall not" -- not "may not" -- "except by agreement, alter the locking system on a door that provides direct access to residential premises."
In section 11, which covers the landlord's right of entry, it says: "(1) A landlord shall not enter residential premises in respect of which a tenant has a right of possession under tenancy agreement unless...." It then lists a whole series of reasons why the landlord can enter, and they seem to be the only reasons -- if an emergency exists, if the tenant gives consent, and so on. But this section, section 10.1(1), says: "If the court, on application, is satisfied that the landlord may contravene section 11" -- that is, if there's a suspicion that the landlord might do something that they have not yet done -- "the court may (a) authorize the tenant to change the locks and other means that give access to the residential premises." They already have the right to do that, and the landlord does not have the right to do that. It then says that the court may "(b) order that, while the tenancy continues, the landlord must not change these locks or obtain the keys or other means that give access to the residential premises."
You can't do that under the existing act anyway. It says quite specifically that you can't do it without the agreement of the tenant. So I don't understand what this does that is going to empower the tenant any more than they are already empowered. That's all I'm asking.
Hon. J. Smallwood: In listening to the member, it would seem that he's interchanging tenant and landlord. In 10.1(1) the amendment says that the tenant may change the lock. Under the previous section the member referred to, the tenant does not have the legal right to change the lock; the tenant may only change the lock through an arbitrator's ruling, and with just cause.
G. Wilson: Maybe I did say that. If I did, I'll correct myself, because that's not how it reads. In the existing act, section 10(2) says: "...a landlord shall not, except by agreement, alter the locking system on a door that provides direct access to residential premises." The landlord is not allowed to do it unless the tenant agrees. Then section 11 gives the reasons why the landlord shall have the right to enter a residential premises. There's a whole list of them there. I don't think we need to read them all out, but it says, primarily, that there has to be notice given, a prior agreement with the tenant or an emergency.
Then under this amendment in this act, it says that if the court, on application, is satisfied that a landlord may contravene the section -- that is, if there's some suspicion that an event is likely to occur -- then the tenant may be authorized to change the locks and other means that give access to residential premises. Section 10.1(1)(b) says: "...the landlord must not change these locks or obtain the keys or other means that give access to the residential premises." That is already forbidden in the existing act. So I don't understand what this court is giving the tenant that the tenant doesn't already have.
Hon. J. Smallwood: What the section provides is the authority for the tenant to change the lock and to keep the only key; that's under (a). Under (b), it states that the landlord is unable to reverse this order during the tenancy; that's it. It simply says that it gives the tenant, with the authority of the arbitrator, the right to change the lock; that's new. And (b) says that the landlord cannot reverse that decision during the tenancy.
V. Anderson: I still raise this question here. I understand what the minister is saying. Section 10.1(1) says "the court,
[ Page 12236 ]
on application," so the tenant has to get permission from the court. In (3)(b) we talk about an order by the arbitrator. It continues this confusion that in (1) we refer to the court and in (3) we refer to the arbitrator. We have this continuous confusion of court and arbitrator, since in the one section it refers to both of them. This confusion is going to drive the court, the arbitrator or someone wacky trying to sort it out.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The reference to the court in the act is in section 11. In the section that refers to security deposits -- and in subsection (3) we're cross-referencing back to security deposits -- it refers to the arbitrator. Member, this act is 20 years old and we are amending it. We've been through that, and I'll make the point again that for the purposes of this act, unless otherwise waived, "court" and "arbitrator" are interchangeable.
L. Fox: I'd just like to ask a few questions. Perhaps the minister could tell me why she sees it necessary to have legislation which would give a tenant the opportunity to change the locks. How many complaints have there been from tenants which would cause legislative change?
Hon. J. Smallwood: This particular section was very strongly advocated by a coalition of women's groups representing a number of different organizations from around the province, including the YWCA and others. There are a number of instances -- unfortunately, an increasing number of instances -- where landlords have been known to violate the provision under section 11 that very clearly lays out that a landlord may not enter your premises unless 24 hours' notice has been given.
I was particularly interested, as we began developing the policy to address the concerns brought forward by these women and to compare it to other situations.... I was interested to note that in commercial tenancy, for example, the tenant will hold and have the only key for that commercial tenancy. It's a different area of the law. In residential tenancy it has been assumed under the act that the landlord also would hold a key. Again, I want to make the point that in this particular section only landlords that have repeatedly abused their rights as landlords, have broken the law and have come before an arbitrator will lose the right to hold the key to that premise.
L. Fox: I just want to clarify the last point the minister talked about. I'm not sure that I totally understood that. The way this reads, it would appear that a tenant could petition the court and receive a judgment, if you will, that would allow him or her to change the lock in the door. If that's the way it is, it seems to me that that's going to draw considerable concern not only for the court but also for the landlords in the province.
I've talked to a number of people and have had a number of complaints from landlords who, for instance, have gone out of their way to help people on social assistance. And when the problems occur -- whether it's damage to suites, destruction of property, or theft of things out of the apartments or the home -- it's usually after the landlord has tried to evict the individual for non-compliance, for non-payment or for some other thing. It would appear to me that if the landlord is not made aware that the petition is before the courts and does not have the opportunity to defend his property -- and I don't see anywhere in here that gives him that right -- then we have a lot of problems ahead of us. Perhaps the minister could clarify that.
Hon. J. Smallwood: In this particular section, "court" means arbitrator. The arbitrator is an independent third party that is part of the residential tenancy branch process. The arbitrator hears the tenant's application in conjunction with the landlord. Both landlord and tenant are there to provide information -- the tenant to lay information and make the argument that the landlord has violated their right to quiet enjoyment of their premises and their privacy, and has violated section 11 of the act that stipulates that a landlord must give 24 hours' notice. The landlord in turn may make arguments to the contrary and say: "Yes, I entered the premises. I didn't give notice, but there was an emergency."
The arbitrator will hear the information and make a ruling. In instances of repeat offences, that will become part of the evidence that the arbitrator will take into consideration in making their ruling to enable a tenant to change the lock. The member can well imagine that for an arbitrator to make such a ruling, the evidence must be pretty solid.
V. Anderson: The more I listen to the minister, the more confused I become. First of all, I understood her to say earlier that "court" in 11(1) was the court, not the arbitrator. That's what I understood her to say quite clearly, and I'll be interested to read Hansard on that. She corrected herself to say that "court" under section 11 was the court. I'm sure of that. Too bad we don't have an instant replay.
Did the same section indicate that for that to apply, the landlord may contravene the section...? I also heard her say, it seems to me, that the person must have already committed an offence in order for that to apply. So that may contravene.... But it's also implied that they have already created an offence -- which is not in the act, but that's the comment she made.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I am sorry the member is confused, but my statements are clear, and I welcome the opportunity to have the member eat his words when he reads Hansard.
Using the word "may" and the example I gave to the previous speaker, when an arbitrator has heard a number of different complaints, the arbitrator may rule -- in his or her judgment and given the evidence -- that it is likely that the landlord may again violate a tenant's privacy and break the provisions of the act for 24-hour notice. It simply provides an additional avenue for the arbitrator to deal with the information and make a ruling.
Section 4, section 10.1 approved.
On section 5.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I move the amendment standing in my name on the order paper today.
[SECTION 5 (a), by deleting the proposed section 13 (1) (a) and (a.1) and substituting the following: (a) an application to arbitrate any matter under section 9, 9.1, 9.2(4), 10(1) or (4), 10.1, 11, 12, 16, 20, 26(3), 28, 30, 33(3), 35, 36, 37, 45.77, 48.2 or 49.1,
(a.1) an application to arbitrate any matter under section 21(1), (3) or (4), and .]
On section 5 as amended.
G. Wilson: I've diligently tried to look up each one of these sections. We're dealing with the act as amended rather
[ Page 12237 ]
than the act, I believe, and we're looking at the 1993 amendment with that. To be honest with you, I haven't had a chance to really look at this amendment as I should have, but it would appear that the only real amendment is the introduction of section 11.1 inclusive.... Is that what the minister is attempting to do?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Section 13(1) is amended to provide five new issues that may be heard by any arbitrator that would otherwise be heard by the court: section 9.1, section 9.2(4), section 10.1, section 11 and section 12. Section 9.1 is "rent reduction"; section 9.2(4) is "emergency repairs"; section 10.1 is "change of locks by the tenant"; section 11 is "right of entry"; and section 12 is "landlord's consent to sublet or assign lease." It simply adds the changes that are brought forward in our amendments to the list of sections that arbitrators can hear.
Section 5 as amended approved.
On section 6.
L. Hanson: Section 18(b)(2) states: "A landlord must give the tenant written notice of a rent increase in the prescribed form...." I suppose the minister contemplates some kind of set form that everyone must comply with that will be part of the act and distributed to landlords around the province for that purpose.
Hon. J. Smallwood: This particular component of the rent review process has been agreed to in consultation with both landlords and tenants.
L. Hanson: The way I would read that, looking at the whole section, is that if a notice of a rent increase is done in the prescribed form, it is appealed and the arbitrator orders that no increase is justified.... Does the anniversary date for the 12 months automatically move to the date of the arbitration order or to the notice of the rent increase that was not justified? It can only be done once every 12 months, as I understand this act, so there obviously has to be an anniversary date. But if there is an application after that 12 months to increase rent and it's questioned by the tenant and turned down by the arbitrator, does that move the anniversary date?
Hon. J. Smallwood: No. The date of the notice is the anniversary.
Section 6 approved.
On section 7.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I move the amendment standing in my name on the order paper.
[SECTION 7, (a) in the proposed section 18.2 by deleting "most recent calendar year" and substituting "most recently completed calendar year", and
(b) in the proposed section 18.3 (1) (b) by deleting "most recent calendar year," and substituting "most recently completed calendar year,".]
On the amendment.
G. Wilson: I wonder if the minister might want to put on the record the difference with respect to the substitution of "most recently completed."
Hon. J. Smallwood: The proposed amendment will ensure that the landlord's actual expenses rather than projected expenditures are used to calculate rent increases.
G. Wilson: In looking at the most recent calendar year and in dealing with the most recently completed calendar year, I wonder if any consideration was given to an annual reporting on year-end reports, which may be a much more realistic way to proceed.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me give the member a specific example. If we were using the most recent calendar year and we were dealing with the month of March, the landlord would have to go back to January, and would only be able to capture expenses for January, February and March. By using the most recent calendar year, we are going back 12 months from March, so they can capture the full amount from the anniversary date of the last rent increase, therefore capturing their actual business expenses.
G. Wilson: Surely that would also apply in a case where a November date is set and there has been essentially ten months of expenditure increase to a landlord, and they have to go back and argue from the subsequent year, which may not even be relevant. If you were using a stated business year-end, and if that was fixed, then presumably there would be an opportunity for a much more accurate accounting and reporting by the landlord.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Keeping in mind that the system we have chosen is a very frugal one -- one that does not keep records for the actual unit or the ongoing expenses -- if we used the member's example, we would have to use the last experience with the landlord, whether or not they use the same dates. In this instance it makes it standard for all landlords and it deals specifically with the most recent calendar year -- a measure everyone can use, regardless of whether they are using a fiscal year-end or a business cycle. The intent of the amendment is to recognize and capture a full calendar year of actual business expenses. We felt that the previous wording would have in some way encumbered the landlord's ability to identify and recognize all costs.
V. Anderson: I have a couple of questions. Can you give the reason for any amount of rent increase? I understand that there used to be some percentage rent increase or cost-of-living rent increase -- some formula often used in other jurisdictions. Why have we come along and said that if there's a $5, $10 or $100 rent increase, it's all the same thing? Why is the particular wording "in any amount" there in 18.1?
The Chair: I'm wondering, member, whether we might deal with the amendment first, and then perhaps deal with that question.
G. Wilson: The minister is saying that the amendment is there to protect the landlord, but unless I'm misreading this, it may not. It may work against the interests of the landlord. If you're dealing with a November rent increase, presumably the only data that the landlord may use in defence is the subsequent year to December, so you've got 11 months or ten months of increased expenses which the landlord can't include. Is that not correct?
Hon. J. Smallwood: When the member says that this section was brought in to protect the landlord, that is not absolutely correct. That's not what I said. What I said was
[ Page 12238 ]
that we felt the previous section would encumber the landlord's ability to recognize full business expenses. With this amendment, we were looking to bring a standard by recognizing that the measure for all landlords will be the most recent calendar year. That definition allows a landlord to calculate their business expenses according to this standard measure.
G. Wilson: I would like a very clear response to that question just to make sure that I am reading this bill and the amendment correctly. This means that if somebody has a rental increase in November and there's a dispute, the only information the landlord may bring forward in defence of that increase is information that ended on December 31 of the previous year. So there are 11 months of market changes that the landlord cannot use in defence of that increase. Is that right?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The reading of the amendment is "most recent calendar year." So that's correct.
G. Wilson: I think I'm correct. It means that 11 months of changes in the market could have taken place, but when the landlord comes to put in a November rent increase, that landlord cannot use those ten months in an argument to justify the increase. Clearly the minister can't see that as a fair assessment of the actual market value of a particular unit.
Sometimes you have to consider the extremes. In a volatile market, where those changes can occur, a landlord is being constrained from bringing 11 months of expenditure as evidence for an increase in rent -- even what might be a modest increase in rent, which may then be challenged by the tenant -- because they have to go back to a previous calendar year. That to me is going in the extreme other way from which the minister originally had drafted the bill, which was in a calendar year. Then it could at least have been argued that, because the greater portion of the year had been completed, the landlord would be able to use it.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'd ask the member to read the amendment. The amendment says: "...by deleting 'most recent calendar year' and substituting 'most recently completed calendar year'." This references the past expenditures of the landlord in the most recently completed calendar year. So it would capture the cost of the previous year for that landlord.
G. Farrell-Collins: The problem with the minister's amendment to her bill is that it's not really getting at what she's trying to get at it, if I understand her correctly. In fact, her amendment and what's in the bill end up in exactly the same thing. In one case what the minister is saying -- to use the example given by the other member -- is that if the landlord decides to put in a rent increase in November, July, or whatever, and it's challenged, the only data that that landlord can use to justify that rent increase are those expenses that took place in the last calendar month ending on December 31. That would mean anything that took place between January 1 up until the time the rent increase was put forward can't be used. All the minister has done is change the words "most recent calendar year" to "most recently completed calendar year." The most recently completed calendar year would be the same thing -- it's that 12 months. Unless the minister wants to change the December 31 figure to make it the 12 months preceding the notification of the rent increase so it's a rolling type of scenario, she's not going to deal with what I think she has been saying she wants to deal with -- which is to allow the landlord to include those expenses that are close to the time of the rent increase. Unless I'm really missing something here, that's what I understand.
G. Wilson: Hon. Chair, I don't agree with that analysis at all. If this amendment passes and you bring in a rental increase on December 1, 1994, you cannot bring into your defence any information that would have cause for that rental increase in the year of 1994. You have to go back and stop at December 31, 1993. If the amendment did not go forward, and it was simply left as "the most recent calendar year," all of the information from 1994 would be relevant, because....
G. Wilson: But notwithstanding the December 31 date, it can be argued that "in the most recent calendar year" is the year in which the rental increase is being requested. If the amendment passes, it's in the previous year, so you've got 12 months previous that are eligible for review, rather than the nine, ten, 11 or 12 months leading up to the review. In my judgment, the amendment makes it worse, not better.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The problem with the previous wording is that there is a potential for capturing projected expenditures. The intent is to deal with actual expenditures only, and that's why there is the defined time line. It's to establish the recently completed calendar year. There are instances where landlords have put the rent up to capture what they are projecting as increases in the months to come. The intent of this bill and the model that we have is simply to capture actual, not projected, expenses.
V. Anderson: It seems to me if the wording was something like "taking into account the expenses of the 12 months before the rent increase" -- if I hear what the minister is trying to say.... As soon as you put in the calendar year, then you get it in pieces. "Taking into account the expenses of the 12 months before the rent increase is applied" would give the 12 months; it's clear. If the rent increase is in March, it's the 12 months before March; if the rent increase is in July, it's the 12 months before July. As soon as you use the calendar year, you're in difficulty every way around.
I don't know whether the minister wants to take that and stand the amendment down so that she can rewrite it and make a.... I'd suggest the minister might stand this down and rewrite the amendment herself or give us time to rewrite it.
Hon. J. Smallwood: There are a number of consistencies with this particular amendment. One of the things that we were cognizant of -- because being a landlord is running a business -- was wanting to ensure that the rules in place were consistent with the Income Tax Act in allowing the landlord to also deduct their business expenses.
On to the other point. I'm going to reference an earlier debate that we had on another section. With regard to the member asking for more of an administrative commitment by keeping a record of the particular unit for the anniversary date and the measure the landlord used for capturing expenses, we would have to have an ongoing record, which would cause an additional administrative burden. This section is for setting a standard and providing an
[ Page 12239 ]
opportunity, which, as I said, is consistent with the Income Tax Act, for a landlord to be consistent with every other landlord in the province when deducting their expenses and managing their affairs.
The Chair: I'm going to take Okanagan-Vernon, and a couple more comments on this amendment. It seems to me that we have covered this ground at considerable length. However, I certainly don't want to stifle and impede the debate, because we are clearly advancing.
L. Hanson: Could the minister answer this question? Is it your intention to base rent increases on the previous 12 months' expenses or to limit them to the 12-month calendar year, January 1 to December 31? We're really asking you for an answer to that question. Are you suggesting that any increase in a year can only be justified with the expenses up to the end of December of the previous year, or are you suggesting using the calculation of the previous 12 months' expenses, prior to the notice being given? We're trying to find out the answer to that.
Hon. J. Smallwood: As I stated earlier, to use the previous 12 months would require the residential tenancy branch to keep records of every unit, so that you could track the measure the landlord used for the last rent increase. This particular amendment deals with the most recently completed calendar year. Again, I'm going to reference the Income Tax Act. There is no provision in it that allows you to use the past 12 months; instead, it is tagged to a calendar year. It's a provision to provide a standard for landlords in calculating their costs and at the same time provide a measure that we can bring to all arbitrations, without keeping extensive records within the residential tenancy branch. This is not a comparable system with some of the rent control systems that keep registries of each unit and information pertaining to it.
L. Hanson: That clarifies the situation in my mind. I would suggest to the minister that you'd better have a whole army of arbitrators in January of the new year.
G. Campbell: The problem that I think we're having with the discussion here is that you don't understand how landlords do their business. There is not just one tenant in a landlord's building; there are hundreds of tenants in some cases, and ten in other cases. There are a whole series of different times when the landlord has the opportunity, under the Landlord and Tenant Act, to issue a notification of rent increase. The landlord will keep those records for you. The Residential Tenancy Act doesn't have to do that; landlords do it every month, anyways. In this particular clause, you're saying that the landlord is going to prepare a statement. The landlord will have those statements. The only way he can, in any way, make those statements make any sense is to have them for the previous 12 months, not for the previous calendar year.
From my brief experience in this, I can tell you that when you get your property tax bills and your assessments have gone up, there can be huge jumps in the costs that landlords face, costs that are not captured in the previous calendar year. They are captured in terms of what's happening to their income, in terms of what their corporation may have to provide or what they may have to provide as an individual. This does not cover that off at all. We should be looking for a way.... It seems to me to say that we're dealing with the 12 months prior to the notification of rent increase coming through. The minister does not have to worry about the residential tenancy branch keeping track of those records. The landlord will do it, and the landlord is the one that we're requiring to prepare this statement.
V. Anderson: I would like to suggest, if I may, that we stand this down so that the minister can look at it and bring in a revision. It just won't work.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I actually don't have any difficulty with standing it down. One of the questions we would have to explore with the drafters and with the people who administer the act is the point we have been making around the administrative feasibility of dealing with the deletion of "calendar year." So we'll stand that down. Because we're meeting at 9:30 at night, it's very difficult for us to explore that at this time. But we'll explore it and bring it back.
The Chair: We are standing down the amendment, then.
L. Hanson: Well, that would mean that the section is stood down too, because....
The Chair: Yes. The clarification I think we require is that we all note the amendment refers to section 18.2. My suggestion is that we could still deal with 18.1 and 18.3 and beyond, but we would stand down 18.2. Is that agreeable?
L. Hanson: Well, Mr. Chairman, I asked the minister about the previous section, under section 6(7), where it says: "If the court or an arbitrator orders that no rent increase is justified, the landlord must not give notice to the tenant under subsection (2) for 12 months from the date of the notice under subsection (2) on which the order is based." That same clause is subsection (3) in section 18.1, and both would seem to say that there is a new anniversary date, once a notice is sent out and it's turned down.
If the minister is going to look into this section, I think she should look into that section too. If a tenancy is taken up on January 1, January 1 of the next year is the first time there can be notice of a rent increase. Now, if I read this correctly, if that increase on January 1 of next year is not justified and it's appealed, and if the arbitrator rules that it wasn't justified and says it's not allowed, it would seem to say that 12 months from that January 1 another notice could be sent. The minister said that wasn't the case. I don't think that's the intention, but that's what it would seem to say.
The Chair: My suggestion, before we get into a procedural wrangle, is that the easiest approach would be to simply stand down section 7, because the three sections all deal with the essential issue. If we were to do that, then I think we could deal with the rest of the bill. Is that acceptable, minister?
The Chair: I'm sorry, minister, that was my error, then, because I assumed we were standing down the amendment. But if we agree to stand down section 7, we'll go directly on to section 8.
Sections 8 to 10 inclusive approved.
On section 11.
[ Page 12240 ]
V. Anderson: Under section 11, the registrar comes into this now. We've had the arbitrator and the court. Could you please explain the reference to the registrar in this sentence as against the arbitrator and the court?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'll read for the member in the original Residential Tenancy Act: "'registrar' means the registrar of the Residential Tenancy Branch of the ministry or any other official designated by the minister for purposes of the administration of Part 4."
V. Anderson: Regarding the words "cannot reasonably afford to pay the fee," what particular fee are we talking about? Is that a fee which is going to be set by the ministry, and does each person have to register a fee in order to apply for the changes in the court?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The fee to apply for arbitration is $35. The registrar is given the power to waive that fee if the registrar has sufficient information that the fee is a barrier to accessing the residential tenancy arbitration process.
Sections 11 to 14 inclusive approved.
On section 15.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I move the amendment to section 15 standing in my name on the order paper.
[SECTION 15 (a), in the proposed section 44 (1) (a) by deleting "after an award under section 18.3," and substituting "after the hearing under section 18.3,".]
Section 15 as amended approved.
On section 16.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I move the amendment to section 16 standing in my name on the order paper.
[SECTION 16, in the proposed section 48.2 (1) by deleting "section 48(2)." and substituting "section 48 (1) or (2).".]
On the amendment.
V. Anderson: Could the minister, first of all, explain the effect of those two amendments?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'll read the explanation for the member, and if that doesn't clarify it, we'll go from there: "By including only section 48(2), as provided in Bill 50, only one type of wrongful seizure of personal property -- i.e., seizure in satisfaction of a claim or demand -- was being covered. By including reference to section 48(1), the other type of seizure -- i.e., distrain for non-payment of rent -- will now be covered by the legislation."
On section 16 as amended.
G. Wilson: Section 48.1 adds a section to the existing act that was deleted in 1992. I don't know what that one said. I wonder why, given the fact that the principles under 48 are reasonably exhaustive, there is a provision to add section 48.1 on the question of discrimination with respect to lawful source of income. Can the minister tell us what exactly that is directed toward? One might argue that if one deals with annual amounts of income or security of deposit, or if there's an insolvency question.... I wonder what exactly was behind putting in discrimination with respect to a lawful source of income.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The issue of discrimination against source of income was brought to our attention by a number of tenants -- in particular, tenants on income assistance who found it very difficult to secure a tenancy simply due to the fact that they were receiving income assistance.
It's very clear to us from subsequent discussions with some landlord groups that the problem is far more pervasive than any of us imagined. At one meeting, a very large landlord was quite shocked that we would suggest that it become unlawful to discriminate against a whole class of people simply because they were on income assistance, and asked if this meant that they were going to have to change their literature or take the sign off their door. This is just an indicator of how pervasive discrimination against individuals on welfare is in this province.
G. Wilson: At this late hour, I'm sure it's not the time for me to try to become more educated on this than I perhaps am. I wasn't sure if the minister said it was a large meeting of landlords or a meeting of large landlords. But that point aside, section 48.1(1)....
If that's the case, presumably we have legislation already on the books that prohibits.... The minister is saying no, but it strikes me that under the social services act, there is legislation that prohibits discrimination on those matters. If the minister can tell me there's no cross-referencing, I'll stand down.
Hon. J. Smallwood: This is a new provision, and it's clearly stated in the act that this is a new provision under the Human Rights Act. There are no other provisions in provincial or federal jurisdictions that I'm aware of which prohibit discrimination based on source of income.
G. Wilson: I have a last question on this, then. A landlord, presumably, is allowed to request some references from tenants and is therefore able to determine source of income. We're not saying that they have no right to ask for source of income. If the source of income is identified and the landlord deems that the quantity or security of that income is in doubt, would they not be subject to prosecution under this section?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The issue in this provision is not the amount of income; it is the source of income. The discrimination that this deals with is where a landlord discriminates against a whole class of individuals, rather than identifying a problem tenant or a problem relationship.
V. Anderson: In this particular area, I agree with the clause. I know there are many people who are facing that particular area of discrimination. I'm surprised that it's really an addition to the Human Rights Act, in effect. It's an adjustment, because it brings in the Human Rights Act, and that's also in review. It's been brought in here, and it is nowhere in any of the government's legislation that I am aware of. I think it's very appropriate from many people's point of view that the source of income is a lawful source. If it's not lawful, that's another question. We need to be very clear that that is, in effect, an amendment to the Human Rights Act -- which is coming in this discussion, rather than in the Human Rights Act -- and it applies only in relation to
[ Page 12241 ]
source of income in tenancy, but is one that will no doubt be reviewed in other areas of jurisdiction as well. It's one of the few acts that I would like to affirm and support, but I will probably have to vote against the act because of its other inconsistencies. But I do want to state my own personal support for this one.
L. Fox: I want to make a few comments, and in making my comments I recognize that there are many people on social assistance who have been discriminated against, perhaps for various reasons, and that shouldn't happen. I want to make a point for the small landlord. I had two cases in my office last week in Prince George, where individuals have made a conscious business decision not to rent to people who are on social assistance. They no longer have the ability to look after their property if the tenants don't meet their rent payments, vandalize the property and move out. In one case -- and the minister is shaking her head, but this is a sad story -- a single lady about 70 years of age rented out her family home. The rent wasn't paid; she attempted to evict them, and in the process the home was ruined. It cost this lady $5,000 to fix it up -- money she didn't have. She will be affected by this legislation in that she can't make a conscious business decision, because Social Services will not guarantee her rent or pay it directly. This lady cannot make a conscious business decision not to enter into that risk. I understand the need for this in larger buildings where renting is a business, but when it comes to smaller and single-family dwellings, where in many cases individuals rent them out and their whole life savings is involved, this bill is not going to allow them to make that business decision. Is that not correct?
Hon. J. Smallwood: It's absolutely correct. An individual should not be discriminated against simply because of their source of income.
While we are dealing with a piece of legislation that governs relationships between landlords and tenants, we have all readily acknowledged in this House that there are good landlords and bad landlords, good tenants and bad tenants, and this piece of legislation makes it unlawful to discriminate against an individual due to a lawful source of income. The point, hon. member, that you have made in your introductory comments with regard to the fact that there are good and bad tenants on income assistance can hold true to any tenant with any source of income. As in any other anti-discriminatory legislation, this simply says that a whole class of individuals should not be discriminated against because of their source of income, in this case, or because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or age. This is just one more piece of legislation that provides protection for individuals against full class discrimination.
The Chair: I think our discussion is moving suspiciously close to the matter of principle of the bill. We have dealt with that, and therefore I would like to suggest that clarification on this section is legitimate, but questioning the first principle of the bill is not.
L. Fox: With all due respect, I was talking directly to section 48.1(1). The minister herself clarified that the purpose of that particular section is to stop discrimination against people on social assistance. We weren't talking about racial prejudices or anything else. In the minister's own words, we were talking about how that section is needed to stop discrimination against people on social assistance. I recognize that the minister has said what she's said. Whenever you question this government, it seems that they immediately point out that you're some kind of racist or something, and that you don't have feelings for all British Columbians. That's not the point. In fact, in this case I'm very concerned that this particular clause is going to limit the availability of single dwellings on the rental market. If the landlords are not able to pick and choose who they have in their one apartment or home that they own, they're not going to rent it. There's going to be a shortage of supply in that particular segment, pure and simple.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'll just pick up on the member's comment -- and I am taking some liberties, because it doesn't speak specifically to this section. But to provide some comfort to the member, supporting landlords in good business practices is the intention of not only this package of changes but also the changes we're bringing about to the residential tenancy branch regarding additional staffing and access issues.
The situation here is not the right to discriminate. The situation is to resolve this landlord's problem by providing the landlord with information about seeking references so they can ensure that the tenants that they enter into a tenancy agreement with are good, responsible tenants -- regardless of their source of income.
G. Farrell-Collins: I have two quick questions for the minister. I think she answered my first one with her last sentence, in that this does not preclude the landlord from discriminating on the basis of quantity of income -- by asking if the tenant can afford the rent, for example, or if they are a good tenant -- but merely from discriminating against what that source is. I think that's a significant point.
The other question is about the word "lawful." I stepped out for a minute, so I don't know if it was addressed in detail. But the word "lawful" is an interesting one. Of course one would not want somebody renting from you if they were using that as their base for illicit or illegal activity. But how do you know that unless charges have been laid and the person has been convicted? Does this leave it up to the landlord to say: "I think that person is a drug dealer or is selling stolen goods from the basement of my house. I don't want them there, so away they go"? Is that still allowed? What isn't allowed? While this is good in theory, I just don't know how it is going to work in application.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me try to answer that by saying that a landlord is not encumbered in any way by section 48.1 from evicting a drug dealer from their premises.
G. Farrell-Collins: The question I have, though, is how one proves that somebody is engaged in unlawful activity and therefore you can discriminate against them. How do you determine that their source of income is unlawful, and therefore you can refuse them access to your rental property? You can discriminate on that, and you can say: "Gee, you really look like a drug dealer, or something else, and I'm not renting to you." I understand what the minister is trying to say here, but I'm curious, in application, how that landlord would make that decision and how the arbitrator, I suppose, would look at it, too. All I'm asking is why the word "lawful" is in there.
Hon. J. Smallwood: This particular section is activated by a complaint by a tenant to the Council of Human Rights, where the tenant would make the case that they have been discriminated against because of their lawful source of income.
[ Page 12242 ]
Section 16 as amended approved.
Section 17 approved.
On section 18.
G. Wilson: Because this does add again with respect to fines, it's important that we understand exactly what we're doing with the addition of these subsections. It says: "A person who coerces, threatens, intimidates or harasses a tenant to deter the tenant from making an application under this Act...is liable...to a fine of not more than $5,000." To coerce, threaten, intimidate or harass is language that I recognize is elsewhere in statutes, with respect to making provision against such actions by people in authority. But if the minister could provide some comfort to those who would argue that it is a fairly significant loophole for those who would say intimidation.... You can certainly prove threats; I think coercion is provable; harassment is something a little more. But intimidation is pretty nebulous, because often just in the power relationship between a landlord and tenant -- and in particular I'm thinking of people for whom English is not the first language -- intimidation may be deemed to be in effect when it is not. I wonder if the minister could just explain why that word is there and why the minister wouldn't use more consistent language that appears elsewhere in the act.
Hon. J. Smallwood: During the consultation process, we did a search of other provinces' legislation. This wording is consistent with wording in other pieces of legislation across the country. It's been used by other systems.
V. Anderson: In fairness to balance, it seems to me that this act should read, "A person who coerces, threatens, intimidates or harasses a tenant or a landlord to deter the tenant or landlord from making an application under this Act..." because in my experience it's not only landlords who harass tenants but also tenants who harass landlords. If you think of the illustration given by our member here a little while ago, you have an elderly lady who's living by herself and is renting a house to some persons. It's very easy for them to intimidate or to harass the landlord. In terms of balance, it seems to me appropriate to amend it to "...harasses a tenant or landlord to deter the tenant or landlord from making an application...."
I wonder if the minister would be willing to move that. Or I would be willing to make that amendment. I think the balance is there. It should work both ways, to be seen to be fair. If the minister is agreeable, I would be prepared to make an amendment to section 18: "...or harasses a tenant or landlord to deter the tenant or landlord...."
On the amendment.
G. Wilson: I support the intent of what the amendment does, but my suspicion is that under the existing section 52(1), where there is a provision of contravention to comply, it doesn't stipulate tenant or landlord. That may well cover off the concern.
I think the member is correct that there needs to be balance. I don't take issue with that. This essentially adds a subsection (2.1) with respect to contravention or failure to comply with decisions. But the balance of section 52 in the original act deals with a whole variety of offences. It does not distinguish between landlord or tenant. I'm not sure that doesn't already meet the concern.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm quite sympathetic to the member's amendment, but will need to clarify the exact wording. You have "or harasses a tenant or landlord," and then it will have to be the same below: "...to deter the tenant or landlord from making an application...." With some advice from the Chair and that understanding in Hansard, we would accept that amendment.
The Chair: I will repeat the amendment. The amendment is to change section 52(2.1) to read: "...harasses a tenant or landlord to deter the tenant or landlord from making an application...."
On section 18 as amended.
L. Fox: I'll get back to my other point. Given that an individual isn't able to make the business decision on the clientele that he or she should have in his smaller building....
An Hon. Member: Or her.
L. Fox: Or her; I said "he or she," I believe.
Subsection (2.3) provides: "A tenant or occupant who wilfully causes damage to the residential property commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine of not more than $5 000." Given the scenario I just put forward in the previous clause, where there is nothing attachable that those people have, how does the minister perceive that the landlord of this small dwelling -- or in fact the arbitrator, if that's the case -- is going to be able to collect from those individuals?
Hon. J. Smallwood: No piece of legislation will answer every problem and deal with every situation. What I will do is talk about this particular provision. It increases the support for landlords and puts the residential tenancy branch and its resources at the disposal of the landlord, in trying to meet a remedy to the difficulty they're having.
Without this particular amendment, the landlord still has the ability to come to the residential tenancy branch and make a case to an arbitrator that their tenant wilfully damaged their property. This amendment provides for additional support, so that the residential tenancy officer can go out and investigate, gather evidence and support the landlord in resolving the problem. In addition to that, it makes it a penalty and provides the ability for the arbitrator to levy a fine. Again, without these provisions, the landlord's only remedy is small claims court. This provision does not answer all the problems; it simply puts additional weight with the residential tenancy branch on the landlord's side in dealing with bad tenants.
L. Fox: The minister has implied that the arbitrator would have the authority to levy a fine or a fee on a tenant or occupant who caused wilful damage. What process would he or she have to collect that? What tools do they have to collect it with?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Without explaining the whole process once again, the process of levying a fine in this instance is the purview of the court. The court levies the fine. The collection of a fine is through small claims court, the same way as any fine is enforced.
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L. Fox: So if the court is levying the fine, we get a situation where this lady who happens to own this home has to fight for legal aid in order to put her case before the courts, because she will have to pay legal fees. The individual will have the ability to get help from legal aid to fight their case, so once again we have a situation where the owner of that property has already received considerable damage which they can't afford to repair. But in order to recover it, the owner has to fight legal aid or somebody who has the ability to use legal aid to get their day in court.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Again, just to clarify it for the member, because wilful damage is an offence under the act, the landlord does not have to initiate the process. The Attorney General initiates it. The fine is collected in the same way as any other fine is collected.
The point the member is making is around the issue of the ability of a tenant to pay. The source of income is not the relevant issue here. Many people who are on limited or fixed incomes would fall into the category we're talking about. The source of income is not the issue; the behaviour of the tenant is the issue.
Section 18 as amended approved.
On section 19.
V. Anderson: Sections 19 and 18 are the most difficult parts of the bill to deal with. A great deal of the rest of the bill we can accept and live with -- in fact, be happy about. But when you have the definition of income left up to regulation -- operating expenses, net income, capital expenditure -- you're moving into the area of housing, which we do not do in any other business. If we were to take this out of the area of housing and say that a person running a grocery store should have the amount of profit he or she makes in that grocery store dictated by government regulation, and that they should be making a 5 percent profit on their business.... If for any reason they wanted to change that to make 6 percent, they would have to get permission and discuss their expenses, if there isn't income.
People may be renting houses at different rates for different reasons, so this kind of rent control or rent regulation, which is implied in 19 as it relates back to 18, where the definitions of income and expenditures -- and actually the definition of what kind of profit you can make -- is really what we're talking about. We're talking about a person not being able to exchange the amount of profit they make, because that decision is not being made by the owner -- being able to rent or not rent -- but is being made by the government.
I know the minister can say that this applies only while the person who has rented the house is in that location. If they move out, then the landlord can charge new rent, as I understand it, to the incoming party. It does mean that once you have entered into a one-year, two-year or three-year contract, regardless of what your contract sets, that limits the rent increase according to the whim of the arbitrator or of the government. That situation is just not reasonable in business practices.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I find the member's comments fairly provocative -- to suggest that the decision would be made at the whim of either the government or the arbitrator.
In this act there are very clear parameters governing decisions that arbitrators will make. There are assurances for landlords that their true business expenses will flow through and that they will be able to recover those expenses. With the model we have chosen, there is active support for good business practices and good relationships with tenants.
I find it particularly interesting that this member, perhaps more than most members in this House, would concentrate on a situation where a landlord must be ensured of a particular profit margin -- not only because this legislation is fair to landlords, but because this particular member completely leaves out of his argument the fact that tenants in a tight rental market are most vulnerable. They are in a situation where they have few choices and where a landlord who takes advantage of that imbalance in the power relationship has been completely unfettered.
This legislation simply brings balance and puts in place a process for the tenant, whose home it is, to go before the residential tenancy branch and to the arbitrator, and be assured of a fair process. There is fairness for landlords in ensuring that their business expenses are flowing through and fairness for tenants in having a process where they can put forward a grievance.
V. Anderson: I appreciate the minister's comments, and I also appreciate what she's attempting to do, but two wrongs don't make a right. There are principles of fairness and freedom involved in people being able to make their own decisions and operate whatever business they think of. I think particularly of the individual landlord who is renting out a portion of their house -- a basement suite or whatever it may be -- and their difficulty in being able to undertake.... There's a fairness to that person as well as to the other person.
When there is a lack of affordable housing, that lack needs to be met by the government in other ways than dictating to or trying to hamstring the landlords, of whatever nature, who are trying to serve the community as well as make their own profit. I don't believe we are accepting wage control or controls that have been underway in any other area, and I think that in fairness it cannot be accepted in principle here. The problem of ensuring adequate housing that people can afford must be dealt with, as I know the minister is trying to do, in other ways than this particular method.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm sure that the member and, without exception, every member in this House would agree that there is on the books today legislation to protect consumers against unconscionable trade practices. Let me give you an example of how this model is working in that particular area.
There are a number of examples that we have come by over the years where unconscionable practitioners, particularly in the home renovation area, will go and prey on seniors. For example, a senior whom I am aware of was charged $3,000 for a door that turned out to be worth $400 in the lumber store down the road. That was an example of unconscionable trade practices. There is a provision in the existing law that enabled the director to bring action against that company and deal with that price-gouging. This act is also targeting those unconscionable rent increases that are price-gouging, in essence, and it ensures the viability of business. That's why I referred in my earlier comments to the philosophy of a better business bureau where it supports good business practices and deals with those rent-gougers, those people who are taking advantage of a marketplace that does not protect individuals' homes.
[ Page 12244 ]
The Chair: Members, before I recognize anybody I want to draw the committee's attention to the fact that we have now had two statements on each side of the House on this section. Those statements, quite frankly, deal with the principle of the bill. The fundamental principle of this bill has to do with prescribing rent increases by a particular formula. We as the Legislature have already voted to endorse the principle of this bill. To come back at the principle via the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council's power to make regulations is, quite frankly, out of order. I have entertained two statements on each side. It seems to me that the matter has been adequately canvassed, and I would suggest that further discussion on that theme is out of order. Of course, I will entertain questions that ask for specific information about this section.
G. Wilson: I didn't want to get into that debate. I do want to know, though, under the powers of regulation.... Having gone back through the amendments to the act, and having read the act with respect to regulation provisions, my reading is -- and I'd like the minister to confirm this -- that nothing under subsections 19(4)(a) through 19(4)(e) would allow the government to prescribe a cap through regulation. Is that correct?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm more than happy to confirm that. There is nothing in sections 19(4)(a) to 19(4)(e) or in this bill that would allow the government to prescribe a cap.
Section 19 approved on division.
Section 20 approved.
On section 21.
G. Wilson: This is really a very minor point, but I think it's worthy of notation. With respect to the Residential Tenancy Amendment Act, the substitution of "after a copy of the decision or order is received by the party" for "after...the order was made" seems to be consistent with the amendments in this act with respect to requiring that serving notice be done either directly in person or by registered mail. However, the original act says that if you're to be served by registered mail, that constitutes service seven days after the date of mailing. Is the intention of this that you don't have to actually be served in person? The implication of this is that the party will actually physically receive that as served by a document server, but the act doesn't say that. In reference to the act, it says that if it's sent by registered mail, you have to wait only seven days and then you can act as though the document has actually been received. I wonder if that's the intent. If not, I think there should be some clarification somewhere.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The person could get the decision at the time of the hearing, or if the decision was available, it could be picked up. If it is a written decision, it could be mailed and it would be deemed to have been received in seven days.
G. Wilson: The only thing is -- and I guess I would ask the drafters -- that there's nothing in the Residential Tenancy Act or its amendments that would reflect that change. I'll leave this up to the legislative drafters.
It would strike me that if section 45.3(1) is amended, there should be some reference back to section 51 of the original act, which would give notice of the seven-day provision. Otherwise people reading the amended act may not see that you can in fact have a document mailed and have a seven-day provision.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Under section 51 of the existing act -- not the amendments -- it says in section 4(a) "ordinary mail, on the seventh day after mailing"; and in (b) it says "registered mail, on the earlier of the seventh day after mailing, or the day its receipt is acknowledged...." So it's not a change; it is in the existing act.
Sections 21 to 24 inclusive approved.
The Chair: We cannot pass the title because we have a section that has been stood down.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I would ask that the committee rise, report 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.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I call committee on Bill 31.
MUNICIPAL AMENDMENT ACT, 1994
The House in committee on Bill 31; N. Lortie in the chair.
On section 1.
G. Wilson: The section....
The Chair: Excuse me, member; there is a point of order.
C. Tanner: Mr. Chairman, I believe I was up first, and I am the official critic for this bill, so may I have the privilege of speaking first?
The Chair: I'll recognize the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast first, but I will get to you just as soon as possible. I'm sorry, member, but I didn't see you over my shoulder there.
G. Wilson: If the member for Saanich North and the Islands wants to go first, I have no objection.
C. Tanner: We voted in favour of the principle of this bill for two reasons. First, we felt we had an amendment which would satisfy our problems and some problems that some of the other members had. Second, we wanted to discuss with the minister some of the reasons for this particular bill, which she wasn't able to discuss when we talked about the principle. We have two major problems with the bill as it's presently written. Non-profit corporations are not defined anywhere that we can find, either in this bill, the Municipal Act or the financial act. Consequently, we feel that it could be open to abuse. We also feel that in itself, a municipality selling property at less than market value is open to abuse. As a consequence, we would like to move an amendment that removes the word "selling" from section 536.1(1).
The Chair: We'll reserve our decision on the amendment.
[ Page 12245 ]
C. Tanner: I will call division on this amendment because I feel it's essential to the bill that we should remove the ability of a municipality to....
The Chair: If you're calling division, hon. member, then you cannot argue it.
I recognize the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast on a point of order.
G. Wilson: The Municipal Amendment Act provides for -- and this is the reason we voted against it in second reading.... The principle and intent of the bill is essentially to give authority to municipalities in the sale of property. Therefore it would strike me that the amendment would not be in order. I would like to get a ruling from the Chair as to whether or not the amendment is in order before we call division on it.
The Chair: Perhaps you'd give me a minute to study the amendment.
C. Tanner: Will the Chair hear arguments?
The Chair: Yes, I will -- and probably arguments would be helpful.
C. Tanner: It is our feeling that a municipality should be able to lease land. My amendment allows a municipality to lease land in the circumstances which the minister wants to bring into being. With my amendment, the municipality could still lease land without undercutting the price at a cost to the rest of the taxpayers in the municipality.
Hon. J. Smallwood: It seems to me that what this member is trying to do is get through the back door what they couldn't get in principle during second reading debate. By removing the provision for the sale of property, it contravenes the intent of this bill. This particular section very clearly is an enabling provision for municipalities to decide, in their best judgment, the best way that they can actively support non-profit organizations in the production of housing, either through sale or through lease of property.
The Chair: Thank you, minister. I've had an opportunity to listen to the arguments and consider the amendment. I rule that the amendment is out of order.
G. Wilson: If the word "selling" hadn't been in there, it would have made a completely different second reading debate. That, in principle, is what's wrong with this bill, and it is the reason I think it should not be supported and should not have been supported in second reading debate.
On the question of the non-profit corporation, we raised that issue in second reading debate. We'd like the minister to provide us with some assurance with respect to the definition as it is used here, and also to talk about it with respect to the question of private gain. Clearly you can't have a non-profit organization constituted in the form of a corporation that has directors, even executive directors, with remuneration provided, which does not show on balance a profit at the end of the year. Yet they may be eligible under this act to acquire property at less than market value for the provision of housing, as this minister has outlined.
That would cause us some concern, because the question of private gain is linked, in our judgment, to the purpose for which the property may be used, which might be tangential or even parallel to the reasons why that corporation was initially chartered. In other words, it may be non-profit for the purpose of providing housing, but that corporation may also be involved in parallel activity from which it will in fact engender profit, which can feed back into that side of the corporate activity.
We have very serious concerns about this. I outlined it strictly in second reading with respect to some of what has been going on in Vancouver. There have been enormous ripoffs of the taxpayer by corporations that have come in and cooked up private deals that have ingratiated a handful of people at the expense of a lot of public assets.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I won't try to answer all the questions the member put forward. We'll take them in pieces.
What I'd like to do first of all is make the point that while the member was talking, particularly in second reading, about his concern around VLC and the activity of the city of Vancouver in disposing of land or leasing land, that particular instance is not captured here. VLC is not a non-profit, and the power of the municipalities to engage in these activities is already established in the act. This is simply an enabling piece of legislation that clarifies for some municipalities that they do indeed have these powers. Some municipalities have been using these powers for some time. Let me give you some examples of how the legislation clarifies this particular authority.
For many years, many local governments have been selling land below market value for various organizations that benefit the community. Let me give you a list: handicapped children's societies, school boards, hospital societies, seniors' centres, extended care facilities, museums and art galleries, churches and non-profit housing societies. Mostly, as in the non-profit housing societies, this has been done for housing purposes in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Victoria and a few other municipalities as well.
So where municipalities have not ventured into this area -- although many would argue that they have the power without these changes -- this clarifies it and gives some comfort to them that they do have the legislative authority and can support community activities such as the ones I've outlined. In particular, they can meet more senior levels of government and community organizations that have the support of their communities in providing municipal assets to underwrite the costs and therefore develop healthier and stronger communities for all their citizens.
G. Wilson: I'm not unsympathetic to the need of a number of different community service organizations and groups that provide special housing for people in need. But the difficulty we have with this is that the language of this particular bill does not make it clear how private gain is determined or how a non-profit corporation is further defined -- if it's defined at all -- or where it suggests that private gain is absent from the purpose for which the property is to be used.
Does that imply that you can't have anybody on the board -- a director -- of a non-profit society who may in fact be administering these kinds of properties and lands? If, in fact, private gain is acquired through long-term employment opportunity or if equity is built off the property by virtue of buying the land at 50 percent of market value, say, and then seeking a mortgage on that property, which immediately gives you 100 percent of the value of the land.... In that instance the society has immediately made significant gain on that basis, and how those profits are going to be distributed would only be reported, presumably, through
[ Page 12246 ]
the Society Act, which is one of the least regulated acts in this province.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me first refer the member to the language that is used in this act. First, the phrases "non-profit corporation" and "private gain" are used consistently not only in this legislation but also in other legislation. It is common legislative terminology, and it's accepted by the courts to mean a.... There's an understanding that a non-profit corporation.... The language is used in other pieces of legislation, and it is not defined specifically in those pieces of legislation, either. While "private gain" is used in the Municipal Act, I would refer to section 269 in particular, which covers local government grants in aid to various organizations. Private gain is referred to in that section as well to describe activities that may raise money but that benefit or profit the organization as part of the larger community benefit, not the individual organization. So the intent there is simply to ensure that when a municipality makes the decision to identify a community good, the municipality can be an active partner in ensuring that the community objective is met.
G. Wilson: Okay. As I said, I'm not unsympathetic to what is intended, although I do have some problems with it in principle with respect to what's being proposed. So let's move on.
In section 536.1(2), it says: "...a covenant under section 215 of the Land Title Act be registered against the land in favour of the municipality." Given that we have just seen an amendment in this House, which I think has now been given third reading, it is presumably intended that the municipality may be the covenantee on a property owned by this non-profit corporation, and that that would run in perpetuity. Is that the intention?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Yes, that is the intention. The intention is to further secure the objectives that the municipality entered into with the non-profit corporation.
G. Wilson: The last questions that I have -- unless we want to revisit second reading debate, which I guess we don't.... It says here that the notice of disposition "(a) must be posted on the notice board or usual place for publishing notices at the municipal hall, and (b) in the case of real property on which there is a building or structure of any kind, must be published in a newspaper at least one week but not more than 3 months before the disposition." I wonder why it doesn't just say real property. Why do you distinguish between property that may be vacant land and that which has a building or structure of any kind on it? Why wouldn't you just give notice, in the local newspaper and/or the Gazette, of the disposition of all property and be done with it?
Hon. J. Smallwood: This particular provision simply mirrors the Municipal Act and makes some slight changes to reflect the non-market nature of this.
G. Wilson: I guess I could go and get a copy of the Municipal Act. But the Municipal Act also generally refers to there being public notice on the disposition of land in such a case. At least, that's my understanding, if I remember the act properly. And where disposition will occur at less than appraised value, there is now often -- if not in the act, then by practice, even by counterpetition -- some kind of public process with respect to disposition of that asset. That's a public asset that's being disposed of. There's no provision for that in this act, even by counterpetition, which is now allowed under the Municipal Act. I see the minister has a copy of the Municipal Act in her hands there, so....
Hon. J. Smallwood: There are statutes here in the House that I'd refer the member to.
Section 538 is titled "Posting of parcels for sale or lease," and section 538(1) reads: "Unless a parcel of land is intended to be sold or leased by public auction or tender, it shall...." Without reading the whole section, the exact same words are used: "...posted on a notice board or usual place for publishing notices at the municipal hall...." Section 538(2) says: "A parcel of land on which there is a building or structure of any kind shall not be offered for sale by a municipality unless a notice of intention to sell it has been published in a newspaper published or circulating in the municipality...." It simply mirrors the Municipal Act in its sections dealing with the posting of parcels.
The Chair: Shall section 1...? I recognize the member for Saanich North and the Islands.
C. Tanner: I know you don't do the chairing business too often, hon. Chair, but perhaps you could get in the habit of just glancing over your shoulder. I'm over here in the corner.
The minister just quoted extensively from section 538, and section 538 is excluded in the next section of this bill. That's number one. The way this is described in section 536.1(3), we post the notice. I don't see any consequence, either in the newly revised Municipal Act or anywhere else that I can find. So my second question is: what happens if somebody objects under this legislation?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The reason section 538 that I was quoting from is deleted is that this section replaces it. The point that we were just making in the exchange is that this section mirrors section 538, with the exception that it also refers to non-profit corporations. As to the issue of someone objecting, it is the same as if someone were to object at a sale or lease of any parcel of land with regard to municipal governments.
C. Tanner: I haven't satisfied myself that the minister has answered the question sufficiently. It seems to me that you're negating the ability of a citizen of a municipality to object, should you post a notice saying that this is what you want to do. I don't see any recourse for that citizen. That's number one.
Number two is that I haven't yet heard the minister offer a definition of a non-profit corporation. I've only heard a description of what she thinks it is, but I haven't heard her make an offer to define it in this legislation. Unless the minister can do that, we can't possibly support it. I think it's open to vast abuse.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Perhaps the member was late coming into the House, but in answer to a previous question about non-profit corporations, the answer was that this wording is consistent with provisions in the Municipal Act and other pieces of legislation referencing non-profit corporations. It is a commonly used phrase in legislation.
G. Wilson: Taking the response from the minister to the member for Saanich North and the Islands with respect to section 538 where this is substituted, I think the point is well
[ Page 12247 ]
taken that this provides powers for a municipal council to make provision for the sale of land at less than market value to non-profit societies with virtually no public input. In effect, that's what it means.
We notice in another act before the House, Bill 25, that the definition of newspaper has been changed as well. So you don't even have to advertise in the community in which this is going to happen, if that amendment to the Municipal Act, which will affect this, comes into play. Can the minister tell us what form of public process is envisaged when there is a decision that we're going to move toward the disposition of public assets at less than market value for a selected private non-profit company?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me again state for the member, in case he needs a little memory jog here, that the authority spelled out in this amendment is currently being used by a number of local governments in this province. This is simply an enabling amendment that clarifies for municipalities, which are perhaps more timid and feel they need this clarification, that the activity this legislation clarifies has for a number of years been common practice by local governments, where local governments sell below market value to various organizations. Again, I think the list may be of help to some members: handicapped children societies -- I can think of a number of well-known societies, like the Variety Club -- school boards, hospital societies, seniors' centres, extended-care facilities, museums, art galleries and churches. And non-profit housing societies, in particular, have benefited from cities and municipalities such as Vancouver, Victoria, Burnaby and Richmond, where they have either sold or leased land below market value, because it has been established as a community goal to support this type of activity by underwriting the cost of the use of the land.
J. Tyabji: Further to the debate on this section, does the minister realize that this amendment will basically mean that people within the community may never...? Under subsection (3)(b), it says notice must be published in the newspaper. But under the amendment to the Municipal Act in Bill 25, that newspaper could be in another community; it doesn't have to be circulating anywhere in that community. So in effect, there could be no local publication of the intent to sell the land.
The Chair: You are not dealing with Bill 31. Do you have a question for the minister on section 1 of this bill?
J. Tyabji: I do, hon. Chair. Under section 1 of Bill 31, it says in 536.1(3)(b), which is the only provision for publication in a newspaper: "...in the case of real property on which there is a building or structure...[notice] must be published in a newspaper...." Prior to this session, that would have meant that although people within that community wouldn't have any knowledge of a disposal of land without improvements on it, they would have knowledge through the newspaper. So if we read this without realizing the amendment under Bill 25, we might think that people in that area are going to be aware of what's happening if their municipality is disposing of a building or a piece of land.
Does this minister realize that, under subsection 536.1(3), buildings can be disposed of without people in the community being notified? Does she realize that that is what she is introducing under this bill? If she doesn't realize that, perhaps we could introduce a friendly amendment to this bill to add the word "local" in front of "newspaper" in subsection (3)(b). If we allowed that friendly amendment, then it wouldn't matter what was happening in other bills before the House, because when a building or an improvement to public land was being disposed of by a municipality, people in the local area would be notified by a publication -- which may be the intent of that section, but that is not the way the section reads.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Subsection (3), the section we're dealing with, says the notice "(a) must be posted on the notice board or usual place for publishing notices at the municipal hall, and (b) in the case of real property on which there is a building or structure of any kind, must be published in a newspaper at least one week but not more than 3 months before the disposition." It's not logical to assume that a municipality would go out of its way to publish the notice outside its own boundaries. I think the intent of these amendments very clearly outlines the expectation that municipalities will post the notice at municipal hall and publish it in the newspaper. That is consistent with local practice.
[D. Lovick in the chair.]
G. Wilson: I can tell you that in some municipalities it happens all the time, unless there is some vigour by the municipal council to make sure the local newspapers carry ads. Often in small communities where the newspapers are published on a weekly basis, the proposition of one week prior to enactment may not even apply, in fact, because you may not be able to get that ad placed by virtue of the sitting date of council, the publication date of the newspaper and the time that the newspaper publishes.
Often, they will put it in the Vancouver Province, but the Vancouver Province may not circulate in that community. They may put it in the Vancouver Sun, and the Vancouver Sun doesn't show up on Saturdays in that community. That happens all the time. Before amendments were made at the local level, you simply had to put it in The British Columbia Gazette, which nobody ever reads. I'm sure the minister intends with this -- I'm almost certain the minister intends this -- that it be put in the local newspapers so the local community knows what's going on. If the minister could just acknowledge that or would accept a friendly amendment to that effect, we could move on.
J. Tyabji: It would seem the minister is looking for a motion, if she's saying that.... Okay, then I move that subsection (3)(b) be amended to add the word "local" in front of "newspaper."
The Chair: I understand the amendment is to amend 536.1(3)(b) in line 2 to say that it "must be published in a local newspaper at least one week...."
On the amendment.
C. Tanner: I take it that all parties are familiar with what was said at the beginning of this little debate concerning newspapers. There are extensive amendments in Bill 25 to the definition of newspaper.
Section 1 as amended approved on division.
Sections 2 and 3 approved.
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Title approved on division.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendment.
The House resumed; D. Lovick in the chair.
Bill 31, Municipal Amendment Act, 1994, reported complete with amendment to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I call committee on Bill 47.
HOUSING, RECREATION AND CONSUMER SERVICES STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 1994
The House in committee on Bill 47; D. Lovick in the chair.
Sections 1 to 6 inclusive approved.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; D. Lovick in the chair.
Bill 47, Housing, Recreation and Consumer Services Statutes Amendment Act, 1994, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. J. Smallwood: It's been a very productive night, and I move that the House do now adjourn.
The House adjourned at 11:06 p.m.
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