1994 Legislative Session: 3rd Session, 35th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, APRIL 11, 1994
Volume 13, Number 25
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The House met at 2:08 p.m.
The Speaker: Before proceeding with introductions, I have the pleasure of making a long-awaited announcement. It is that closed captioning of the televised proceedings of the House will commence with this afternoon's sitting. The hearing-impaired should consult with local cable TV operators on how to access the closed-captioned text of debate. I think, hon. members, that we should give credit to the former Speaker for starting this initiative some time ago.
T. Perry: I note that another former Speaker, the former Hon. Stephen Rogers -- who is still Stephen Rogers -- made the first exemption to have a sign language translator in the House, on the motion by the member for Burnaby North and others. I ask members to acknowledge that as well.
I have the pleasure of introducing some people who are not often found in these parts: from our sister province of Quebec, Rejean Dulac, Sonia Harve, Danny Roy and Cathy Voyer, a qui on souhait une bienvenue tres chaleureuse de la part de tous les deputes.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I'd like the House to help me welcome Chief Cassidy Sill from the Ulkatcho band in the West Chilcotin; along with him, Michael Holte and Cameron Beck; also Hans Lutters, the local elected member of the Cariboo Regional District for the West Chilcotin; and representatives of Carrier Lumber, Bill Kordyban Sr., Bill Kordyban Jr. and Terry Kuzma. Please make them welcome.
J. Tyabji: I'd like the House to welcome Mr. Bob McCoubrey of the Regional District of Central Okanagan, and Mr. John Madsen of Hiram Walker.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I'd like members to join me in welcoming the 35 students here today from Port Hardy Secondary School, who are down for two or three days to visit the capital city.
SEIZE-AND-SUE POLICY OF FORD CREDIT CANADA
Hon. J. Smallwood: I rise today to report to British Columbians that the financial double jeopardy that they have been subject to by Ford Credit Canada has ended. I'm delighted to say that legal action taken against Ford Credit Canada for its alleged violations of B.C.'s consumer legislation has been successfully settled in favour of consumers.
On April 5, 1994, the province received a signed assurance of voluntary compliance under the Trade Practice Act by which Ford Credit Canada will stop any further seize-and-sue actions against consumers. In the past, Ford Credit has collected, or tried to collect, deficiency balances from consumers who had defaulted on vehicle leases that included an option to purchase the vehicle. These deficiency balances arose when Ford Credit repossessed vehicles from consumers who were unable to make the lease payments. Ford Credit then sold the vehicles, but continued to pursue consumers for the difference between the amount owing and the amount of the sale. This is contrary to B.C.'s seize-or-sue laws.
Ford Credit has voluntarily agreed to stop this practice; therefore the court action has been dropped. Ford Credit has agreed to refund all money consumers paid to them after their leased vehicles had been repossessed or surrendered. In addition, consumers will receive 6 percent interest on the funds being reimbursed and an additional $100 for their inconvenience.
To ensure all eligible consumers are aware of their entitlement, Ford Credit will advertise these refund provisions twice a month for three months in major print media in B.C. I urge all consumers who have been subject to these actions to contact the director of trade practices for full details. As well, any members of the House who have had constituents affected by this practice may wish to contact my office.
J. Dalton: I'm pleased to give marginal congratulations to the government. It will probably be the last happy word for this government today. The seize-and-sue provisions the minister referred to have been in place since 1974 in this province. Unfortunately, they have seldom been acted upon.... I'm pleased that this government and the Ford Credit company have reacted on a voluntary basis to deal with a problem that has recently been well documented in the media. If the minister was a party to that, we in the opposition are happy that she has acted accordingly. I'm just hoping that the government will be ever-vigilant in the area of consumer protection and will not just act when it happens to hit the Province or the Vancouver Sun.
COMMONWEALTH GAMES CONTRACTS
K. Jones: Recently the Commonwealth Games Society passed over competitive B.C. bids and awarded a contract to a Los Angeles-based tent manufacturer. This contract left the Games Society holding the bag for $20,000 in duty and GST, which they agreed to pay on behalf of the Americans. My question to the minister responsible for the Games is: why is the society using taxpayers' money to steal contracts away from local firms?
The Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. R. Blencoe: If the member had done his research properly, he would have determined that there has been a total value of $81 million in contracts for the Commonwealth Games, of which $78 million has gone to Canadian and British Columbia companies. Only 4 percent of the contracts have gone out of this province or country. If he looks at the total number of contracts handed out, only 16 out of 398 have gone outside. If the Liberal Party wishes to meddle in the tendering process, through the back door, there is a process. British Columbians have benefited from the Commonwealth Games -- overwhelmingly.
K. Jones: The minister's answer is totally incomplete and didn't answer the question at all. He's addressing something else.
A supplementary. Is the minister also aware that the contract for bottled drinking water has gone to the French firm of Evian, shutting out British Columbia competition altogether? Can the minister tell the people of B.C. why our water is not good enough for him?
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Hon. R. Blencoe: I know the member has to stay to the script, but I've just told him that only 4 percent of the contracts have gone outside British Columbia or Canada -- overwhelming support for British Columbia businesses, hon. member.
LOTTERY CORPORATION EXPENDITURES
G. Farrell-Collins: If the water is good enough for the rest of us in this House, I don't know why it isn't good for the Commonwealth Games.
My question is to the Minister of Finance. The Liberal opposition has learned that the B.C. Lottery Corporation leased luxury suite 355 at GM Place stadium. In addition to the nearly $1 million contract are the extra costs of a wet bar, a stereo and other upgrades, for an additional bill of $45,000 to $85,000. Can the minister responsible tell the hundreds of thousands of British Columbians who can't afford to go to hockey games why the executives of B.C. Lottery Corporation are spending a million dollars of taxpayers' money to lease an executive suite in GM Place?
Hon. E. Cull: Hon. Speaker, I'll take that question on notice.
The Speaker: The minister has taken the question on notice. Does the member have a new question?
G. Farrell-Collins: Yes, hon. Speaker. This minister is a former Minister of Health, and she knows full well that there are ads going on right now in this province which show that lottery funds are going to New Directions in Health Care. Will the Minister of Finance cancel that $1 million contract and buy the CAT scanner that Campbell River has been looking for for the last two years?
The Speaker: The hon. member is asking the question in a different way; it's the same question. Does the hon. member have a final question?
G. Farrell-Collins: Thank you, hon. Speaker. I understand the minister has taken that question on notice. At the same time, can the minister confirm that other government agencies, other government Crown corporations, have committed exactly the same million-dollar faux pas in spending taxpayers' money?
REPORT ON PERRAULT CASE
D. Mitchell: I have a question today to the Attorney General. It's regarding the Danny Perrault case, which his deputy minister issued a statement on last week. The reason, to date, for not releasing the report of the investigation into the Perrault case and into his escape is that it may violate this violent criminal's privacy. However, many believe that the real reason for the reluctance to release the report is that it may in fact demonstrate a serious state of corruption within the corrections branch. Will the Attorney General today commit to at least release portions of the report that will not directly affect the privacy of this violent criminal?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I thank the member for his question. I very much want to have this report released publicly. The lawyer acting on behalf of Danny Perrault has drawn to our attention, whether the member likes it or not, that Mr. Perrault has certain rights under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and those rights have to be protected in that case as well.
As soon as we are possibly able to release the report, or enough of it so that it makes some sense, we will do so.
The Speaker: Supplementary, hon. member.
D. Mitchell: I'm sure the Attorney General has been very well briefed on this case, due to the high profile of it. Can he confirm today that Perrault's computer files had items erased from them and that his security risk assessment was altered prior to his transfer to the minimum-security New Haven Correctional Centre from which he escaped? These aren't simple clerical errors. How does the Attorney General explain them?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: The suggestion that the member makes by way of a question is absolutely incorrect.
The Speaker: Final supplementary, hon. member.
D. Mitchell: I'll table the documents after question period.
My final supplementary to the Attorney General. Can he tell us why senior corrections supervisors apparently overruled staff under them and insisted that this violent criminal, who had already escaped once, be placed in a minimum-security institution? Why has no one in the corrections branch of his ministry been reprimanded or disciplined for such a serious breach, where the safety of the general public was put at risk and at least one victim paid very dearly? Why was the Attorney General, of all people, a willing party to such a cover-up?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: There is no cover-up. I can assure members of that. I have said inside and outside this chamber that I would like this report released as quickly as possible. Legal reasons have prevented us from doing that. Mistakes were made in a very tragic situation, one that had consequences that bothered all of us beyond words. The ministry has dealt with the issue by establishing procedures to ensure that that kind of mistake never happens again.
LOTTERY CORPORATION EXPENDITURES
W. Hurd: A question to the minister in charge of the B.C. Lottery Corporation. How can the Minister of Finance justify the Lottery Corporation spending $13,000 at Mr. Jax Fashions and $14,000 at Jay-Ray Men's Wear, and how can the minister defend the Lottery Corporation spending over $21,000 at the Mixer Shack?
Hon. E. Cull: I'm sure the members opposite will understand when I say that I want to check their facts. I will take that question on notice as well.
W. Hurd: When British Columbians say yes to the Extra, this isn't the extra they have in mind.
The government has no control over what is happening in their Crown corporations. The Lottery Corporation has many questionable expenditures which litter their financial statements, and I quote a few: everything from a $12,000 bill from the Vancouver Canadians Baseball Club to a contract to NDP Viewpoints Research and a bill for $10,000 from the Patricia Hotel. Is the minister satisfied that the B.C. Lottery Corporation is spending money in the most efficient manner possible in this province?
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SCHOOL CAPITAL PROJECT FUNDING
C. Serwa: My question is to the Minister of Education. A week ago you stated that the former Social Credit government had spent an average of $70 million per year over the previous five years for school capital project funding in British Columbia. It's in Hansard, hon. minister. For your information, the correct average figure for the previous five years is $298.7 million, more than four times the figure you have created. As a result of NDP underfunding, we now have 138 portables in School District 23. Four major projects are on hold.
The Speaker: Would the hon. member please state his question.
C. Serwa: Yes, hon. Speaker. There is serious crowding throughout British Columbia. Once again, when will the minister let the districts know where they stand?
Hon. A. Charbonneau: The capital funding program should be available in two to three weeks.
The Speaker: The hon. member has a supplementary?
C. Serwa: It's now some four months past the time normally scheduled for the release of this information. The supplementary is to the same minister. Can the minister confirm that the real reason for the delay is the backroom deal made with the government's preferred unions -- part of the B.C. 21 payoff to their pet unions?
Hon. A. Charbonneau: I can assure the member opposite that he doesn't know what he's talking about.
GOVERNMENT OFFICE FURNITURE
R. Chisholm: The Vancouver-New Westminster land titles office recently spent $2,500 per person for new chairs and desks. The total cost to the taxpayer for one office came to $450,000. The explanation given was that they were unable to do their job with old furniture. My question is to the Minister of Government Services. Is it your standard policy to reward skyrocketing absenteeism with new furniture? What does the government give an employee for embezzlement? A cabinet post?
Hon. R. Blencoe: I'll take the question on notice.
The Speaker: The question is taken on notice, hon. member. Does the member have a new question?
R. Chisholm: Yes, hon. Speaker. Equally interesting is what happened to the old furniture. In order to get rid of them, the old desks and chairs were classified -- get this, Mr. Speaker -- as a health hazard. Amazingly, this furniture was then transferred to the public trustee's office of the Vancouver district's court services branch, where it is now in use. To the Minister of Health: is it common to have office furniture classified as a health hazard? Secondly, what steps have been taken to safeguard the health of the courtworkers who are now using this condemned furniture?
SHIPBUILDING JOBS IN B.C.
D. Schreck: My question is to the Minister of Employment and Investment.
D. Schreck: There may be heckling from the opposition benches, but the constituents in my riding take it pretty seriously when the Liberal Minister of National Revenue writes off the shipyard industry in British Columbia. My question for the minister is that the federal Minister of National Revenue writes off the British Columbia shipbuilding industry at the same time that successive federal governments...
The Speaker: Order, please.
D. Schreck: ...have poured money into the shipyard industries in Quebec and the Maritimes.
The Speaker: Your question, hon. member.
D. Schreck: What is your government doing to protect British Columbia shipyard workers?
Hon. G. Clark: I too was shocked to read in the paper on the weekend...
The Speaker: Order, hon. members. Order, please.
Hon. G. Clark: ...that the Liberal Minister of National Revenue would say that no federal money or contracts would be forthcoming to B.C.'s shipbuilding industry. Between 1985 and the year 2000, there will be a total of $11 billion in shipbuilding projects in Canada, and not a penny to British Columbia's shipyard workers -- not a penny, zero.
The Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. G. Clark: I'm having trouble....
The Speaker: Order, please.
The Speaker: Hon. members, would you please come to order. Perhaps the minister could please answer the question.
Hon. G. Clark: Zero might be good enough for the Liberal National Revenue minister, but it's not good enough for the government. Fortunately....
The Speaker: Order! Would the hon. minister please take his seat.
Hon. members, it is very difficult to characterize the behaviour that is being displayed this afternoon, but I think all members....
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The Speaker: Order, hon. members! Notwithstanding your points of view, I think there should be a lot more respect for any member who has his place, regardless of your views with respect to what that member may or may not be saying. I would ask all hon. members to keep in mind that it is very difficult to maintain order without cooperation, or to enforce your standing orders without your cooperation.
The Speaker: Order, please. Therefore would you please allow the hon. minister to conclude his remarks. Please conclude your remarks, hon. minister.
Hon. G. Clark: The members opposite say it's an abuse of the House, but it's not abuse of the House to talk about jobs for the shipbuilding industry here in British Columbia. We have just completed the second superferry for the B.C. Ferry Corporation. We now have at Vancouver Shipyards, in refit, the new Royal Victorian, which will be running between Victoria and Seattle. In the coming weeks we will be announcing a capital plan for the Ferry Corporation to create jobs here in British Columbia for our shipbuilding industry.
The Speaker: The bell terminates question period, hon. members.
On a point of order, the hon. member for Saanich North and the Islands.
C. Tanner: This Legislature enjoys the shortest question period in the country. We have members on the government side asking questions. The only opportunity that we have to put the question....
The Speaker: Order, hon. member. Will the hon. member please take his seat. That is not a valid point of order, and the hon. member knows that.
J. Dalton: I understand that I was named by the Speaker to be permitted to ask a question. I ask leave that I be allowed to do so.
The Speaker: No, hon. member, that is not true; you're probably mistaken.
The Speaker: As a matter of fact, I said that the hon. member for North Vancouver-Lonsdale would be following the member for Chilliwack. If I did not, hon. member, I apologize; it was an error.
The hon. member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi rises on a point of order.
D. Mitchell: I wish to raise a point of order concerning the unparliamentary behaviour exhibited in the House during the last question period prior to today's. After reviewing Hansard for last Thursday, it is clear that an unprecedented attack upon an officer of this House was made by the official opposition. The information and privacy commissioner was impugned during that question period. I refer specifically to the comments made by members of the official opposition, both in this House and afterwards outside this assembly. All members should be aware that it is unparliamentary in the extreme to attack an officer of this House who cannot speak or....
The Speaker: Order, hon. member. Will you please take your seat. The hon. member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove rises on a point of order.
G. Farrell-Collins: If the member has a concern, it's obviously a matter of privilege that he's bringing before this House and not a point of order. I'd ask him to follow the appropriate rules.
The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. The Chair should remind all hon. members that the behaviour of members, with the exception of that which is outlined in the standing orders, is not the responsibility of the Speaker. However, the hon. member raises a matter which the House should hear, and we can decide whether or not it is in order. Please proceed.
D. Mitchell: All members should be aware that it is unparliamentary in the extreme to attack an officer of this assembly, who cannot speak for or defend himself in this chamber. I refer hon. members to MacMinn, second edition, which deals with standing order 40 on pages 54-55; and to Beauchesne, fifth edition, paragraph 321, page 114. Furthermore, officers of this assembly are, by their very nature, independent and impartial. They are appointed by and serve all members of this assembly. Indeed, the information and privacy commissioner was appointed by an all-party committee of this Legislature, on which there was representation by members of the official opposition.
The Legislative Assembly Privilege Act, section 5, states that our assembly has the power and rights to inquire into and punish "assaults on or interference with officers of the Assembly in the execution of their duty."
However, Mr. Speaker, I choose not to raise this matter as a question of privilege but as a point of order. I trust you will agree that this is a most serious issue, and I would hope that members of the official opposition would take thisopportunity to withdraw their comments, which represent an unwarranted and unworthy attack on an officer of this assembly.
The Speaker: Before recognizing the hon. member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove, I do not believe the matter is a point of order. As I stated earlier, the reason the member was allowed to continue is that I believe the matter may very well be one of privilege. With that in mind, I would invite comments from others on the same subject.
G. Farrell-Collins: The duty of the official opposition at any time in this House -- as all members know, including the member who once held this seat -- is to raise questions with regard to the operations of the government and to protect the citizens of this province, and particularly to protect individual citizens from the unwarranted release of confidential information. That is exactly what the official opposition did both last Wednesday and Thursday. We will continue to do that.
If this member has these concerns, he knows full well this is a matter of privilege that he should bring before the House. He's done so in another way in order to try to get his comments out before having them ruled upon. So, hon. Speaker, I think the abuse of this House is taking place opposite and not by the official opposition.
The Speaker: The hon. member for Richmond-Steveston on the same matter.
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A. Warnke: On a point of privilege, hon. Speaker?
The Speaker: On a point of privilege, hon. member.
A. Warnke: Thank you, hon. Speaker; I appreciate being able to rise on a point of privilege. The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi stated just moments ago that members of the official opposition had castigated a particular officer of the assembly. I for one have never made any negative comment with regard to the information and privacy commissioner, either inside or outside this chamber. I have made the best of comments about the commissioner, because his integrity is 100 percent. I would like to see the member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi withdraw his remarks, which impugn the motives of members.
T. Perry: I think the member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi was simply making the very polite request that members throughout the House respect the very high standards of conduct that have previously been observed in this chamber.
The Speaker: Then this concludes the matter, hon. members. I thank you for your comments.
MINISTERIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
Hon. R. Blencoe: I rise to answer a question I took on notice on April 7 from the member for Prince George-Omineca. He was raising questions with regard to the directory of records. Today, the beginning of Information Rights Week, I am pleased to present the directory of records, which is now available. It's another part of our open and fair FOI legislation. The directory assists British Columbians in assessing and requesting information by providing valuable information regarding the types of files kept by ministries. I'm confident that the directory will facilitate an even more effective process for dealing with requests. Last week the directory was sent out to every library in the province, and it's also available through Crown Publications.
Hon. G. Clark: I ask leave to table the distribution of major federal shipbuilding projects between 1985 and the year 2000.
Leave not granted.
D. Mitchell: I ask leave to table the computer printout of the classification record of violent criminal Daniel Perrault.
Hon. G. Clark: I have the honour to present the first report of the Special Committee of Selection. I move the report be taken as read and received.
Hon. G. Clark: I ask leave to move a motion to adopt the report.
Hon. G. Clark: I move that the report be adopted.
Hon. G. Clark tabled the 1993 annual report of the job protection commissioner.
Hon. P. Priddy: I ask leave to make an introduction.
Hon. P. Priddy: With us in the gallery today are 50 grade 10 students from Princess Margaret Secondary School in Surrey, along with their teachers Chris McKeon and Randy Jaggernathsingh. Princess Margaret high school is well-known for its performing arts and athletics program and as the site of a unique peer mediation program in this province, as well as the recent recipient of an anti-racism award for its work in combatting racism in Surrey. I am delighted to be the MLA who represents the school.
Hon. G. Clark: I call Committee of Supply, both Sections A and B. In Section A, I call Small Business, Tourism and Culture; in Section B, I call the Attorney General's ministry.
The House in Committee of Supply B; D. Lovick in the chair.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF ATTORNEY GENERAL
On vote 16: minister's office, $424,063.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: As we get ourselves organized for the first estimates of this fiscal year, I want to make some opening comments. They are probably longer than they should be, but I want to cover as much territory as possible before we get into the back-and-forth discussions. Before I do that, I would like to make four introductions. On my immediate left is the deputy minister, Maureen Maloney; on her left, Deputy Attorney General Brian Neal; and behind me are Rick McCandless, assistant deputy minister of management services, and Barb Kaiway, manager of the resource analysis section of the ministry.
In the estimates last year I spoke of the changing directions of the justice system in British Columbia, and I said that what we want is not a legal system for legal professionals, but a justice system for every British Columbian. I think it's fair to say that all of us can cite instances where it can be safely asserted that some people in our province don't receive the same kind of justice as others do, and that we have not yet developed the kind of justice system that I think we all strive to achieve. We have taken some major steps toward these goals in this last year, and I just want to talk about a few of them.
We have tried to make the system fairer for historically disadvantaged members of society. We've tried to make reforms with respect to family justice and protection for women from violence. The ministry has planned reforms of family law and is now putting them into action. The family justice reform pilot projects are starting in four locations. They will include a variety of family law services -- now offered by the Ministry of Social Services and the Attorney General's ministry -- under one roof. They will provide counselling, arbitration, mediation and education.
Recent improvements to the family maintenance enforcement program include a direct payment policy, a
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direct deposit system, advising creditors of court hearings, an interactive voice response system available free of charge throughout the province, and creditor enforcement summary reports. We are in the middle of some significant transformations in the legal aid system, and I would be very happy to talk about those during these estimates as well.
With respect to criminal law, we are developing policies regarding prevention of violence against women, particularly in relationships. The previous government introduced a policy in the late 1980s which was revised and strengthened last year. We are saying that violence is a crime wherever it occurs, and if it occurs in a bar, on the street or in someone's home, it is a crime of no less importance. The location doesn't matter, nor does the nature of the relationship between the individuals. It remains a crime.
We are training justice system staff to ensure that the policy is applied firmly and evenly around the province. We've had help from the Ministry of Women's Equality in this respect through its Stopping the Violence initiative. We are also working with the judiciary to accelerate family law cases through the courts so that they can be dealt with promptly. We think that our ministry is a leader in Canada in victim support services. That's not to say that much more can't be done, but we are making good progress, in my view. Last year we gave approximately $6 million to more than 100 victim assistance programs in British Columbia, in addition to the approximately $26 million that the criminal injury compensation program expended this past year.
We are also involved in helping to fund public legal education programs. Eighty new counselling programs have been funded. Four new sexual assault centres have been funded; that makes eight in the province that the Ministry of Attorney General now funds. There are seven new women assault centres. The Ministry of Attorney General funds more than 30 specialized victim assistance organizations serving assaulted women and children, along with new treatment programs for assaultive men. They are developing improved policies on wife assault, child abuse, sexual assault and elder abuse. The ministry introduced new guardianship legislation last year to protect dependent adults, as all members know.
With respect to policing, the Oppal commission that was established more than a year ago heard submissions on issues of concern to women, people of different cultural backgrounds and aboriginal people. I'm hopeful that the report of Mr. Justice Wallace Oppal will be on my desk within six weeks or so -- by the end of May.
We in our ministry are involved in the governmentwide initiatives with respect to pay equity. We are committed to full participation of women in the Ministry of Attorney General, in administrative tribunals and in the judiciary. Just to show that we are attempting to make some progress with respect to women's equality, six of the 11 members of our ministry's management committee are women. Eight of the 15 appointments to the Provincial Court have been women. Five of the nine-member Judicial Council are women. We don't appoint all the members to the Judicial Council, obviously, but I think that through our leadership in other areas other organizations also see the need to respond to this very important issue. We've also endorsed flexible work and parental leave arrangements within the ministry. We have a gender equality special adviser position to be appointed very shortly. That person will help to develop a comprehensive strategy to achieve fairness and equality for women in the ministry.
I want to talk a little about this year and what we are hoping to work on. We've identified a number of key directions for fiscal 1994-95. A top priority -- it's very difficult for us to say the top priority, because in this ministry there are so many issues which are top priorities.... But among the very top of our priorities is the question of crime prevention. Communities and individuals in our communities suffer the effects of crime in very dramatic ways. We need community-based solutions. We are allocating an additional $3 million this year, out of money that we are extracting from other programs, to deal with solutions in respect of crime prevention. This will be a comprehensive new initiative to establish a framework for coordinating community involvement and developing partnership with crime prevention organizations, municipalities and police. We're building on what is already in place; there are already some very good community initiatives in various communities, but much more can and needs to be done.
The commitment is that this will be community-based and that we will attempt as much as possible to empower people in their own communities to help provide solutions. We'll support the creativity and innovation in communities. In other words, we are not developing programs here at the centre and saying to communities: "Here's a program. Buy into it." We're saying: "You develop programs that are particularly useful for you in your communities, and we will help you to make those programs more effective for you and your community." We're going to involve communities in this development by consultation and cooperation, all the while looking toward long-term solutions. I hope later this year to make some announcements with respect to the details of this particular initiative. At this point we are still working out many of those details, and we are still involved in discussions so that we don't end up announcing something that is rhetorical and leaving an impression that it is a puff-piece. I'm really determined that it be real, meaningful and relevant to local communities.
Some of the proposed ministry program changes for 1994-95 include the just-introduced Family Relations Act amendment to allow for the deduction of pensions at source. That bill was introduced last week. We will do a review of the Law Reform Commission's report on property rights on marriage breakdown. We're involved with other jurisdictions in the country in working on child support guidelines, as advice to the courts.
We're making further changes to the Limitation Act. Members will remember that in 1992 we made a change to allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to take action as adults. In 1994 we intend, with the Legislature's agreement, to remove the time limit so that someone who experienced sexual abuse anytime in her or his life can take legal action. In other words, the Statute of Limitations would not apply. That would deal with the memory syndrome that often occurs in sexual abuse and sexual assault cases.
We're working with the federal government to implement law reform on a number of fronts, including the crime prevention initiatives that the new federal government is also interested in pursuing. We are working with them and other provinces to look at amendments that the federal government may wish to bring in to the Young Offenders Act. We have put presentations forward to them about the amendments that we feel are necessary. I expect that the federal minister will be introducing amendments to that legislation in the House sometime before this federal parliament spring session is over.
We are heavily involved, again with the federal government and our colleagues across the country, in a review of the role, if any, of preliminary inquiries in our justice system. If members are interested in talking about
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that, we can have further discussions during these estimates. We're also discussing the further hybridization of some offences with my colleagues across the country.
Another key direction for 1994-95 is a more responsive justice system for aboriginal people. We had a very inexpensive review, done by a woman named Marion Buller, of aboriginal legal aid, which will help to guide us in providing appropriate legal aid services in British Columbia to our native community. As members know, we also had the report of Judge Anthony Sarich on issues in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, and his reforms are also being looked at with a view to implementation, but in consultation and together with the native community in the Cariboo-Chilcotin. Many of his recommendations also inform us quite significantly and quite well in respect of aboriginal justice issues around the province.
I want to talk for a moment about fiscal responsibility. One of the rationales -- and it's not the only one -- for increasing the involvement of communities in their own security in terms of crime and security-related issues is that these issues are community issues; they're not just government issues. We want to foster the creativity and energy of local people for locally conceived and locally tailored solutions. It's the right approach for a fiscally responsible and effective justice system.
If I can just part from my notes for a moment, in every community I go to in meeting with local civic officials or other community groups, the question of crime and personal and property security in the community is always very near the top of the list of concerns people have about justice-related issues. Often the quick response is that we need more police and justice officials in the system, and we need to throw more money at the issue. I'm convinced -- and I think all members of this House are -- that there isn't any more money to throw at the problem. In particular, we can't solve crime in this province by hiring a police officer for every corner. Obviously that just isn't possible, and in the final analysis it would be unlikely to work in any event. We have to encourage public involvement by working on a number of fronts to reduce crime in ways other than simply throwing more money at it.
Just a brief summary of the estimates the members have in front of them. The budget increase is $26.7 million, 3.5 percent over the restated estimates of last year, which were $766.7 million. We're adding 3.5 percent to that. We're adding $9.6 million, which is 1.2 percent of the overall budget increase. About a third of the budget increase is going to provide funding for the corrections branch, for over-crowding in both adult and youth facilities. This money will provide additional staff capacity, including, I understand, about 123 full-time-equivalent positions to deal with serious overcrowding in the prison system in the province. We're also providing an additional 26 full-time-equivalents on the probation side of the equation, the non-custodial side.
[J. Beattie in the chair.]
There's an additional $5.8 million provided for building occupancy cost increases for new courthouses that will open in Kelowna and Delta and at 222 Main. There is $3.9 million accounted for by cost-of-living allowance increases to the many staff who work in our ministry. Five million dollars will fund ministry priorities, including the family maintenance enforcement program volumes which are increasing at a rate far greater than population or cost-of-living increases. So we have to increase those additional volumes, and there is $1.3 million for that. We are providing another $1.3 million for first nations community police, the aboriginal tribal police services. We're also providing about $1.4 million for the second year of the adult guardianship initiative which, as members know, began last year. We're also providing about $1 million for the funding of victims' programs.
We're taking some initiatives to try and save money and spend less. I will give you some examples of that. We're saving about $800,000 in building maintenance practices, court services and corrections. We're working with BCBC to achieve these savings.
We are using electronic monitoring increasingly to replace custody, wherever appropriate. We need to do much more with respect to electronic monitoring than we've done to date. We are moving toward enhanced automation in courts and in the Crown prosecutors' offices.
We are discussing with the federal government the possibility of assuming responsibility for prosecution of federal cases to eliminate duplication and overlap. This is one of those areas where the public, quite rightly, complains that there is duplication of spending between federal and provincial authorities. If we can take over the responsibility for federal prosecutions in B.C., as I think has been done in New Brunswick, it could be an immense saving to the taxpayers of this country. It would reduce those costs to the federal government in exchange for an appropriate payment from them for carrying out that obligation. That hasn't happened yet. We're still in discussion with the federal government about it.
We're also trying to use diversion for minor cases in a greater way than we have in the past. We're trying to get them out of the court system and provide an appropriate response to individuals who may have been involved in minor criminal activity. We want to make more use of mediation and arbitration. I referred earlier to mediation with respect to family justice issues, but the whole notion of mediation and arbitration with respect to a wide variety of issues now argued in court is very appealing to me. ADR -- alternative dispute resolution -- is very appropriate in many cases, but not always. There will always be a role for the courts, but there's clearly a need to resolve matters in a non-adversarial way -- which can often turn out to be much cheaper than the use of the existing structure.
I hope that at the end of this fiscal year I'll be able to say that '94-95 has seen continued progress toward that goal that I talked about at the beginning of estimates last year and mentioned again at the beginning of these comments, which is that we see a more open and responsive justice system with a strong community focus.
I'll leave it at that, hon. Chair, and ask members to have at me in any way they see fit. We'll try to have an informative discussion. It's always my attitude to make everything available. I know it often doesn't seem that way, but that really is an ethic that I try to practise in every way I can. Everything that I can possibly share with all members at any time, I will. I'll certainly try to take advantage of doing that in these estimates. As members know, I have a series of areas of responsibility. It may not be possible in a multiparty House, but if members are able to focus on one area at a time, then I would be able to bring the assistant deputy minister responsible for that particular program area into the House at that time. I can't bring everybody in. It would be a bit crowded and inappropriate, but I would like to bring in the appropriate people if we're discussing a particular area. If we were to discuss corrections at one time, criminal justice at another, and police at yet another time, etc., I would encourage that. But I need to say that any question at any time on any subject is obviously fair game, and I'm not going
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to refuse to talk about it because some member may have missed it earlier. I'll just do it again, because I understand all members can't be here at all times.
J. Dalton: I appreciate the concluding remarks that the Attorney General has made because I can understand, particularly in this session of parliament, that we may be all over the map -- although I can assure the Attorney General that the official opposition will try and confine its questioning to prescribed areas. In fact, perhaps I can flag for the Attorney General -- I may not get to it today -- that the Legal Services Society will be number one on our list. Not necessarily in order of priority, if the Attorney General is wondering, but at least we'll lead off with that. And we will certainly be dealing with corrections and the family maintenance enforcement program. No doubt members will have questions out of their own areas. For example, the Attorney General mentioned new courthouses for Kelowna, Delta and 222 Main Street; I didn't hear Prince George on that list. The minister recently wrote to me about their concerns, with copies to the mayor of Prince George. I am going there on Friday, and I will be raising it in that community. I am hoping we will get some good news out of that. The Attorney General is also aware of the concern in my riding of West Vancouver-Capilano about the possible moving of the courthouse from West to North Vancouver, so we may touch upon that later.
However, I don't want to wander too much. I want to welcome the ministerial officials to the committee today, and before I get to specifics I want to thank the Attorney General for the cooperation that he and his officials have given me as the relatively new critic to this area. I was named to this role last November, and it's been a big learning curve for me. Even though I do have a law degree and some legal background, I haven't practised law for many years. So I have some catching up to do, and I appreciate your assistance.
The minister made some comments on a few things that I will remark upon now, and we will come back to them in more detail as we go through the estimates. The Attorney General made a comment about justice for all, which is fair. But I'm going to say -- and many people in the street feel this -- that victims come in many sizes and shapes and ranges. I believe the victims of this country have been forgotten in the process, and I'm going to have some comments, criticisms and questions on that. I don't say this just because I'm the critic for the opposition; I say this because of my observations over many years. I don't think the Charter of Rights has done this country any good service since 1982, other than some increased work for defence counsel -- and if the defence bar is listening, so be it. I don't mind standing up and being counted on things that I feel strongly about. So that's where I come from.
The minister mentioned the family maintenance enforcement program. I have indicated we'll have questions on that. We must canvass the Legal Services Society in detail. The bar is certainly unsettled about some things, and we have to know the direction that program is taking. We have to know where the budget in that program is going, because right now it's a disaster. I don't want to hear that it's going to get worse. I don't think the Attorney General will tell us it's going to get worse, but I want some assurance that things will be kept under control as best they can.
I'll make reference to some other things from my notes and from what I heard from the Attorney General. We're looking forward to Mr. Justice Wally Oppal's very important report, which he tells me he expects to hand down by May 31 at the latest. Knowing Mr. Justice Oppal as I do, he will be true to his word and he'll meet that deadline. I don't know whether any other MLAs made presentations to Justice Oppal, but I am happy to say that I was the first to do so in West Vancouver last year -- not that I'm up here to pound my own drum, but I hope other members took advantage of the opportunity to do so. If the Attorney General is interested, my comments had to do with high-speed police chases. We had one recently in West Vancouver. West Vancouver actually has a pretty good track record of not getting involved in high-speed chases. But there was a chase through the streets of Dundarave not too long ago, which I was a bit surprised to see happening; maybe it was justified. But my comments on that are on record with the Oppal commission. If we have an opportunity, maybe we might get into that.
Crime prevention was mentioned by the Attorney General. There are a few good things I want to mention -- I didn't hear them specifically from the Attorney General. In my own community of North Vancouver we have an excellent Block Watch program. It really doesn't cost anything other than the need for a police officer and a few citizen officials to oversee the program. I'm happy to say that fairly recently in my own block a Block Watch was started, and it's working because neighbours are finally starting to break down barriers and talk to each other. In our urbanized society people tend to not talk to each other; they tend to close ranks and ignore each other. Block Watch not only has a good policing purpose, it also has a real social function involved in it.
That reminds me: the Attorney General might be amused by a little incident that happened to my family recently. About a month ago we had a phone call at 12:30 one evening from the North Vancouver RCMP -- I live in North Vancouver. They said there was an emergency call from our house. We were all asleep. My son had answered the phone and he was half asleep, so he hung up thinking that it was a joke. They called back to say: "Would you please go to your door, there are two police officers there who want to talk to you." I'm thinking: what is going on here? I put my clothes on and went down to the door. It turned out that it wasn't a 9-1-1 call. Apparently somebody had called into their switchboard, and they got the number on the call display mixed up. They thought it was our house. I presume it was an accident. I thanked the officers as the Attorney General critic. I identified myself accordingly and said: "Well, I'm happy that you were here, because I would have been disappointed if you hadn't come." They went away reasonably happy, I guess.
Coming back to Block Watch, it's working. Business Watch is another community program in North Vancouver and other parts of the province that's working very well. As I'm sure the Attorney General is well aware, there are new policing centres opening up in this province. I was in Prince George not too long ago. They have a new downtown office. There is a new policing centre in lower Lonsdale in North Vancouver. There's one in Williams Lake. I was in Williams Lake about three weeks ago; unfortunately, the office was not open when I went by. But I am well aware of where it is, and I'm going back there next month, so I will get a chance to visit that office. I point out these things out because they are important community-based policing. They are important because they get the community involved and cost relatively little. Those are the sorts of things we have to be well aware of in order to put them into place and make sure they work.
I was happy to hear of some possible legislation coming down the pipeline from the Attorney General. There is one
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question I will ask, and he can flag it for an answer. Is there any indication of changes to the Occupiers Liability Act? I wrote to the minister on February 8, I believe, and I haven't had a response to that yet. There are people in the ski industry, in particular, who are quite anxious as to what may be happening. As I'm sure the Attorney General is aware, there's a very extensive Law Reform Commission position paper on occupiers' liability and recreational injuries. That industry is very anxious to know what, if anything, may be happening.
The issue of preliminary inquiries caught my eye this morning. There's an article in the Globe and Mail on that subject -- whether or not it should be eliminated. I just glanced at the headline, but I believe the article indicated that they should be maintained because they ascertain the truth and merits of a case that may or may not go to court. I have not formed any particular thoughts on the preliminary inquiry, but I can tell you one thing: if we could eliminate some of the costs in court, maybe it should be done in. If that's the bottom line, then I would advocate it.
The minister referred to some aboriginal policing issues. I've met with some of the people in the Squamish band. They are quite anxious to get tribal policing going. I've talked briefly with Wally Oppal on this subject, but he wasn't prepared to share with me any particular game plan that may be in place for that. I don't think that the native people of British Columbia want it imposed on them, but they should have the opportunity for aboriginal policing where they wish it. Many of them want that and would be in a position to have it. Those who don't want it, so be it. Our RCMP forces can more than adequately serve the aboriginal community.
The Attorney General also mentioned the Sarich report, which I read in some detail. It's interesting that a week before, he was at the Toosey band to give that report to the public. I was in that neighbourhood because my in-laws are ranchers just down the street. Unfortunately, I missed the Attorney General by a week. Otherwise I would have walked in in my cowboy boots and blue jeans and said: "Hey, what's going on here?" That might have surprised him.
J. Dalton: I heard the Attorney General say that he may not have recognized me. Depending on the environment I happen to be in, sometimes I don't recognize myself, either.
Those are just a few introductory reactions to the Attorney General's comments. I did ask a specific question or two, and perhaps he might like to respond to those. I'll tell the minister right now that my first line of questioning is going to deal with some special prosecutors that have been appointed, and I want to know the status of those cases.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: It was clear from the member's comments that he intends to canvass most of the areas that he raised in more detail, but let me comment very briefly on several. The courthouses I mentioned were the ones that have completed construction. There are obviously other proposed courthouses that are yet to be announced. I hope we'll be able to make some significant headway on that in the very near future. I don't think it's a secret that I'm going to Prince George and to Coquitlam on Monday, a week today. Members might draw their own conclusions.
With respect to the West Vancouver courthouse, one of the obvious ways the Ministry of Attorney General can save taxpayers' money in considerable volume is by rationalizing the existing courthouse structure in this province. Names and locations have been put to me of 18 courthouses that could be done away with, if I can use those words. A number of courthouses have been traditional. I realize the role that courthouses play in a community. They are often very central and important buildings, if nothing else, that are of significance to a community. Some status is attached to having a courthouse.
I wouldn't be doing my job properly if I didn't have my officials examine whether there is a continuing need for some courthouses. I can tell members today that no decisions have been made about any of them, but that is not to say that at some point, as the cost pressures get even tougher and more difficult to manage, we won't want to look very seriously at rationalizing the courthouses. They're very expensive buildings to operate. In many communities they often don't operate full-time. I think people are not working as efficiently and as effectively as they could be if they were in a courthouse that in many cases may be only 30 minutes away. We need to look at that.
On the downside is a point that I'm sure the member for West Vancouver-Capilano would make, and that is that there are also costs involved in having courthouses further away. One of them is police overtime. We're very aware of those issues, and we're examining those questions now. As I said, no decisions have been made, nor are any decisions imminent. I'm not going to make an announcement the day after estimates are over; I can assure members of that.
I agree with the member's comments about victims. One of the things I feel really strongly about is that the system pays a lot of heed to everybody who in one way or another connects with the justice system, except that victims are often the last to be remembered. Of course, in many ways they perhaps should be at the front of our list and not at the back in terms of how we design a system. So I'm really bothered.
At the present time we have three separate victim assistance programs in the ministry, and we have the criminal injury compensation program. I've asked ministry officials to look at what we're now delivering, and to look at what we could deliver if we enhanced those services or rationalized them in some way. There is work being done at the present time to see whether we can do better for victims.
Having said that, I will add that individual victim assistance workers out there working on behalf of victims are doing just a phenomenal job. I get letters all the time from victims or families of victims, with very effusive praise of the work done by various victim assistance workers. I think they deserve a strong word of praise and support from me for the work they do.
Occupiers Liability Act. There is further consultation going on with the Law Reform Commission and people in the province who are interested in the topic. I should tell the member that I've talked to ski hill operators in particular on this issue for what seems like a couple of years. I had at least one formal meeting with that group in respect of this issue. It's on my agenda. I'm a skier, so I'm in touch with the issue in a way that might be closer than a lot of other people. But it's not just a ski hill issue. It's broader than that, and the legal implications of legislation of that kind would obviously be much broader. So consultation continues.
In respect of preliminary inquiries, I'm very much attached to the notion as long as disclosure is properly provided for. I think all members would agree that the Stinchcombe decision of the Supreme Court does ensure that disclosure is at least provided for. We may well now be able to look very seriously at eliminating the whole notion of preliminary inquiries. It's an expensive process and, given
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the disclosure rules, one that may no longer be necessary. It's been in the Criminal Code for 101 years. When it was introduced in 1893 it was no doubt necessary, and it may well have been necessary for the following 90 or so years, but I think it has outlived its usefulness now.
The member said he would next go to special prosecutors, so I look forward to hearing what he has to say about that.
J. Dalton: I thank the Attorney General for his answers to some of the questions that I raised, either specifically or otherwise, because he certainly addressed some of them. I'm sure the people of Prince George are looking forward to his visit next Monday. I'm hoping they're looking forward as well to the visit over the weekend of the Liberal Party provincial council. I thought I'd get a little advertising in here.
I would like to start with some questions about the appointment of special prosecutors on particularly sensitive cases -- as I guess we can describe them. The first involves the appointment of Ace Henderson to the Commonwealth Society inquiry. Mr. Henderson asked for an extension, I believe, in December. In fact, I believe it was just before Christmas, because I just happened to spot a little item on page A59 of the Vancouver Sun. I did flag it, and so I'm on my feet to ask: where are we at? What is Mr. Henderson doing? How much is he being paid? If the minister cares to tell us anything else, it would be helpful to us.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: In terms of any detailed questions in respect to special prosecutors, I think it would be very useful for the member -- or any member, for that matter -- to talk directly to the criminal justice branch. I know no more about any of these matters than anyone who reads the newspapers assiduously. That's the extent of my knowledge of what may or may not be occurring in respect of any special prosecutor.
J. Dalton: I can appreciate that the Attorney General cannot be seen as, shall we say, interfering in an independent process. However, the Attorney General is the boss, and it is public money that's being exhausted. Quite frankly, I am not terribly impressed by a response saying to go and ask someone else. We're here now to ask the Attorney General. So unless I get some good legal or other reason why I shouldn't ask about the spending of public money.... These are the estimates. This isn't some academic exercise to talk about law and order, and courthouses in Prince George. I think it's fair game to ask: what is the extension period of Mr. Henderson? How much longer can we expect...? The public is asking. I would add that this is a politically sensitive case, because the New Democratic Party is involved in it. If I'm getting stonewalled because of political interference, then let's hear that as well.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: Firstly, I will tell members everything about any particular prosecution that I'm able, by law, to tell them. Secondly, in respect of any matter that has been referred outside the criminal justice branch to a special prosecutor, there is a reason that has happened. It's governed by the Crown Counsel Act, as the member well knows. If a matter has been referred to a special prosecutor, then no discussion about that matter takes place with me. I may be the boss, but the criminal justice branch is independent in respect to prosecutions. I'm speaking now on a broader aspect of this issue. If I were in any way to direct the criminal justice branch, I am required to have that direction gazetted so that it's in public view. In my term of office I haven't directed the branch in respect of any prosecution.
Going back to special prosecutors, there flowed from the Owen inquiry, following events in this province in the mid- to late-eighties, recommendations to amend the Crown Counsel Act. The former government took those recommendations in order to ensure that there would always be a clear understanding on the part of the public that the Attorney General, who wears both a political and a legal hat, is not and can not be involved in any way in the conduct of a particular determination as to whether to prosecute and then in any particular prosecution.
So that the member doesn't think I'm stonewalling or whatever, all I know about the matter the member raises -- that Mr. Ace Henderson has been appointed as special prosecutor -- is the news that I've read in the Vancouver Sun. I can assure members of that; I know of nothing else. I know that the RCMP investigation continues, but all members know that because it has been reported publicly.
J. Dalton: Fair enough. I'm not going to flog a dead horse. The public will wait as the Attorney General will wait; eventually we'll see some progress and some reporting in from Mr. Henderson. I don't think it is a very happy thing for the public, if they're tuned in today -- and I hope there's at least three of them who are -- to hear that public funds on the investigation of this matter are being spent to indicate whether prosecution is or is not warranted. Prosecution is an expensive exercise. The bottom line is that our money is being spent and nobody seems to want to account for how it's being spent or where it's going. I have to speak on behalf of the taxpayer, and I happen to be a taxpayer as well. I'm not going to pursue that.
Maybe we can get into a case which is not the appointment of a special prosecutor, but the ad hoc appointment of prosecutor or lawyer to investigate a case that is causing a lot of consternation in the news these days. It's a very unfortunate case. So that we are not playing around here in what we're talking about, I'm referring to Dr. John Gossage. As I'm sure the Attorney General is aware, Dr. Gossage is a New Westminster practitioner who, from my examination, quite frankly, has a horrendous track record of alleged abuse, going back perhaps 30 years and including incidents in Ontario. If the minister can detect anger in my voice, it's because I'm speaking on behalf of many angry people.
On the weekend, I happened to meet with the parents of a young child who allegedly was abused by this doctor. I've talked to the deputy registrar of the college this morning. Naturally, she didn't tell me much on the phone, but she was not terribly happy -- I think that's fair comment -- about how this case has developed. I'm sure the Attorney General is also aware that Dr. Gossage is under a current six-month suspension and was fined approximately $35,000 and costs by the college, not for any abuse of children -- and, by the way, the specialty of his practice is dealing with children -- but for an assault by kissing the mother of this particular child. The mother visited my office on Saturday.
I have to maintain a professional approach to this so I'll put my personal anger aside, but it sure burns me up. We were talking earlier about victims. This is a classic case of victims. It's also a classic case of stonewalling, which the minister referred to earlier. There are many people in our society who are stonewalling cases like that of Dr. Gossage.
Let me come back to what I wanted to ask. There was an ad hoc appointment of Peter Leask last year; I don't know the date. I'm hoping to get some information from the Attorney General on this one, so the first thing I'll ask is: when was
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Peter Leask appointed as ad hoc counsel to examine the complaints?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: There are a few things I should respond to. First of all, the member showed some exasperation in not being able to know about the accounting, if not the accountability, of special prosecutors. It's fair that following the completion of a particular case the public know what it has cost. I'd certainly be very happy to provide that kind of information to members -- following a case, obviously not during it. That would apply to any expenditure of public money. It's the public's money, and the public has a right to know how it's spent.
Members are going to have to accept that I'm not going to talk about the matter raised or the individual named by the member. There are matters before the court at this very time, and it's completely inappropriate for me to make any comment at all about matters that are in front of the court. In respect of Peter Leask's appointment as an ad hoc, it was about a year ago. I hope I can be more precise. The note I have does not include a date, but I think I'm fairly safe in saying it would have been in the period approximately 11 to 14 months ago.
J. Dalton: I wasn't trying to set the AG up; that was the furthest thing from my mind. But I happen to have in the file the actual correspondence from William Stewart, the former Assistant Deputy Attorney General, when Mr. Leask was in fact appointed. Again, I can appreciate the sensitivity of things that are before the courts, but this issue is before the public. I'm standing here on behalf of the public, and I'm not going to be shut down because of some legal niceties. So I'm going to put a few things to the Attorney General. He can either respond or not respond, and we'll deal with it accordingly.
Mr. Leask was appointed February 17 by William Stewart. The letter of that date is to Chief Constable Jack Fordham of the New Westminster police department regarding allegations of criminal conduct by Dr. John Gossage. On the same date, Mr. Leask received a three-page letter from Mr. Stewart advising of the appointment. I'll be more than happy to make copies for the Attorney General if that will assist; however, he has those in his file just as I do.
What else do I have here? I've got quite a bit of material. Here's a letter of the same date -- February 17, 1993. This comes back to meetings that I had last weekend, including the grandparents of this young girl who was allegedly abused by Dr. Gossage. Bill Stewart wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Steed on that same date, referring back to conversations of four dates earlier in February of that year.
I can tell this committee and the public, that is hopefully listening -- and of course, Hansard is keeping track of this -- that Doug Steed, the grandfather of this child, and the parents, whom I also met in my office on Saturday last, are, number one, extremely upset with the way this file has been handled. They are not alone; there are many, many complainants out there. Doug Steed and his daughter and son-in-law first reported this incident, the alleged abuse of their granddaughter and daughter, to the Coquitlam RCMP in September 1992, because they are residents of Coquitlam. Dr. Gossage practises in New Westminster, so the file was of course transferred to the New Westminster police.
I have in my possession various letters on this matter, some of which are signed by the Attorney General. Maybe we'll get to those later; maybe we don't need to. I don't wish to stand here forever and pound away on this subject. The problems are going to be well documented, and the Attorney General has made some concessions. There are a lot of victims out there. I think there's far too much evidence, quite frankly, and I'll stand here and be counted on this. There are some pretty serious allegations, at least, that somebody or some ones, including groups, are sitting on this stuff and not acting in an expeditious manner.
The public is ticked off; the public has had it. I, as the Attorney General critic and as the father of three children.... As an aside, I might tell you that my first daughter went to a dentist of whom sexual misconduct was also alleged. Happily, my daughter was not a victim, but I know of other families in North and West Vancouver whose children allegedly were, so I speak personally as well as professionally and politically. We went through a rather phony question period today. It's ironic that this is Freedom of Information and Privacy Week. That's a joke. There's no damned freedom of information in this House that I can detect.
I'll get back to my concerns on behalf of the families, the victims and the many people who are unsettled by this. I'll probably be all over the map here. I should probably sit down and let some of my colleagues take over, because I'm really getting steamed. I also met with the lawyer of the family of this young girl who was allegedly victimized, who told me that in the aftermath of this matter becoming more public.... You will remember, hon. Attorney General, that a gag order was imposed on this case by Chief Justice Esson, and it was just lifted on February 21 of this year. It's very surprising, by the way, that a gag order was imposed for almost a year, and nobody complained about it. But remember when the gag order came down on the Friedland case? Everybody squawked. Why is it that we get a gag order on a very sensitive issue such as the abuse of children by professional medical people, yet when a gag order was put in place for some stock promoter everybody squawked blue murder about it. I think our priorities are way out of whack in this society.
Back to the complaints. The lawyer on record, Paul Jaffe, told me on Saturday -- and I have no reason to disbelieve him -- that in the aftermath of the gag order being lifted, in one week he had 30 or more phone calls from people expressing concerns about their children who may have been abused or giving reports of incidents in Ontario, where Dr. Gossage used to practise, from as far back as the 1970s. What's going on in this community, in this province and in this country? Dr. Gossages could be running around in all jurisdictions of this country practising God knows what, and nobody is doing a thing about it.
Let's come back to what Mr. Leask is doing, or not doing, as the case may be -- if we're allowed to ask about that. On April 7 of this year the hon. Attorney General received a letter from the Citizens' Research Institute. Kari Simpson is the author of this letter. I also met with her on the weekend. She wrote about the Leask investigation. I have the letter in front of me; I was copied it, along with many other people. In fact, I see that the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast is a recipient of a copy of this letter. Writing on behalf of the Citizens' Research Institute, Kari Simpson asked some specific questions, and I wonder if we might get answers to some of them. What are the parameters of Mr. Leask's investigation? In other words, what is his task? I would add -- and let's deal with them together: why has it taken him over a year to deal with this? We are really no further along, as far as I can see, than the day he was appointed.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I think it's fair to say that as a result of some publicity that occurred around this case, a number
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of other allegations have come forward. The member made reference, parenthetically, to that fact in his comments. Those allegations are now being investigated by the police, as is the appropriate course of action. Mr. Leask is the prosecutor of record in the matter. It seems to me entirely appropriate that those allegations be investigated to determine whether or not criminal charges should be laid. If the member is suggesting that we should not have the police investigate allegations of criminal wrongdoing, then he and I are in different countries on this issue. I think it's entirely appropriate that the police conduct these investigations. That's what they're doing, and they will continue to do that until they have evidence they can take to Mr. Leask, and then Mr. Leask can make his determinations based on that evidence.
J. Dalton: Well, let's go back in time, then, hon. Attorney General, because this is not a current case. As I already indicated, the allegation was first reported to the RCMP in Coquitlam in September 1992. The file was transferred to New Westminster, and apparently a search warrant was issued. I understand it was issued on my birthday in that month -- for what that's worth -- and that it wasn't executed until January 1993.
So what were the New Westminster police doing? Apparently there was specific evidence: bodily fluid that may have been on the garments of the young girl. There is perhaps evidence, photographs taken by the doctor -- I don't know. I'm only stating things that people who are directly involved in this and who certainly have far more direct information than I do....
I will tell you point-blank right now, hon. Attorney General, that the people involved, the families, have repeatedly tried to contact Mr. Leask with regard to progress in this case. Their phone calls have not been returned, and their letters have not been answered. They are prepared to document these things. They have told me so. I don't have that yet, but I'll certainly obtain it if need be.
Since February 17, 1993, when Bill Stewart appointed Mr. Leask as ad hoc counsel in this case, we've had glacial progress -- if I can put it that way. And where are we today? We've got some extremely concerned parents, grandparents and other people in New Westminster and other communities. These things, as the minister can appreciate, have a domino effect. How many people are going to feel safe taking their children for medical attention if there's even a suggestion, innuendo or rumour in a community of malpractice or abuse that may or may not be happening?
We should not, of course, condemn those who have not yet been condemned. But in the case of Dr. Gossage, I referred earlier to a gag order that was imposed, and my question was as to why that was so. I certainly had some questions, but I'm not going to get answers to those here. Why was that gag order not lifted until February 21, 1994? What's going on in the meantime? What happened to the right of the public to know? What happened to open, judicial court process? I think, when you consider cases like Friedland and the unfortunate Teale case in Ontario -- one that got so ridiculous that they're trying to enforce bans out of the province of Ontario.... I never got any legal opinion on the authenticity of such a ban in this province, but I certainly have doubts as to whether the province of British Columbia could enforce the ban imposed in a court in Ontario. That may be a question for another day and another environment.
Coming back to Gossage, I don't wish to condemn those who have not yet been condemned, but there is certainly a lot of evidence out there -- or at least allegations. There are certainly inferences raised by the people directly involved that this case has not been well-handled -- certainly not in an expeditious manner, and I'm prepared to say so.
It is not in any way an assurance to the public of British Columbia, when we want to talk about law and order and go through the platitudes of community policing and safety, and then we start opening up a case like Gossage. I think we are being hypocritical if we're talking about community policing and safety, and this, that and the other nonsense on one hand, and then we allow a case like this to gather dust for so many years. As I said, it's going back to the 1970s and perhaps earlier, to allegations by people from Ontario, where Dr. Gossage used to practise.
I have some newspaper articles here of recent date, where there is a lot of concern expressed about who this mysterious doctor was. Doug Steed, a grandfather -- God bless him -- was outside the doctor's office when the ban was on, saying: "At least I have the right to walk around in front of somebody's office and indicate that there may be a problem inside, and you can draw your own conclusion as to who it may be." Now we know publicly who that doctor is.
As I say, I've talked to the deputy registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons about this case. She cannot disclose very much; I didn't ask her to. She was on CBC Radio this morning concerning another allegation. As the hon. Attorney General knows, there are, unfortunately, potentially thousands of these cases, and we have to speak on behalf of concerned people.
This is not necessarily something that may make the Attorney General happier, but I respect him as a person. He has always been cooperative with me, and I think he's an honourable man. But there is something far more important than whether or not the Attorney General is a nice guy or whether or not the process is being served. The people of this province deserve something better than appointing somebody on February 17, 1993, and over a year later we're still spinning our wheels.
There are more and more complaints being generated. Other things have been drawn to my attention. For example, there was evidence that should have been examined, such as articles of clothing. Judging from the way it was described to me, there was a tug-of-war between the Coquitlam and New Westminster RCMP detachments over who was going to even bother to analyze this stuff. The lawyer of record for the family recently received a visit at 8 o'clock in the morning from the Coquitlam RCMP. Why were they visiting the lawyer of record at 8 o'clock one morning? They wanted him to disclose other people who had contacted him with complaints. Maybe that's fair game, but it seemed a little surprising to me that the RCMP would show up unannounced, while somebody was still trying to enjoy his morning coffee, to ask questions of that nature. I said to the lawyer that if that were my doorstep -- unlike the 12:30 visit I referred to earlier -- I would have sent them packing, because I don't want my breakfast hour to be disturbed by people who arrive unannounced. That's not fair game.
There are things out there, hon. Attorney General, that you and I may not even know about, but perhaps we should be asking questions. I would like to think that your ministry will be asking and getting some answers to the same questions that I am asking. I haven't heard them yet, and I guess I'm not going to get them today.
What are some other things that I could comment on? I also have various correspondence in my file between the Attorney General and Doug Steed. Mr. Steed, naturally, is not a happy camper. And why should he be? In a way, he's
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probably going through as much hell as his daughter and son-in-law are. Maybe for a moment we should even give a thought to the young girl who was allegedly victimized. We tend to forget the young and get all excited about how adults may react to these things. I'm hoping that nothing happened, but there are too many smoking guns out there to say that nothing happened. I think there is far more to it than that. I could go on and on with that, but my blood pressure is rising by the moment, and it's probably not good for me.
For the information of the Attorney General, I have in my file the curriculum vitae of John Gossage, which indicates that he did indeed practise in Ontario at one time. I said that Paul Jaffe has received complaints and calls of concern from residents of Ontario going back to the 1970s at least -- maybe earlier. I see, for example, that Dr. Gossage was a senior pediatrician at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto in 1966 and 1967. So who knows how far back this goes? Maybe there is nothing to it. Sure. And maybe the Easter Bunny is alive and well. So there you are. Perhaps I could ask other things, but I don't think I'm going to, because it's personally causing me more concern than I thought it would when I got to my feet.
I don't buy these sorts of responses: it's before the courts; there's a special prosecutor; this is not a case of a special prosecutor; this is an ad hoc prosecutor.
By the way, that reminds me. There was an announcement in the newspaper that a second ad hoc prosecutor was allegedly appointed to this case. I say allegedly because it turns out it wasn't a second ad hoc prosecutor; it was somebody working in the New Westminster regional counsel's office -- somebody who was an employee. Quite frankly, there was a misleading inference in that newspaper article, to indicate a second ad hoc prosecutor had been appointed, when it turned out to be a woman lawyer working in that area anyway. Here it is in the Vancouver Sun, Tuesday, March 22, 1993, under the headline: "Second Prosecutor to Review Child Abuse Case." "The Attorney General's ministry says a second Crown prosecutor will help review a decision not to charge a New Westminster child abuse expert with sexual assault."
It goes on and on. We have ascertained -- not me personally, but the people who advised me -- that it was not a special or ad hoc second prosecutor. That's misleading. I don't know whether that information came out of the Attorney General's office, but that sort of thing is just trying to pour some oil on troubled waters. That one didn't work.
What else can I say about this case? I'll sit down, and maybe I'll get some other reaction.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: One of the frustrations of this job is often being unable to comment on matters that I would very much like to comment on. I'm in a position that prevents that. I think members would vilify me, quite properly, were I to make comments that led to an appropriate response by the justice system in dealing with cases. I have tried from the beginning of my appointment to be very careful about what I say so as not to prejudice in any way an ongoing investigation or any matter that may be before the courts. I intend to continue that, although the member may not be very happy about it. That's life, and I'm not going to vary from that. I will make no comment about the subject matter that the member is discussing, because there is an ongoing police investigation. I do not comment on matters when there is an ongoing investigation.
A prosecutor from the criminal justice branch was assigned to assist the ad hoc prosecutor in this case. The decisions will be made by Mr. Leask, however, and not by people employed in the criminal justice branch.
During the comments of the member, he referred to a gag order and the lifting of it in February, forgetting somehow in the weaving of this presentation to make the point that that was a civil matter entirely outside of our jurisdiction in the criminal justice branch. The court imposed a gag, and the court lifted it. That has nothing whatsoever to do with me. That's all that I'm going to be able to say on this subject at this point.
J. Dalton: I appreciate the sensitivity of cases like this. I appreciate that the Attorney General cannot be perceived as interceding or making comments about ongoing matters, either in this House or elsewhere. I also appreciate that the gag order involved a potential civil proceeding, but it doesn't make the public any happier to know that the judiciary is imposing gags of this sort. I'm not suggesting the Attorney General can intercede and tell the judiciary what to do; heaven forbid that we get into that sorry state. But somebody has to suggest to judges who are prepared to close the public courtrooms that they might want to think twice about it, and I'm more than happy to tell them so. I suppose the Attorney General is probably thinking: "If you ever get to be Attorney General, what are you going to do?" Who knows? We'll have to see what happens in the field of politics.
But I am not in that state. I am in the state of opposition. I am in the state of a person who has personal concerns about things that could directly affect my family. When I see the true emotion of people such as the parents of this young victim, and I talk to the grandparents of this young victim, read the newspaper accounts and letters, and hear the phone calls and people out in the streets who are wondering what's happened to the system of which the Attorney General is boss.... Let's forget about Gossage for a moment. What has happened to this system? We seem to have got off the rails about how the 99 percent of us who obey the rules can feel assured that those rules are being adhered to. As I have already indicated, I don't see a lot of evidence that that is happening enough in our society. It is of no consolation whatsoever to Mr. and Mrs. Steed and the parents of this alleged victim, as well as the many others and the many other Gossages.
I don't need to stand here and even give a hint of how many abuse cases there are involving the clergy, the professionals and politicians. Let's be fair; I suppose we're not any better off than anyone else. That is a fact, hon. Attorney General. I realize this is getting us nowhere as far as estimates are concerned, because this isn't a budgetary matter. This is an emotional and personal matter, but I'm going to speak on it. We are going to have to watchdog cases like Gossage carefully, and I can assure you that the opposition will. We're going to carefully watchdog the cases where special prosecutors are appointed and seem to be spinning their wheels forever and spending our money in the process, all in the pursuit of justice. Justice is a precious commodity, but it's also an expensive one. It's like education, health care, social services, and all the other things that governments provide on our behalf.
Some members may have read the second front section of the Vancouver Sun today. I made some comments about the $100,000 party this government threw on behalf of SkyTrain the other day in Surrey. I don't have it in front of me, but basically I said that these clowns don't get it. They are prepared to throw away a hundred thousand bucks of our money on parties and brochures that contain the pictures of
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three NDP MLAs in Surrey and not the two Liberal MLAs that represent the same area. That sort of thing is a joke. It has nothing to do with this ministry, but it has a lot to do with this government. The Attorney General is a senior cabinet minister in this government, and I hope that he is unsettled by some of the conduct of this government and by their priorities.
Coming back to Gossage and other cases, I'm not going to beat those to death, but it's burning me up. I'm not going to give up on it. Maybe the next thing I'll have to say on that will be in a private member's statement or to the press. Maybe something the Attorney General is not aware of is that a Vancouver lawyer -- he's a personal friend of mine as well, but that's irrelevant -- was in court today asking for an adjournment. I don't know all the things he had to say in court, but I know he probably surprised a lot of people. Perhaps some of the ministry's officials know what I'm speaking about; maybe they don't. It should be in the news tonight. He had some very damning comments to make about the justice system and things that he and many of his clients have personally encountered.
I can also tell you that Dr. Gossage -- and this may be the last thing I'll say at the moment about him -- who used to be a "star witness," so to speak, for this lawyer, is no longer a star witness -- for good reason. Dr. Gossage has been discredited as a witness, and I guess as a professional. The hon. Attorney General is no doubt aware that Dr. Gossage -- and I believe I said this earlier -- has been suspended for six months by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. and fined approximately $35,000 in costs, so his track record is anything but perfect. There will be more on this, I'm sure -- maybe not in these estimates, but certainly in the life of this government.
I'm just here now on my feet to flag the very fact that things are not perfect out there. The minister agreed with that; I agreed in my opening comments. Things ain't perfect, but I can tell you, things can get a lot better. The bottom line is that somebody has to mind the store -- and that somebody, in the case of the Attorney General's estimates, is the Attorney General.
I'm hoping that maybe we'll have a happier exchange about some of the other items that we'll touch upon; maybe not. I don't know whether the minister and his officials are surprised at the tone of the opening gambit in these estimates. Quite frankly, I didn't know exactly where I might take this and how emotional I might get. I don't plan to get emotional. I'm not an emotional person, but I sure get burned up when there's something to be burned up about.
What else was I going to say? That's enough for now. Perhaps some other members would like to get to their feet. I want to go into the Legal Services Society sooner or later, and if we can do that today, so be it. But I'll sit down for now and keep my mouth shut.
D. Symons: I have just a few questions of the Attorney General. There's one thing I'm curious about. Since the government reorganized cabinet roles, does provincial emergency preparedness still come under his ministry?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: Yes.
D. Symons: Fine. Thank you. I'm concerned about how much money was spent last year on earthquake studies or earthquake preparedness.
The Chair: Will the hon. member take his seat so the hon. Attorney General can respond?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: Why don't you ask a series of questions?
D. Symons: The other part I would ask is: what are you spending on each of those things this year? What was spent last year on either earthquake studies or earthquake preparedness? What's being budgeted for this year for those two parts?
[D. Lovick in the chair.]
Hon. C. Gabelmann: In order to be precise with my answer, I'd like some time, and I'll get back within the context of these estimates. But the member should know that while there are earthquake preparedness manoeuvres and exercises that occur from time to time -- we had one last fall, and there's another one coming this spring -- emergency preparedness is generally for any and all emergencies. Much of the work that's done to prepare for one is applicable to the other, and therefore there isn't a separation based on particular emergencies. But I will try to get back to the member with some precise numbers once I can get hold of them.
D. Symons: I thank the minister. I have been a victim in one of these preparedness simulations...
J. Dalton: Did you survive?
D. Symons: ...and I survived, thank you, hon. member. I can see what you say, because I believe one year we had a chemical spill that put a cloud over the community, and the other time it was an earthquake. So if there are some figures that do relate to the earthquake aspect of it, I think that it's on the minds of the people of this province. In the last few years there have been two serious earthquakes in California. I live in Richmond, which has a sort of unstable base to it. There are a good number of people who want to feel that Richmond will stay there if there is an earthquake. I have a particular interest in that topic.
Last year during the estimates, I asked some questions regarding drinking-driving. The Motor Vehicle Act now comes under the Minister of Transportation and Highways. Does the enforcement of the law relating to drinking-driving remain with the Attorney General? Can I ask questions relating to that?
I am concerned with the fact that there quite often seems to be a time lag in our court system between the time that the offence takes place and the time of the court action, not only in drinking-driving but in other criminal offences. I think it must be awfully difficult for the prosecution to call a witness to an event that took place eight or 18 months ago. It must be hard for a witness to an accident or a criminal event to remember the colour of the person's eyes who held that gun on them, or to remember the actions of the driver of a car who was in an automobile accident involving drinking-driving. What has the Attorney General's department done since my questions last year in order to speed up the movement of court cases? It would be a little fairer to both sides if we didn't have this terrible time lag, which makes it more difficult for the prosecution and the defence to bring forth credible witnesses.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: There is no question that in an ideal world matters should proceed more quickly than they often do. In most of the urban centres of B.C., we now have delays of about six months for a variety of infractions. In my view
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that's too long. It's still within the limits established by the Supreme Court in the Askov decision and the subsequent modifications of the Askov decision, which allow more leeway than six months. Nonetheless, it doesn't make me happy to report those kinds of delays. The points the member makes about the memories of witnesses and others are valid. We have a court system that is under a lot of pressure at the present time, and we have taxpayers who are under a lot of pressure. We're trying to find a way of balancing those two facts of life.
D. Symons: Recently there has been some public concern regarding drivers who have lost their licences -- through various acts over a period of time they have built up a lot of demerit points and lose their licences -- and continue to drive. I know it's illegal, the Minister knows it's illegal, but apparently they can do it because there is not a great deal of follow-up to ensure that when they lose their licences they are not still driving a car. Has the minister's department taken some steps so that there can be some follow-up to make sure that when a person is suspended from driving they are no longer driving? If they continue to drive when their licence is suspended, will there be something more than a wrist-slapping?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: If the member is asking me whether, following a court decision which strips the driver's licence away from an individual, there are directions to the police to camp outside that person's house and wait for him to come out driving, no there are not. That's not something that's been addressed in that way. Police have time to do a certain number of things every day, and they don't do all of the things that everybody would like all the time, simply because there aren't enough police officers and there are a variety of priorities. That's not to say this is not an important issue. The police are able to catch a fair number of people, and it is an offence if people get caught. If the member is suggesting this needs to be a higher priority in policing, that's a fair comment, and it's something that I'll give some thought to.
D. Symons: Thank you. If somebody has lost their licence through driving infractions and, more likely, through criminal infractions, I wonder if the minister might consider that their names be publicized. We might put a snitch line in the paper so that the neighbours or other people in the communities see that this person has lost their licence. Otherwise, often when that happens it's not known in the community and the person can still be driving around. People don't know that the person is no longer eligible to drive, and that, in a sense, creates a threat to the community. If we perhaps used a bit of publicity, we could end up without having the police stop at the door. We could have the community watching the person. Has the minister considered something of that sort?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I have to say I'm not a great fan of snitch lines. I don't think that in the long term they're an appropriate response to justice issues.
However, the member has raised the point about the serious concern with respect to people who have lost their licence because of some violation and are then continuing to drive. I think that's a serious offence, and it's treated as such when these people are apprehended. The member is suggesting that perhaps more attention should be paid in various ways to making sure that these people are apprehended. I'll take the member's comments and, as I said earlier, give some thought to them.
D. Symons: Along the same vein, I asked some questions last year, and you seemed interested in the suggestions I made. I'm wondering if something might have come of them. Again, that was to do with people who had lost their licence or been suspended because of drinking and driving, and that we might consider impounding or even confiscating the car of the person involved. Quite often what will happen if a person is suspended from driving is that they can end up driving a parent's or a wife's car or the car of somebody else in the family. That person, often with full knowledge, is loaning it to a person they know doesn't have a driver's licence. So I'm wondering if we might make the owner of the car somewhat responsible also, particularly in these cases where they have knowledge of what's going on.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: It was in fact May 12 that the member raised those questions with me last year, and on September 15 or thereabouts the responsibility for that particular suggestion and possible action was transferred to the Minister of Transportation and Highways. So during those estimates, perhaps the member could recanvass those questions with the new minister responsible.
D. Symons: That's what I was asking earlier -- about where these responsibilities lie -- so I'm glad to know that. I'm also glad you gave me the date. I wasn't sure of what date I had asked you the questions last year. I can look up and see that I've covered everything I want to, so I hope that's an accurate date.
Can you give me a little bit of history, and maybe where things stand now with the family justice reform project that took place approximately a year ago. I believe the report has come in, and I'm wondering how the reforms are progressing and if there's any.... This might be leading into some pending legislation which you may care to refer to but not speak on.
Also, I have some great concerns with the family maintenance enforcement program. I get calls to my office, and I'm of the sincere belief that that program is not working on behalf of the people it should be working for. It seems that the people who are trying to have the maintenance program collect maintenance for them have to supply most of the information and do most of the detective work themselves. I've had one constituent who has called the enforcement officer and told them where the defaulting partner was living. The department seemed to know nothing about it when I called in, but they were given this information by the claimant months previous to that. He says that this is typical of what was happening. He would continually have to give information, and nothing ever followed from it. He was just dismayed. I'm not sure if this was because this happened to be a male going after enforcement from the female partner. The enforcement program is aimed more the other way around, because the majority of cases seem to be defaulting fathers. This was a defaulting mother in this case. But cases seem to come forward where the program just does not seem to be working. There seems to be a backlog of cases that goes on for an awful long time. Maybe the minister could make some comments as to how they're planning on tightening up that program so it will be effective for those involved.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: First of all, with respect to the family justice initiatives, members of the opposition and myself have a meeting scheduled for 8:30 a.m. this Friday. As
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it turns out, we are to do a briefing of the four pilot project initiatives that are in place in four communities around the province. They take a different approach to family justice matters, hopefully moving away from the adversarial court system into one in which mediation, where appropriate, plays a greater role. I'm prepared to talk about that a bit more during the estimates if members like. But it's my intention to brief all interested members on the subject prior to any public announcements about the particular programs, which will be ready to start rolling very soon.
In terms of FMEP, there is an intention to bring some amendments to the act to assist with enforcement powers that exist. As an MLA for all the years since FMEP was established, I and other MLAs have had a lot of concern about the program, given the calls we get at our offices. I'm told by a lot of MLAs now that the volume of calls has decreased in the last six- to eight-month period. I see some members nodding their heads. It's certainly true in the case of my constituency office. Calls have reduced quite dramatically. When you look at the statistics produced by the family maintenance enforcement people, we are getting far greater percentages of recoveries now than existed before. Some of the bugs that were in the system are being eliminated. I hope by way of legislative change to further enhance the improvement that is going on at the FMEP office.
D. Symons: I don't know if this is the forum in which to educate me on the family maintenance enforcement program. Is it coordinated among all the provinces in Canada, along with the federal government, so that it is not possible for a person to simply absolve themselves of responsibilities by moving to another jurisdiction? Do we have some way of coordinating these across Canada? We can trace people much easier if we have the federal government involved as well. Is that all interrelated and on computer now so we can share information quickly and accurately with each other?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: The member may recall -- I think it was some time last fall -- that this issue was on the table at the first ministers' conference. There was a commitment then on behalf of every jurisdiction to work toward an integration of information and agreements about exchange of information between various jurisdictions. The work that has been done since that time deals with privacy implications that have to be addressed. It's my understanding that every jurisdiction in the country is cooperating on getting this done as quickly as possible in order to have this cross-provincial boundary problem addressed in an effective way.
I can't give you any indication when that might all come into place, but it's being aggressively pursued.
D. Symons: I thank you very much for the answer, because I think that's terribly important. I am not after firm date lines, but the fact that it's being worked on and seems to be progressing is going to help a lot of people who are in financial need. Yet the responsible people who are supposed to be paying for this -- irresponsible, I guess -- seem to be getting off the hook. So the sooner that's in place, the better for them.
I have one last question regarding legal aid and the Legal Services Society. Have government contributions toward legal aid been going up in this last few years? I'm wondering if the minister might be able to give me some figures on that and some explanation as to why, when we seem to be doing quite well in B.C., relative to the rest of the country -- at least to hear the government speak -- we have these excessive cost overruns in legal aid.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I am going to look up the volume increase numbers. From 1986-87 through until 1992-93 there was a cumulative increase of more than 183 percent in cost per case.
The other figure that may be more relevant is that from 1986-87 through to 1992-93 -- and this may be a more relevant answer -- the number of cases per thousand population increased by 44 percent. During that same period we had a population increase of some 16.5 percent. During the summer of 1991 the former government doubled the tariff. The way the tariff works in legal aid is that the bills generally come due much later. The case may be assigned at a certain rate in the fall of 1991, but the bill for that case may not occur until the 1992-93 fiscal year. So that delay is built into the system.
In terms of the global numbers, on March 31, 1994, the budget allocation to the Legal Services Society was $85 million. They had additional revenues of $3 million or $4 million from the Law Foundation and other minor sources, but the government portion was budgeted at $85 million. During the short debate on the special warrant members may remember that there was an item of $6.8 million for the Legal Services Society overrun that was predicted at the time the special warrant was prepared. We still don't know what the final expenditures were in the fiscal year that has just concluded. Hopefully we'll find that out in the next few weeks.
This year's budget includes $85 million in total dollars, $82 million of which is designed to meet operational and client-related costs. Three million dollars has been allocated to assist in the transition the Legal Services Society board has decided to effect. This transition will lead from a predominantly tariff model to a more evenly mixed tariff-and-staff model, which all indications lead us to believe will help us reduce the cost pressures in legal aid. The Legal Services Society is making a number of other changes. They are certainly looking at the tariff itself to see whether or not it is applicable. They are looking at the role of duty counsel and at copayment for legal assistance at certain income levels. They are looking at a variety of initiatives.
I'm looking at some initiatives as well in terms of legislative activity, which we may see later this session, to try to do a number of things: to get hold of the spiralling costs in the delivery of legal aid, to find a way of involving the community more in the programs than has existed to date, and generally to deal with the increasing demand out there that the old system would not have been able to fund. I very much want to ensure that family legal aid as well as criminal and immigration legal aid are all properly serviced in this province. Under the old system the costs would have made delivery of that service impossible.
The Legal Services Society is an independent operation from the government. We are trying to work in our independent area of responsibility toward making what we believe, and what I think the LSS board believes, are appropriate changes in the way in which we deliver the service, dealing with both the cost and service issues.
D. Symons: I think I said it was my last question on legal aid, but I thought of another as you were speaking. I appreciate your answer.
You mentioned earlier that you might be speaking Friday in the Ned DeBeck Lounge. I think one of the important things here is that we're trying to find ways of avoiding these
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cases going to trial by getting the people together to discuss it outside of the trial. One of the things that might help is to get our laws into plain language. I remember last year you brought in a bill where the language in the bill to introduce plain language was quite legalistic. How is the government's plain language initiative coming? How much legislation have you put into plain language, and how is that progressing?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: As bills are introduced into the House, the plain language test is applied. All bills are drafted -- as best the drafters can, given legal constraints about how words might be interpreted later on -- from a perspective of attempting to draft them in plain language. There is also a review of all statutes underway in respect of plain language. One member's definition of plain language may be different from another's -- and I remember having fun with the bill the member referred to. But sometimes in order to prevent problems later on, you need to write these statutes very carefully, so that they can't be subject to misinterpretation or being thrown out by the courts for failure to say what the bill was intended to say.
D. Symons: Just on that same line -- because you mentioned reviewing laws -- we have an awful lot of laws on our books that I suspect are somewhat archaic and out of date. As you are reviewing these, are you also removing laws that are no longer relevant to today's society? You have the laws you're preparing for today. At what rate are you able to deal with the backlog of laws that either need to be put into plain language or need to be removed from the books entirely?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I think it would be fair to say, as the member for West Vancouver-Capilano said in another context, that we are moving glacially. Remember that all ministers are responsible for legislation within their particular portfolio. What happens, I think, is that given the legislative agenda, the desire to clean up old statutes, to amalgamate some or to eliminate others gets lost in the need to pare down a legislative list. Otherwise, August would be an early adjournment indeed. Some of these things get lost in that kind of shuffle.
G. Wilson: I welcome this opportunity to enter into this estimates debate. If things are changing glacially, as the member for West Vancouver-Capilano suggested, let me suggest that glaciers tend to change as a result of the application of heat. So let us apply some heat.
Just by way of an aside, with respect to family law and changing language, the general public would be amazed at some of the language used in the application of family law. Nevertheless, let me come back, if I may, because this has been a somewhat broad-ranging discussion so far, and it has touched on a number of different aspects of the ministry. I have questions that relate very specifically to a number of different aspects of the ministry. I take notice of the minister's comments with respect to the need to bring in appropriate personnel for each of the particular areas. Given that the Deputy Attorney General is with us, I would like to commence my questions this afternoon with respect to the organizational structure of the ministry.
Having carefully read the 1992-93 annual report, I compared it to the annual reports of previous years, with particular reference to 1990-91, to see how we have evolved. Last year there was, I think it's fair to say, a fairly significant restructuring within the Ministry of Attorney General. It would appear that the intention of that restructuring was to seek to take advantage of an internal audit that was going to provide a much more fiscally responsible way of dealing with the administration of justice in British Columbia, yet we note that the actual administrative and support services have increased by some $2 million this year. Most of that, it seems, is in the grants and contributions category, where there is roughly $1.4 million in increased expenditures.
I wonder if we could start by talking about this new organizational chart. In particular, I'm interested in the division there seems to be in the matters with respect to legal services and criminal justice -- and I don't know if I can look at those two separately -- as opposed to court and management services within the ministry. I wonder if the minister might tell us why there was a move to shift those -- and it seems to be broken down in the new structure, unless I've misread this chart -- between management services and justice support programs, to divide that into more specific lines that are to report to two different assistant deputy ministers. The minister might want to tell us, first of all, why that is so and to what extent he believes that this restructuring has met his financial goals.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: This isn't to delay anything, but I'm afraid we may be at cross-purposes. I think the member is referring to the most recently published annual report, the 1992-93 report, with an organizational chart in it that is not the current model. I think that needs to be understood first of all. Secondly, the fundamental issue of structural changes had to do with trying to focus the ministry on the community side in a clear and objective way.
If the member is looking for what I think is the most important change, it's the establishment of the community justice branch. They are responsible for a wide variety of initiatives, including legal aid, victim assistance and other community-related initiatives.
We made a number of other changes, including the creation of a double-deputy system, which suits this ministry particularly well. We have a Deputy Attorney General who's responsible for what you might describe as the legal side and another responsible for the justice side. I make that arbitrary distinction, if I can, but it suits my way of thinking.
The member talked about an extra couple of million dollars in costs. These are not costs that I would associate with restructuring but with increased courthouse space, increased needs in correctional institutions and the like. If any increases have occurred, it's because of those pressures on the system.
I may not be answering the member's questions directly enough, so I'll sit down and see if he wants to redirect.
G. Wilson: I'm aware that there have been changes. In fact, I'd like to talk about some of them, particularly with respect to the executive director of public gaming and the movement of public gaming out of the ministry. I'd like to know why that took place. Maybe we can talk a bit about that in a few minutes.
More specifically, let's look at the community side of the ministry. I'm concerned that we haven't solved the problem with this double-deputy system. If I understood the opening comments of the Attorney General, we may have gone part way to solving the problems, but there still seem to be some very real difficulties with the accessibility of legal aid and the costs of legal services.
Incidentally, I don't notice that mentioned anywhere here. That's some $80 million? I see the Minister saying $85
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million. I don't see where that fits into this pie. One could argue that that's a separate system, but it doesn't seem to be working. We're still hearing that because of structural complexity, people have a difficult time gaining access to the resources they require to adequately prepare themselves in matters of litigation -- or even to understand whether their rights are within the legal system or not.
More importantly, I'd like to direct some questions for the next few minutes with respect to matters of family law and where people's rights are vis-a-vis current distinctions between the family law section and the federal jurisdiction that applies equally to divorce. I recognize that there is a federal statute, and they are two separate things, but some very real confusion exists in this area.
Would the minister tell us how the structure of the system has changed from what I'm looking at here? What has been put in place that is different from what we are seeing here? How have those three primary areas of the ministry been addressed? That might help us to be more specific with the questions.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: First of all, the decision to transfer gaming from the Attorney General to Government Services is a question that might be addressed more properly during the Premier's estimates. When the Premier restructured the government last fall, it was his decision. I can't comment on it further than that. The $85 million for legal aid is contained within the community justice branch budget, which the member will see as a separate line item of approximately $108 million; $85 million of that is money that is transferred to the Legal Services Society and administered entirely independently by them. We do not have the American notion of a public defender system, so people who are in front of the courts and whose defence is being supported by public funds do not have the government involved with their defence in any way, other than the fact that we provide the money to this independent society to make the decisions.
The member raises questions about possible confusion. Let me just say that the legal services branch of the ministry provides legal advice to government -- a role as in-house lawyers to government. It doesn't provide legal advice to the public. I sign dozens and dozens of letters to people, saying: "No, I'm sorry, we can't give you legal advice. You need to retain independent counsel for that." The member knows that, but many in the public think that this might be a source of free advice. We do not provide advice to the public with respect to legal services. The legal services branch is clearly there to deal with legal support to government. The criminal justice branch is unchanged. It deals with criminal justice issues -- again, as the member knows, family law initiatives that may be embarked upon outside the criminal justice system are the responsibility of the community justice branch of the ministry. Any initiatives that move us away from a court system into mediation or some alternate dispute resolution will come out of the legal side of government -- not necessarily all the time, because the courts can be and are sometimes involved in some forms of mediation; but generally speaking, that's a community justice responsibility.
The other thing I want to say in terms of public legal education, which may touch on the question of the public wanting to better understand the legal system.... For example, the member uses the fact that the Divorce Act is federal and other family law is provincial, and the confusion that arises because of that. I think it's a very important funding function of our ministry to provide assistance to community groups who are able to provide public legal education. The Legal Services Society does some of that; other groups in our society are funded to do the same. We are looking at all of those delivery models right now and talking to the people who are doing it to see whether or not there can be a more effective, or perhaps more integrated -- I'm not sure what the conclusions will be -- way of delivering public legal education and of beginning to deliver it in languages other than English, so that other people in our society who may not be familiar with our British system will be helped by having material prepared in their particular language and understanding the legal system better. I hope to have some reports on my desk by September with respect to the public legal education apparatus and delivery mechanism in the province, with a view to try to see if we can do it better.
G. Wilson: I take it that the emphasis within the ministry has been directed to the provision of two primary services. If I understand the Attorney General correctly, one would be additional community services, and the second, within this particular line of the ministry, would be the educational function. I'm not suggesting that ministry-wide, but only in terms of those functions. From the correspondence that comes into our offices, it certainly seems that this isn't working. When something is not functioning within the Legal Services Society, I don't know if it's a functional problem that exists there, or a problem associated with legal aid or with which individuals do and don't qualify for legal aid.
I am fully aware that the Society Act falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Finance, but let me say that it is one of the least effective acts in this province today. It is one of the least effectively administered and least often reviewed acts, and one under which there are frequent violations that simply go unchallenged. Clearly, the Society Act is something that needs to be reviewed. I understand that it's outside the jurisdiction of the Attorney General. I offer this comment for two reasons: one, I think it's useful for the Attorney General to be aware of it; and secondly, the Minister of Finance happens to be in the chamber right now and can also benefit from that comment.
On the question of accessing legal assistance and legal aid, there are many people in British Columbia who do not have the facility to have proper legal counsel. First of all, they don't have the money. Secondly, they don't have the knowledge of the legal system that allows them even a rudimentary understanding of how to access the very basic kinds of services that they require. This is a big problem. It becomes an even greater problem when, through the kind of legislation that comes with an increasingly complex society -- and we are becoming a very complex society -- there tends to be a movement toward litigation more frequently than mediation. The minister has taken a great deal of pain to point out that his ministry is trying to move toward mediated services wherever possible, particularly in matters of civil contest. Obviously it can't be done in matters of the Criminal Code -- that's a different jurisdiction anyway. But it certainly isn't working in Powell River-Sunshine Coast. In particular, in Powell River we have had a large number of instances -- too many, in fact -- over the last year where people have simply found that they are unable to get services. It's not because those who are in Powell River to provide the services aren't willing, able and ready, but because there are simply too many hurdles that people cannot get over. I wonder what specifically the Attorney General is doing on that? How might we be encouraged?
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Hon. C. Gabelmann: The member talks about issues in a way that's reminiscent of my own concerns. If the member says it's not working yet, I think that's fair comment. With virtually no money, we're beginning to try to change things around. We have done some things. With respect to questions of access, community involvement and the public's awareness of legal aid, we established the review of legal aid by Tim Agg, which was produced in September 1992, a year and a half ago now. That report has informed the ministry and the Legal Services Society. Many of the changes having to do with access that were recommended by Mr. Agg are at the beginning of being implemented. It's a slow process, and it's frustrating to me how slow it is. Those kinds of concerns on the legal aid side were recognized. I think the Legal Services Society recognizes the concerns that the member has. Coming from the kind of riding I do, I also recognize the need to deal with the issue of aboriginal communities, as do many others. As a result, we asked Marion Buller, who is a lawyer in private practice in Vancouver and a native woman, to do a review of native legal aid in British Columbia. She produced a report that helps to inform our decision-making. But I think it's fair to say that it's probably of even more use to the Legal Services Society as they move to design mechanisms to provide more effective legal aid in native communities. So that work has been done, and its effect is only just now beginning to be seen.
We're a little further along in the area of family justice issues. The member knows, and I've talked about it before, that the initiative to do something about the 17 reports that government has now had about family justice issues -- going back, I guess, to the Berger report in '74, which was done by the previous NDP government.... There have been volumes of reports, but nothing is actually happening out there. Roughly a year and a half ago, I guess -- I'm doing this off the top of my head -- we asked some people in the ministry to put it all together and design an action plan so we could quit talking about it and start doing something. Family and family justice issues are sufficiently complex that there are a variety of ways to approach them; there are a variety of choices one can make.
We have decided to take four communities in the province -- Kitimat, representing a small, relatively isolated community; the Nicola Valley, which has a significant native population; Kamloops, representing a larger centre in our province; and the Burnaby-New Westminster area -- and establish pilot projects trying to deliver family law in a different way. They are designed to allow anybody who's in a marriage and having some problems to go -- male or female; generally it's the women, but anybody in the family can go -- to that office and ask questions about their options and resources, rather than getting further along the process, finally having to go a lawyer's office and then having a situation evolve with a confrontational, adversarial relationship with your spouse or your soon-to-be former spouse, which doesn't do either of the parties or the children any good. You can go into these centres, get some advice and find out what your rights are. If there aren't reasons why it's inappropriate, such as power imbalances between the men and women, it's an opportunity for mediation by trained mediators right there, as part of the family justice centre's operation, so that we avoid the protracted court battles that scar everybody and cost so much. That's underway. As I said earlier, before we knew exactly when we were going to do estimates, we'd arranged for a briefing on the program of all opposition members for Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. We'll do that then.
We don't know what's going to come from it. Some of the piloting may demonstrate that some of the ideas we have are wrong. It may be that we'll learn that different answers exist for different communities. I think if we learn that, that's fine. We'll try to design our programs to reflect the differences that occur, whether they're differences of isolation, geography, culture, traditional ways of seeing the world, or any number of other issues. Those projects are slated to begin very soon -- one of them I hope within weeks -- and we'll see what comes of them. I am very optimistic that we'll find a better and cheaper way of dealing with family issues in that respect.
I have one final point. I referred earlier to 17 reports since the Berger report. There have only been 13, but it was time to do something, and that's what we're doing instead of more reports.
G. Wilson: As elected members, the greatest privilege we hold within this chamber is the freedom to speak our minds and to speak on behalf of our constituents, and it is incumbent upon each of us to not abuse that privilege. This is an area where so many people are not being served. Many cases have come across our desks of people who find themselves unable to find any justice in British Columbia because they are in a situation where, by the very nature of the conflict, they are in an adversarial position and where the opportunity to find avenues for resolution are narrow and often non-existent. In many cases we are talking about people -- and I would say in the majority of cases they are women -- who are in a power relationship, where one member is subjugated by the other because of financial concern, because individuals do not have the capacity to take the freedom that many of us might say is there and that they don't see for themselves, and because there are constraints with respect to custody of children.
Let me say in as clear and plain language as I can: the system isn't working. It is not working in anybody's interest, save and except the lawyers. The lawyers and the judiciary -- many of whom are elderly -- were trained in an era that no longer has relevance to modern society. They are still thinking in a time period that has no relevance to modern society. Many are providing rulings on the basis of purely subjective analysis, and the law does not provide the opportunity for an objective assessment to be done with any degree of certainty or effect.
From what I see here, if you look at the cost not only to this ministry for family court services.... I'm now reading from your administrative structure as of January 28, 1994. In relation to what I saw happening in '93 and how things have changed, the cost associated within the ministry has to be fairly substantial, if not enormous. It isn't just the cost of family litigation that we're dealing with. My guess is that it's the youth custody question. Many of the children are going to find their way into youth custody situations because of breakup. There are problems associated with criminal law enforcement, because many of these people are involved or will become involved as violators of the laws. There is a cost in terms of the education system because of the inability of many people, especially the youth involved in these kinds of problems, to be able to adequately educate themselves. There is enormous cost to women in particular. That isn't measured financially; it's measured in terms of personal worth. I have to tell the Attorney General that it isn't working. In this province there are many people, mostly women, who find themselves completely unable to afford the basic cost that justice demands of them, and I mean financial cost and personal cost. There has to be a better way.
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Under this restructuring I see that we have probation services, family court and counselling under what appears to be the ADM for Corrections. I wonder if that is correct. And I wonder why the minister would not have seen that the more appropriate restructuring would be to have community and family support services as an independent agency. That agency could receive the degree of focus and level of funding it needs to provide the services at the earliest stage, not when no amount of mediation would make a difference anyway because the two sides are so far apart that litigation is the only possible means of resolution, and he who has the most money wins -- or she, although it's rarely the she; it's almost always the he. Although it's not always the he; trust me on that one.
I question why you wouldn't have restructured that way, and I would like to hear the Attorney General's comment on that.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: The member's comments are, in my view, exceedingly well taken. I don't disagree with anything he's said in the last few minutes. In fact, maybe not as articulately, I've been saying the same kinds of things myself for the last few years.
Just to make specific reference to the organizational chart, we shouldn't get too hung up on charts; they're just there to serve a bureaucratic function and don't drive programs. The member made comment on family court counselling, which is under the corrections branch. This is in recognition of the fact that probation officers have their probation responsibilities but also have family court counselling responsibilities. That service has been provided through probation officers in this province for some years now. If the member is saying that's inappropriate, I agree, and I think most probation officers would agree.
This is what we're doing as part of the initiatives in respect of the family justice centres. Once we work out the right model of how they're going to work, which we're doing through this piloting exercise that will soon be underway, it will follow that the family court counselling will come out of Corrections and be transferred over to the family justice centres. So probation officers will do probation work, and family counselling will be able to take place whether it's in the legal system or not -- in fact, preferably before it gets into the legal system, so it doesn't get into the legal system. That kind of family counselling will take place through these centres.
We have to be careful how we do this. It is such a good idea, and it's so long overdue that I don't know why we don't just go on and do it. The problem is that it has potential cost implications that we've really got to be careful about. We often design these wonderful programs that are entirely well motivated and produce a wonderful service, and then we discover we can't handle it because of the cost implications. So we have to be really careful about that.
We have to pay a lot of attention to concerns. For example, this is only one of what I am sure are dozens of concerns, one raised by some women's groups. Some women will say there should never be mediation because there's always a power imbalance between men and women, and for that reason it shouldn't occur. So in situations where there is that power imbalance -- whether it's psychological or financial, often physical as well, and just plain old intimidation -- we're very alert to making sure that we don't force people.... Well, not force, but we don't encourage people to take a mediation program when it's inappropriate.
That's only one issue. There are a lot of issues to work through, not the least of which is the one I referred to initially, which is the potential cost. I think that in the long term this will be cheaper. It may not be cheaper in the budgets of the Attorney General's ministry or the Social Services ministry. But as sure as I'm standing here today, I am convinced that it will be cheaper for society in just about every way you can imagine. Even more importantly, it will be healthier for society. One of the major beneficiaries of all of this, if it's done right, will be children, because children are so often used in entirely inappropriate ways by this adversarial system.
If the member is concerned about the chart, as soon as we can find a model that works, family court counselling will come out of the corrections branch and will go into the community justice branch as part of the family justice centres which we're starting to deal with now.
J. Tyabji: I understand that we're on the organizational section of the charts. However, I would like to canvass some of this and reserve the right to go back to it in the family justice section, so we don't have to cover all of it today.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: Hon. Chair, we've been all over the map this afternoon. I suspect that given the nature of the House these days, we probably will continue to go all over the map. Members can come back to any topic at any time, if they like.
The Chair: If at some point members wish a clarification on precisely what procedure we will use, I would be happy to provide it.
G. Wilson: I don't dare ask, because I might not like the answer.
Like the member for Okanagan East, I have many specific questions on areas which we probably won't get to until tomorrow. With respect to the organizational chart again, I'm interested in the manner in which the community justice branch takes on a series of issues that I would have thought would have involved a number of matters with respect to counselling services. I take what the Attorney General is saying. With respect to matters of victim assistance and wife assault, and particularly matters with respect to native court workers, those are all under the executive director of community justice. I wonder where youth services fit into that model, because I don't see anything specific here with respect to youth services.
One of the areas that we run into on the question of family law is that we hear an awful lot about the rights of two spousal units under the statutes of British Columbia, but we don't often hear an awful lot about the rights of children and the extent to which the law defines the right of a child to seek protection by the state in the event that decisions are taken that affect them and that provide us an opportunity to alter -- sometimes indelibly -- their lives, without a right of appeal. I realize that this is a grey area. Not being a lawyer, I recognize clearly that those kinds of youth services are often not considered, or perhaps they are not considered as they should be, in a court of law. I wonder if the Attorney General might talk about that whole question of youth services. I'm speaking now about the right of children to have protection and status under the law that is individual and separate from that of parental jurisdiction.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I'm not sure that I fully understand where the member is going with his questioning. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Attorney General in respect of children are legally only related to young
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offenders, under the Young Offenders Act -- if that is what the member is talking about. If he is talking about other issues that may arise around the protection of children, much of that is going to occur within the Social Services ministry under the superintendent of child and family services.
I'm fumbling here a bit because I'm not sure where the member is going -- whether he's talking about issues that might be under the role of the public trustee or the child advocate program, whether he's talking about issues that would be in Social Services under the superintendent, or whether he's talking about young offenders. As I invite further comment from him so I can understand better what he's talking about, I can say that we have a number of programs to try to prevent young people from coming into contact with the law. The most exciting and notable example is the youth gang program that's being organized and run by Wendy Taylor in a number of communities in the lower mainland, on the Island and in the member's riding. It's that kind of activity that we're engaged in. I'll stop now and see if the member can help me understand better what he's saying.
J. Dalton: I don't want the Attorney General to get too excited, hon. Chair. I ask leave to make an introduction.
J. Dalton: On behalf of one of our legislative assistants, I'm please to say that we have a visitor in the gallery from Yellowknife, Ms. Marie-Francois Ledoz. She's here on a teachers' conference. I would like the house to make her welcome.
G. Wilson: Perhaps I was being too obtuse. I wasn't talking about youth custody questions. I understand that there is a whole series of programs, most notably those under the Ministry of Attorney General dealing with youth gangs. What I was talking about was more the question of family court and, more specifically, family court services.
Given the changing nature of our society and the very different family makeup that is perhaps the norm today, as opposed to 25 or 30 years ago, many services are now required that should be administered under the Ministry of Attorney General that provide legal rights and provisions for young people. I'm not speaking about the question associated with the Ministry of Social Services; I'm talking about an advocacy position for youth in particular. I don't see anywhere in this organizational structure anything set up for that, save and except when they've broken the law. That's when we go in and decide we're going to do something with them. I'm talking about an advocacy position prior to them getting in that position. Certainly a lot of instances have come across our desk; we've received a lot of very specific cases, which I don't want to get into at this time. They indicate that young people are greatly affected by legal decisions taken by the judiciary with respect to matters of family custody, family maintenance and so on that impact on their lives and that they wish to take issue with as individuals. What I'm saying is that we have to recognize that not only are there the rights of two spousal units in this question, but that there must also be rights under the law with respect to children. I recognize that this is a difficult area to move into, because some would advocate that there is still this kind of ownership question -- that's perhaps not the right word, but that's often the way people define or talk about young people -- that we need to address.
By way of clarification, I remember that last year when we were dealing with matters of guardianship, this question arose. There was some debate as to whether or not the state should have any rights of intervention. What I'm arguing is not the question of state intervention; I'm talking about youth advocacy -- preventive aspects of youth advocacy to stop young people from being pushed into a position where they feel they have to be offenders. That's my question.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I thank the member. I don't think it was his obtuseness; it may have been my inability to understand what he was saying. I now think I understand better what the member is talking about.
We have within the legal services branch a program of child advocacy. I don't know if that's actually written.... No, there is no indication there of the various programs. But there are child advocates -- I think it's fair to use the plural -- who work within the legal services branch of the ministry and are often in court advocating on behalf of children as a result of a court invitation.
The court will invite the child advocate to make representation in court on behalf of the children. That exists now. It may not be used in as widespread a manner as the member might like, but it does exist and it is being used. In addition to that, part of the piloting we are doing with the family justice centres is that there will be child advocates built in to those justice centres in an informal way, so that long before we get to a legal question there will be an adult in the system who will be able to speak for the children -- particularly the younger ones. That's being integrated into this program.
G. Wilson: I don't want to belabour this point, because I think we're likely to come back to it and canvass it more thoroughly when we get into the question of family law and family services. But it isn't a question of the court appointing that I'm taking issue with. I understand that there are areas where adults may speak for the child.
Maybe this is not the adequate or proper forum for it, but the question that I think needs to be debated at some point is: at what point can the child speak for itself? At what point can the child initiate an advocacy position? Recognizing that they obviously have rights as individual citizens, and granting that their age may, from our perspective, preclude them from making rational decisions, I think that we are quickly reaching the point at which that debate needs to take place.
If one looks at the age of youth offenders today and the whole question of the Young Offenders Act as a separate issue, we can see that this is becoming more and more important. Anyway, perhaps this is not the right forum to get into that debate, but I hope that it can occur.
I have only three other questions, and then I'll yield to another member.
I'd like to come back to the question of structure. I recognize that the Attorney General has directed me to the Premier's estimates, and I'll remind the Premier of that direction -- save that I should be ruled out of order when I ask the Premier. I'm curious to know why we would keep liquor distribution and the general management of liquor control and licensing under the Ministry of Attorney General, but turn over gaming -- which is invariably associated with liquor licensing, control and distribution -- to the Ministry of Government Services.
I don't understand that. Why would we not keep those two together? Invariably, one goes with the other. I think it would be kind of interesting if you were to say, okay, we're
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going to license the profit stand-alone casino, but no booze. My guess is that it wouldn't last very long. Maybe the Attorney General might take a crack at that question, given that this is in his ministry.
The Chair: The Attorney General.... [Interruption.]
One likes to make an impact.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: Is it our job now, Mr. Chair, to call the House to order?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: It's interesting at this point to wonder whether the television camera is aimed at the Chair or at the.... If it's not aimed at the Chair, viewers may be puzzled by this interruption. I think they're going to have to remain puzzled.
Hon. member, my previous answer is about as far as I can go on that. The Premier made a number of changes to the structure and responsibilities of cabinet, and those questions would have to go to him.
G. Wilson: Hon. Chair, I should assure viewers that the fact that we were talking about liquor licensing and distribution had absolutely nothing to do with your falling out of the chair.
I'll offer this to the Attorney General in case he should wish to take advantage of the question. Does he have an opinion about whether gaming should more properly be in his ministry or in the Ministry of Government Services? If he would like to offer that opinion, strictly and solely on his own behalf, I think the rest of the House would like to hear it, and the rest of the province would probably like to hear it.
The second part of my question concerns the relationship between the liquor control and licensing branch and the liquor distribution branch. I wonder if active consideration is being given right now to merging those two for a more integrated and perhaps more streamlined provision of services.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: Over the years there have been a number of proposals and initiatives, including going so far as to establish a Crown corporation. My position is that the current structure serves us well. There are potential conflicts between liquor licensing and liquor distribution, and it's important to keep a separation between them. The liquor distribution branch operates essentially as a business, and I have given them instructions to operate as if they were in a competitive market. They aren't entirely, but I've asked them to do business as if they were. Liquor control and licensing has a different kind of function than liquor distribution, which is really a mechanical function in many ways. I think it serves us well to have those functions separated. No consideration is now being given to combining those two branches of the ministry.
In response to the first question, I may indeed have an opinion.
G. Wilson: It would be nice for us to know what that opinion is at some point. Given the partisan nature of the House, maybe we can't find out here; we might have to find out some other time.
This is my last set of questions on the structure. I reserve the right to come back to this question of boards and commissions, because there are a number of questions that I'd like to have clarified on the powers of a police board and a police commission. I'd like to deal with that when I have time to canvass it more specifically.
I have a question with respect to RCMP contracts, funding and community policing. The RCMP contract obviously falls within this minister's jurisdiction. In a number of areas we no longer have sufficient personnel to provide the kind of policing that's needed. In my own riding of Powell River-Sunshine Coast, a community police initiative is underway in the PenderHarbour-Egmont area. The RCMP is both supportive of and willing to undertake such a venture, and the chambers of commerce and a number of others in the area are very keen to act as volunteers, but there just do not seem to be adequate funds to provide that kind of service. Yet if one looks at and measures the statistical evidence in front of us, there is no question that there is a very real need for community police services in that area in terms of break-and-enters, traffic considerations and other matters with respect to family violence. In all instances, community police presence is needed. I don't suppose that the Pender Harbour area is unique. Having travelled this province fairly extensively in the last few years, I am almost certain that this kind of consideration and concern has merit in many parts of rural British Columbia which are under RCMP contract.
I wonder if the Minister might clarify whether there is some light at the end of the tunnel on that, whether we can expect to see negotiation on the question of the RCMP contract, and whether this province is going to take a stand with respect to the federal government and try to find a better balance of policing costs with respect to the federal force.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: It may be my lack of comprehension of the member's questions, but there may be some misconception in the member's mind about the structure. The contract between us and the federal government in respect of policing was signed almost two years ago. It was largely negotiated during the dying days of the former government and was virtually complete upon the transition to our government. That 20-year agreement with Ottawa was signed by me in early 1992.
The RCMP provides service in three ways in British Columbia. The federal force -- I think in the order of 300 or 400 officers -- deals with federal matters: customs and excise, drug conspiracy and those kinds of issues. There are 1,501 provincial RCMP officers contracted to us directly, and the balance are employed by municipalities of over 5,000.
The ability to design community-RCMP policing programs is between the community and the RCMP. In a number of communities around the province the RCMP is further along in developing what we might describe as community policing than in other communities. Those initiatives can proceed. At the moment, I think there are initiatives in the Newton area in Surrey. The RCMP has designated an officer to be in charge of community policing provincewide. That officer is available to communities and local detachments anywhere in the province to find ways to deliver services more effectively from that community's perspective.
It all has to be done within the available numbers. As a result of the provincial component of policing in communities over 5,000, we don't have enough police officers to meet all the needs that many communities would like. That doesn't prevent initiatives proceeding on a detachment-by-detachment basis and moving to different
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ways of delivering the service. I hope that helps with the question.
G. Wilson: Can the Attorney General tell us what provisions there are within the contract that allow this government to reopen negotiations with the federal government, with provisions for increasing the number of provincial police?
Hon. C. Gabelmann: If the House would vote me some more money, we could increase the number as soon as the officers can be assigned. The contract does not impact on the number of provincial police officers in British Columbia; the budget does. So if we were to find another $10 million, we could probably add another 150, 200 -- or whatever the numbers are -- and we can do that without reference to Ottawa. So that's in answer to the tail end of the question. There is a reopener clause in the contract itself. My memory is that at the end of the fifth year we have an opportunity to raise the issue of reopening the RCMP agreement with the federal government.
G. Wilson: I offer to the Attorney General that you get rid of the Crown corporation that was just set up to run a ferry between Victoria and Seattle. There's $10 million that has just been requisitioned for that. If you dump it, you can throw $10 million into policing and you've got your policemen or policewomen. The reason I asked what the question is with the contract is that it's my understanding that the only thing prohibiting the additional number of provincial police is this government's preparedness to adequately finance those officers to go into the rural areas of the province. I asked if there is a way to open the contract. I think the answer is yes, there is. And secondly, is there an opportunity for us to increase the number of provincial police officers in rural British Columbia? Yes, there is. What's holding us back? It's the amount of dollars that have been allocated in this budget for that provision.
I would have to argue that one of the primary functions of government is the maintenance of law and order. One of the big concerns that we and many people in the rural parts of British Columbia have is that we do not have sufficient resources in place for the provision of police services to look after those communities. I have been on record for the last two years as the elected member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, saying that the Sunshine Coast requires additional police officers. We need them. It is a very fast-growing community that has a long, narrow highway, and the people who live in Egmont and Pender Harbour are quite distinct from those who live in Sechelt, Roberts Creek and Gibsons. The only thing that prohibits us from having that is adequate resources put into those police services, and I think the Attorney General would agree with that.
I've offered him the solution: dump the Crown corporation that's going to run this new ferry service and put the $10 million into policing. If the Attorney General can agree to argue that with the government, then I'll sit down and take my seat.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I recognize the member's concern about additional policing resources on the Sunshine Coast. I've stood on that side of the House many times and argued for additional policing resources on the west coast communities of upper Vancouver Island. I understand the initiative on behalf of his constituents.
I should amplify an earlier answer on the freedom we have to increase the number of officers in the provincial component. Given that the federal government pays 30 percent of the cost -- this is the non-aboriginal agreement to related costs, where they pay 52 percent, but in regular policing they pay 30 percent of the cost -- they have to agree with our request. Say we were going to add another 100 RCMP officers; we would pay 70 percent of the costs, they would pay 30 percent. They would have to agree with that initiative before we could actually do it.
The reason I didn't give a fuller answer earlier is that even though they have severe budget constraints right now, if we indicated we were prepared to spend another 70 cents of every dollar, my guess is that they would go along with some additional resources. The police themselves would argue that they could use additional resources.
We're simply having to find different ways of doing it. That's why it's important to have police working with communities, enhancing some of the programs that now exist, developing others and getting the community more involved in policing itself in a non-vigilante way, together and in cooperation with the police. We're simply not going to be able to throw more bucks at this problem. There just aren't any bucks, notwithstanding the member's political comment about a particular agency.
L. Stephens: I'd like to get into the debate at this time, and particularly into the discussion on police services. In my constituency of Langley -- and I know the Attorney General is well aware of this -- the policing issue has been front and centre for some time. I'm happy to say it's been resolved to a large degree. We have a new council that is supportive of community policing, and we have in place some storefront services that the community is very appreciative of. We also have an increase in our bike patrol, which the downtown business core is very happy with as well. It's working very well for us, and we look forward to expanding the community offices in other parts of the Langley constituency.
Another issue that we have in Langley, which I know the Attorney General is also very familiar with, is the Langley Youth Resource Centre. We've just lost one of the programs there -- the Triumph program. That has gone to another group in Burnaby. We have two remaining programs in an institutional setting: Exodus, which is an alcohol and drug program; and the Link program, which is a sex offender program. I would like to know if the Attorney General could comment on these two programs. The Salvation Army, which runs the Youth Resource Centre, needs some comfort as to the viability and extension of both of these programs to their operation. If the Attorney General could comment on them, it would be very appreciated.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I hope the member will forgive me for not being clear enough in my own mind about the various programs in her constituency. The House of Concord program run by the Salvation Army has been replaced by another style of program, and that contract has been let to a group called Focus.
The member was asking about the Langley Youth Resource Centre and also about Triumph. I think these are programs run by the corrections branch that continue to operate. I'm going to ask the member to help me a little with this, because we have a lot of programs around the province. I'm not familiar with all of them, and I'm not altogether familiar with these.
L. Stephens: I would be happy to. The House of Concord is now called the Langley Youth Resource Centre. It is run by the Salvation Army and has been for many years. They had
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three programs in place. One was the Triumph program, which was for minor offences, such as car theft, B and Es and those kind of things -- problem children, yes. That program was being reassessed and renegotiated and went to the Focus group in Burnaby. There are two remaining programs that the centre continues with: the Exodus program, which is the alcohol and drug program; and the Link program, which is a program for sexual offenders. These are the two programs that remain, and they have been contracted to the various ministries.
As you know, the funding that comes to these groups is used to provide a variety of services. The concern of the youth resource centre is that the reallocation of the Triumph program means that a number of dollars will be moved elsewhere. So they are looking to see that they can still provide the same level of service to the their Exodus program and their Link program that they previously enjoyed, having lost the other program. They would like to know if they will continue to receive the level of support from the ministry that they have enjoyed in the past for these two particular programs.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I hope I now better understand, listening with one ear to one person and with the other to the member. The programs the member is talking about are ones that we run in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, as the members knows. I can't speak for the Minister of Health on the alcohol and drug program, in respect of what they're doing with their component of the budget. But as far as we're concerned, our side of it is continuing, and there shouldn't be a problem.
L. Stephens: Thank you, Attorney General. We're all very pleased to hear that that will still remain.
I'd like to discuss a couple of other issues. One of them is court services, which members were discussing earlier. As the Attorney General knows, I am very supportive of the concept of family law centres, or family support centres. I am pleased to see that there are four pilot projects underway, and I'll be very interested to see the outcomes of them. I'm sure there are going to be ongoing evaluations of how they're working and that those will be available to all of us. I also agree that in human terms and in the social-toll issues that revolve around that, it will be borne out that it will be less costly to society as a whole if we can find better and cheaper ways to handle the family law issue. A little earlier, we were talking about courthouses, and we alluded to the ones that were perhaps going to be closed. I suggest that the Attorney General look at moving these family justice centres to some of the buildings that are under discussion.
When the Legal Services Society were conducting their hearings around the province, I attended their meeting in Langley. A number of things were discussed. The overriding concern of members in my constituency is family law. The people represented there were, of course, in various areas of the law enforcement field. They said that family law needs more resources. They talked about immigrant services, which is becoming more of an issue. Lately in the papers we've seen that as far as immigrant women and violence is concerned, we just know the tip of the iceberg; but it's very serious. How do we get the services and information to the immigrant community that they need? Family incomes in my constituency are in the lower half of the provincial average. The transportation system is very poor, which makes it difficult for people to get out of the community. In some of the areas close to us in Surrey, where there's a large regional centre, it is very difficult for a lot of our constituents to get there, particularly from the Aldergrove side. It makes it quite unwieldy.
One of the things that they talked about from the poverty side was that the new Ministry of Social Services policy changes looking at ending poverty were an issue. The poor and disadvantaged feel powerless and intimidated by landlords. These are things that courtworkers and family workers have to deal with all the time. They feel that they need more family court workers, more services and more judges in Langley to deal with these kinds of things. As you know, our courthouse isn't used as effectively as it perhaps should be. During the estimates last year, I talked about the Surrey courthouse and the number of courtrooms that are empty through the day. That's still the case, and that is still happening. Mental health is another area that family courtworkers feel they need to really pay attention to.
I would like to ask the Attorney General what services are going to be available at a community level in the immigrant services area -- first of all immigrant services, paying particular attention to the violence issue as it pertains to immigrant women, and their rights and having information available to them.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: First of all, I should say that I appreciate very much the member's comments. What she has had to say is very consistent with my own perspective on these issues. I appreciate the comment about some of the courthouses that aren't being used in the most effective way perhaps playing a role in the family justice centre model. We're very appreciative that that's the way the member has approached this issue, rather than simply by saying: "Don't close my courthouse." Let's be creative -- that's great to hear.
In terms of immigrant services, it's not just immigrants. It's services to people who may not understand the system for a variety of reasons. Often it's language, but often it's background, it's cultural. It may not be so true in Langley, but in many communities that's an issue that affects native people, who were here long before all of us immigrants. It's an issue that we really need to address, and in the pilot projects we are addressing the issue of advice in different languages, and ensuring that people who come to the centre for information can get it in a way that's understandable and meaningful to them.
There isn't a lot of cooperation from the federal government in respect of the funding for additional services to newly arrived Canadians. I think there should be. I think they have a real responsibility to assist in the payment of these costs. They share considerably in immigration legal aid; I can't remember the exact numbers. I think they accept their responsibility fairly well, but in preventive programs, in cheaper solutions, they don't share in a way that I think is appropriate. So we need to push them. Given the member's political label, it might be useful if she could help us in lobbying her colleagues in Ottawa on this question.
But seriously, the issue is an important one, and through both the family justice centres and the public legal education programs that are being assessed at the present time, we're going to try to make the information more available to people who can't simply pick up an English-language brochure and understand it immediately.
L. Stephens: I appreciate the Attorney General's remarks, and I will do whatever I can to advance that request in Ottawa. I will endeavour to do that.
One of the other areas I'd like to talk about is the issue of judges and judges' training. It's an issue that many, many women feel needs to be addressed. So far there hasn't been
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anything coming from this government in the area of gender training for judges. In light of the rulings in some recent cases, and remarks that have been made by various judges, it's a question that comes up time and time again. I believe the need for it is there. I would like to know if there's a commitment, a program or an acknowledgement of some kind that there needs to be something done in this area.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: There is a program now in existence, called the Western Judicial Education Centre, which provides services to Provincial Court judges in the four western provinces. The program is delivered by a British Columbia Provincial Court judge named Doug Campbell. It isn't a mandatory program of education; nonetheless, there are a variety of educational activities undertaken by Judge Campbell with judges in all four provinces. The issue of training for judges is a sensitive one, and one on which there are a variety of opinions. I note that at the Canadian Judicial Council meeting three weeks ago, the chiefs of the various courts in the country invited into their midst a group of fairly radical -- if I may put it that way -- people who talked to them about issues of the day. That's not mandatory training, but it's opening the door to a certain extent. I think we all welcome that.
The Provincial Court judges in British Columbia are having a conference in Vancouver this week, and I know they will be dealing with a number of issues that you could construe as educational in nature. The issue of mandatory training for judges has not yet been confronted fully in a public way, but I welcome the member's comments and I think they're very helpful in these discussions.
L. Stephens: Anything that I could do to help move this particular discussion along, I would certainly endeavour to do. I know it's a difficult one. I understand that there are a number of issues in the judicial system that are difficult to deal with, that have a lot of tradition behind them and so on, but I think we all recognize that times change and that we have to make changes. The judiciary is no exception, in my view.
Along with that, there is another issue: the youth. We see a lot of difficulty in the schools. We hear about the violence problem in our schools; we hear about the gang violence on our streets. It seems to be getting worse, not any better; no one seems to have an understanding of or a handle on how to perhaps make some substantial changes. It seems that the youth have a general lawlessness, and I would suggest that there's a bit of a link between family law and youth lawlessness. They read the papers, they watch television and they see what happens in their own families or with their friends or schoolmates, and they see the injustice that happens. All members that have spoken to the Attorney General's estimates so far have acknowledged that there is still a lot of injustice in the system, and I think it is one of the tragedies that the youth are the unwitting recipients of a lot of this.
I know the Attorney General talked about the proposed changes to the Young Offenders Act and about working closely with the federal people to make some changes there, but with respect to sentencing, I wonder if we can't focus on family law and youth in making more of a stand on those issues that youth look at and say: "There's no justice here." That aspect of family law has to be looked at in order to have justice seen to be done as well as appear to be done. If I would encourage another area, it would be to give a message to our young people that people are protected and that there is justice, which a lot of them do not believe now. A lot of that is coming out with the kinds of lawlessness we see. I would like to know if the Attorney General is thinking on those lines or if he's thought about youth and the message that they see coming to them from a number of different areas.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I hate to confess that I have done more thinking about it than doing, because it's a hard one to get at. Many kids watch American television exclusively, and many families watch American news. The events that occur in that country, especially in the big cities, leave an impression that that's what happens here, so that kind of false impression is being left as well.
I am not saying we've done very much about this, but I take the member's comments to heart. I think she's on the right track, and I applaud her for pursuing it, but one of the initiatives that has impressed me greatly is the mediation program that is underway in some of the Surrey schools, and perhaps elsewhere. I'm just not aware of where else it may be occurring., but a month or two ago I had the opportunity to spend an hour or so with students at Queen Elizabeth Senior Secondary -- in fact, kids from that school were here this afternoon. I saw the way those programs help young people get a better understanding of the issues and realities that exist out there. I was struck by how hard-nosed these kids are; they are far more hard-nosed than their parents, I would suspect. We have to do more in that area. The education system has to do more, and the communication system has to do more. We have to deal with issues of violence on television and elsewhere.
I don't know what else I can say to the member, other than that I appreciate her raising the issue. It's an important one that we all could spend a lot more time thinking about and developing some concrete initiatives for.
L. Stephens: There are some other questions that I'm sure all members would like to ask, but seeing the time, 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.
Committee of Supply A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. C. Gabelmann moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:54 p.m
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The House in Committee of Supply A; D. Streifel in the chair.
The committee met at 2:52 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF SMALL BUSINESS, TOURISM AND CULTURE
On vote 51: minister's office, $342,000.
The Chair: Welcome back, I suppose. Or am I supposed to say, in the words of one of my favourite TV actors: "I'm back!"
Before I recognize the hon. minister, we should discuss a few things for a minute, as we've been away from here for a few months now. We have a different configuration in our main House. As a result, the seating arrangement in here has been set as the government side here and the opposition side on my left, with three seats reserved for other members. If every member of the committee were to show -- would that be a miracle of miracles or just a surprise? -- one extra seat would be required, and we have it in placement. That then would facilitate seating for everybody.
I have just one other reminder. The microphones are live or "hot." Side conversations get picked up; I think they're activated by banks or sides. So when one individual has the floor you might be aware that your side conversation is being recorded by Hansard and broadcast. You may want to entertain that as a caution.
For your assistance, after the months of absence from this committee, the Clerk has distributed standing order 61 and some of the other rules that we'll be following in here. The main one is the rule of relevancy, standing order 61, which says that all questions in Committee of the Whole shall be strictly relevant to the operation of the minister's office.
With that, on a nice sunny afternoon I recognize the Minister of Small Business, Tourism and Culture.
Hon. B. Barlee: Thank you, hon. Chairman.
The Chair: As is the custom in the House, we're rising in our places in Committee of Supply A as well. Before we get into the questioning in the debate, would you introduce your staff for us, please?
Hon. B. Barlee: To my immediate right is Philip Halkett, my valued deputy minister. To my immediate left is Rhonda Hunter, who is ADM, management services. Right behind me is Marr Henderson, director of finance, as well as three or four other officials -- ADMs and directors in various parts of the ministry. If my colleagues on the other side of the House will allow me about 26 to 27 minutes, I will take that time. This is three different ministries, not one ministry.
It is traditional for a minister to defend a budget. I will take a slightly different tack; I will try to explain our strategy. I'm here to -- well, not brag, because I don't like the term, but I don't think we will do a lot of defending on this particular budget this year. Defending requires a concentrated attack, and I don't think there is a lot to attack in the estimates for this ministry this year, unless members from the opposite side are prepared to criticize our increased investment in tourism marketing. This is an investment which I believe will pay off in new jobs, economic growth and increased tax revenues.
As someone who comes to this House from a small business background -- as do other members on the opposite side as well -- I am excited about what the new budget is going to enable us to accomplish during the coming year.
The reorganization of cabinet last fall put small business, tourism, heritage and culture into the same portfolio for the first time, and this is the first budget for this new ministry. Frankly, I think it is a natural marriage. Many small businesses are tourism-related, like the commercial art studio owner in North Vancouver who wrote me earlier this year. Like others, he depends on the tourism industry for a great deal of his revenue. It spins off into all small businesses. I am not telling the opposition anything they didn't know before; this is more or less to the public at large.
Most tourism businesses are small businesses. They usually have fewer than 20 employees, with some exceptions. Many of our heritage and cultural resources attract visitors from all over the world. They visit places like Barkerville and Fort Steele, the Royal British Columbia Museum and so on.
Much of the activity in our cultural resources -- which, by the way, employs about 43,000 people -- is organized as small business, often as home-based businesses. That is a growing sector in British Columbia. In those home-based businesses, artisans and craftspeople operate their own small studios.
One of our major cultural industries is moviemaking. Every time a Hollywood feature film is shot in the province, potential tourists from all over the world see what a beautiful place this province really is.
Along with small business, I am also responsible for regional economic development. Tourism by its very nature is an industry that continues to grow in every region of the province, not just in Victoria, not just in Vancouver or the lower mainland. There are no exceptions. The growth and development of the tourist industry goes hand in hand with the development and diversification of regional economies. Having tourism, small business, regional economic development, heritage and culture all under one roof, all under one ministry, allows us to link them together. I think it's a natural. It's part of a strategy that I think is long overdue.
The ministry is now organized into three major program divisions. Each one of these divisions is directed by its own assistant deputy minister.
The community and regional development division has several programs working to create a better climate for economic growth, especially in the small business sector and in the regions outside of the lower mainland, Vancouver and Victoria. It includes: the small business development branch; a women's business advocate; 25 regional economic development officers and 60 government agents, who are spread all over the province; and a special office to encourage the development of entrepreneurs within the aboriginal or first nations communities of this province.
Tourism is the division most visible to the general public -- I don't think that's any secret to anyone in this room. It develops products and services to market to tourists who live in this province, tourists who live elsewhere in North America, and tourists who live overseas. This division also works in partnership with the regional tourism associations to support the marketing of all regions of the province, and I stress all regions. Staff in that division must also work with the industry to develop new tourism products, package tours, wilderness tourism and so on. Our marketing branch is constantly researching tourism markets around the world.
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We compare with our great competitors around the world. Australia, of course, would come to mind; they have a marvellous tourism strategy. Parts of the U.S. have too, with some problems there. The U.K. has a good strategy as well. We're tracking that all the time. We often hear about the need for governments to become more entrepreneurial. I believe that is happening in this ministry already.
The heritage and culture division, on the other hand, is responsible for all of our programs to support the arts and encourage the growth of cultural industries, which are under attack in various countries. It is also responsible for the Royal British Columbia Museum and eight heritage parks around the province, including Barkerville and Fort Steele, two of the most well-known, and for providing matching funds to dozens of local museums and art galleries in British Columbia. The heritage and culture branch also houses the provincial archaeological branch. The community grants branch administers the B.C. 21 community grants program, which assists municipalities and non-profit groups with cost-sharing funding for building community facilities.
I would like to mention a bit about the record of each of these three divisions during the past year. The restructuring of the community and regional development division was completed last year, and I think it was long overdue. This resulted in the placement of regional economic development staff throughout the province from the far north, to the border, to the East Kootenay and right through to Vancouver Island. Regional economic development staff are available to work with the surrounding communities and have worked closely with communities at large: business, first nations and other groups. They have also helped with community planning, business development and the resolution of specific local economic problems such as the problems that we undertook to resolve in the East Kootenay as far as coal projects are concerned.
On the subject of regional planning, we have held an economic conference on Vancouver Island, economic development summits in the Nicola Valley in Princeton and an economic symposium in the Kootenays. A conference for northern economic development officers was held in Prince George just a couple of months ago.
The ministry's field staff has been working with communities to assist them in their economic development. Some examples of communities with which the ministry is working include: the Boston Bar-North Bend Enhancement Society, on a community development strategy and the site plan for their heritage railway station.... For those of you who have not visited Boston Bar, it's quite fascinating and a very important historical part of the province both in railroad development and prior to that in placer mining. If you've ever wandered through that area, I think you'd like it.
Hon. B. Barlee: I digress.
We have worked with the Xaxli'p first nations on a wood waste study to examine the feasibility of value-added manufacturing opportunities and the city of Williams Lake in preparing an economic development strategy. We also held community economic development workshops in Granisle and in Stewart, and we provide financial support to the Tourism Action Society in the Kootenays, which supports 15 major tourism development initiatives in that area. We established the Mayors' Institute, which brings together a number of mayors to work collaboratively on issues they face. These have been so successful that the Bronfman Foundation, our co-sponsor, is looking at introducing our program into other parts of Canada. So it has proven to be quite effective.
Our regional staff will continue to work with communities on local problems and assist them in implementing new initiatives to strengthen their economy. There are 22 lines on that page. How do you like that?
The aboriginal economic development activities that we have been involved in range from community planning processes to business feasibility studies. These measures have been implemented in order to level the playing field -- the playing field there is not level; I think we all know that -- in order to introduce equity and fairness into the system. First nations people traditionally earn about half the income of non-aboriginals, and unemployment rates run from, it says, 60 to 80 percent, but it's about 60 to 90 percent. Some of our activities include the investigation of the feasibility of establishing a native credit union with the Alliance Tribal Council, which is probably long overdue; a business development analysis on the Kitwanga mill; an economic analysis of the St. Eugene Mission project, which is near Cranbrook, as most of you know; developing and hosting aboriginal-women-in-business workshops; and providing support for the development and marketing of aboriginal art at local, national and international levels -- it is being recognized at international levels.
As far as government agents are concerned, they've been serving British Columbia for over 100 years. There are 60 government agents, by the way, in the province. They deliver 40 different programs and services on behalf of the 18 ministries through government agents' offices throughout the province. I've received a remarkable number of letters from various people in the province commending the government agents for their work in their various regions. By the way, they received the B.C. Tel award for providing outstanding service quality. Some of the services they provide, of course, are rather interesting. They provide assistance to the public sector -- the coroner, justices of the peace, Workers' Compensation Board and ICBC. They take affidavits, assist in landlord-tenant disputes and provide training for courts of revision. Government agents also issue information on property tax, voter registration, announcements, White Papers, legislation, consultation, drivers' licences, marriage licences -- and the list goes on.
Essentially, what they do is this: in 1993-94 the government agents also collected $1.1 billion in revenue on behalf of the government and completed over 2.6 million revenue transactions -- about 10,000 a day. This represents a 26 percent increase of activity over 1992-93, the year before. In many communities, the government agents are the face of government. Whether you go into the office at Nakusp, where there's one government agent, or into the larger office at New Westminster, where there would be dozens of people, they provide a face that allows the public to see what the government is doing. So government agents provide the people and the technology in the regions as we move into the integrated workplace, which I think is taking place right now and certainly will be in the twenty-first century.
As far as small business is concerned, during this past winter we released a small business discussion paper -- a White Paper -- entitled "A Commitment to Small Business," and my ministry staff and I have consulted with small businesses and business organizations. We distributed 8,000 copies and have had close to 1,000 copies returned to us. Those responses came from large and small businesses from all parts of the provinces. We have tabulated the results and will share those responses with you over the next two months.
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Other ministries are also demonstrating the overall government commitment to small business. There will be an increased focus on training for workers and youth; both of these areas are very vulnerable. Along those lines, the government will announce details of its initiatives in the skills for the twenty-first century and a major new forest strategy initiative within the next two months. Both of these important initiatives will benefit small business in the province.
The government's 1994-95 budget is dealing with concerns about regulations and taxes in a number of ways. As we all know, deficit reduction is of particular importance to small business. In 1993-94 the government's deficit reduction performance was better than we anticipated. That's good news generally for small business and for all British Columbians. Spending was on target, but revenues were higher than expected. The government will eliminate the deficit by 1996-97, and we will accomplish this through spending controls -- not through tax increases.
We've also tackled the paperwork burden associated with the collection of provincial sales tax and hotel room tax. Effective April 1 -- ten days ago -- businesses collecting between $50 to $200 of tax each month will now have the option of filing tax returns quarterly or semi-annually -- it makes it much more logical for them, saves money for them, and saves money for government -- or on some other basis that is more compatible with small business operations. The government expects this will reduce compliance costs for about 8,500 small businesses -- not all of them, but about 8,500. This move not only reduces the paper burden, it costs less for government to administer, and that's the intelligent way of doing business.
The commissions also will be raised slightly for the collection of the PST and hotel room tax, which we've increased 10 percent from $90 to $99 per reporting period. About 90,000 businesses will benefit from increased commissions. They will also keep our money a little longer, which won't hurt some of them. The exemption threshold for corporation capital tax is increased by a quarter of a million dollars to $1.5 million of paid-up capital. The tax will now be phased in between $1.5 million and $1.75 million of paid-up capital.
This is expected to benefit about 2,000 businesses -- maybe 1,900, maybe 2,100. One thousand corporations will no longer be required to pay the tax, and a further 1,000 corporations will pay a reduced corporation capital tax. Cooperatives and incorporated family farms are also now exempt from the corporation capital tax, effective ten days ago. About 500 corporations will benefit from this initiative in that sector. Tax rates are frozen at current levels for three years and there will be no increase in new taxes. The tax rate freeze applies to the following: provincial corporate and personal income taxes, sales tax, fuel taxes, school and rural area property tax and the Medical Services Plan -- the health care premiums. In addition to these, the freeze applies to eight other categories of taxes that I will not enumerate.
Exemption for first-time homebuyers from this property transfer tax will benefit small businesses in the construction sector. I don't think there is any doubt there will be an added response to that.
C. Tanner: How much is it?
Hon. B. Barlee: It's about $3,000.
Hon. B. Barlee: I don't make many mistakes; you know that.
Responding to the needs of the auto retail industry, the budget reinstated the tax exemption on the trade-in value of cars and light trucks and increased the luxury vehicle tax threshold by $2,000, to $32,000. The luxury tax threshold increase brings some relief to people and business, particularly those in the north and in the interior who need more expensive vehicles like pickup trucks and so on.
G. Farrell-Collins: The B.C. Hydro deputy.
Hon. B. Barlee: Yes, I guess so -- possibly.
Our deficit continues to decrease, which it did this year by $400 million. For the last few months, I have accelerated progress addressing this concern. As you know, the province invited the federal government into a partnership which cuts red tape and centralizes access to a considerable amount of business information. This agreement has been concluded and signed. We will host an official opening later this month, and we won't spend much at it either.
The Vancouver Business Information Centre is now known as the Canada-British Columbia Business Service Centre. Together with the Victoria Business Information Centre, it will continue to respond to more than 225,000 requests annually. When you look at that, it is very close to 1,000 requests per day. These are people who want to set up businesses or solve certain problems. I think it serves a purpose.
My ministry will also continue to fund 85 business information centres around the province, and we're doing that in partnership with local chambers of commerce. These centres have access to the Canada-British Columbia Business Service Centre in Vancouver.
And my ministry is also working with the B.C. Buy Smart program to provide access to provincial government procurement opportunities for small businesses throughout the province. And I think that's logical; I think it's long overdue. It will result in increased local purchasing by government offices in the communities they serve -- and, again, it's logical.
My ministry is working with the Canadian Bankers' Association to develop awareness and understanding of the capital needs of small business. In fact, I went to one of their meetings about four or five days ago, and they did address it -- I'm not sure satisfactorily from my point of view, but they did address it.
My ministry also addresses the equity capital gap by encouraging individuals, employees and corporations to invest in B.C. businesses. Last year, 1,100 B.C. investors invested $24 million in 50 small businesses through my ministry's equity capital program. Also in the last year, six new employee share ownership plans were registered. Since 1989, $10 million of new equity capital has been raised from 2,500 employee investors. In the last two years, the Working Opportunity Fund -- WOF for short -- has raised $45 million from 12,000 B.C. workers and has made investments totalling $2.1 million. So they're not making investments at a rapid pace, and I think I encourage these very careful investments.
The ministry is also exploring other possibilities which would address the capital needs of small business. There's no doubt that there's a gap there, too. Small business, I think we all know, is the engine which drives the economies of the province, and I think, frankly, even the federal government has acknowledged this in the last few months. In British Columbia, bankruptcies in the last year were down about 20
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percent and incorporations were up about 14 percent. The government is actively responding to the needs of small business, and we have in place the people in the province to help fuel the growth in this critical sector.
To go on to a different topic, the tourism division of my ministry has had a very productive and, I think, kind of exciting year, despite some tight budgets last year and intense competition in the world tourism marketplace; there's not much doubt about that at all. I believe it is fair to say the ministry has achieved an excellent working relationship with the private sector, and we have had a great year as partners in the most exciting industry in the province. I don't think anyone would debate that point.
I won't go through the usual exhaustive list of the ministry's accomplishments on the tourism side over the past year, but I would like to mention a few highlights. A major highlight of the year was the ministry's participation in the B.C. Tourism Industry Conference, in which tourism operators met as an industry for the very first time. This important event was recognized by the Council of Tourism Associations and the media as a sign that tourism has finally come of age as an industry with an incredibly bright future.
Another important event is the solidification of our presence in the lucrative and fast-growing Japanese tourism market. We appointed two full-time staff in Tokyo, after some thought about it. They are, of course, conversant in Japanese and familiar with the scene in Japan.
We continue to work with B.C. Tel advanced communications in improving our delivery of Discover B.C. This is a one-stop information and reservation system that is the envy of other jurisdictions; in fact, they're starting to copy it.
The Canada-British Columbia tourism agreement, signed in 1992 but implemented in 1993, resulted in 23 new projects with a marketing impact of about $8.7 million. I will be announcing our progress on those projects jointly with the federal government in the near future -- with tourism minister Michel Dupuy, who is just as keen on tourism as I am.
Also on the tourism marketing side, we participated last year in a cooperative marketing program in California, which cost $525,000. Of that, $175,000 was provincial funds. An independent study by the University of Victoria showed that the revenue generated by the campaign was $2.2 million. Total wages and salaries generated by this program were $719,000. The direct total tax revenue to the province was $195,000, plus other significant spinoff benefits. We made a profit on that and provided more jobs, and it worked as a pilot project. But there is room for improvement.
C. Tanner: You bet.
Hon. B. Barlee: No doubt about it.
Increased investment in tourism marketing will, I think, produce some impressive results. I think you'll like them, despite yourselves.
Those are just a few highlights. I'm sure there will be an opportunity to expand on those and many other accomplishments during the course of the debate. I would like to spend several minutes discussing the importance of tourism to the people of British Columbia. Then I'll talk about tourism's future. It's a heaven-sent opportunity for us; there's not much doubt about it at all.
Let's look at its present economic value. Revenues from almost 24 million visitors reached $5.5 billion in 1992 and between $5.6 and $5.7 billion in 1993. We have set a target of $7.2 billion by 1996. I think the province should reach about $9.9 billion by 1999.
Tourism in 1992 contributed $2.7 billion to the provincial GDP; that's up by a little over 3 percent over the previous year. It's now our third-largest export industry, and it earns more than $1.3 billion annually from exports. As far as employment is concerned, about 184,000 people are employed in tourism-related businesses, and it provides new opportunities for virtually everybody. It's far-reaching in that respect -- first nations peoples, young people, women, other groups who enter the workforce. And not all tourism jobs, by the way, are at the minimum wage level. Some people in the tourism community and in that industry do extremely well. It's about a $3.5 trillion business worldwide and grows at about $134 billion, $135 billion a year -- billion dollars, not million.
Third, let's look at some of the less visible values of tourism. It has some social benefits; there's not much doubt about that. It provides cultural and recreational facilities and services to visitors, which also benefit local residents. It is environmentally friendly.
Turning to the future of tourism, I mentioned a few minutes ago that we have set a target of $9.9 billion for 1999, and $7.2 billion by calendar year-end of 1996. They have a figure down here, and it's not quite correct, but it's the only one I can correct definitely. We have targeted, as I say, 65,000 jobs in B.C. by the year 2000. That extrapolates to about 130,000 jobs actually -- just double that figure -- by the year 2000. So we anticipate another 130,000 new jobs if our trend lines are correct.
Like the rest of the world, British Columbia is clearly in a state of transition. Competitive pressure is intensifying and our competitors are very shrewd indeed. These are essentially free dollars, and they want their share and some of ours. With this increasingly competitive global economy, tourism's role is not necessarily to replace resource-based economies but to provide viable, stabilizing economic opportunities. With B.C.'s endowment of outstanding natural and cultural resources, tourism will play an important role in this diversification. We have to diversify. I don't think anybody would question that.
So, as I said earlier, I envisage a dramatic increase in tourism's economic contribution over the next five years. The worldwide competition, as I say, is brutal. With the advantages we have, we will do exceptionally well. During this session I will be announcing a number of exciting and innovative new projects and strategies -- actually about nine initiatives you will find interesting and that are part of a strategic tourism operations plan. We have some good news coming for those industries and those businesses tourism touches upon, and I can frankly say that we have about 15-month windows on five of those initiatives, and I think our competitors are going to jump on board. Our competitors have jumped on board on several of our programs already.
Hon. B. Barlee: I'll let the Chair answer the phone. It's probably our competitors phoning to see what we're doing now. They're very quick. They've got the room wired.
Hon. B. Barlee: You turned them down? Good. I can speak at some leisure now.
Another unique characteristic of tourism is that it supports other sectors of the economy. Many visitors end up moving here and setting up new businesses, and many of
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our exports are in demand in the world marketplace because they are associated with our image of supernatural British Columbia. Without doubt, tourism helps to sell the idea that British Columbia is a good place for foreign investment. Any way you look at it, tourism is the industry of the future. There is little doubt in my mind that that statement is absolutely accurate.
As far as cultural activities are concerned, my ministry's estimates for the next fiscal year ensure that our cultural activities and historic resources remain dynamic elements in the everyday lives of British Columbians. People tend to forget that cultural aspect of the ministry. I don't; I think it is very important.
Our government is committed to looking forward, to acknowledging the outstanding dedication and talents of citizens who work in these fields. Since assuming this portfolio, I have invested in a great deal of consultation to ensure that we hear those voices, and I am serious about listening to them. I realize that if we do not value culture -- as other jurisdictions are inclined not to do -- the loss to society is often irretrievable, for once the foundations of creative and artistic growth have been destroyed, they simply cannot be brought back. So next time you take a ferry to Vancouver, browse through the bookstore and see the B.C. authors who have written about our heritage, our culture and our society.
C. Tanner: Stop off in Sidney first to do your bookstore browsing.
Hon. B. Barlee: Well, I do my bookstore browsing all over the province, but the hon. member doesn't own that book store in Sidney anymore, if I'm correct.
C. Tanner: I know somebody that does, though.
Hon. B. Barlee: No conflict of interest, I hope.
So next time you go to a movie theatre, stay around and watch the credits at the end of the film because we're getting an increasing number of credits. It helps us significantly in the film industry, and a lot of those credits are going to British Columbians -- more so each year, in fact.
On the wider stage, B.C. is now among the four busiest production centres in North America. In 1993, 73 feature and television productions came out of this province and resulted in a $186 million addition to the provincial economy. It employs about 6,000 people directly and has about another 5,000 spinoff jobs.
Also impressive are the activities of the Royal British Columbia Museum. It's probably the flagship of some of our cultural resources in the province. It has a formidable record of public service. Last year 850,000 visitors passed through its gates, 170,000 British Columbians participated in its outreach programs and we loaned 46,000 objects to museums and researchers in British Columbia and other parts of the world.
The Chair: Hon. minister, with my regrets, your time has expired.
Hon. B. Barlee: We'll get an extension.
The Chair: It seems to be the will of the committee for you to carry on, hon. minister. They're spellbound, I'm sure.
An Hon. Member: You'll pay for it later.
Hon. B. Barlee: Yes, I know I will.
This year's estimates include an additional $200,000 for new activities at the museum. The museum is trying to reach out to other sectors they haven't hit in society, and this will be announced as we go along. They've had a number of these activities in the last three or four months. All of these activities, plus other showcase events that will be announced in the next few months, are part of a new direction that has been taken by the museum. It is world-famous, there's not much doubt about it. I think that's obvious. It's attracted something like 25 million visitors over 25 years. These directions are the centrepieces of the new five-year business plan for the museum that we announced in January.
Ten days ago, on behalf of the provincial government, I also signed an agreement with the government of Canada that will see a total investment of $9 million in our culture and communications industries over the next two years; that's $4.5 million from each government. That will put communications and culture higher on the agenda than they have been at any time in the past. I must confess that the new minister of communications in the federal government is just as keen on it as I am; I had quite a long talk with him. Culture and communications share a great deal of common ground. They have a symbiotic relationship with each other: while communications provides the medium for expression, culture translates those messages.
However, that is not all we have to be proud of. With B.C. 21 funding, we made $800,000 worth of improvements to a number of heritage sites throughout the province last year. These would be places like Hat Creek, the Nikkei Memorial Centre, Fort Steele and various other places that needed some upgrading. We definitely had to have it if we were to stay in the tourism game.
Heritage is often much more than just structures or artifacts. An example is our new heritage trails program under which we are developing a system of provincially designed trails. Some of you know the trails: the Dewdney Trail, the Hudson's Bay Brigade Trail, the Ghost Pass Trail, the Mackenzie Trail and on and on. They are in various parts of the province and are essentially our links to the past. Many of them follow the rivers or the mountain ranges of the province.
Hon. B. Barlee: No, the Chilkoot is not in British Columbia, as we both know.
Included will be the Northwest Company-Hudson's Bay Trail near Little Fort and the Dewdney, Whatcom and Hope Pass trails near Manning Park. We are studying other historic trails on the Pacific slope. From all of that you will see that our cultural and historic activities cannot be separated from our day-to-day existence. They bring us together and make enormous contributions to our well-being.
The estimates of my ministry for 1994-95 will help our cultural and historic resources take their rightful place as respected contributors to our society. I don't think it's any secret in this room that in the past we have been negligent in that area. We haven't taken good care of some of our cultural resources, partly because we haven't had a long-term strategy.
We are here to discuss the budget of my ministry during the coming year, and I would like to share the last few pages and some of the highlights of that budget with members of the committee. For the future, the small business division will implement the commitment to small business initiatives based on the results of almost 1,000 replies to the small
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business discussion paper. Equity capital programs, which were merged with the division in the restructuring, will be used to strengthen small business in the regions. We are also implementing the first nations economic program initiatives, including internships, micro-lending circles and small business skills development. I think this is long overdue.
We will implement the government agent strategic direction initiative to develop a long-range strategic plan for government agent services, which will guide the delivery of programs and services in future years. We will continue to work in partnership with communities, local governments and small business to enable them to plan for their economic future, examine the feasibility of various projects and implement action plans. We will provide skills development and access to expertise in order to provide community capacity to strengthen and diversify their economies. We will assist local businesses to benefit from the B.C. Buy Smart initiative.
The budget provides for a $5 million increase in tourism spending; that's a 33 percent increase over 1993-94. As I said earlier, ministry staff, in conjunction with the private sector, are currently developing a tourism operations plan that will determine the best way to spend those incremental dollars -- and I spend them carefully. Using this new money, we will concentrate on measurable activities that will generate the most business on an equitable basis across the province to produce jobs and long-term economic benefits.
Overall there is an increase of $1.8 million in funding for the culture and historic resources division of my ministry. These funds enable us to maintain and enhance our regular programs and move forward with several new initiatives, including joint funding, which will have long-lasting benefits. I will be announcing those initiatives in the near future. The contributions of those who work in most sectors is valued, and I know the additional funding we propose for 1994-95 will be well used and well received.
I believe this budget is a well-thought-out blueprint for investing in the prosperity of the province and in the marketing of the tourism industry, and the return on this investment will be industry growth, job growth and economic growth. All of this produces a growth in tax revenue that would more than repay the original investment; in fact, it will repay it many times over. Investments in a stronger small business sector mean that small business is where almost all the new jobs are being created. The figures range from about 69 percent to 87 percent. It's probably around 80 or 81 percent. So this is the area where the jobs are being provided. It isn't the large corporate elite; it's certainly small business.
It also provides new opportunities for women and first nations people to participate in the economy. When that happens, I think the community as a whole benefits. As far as investments in cultural institutions go, when society is changing very quickly, it is essential that our cultural institutions continue to provide the community with continuity and insight. It is typical of certain areas.... When you forget about your cultural institutions, you have significant problems. The problems being experienced by the inner cities in certain parts of the United States -- New York, Los Angeles and so on -- are an example of this. We have about 43,000 people employed in the cultural industries in the province, and I think that number is going to grow significantly over the next few years.
I look forward to a discussion of my budget with the members of this committee, including the opposition. I look forward to their questions as an opportunity to explain the budget to the Members of the Legislative Assembly and to the taxpayers who will look at it very closely. I know the members opposite will look at it very closely and ask: "Did you succeed?" You will pass judgment on this, and I'm quite willing for that to happen. It is a performance ministry. I also look forward to hearing ideas and suggestions from members of all parties in the House, from those who sit as independents and those in other parts of the House. I mean that; it isn't an idle statement. If you have an idea you think we have missed -- and I can't elaborate on that -- I will accept that. I do not measure ideas by their source; I measure them by their ability to help us achieve. I look forward to any suggestions from any member which will help my ministry accomplish that goal, which I find quite fascinating.
C. Tanner: It is always a pleasure to listen to this member. I guess we are fortunate in our vote this year that we, instead of the Ministry of Agriculture, are going to get to enjoy him. The Ministry of Agriculture apparently couldn't live with him any longer so they had to send him over here.
I have known this member personally for going on 25 years. In those 25 years I could never find fault with his enthusiasm or, quite often, his knowledge, and I think this ministry will probably benefit from his presence.
I also have to congratulate the member for the new message he brings while on international TV. Every member of this House was pleased to see that he is now an international TV star, and maybe we can look for his future blossoming over there so that it could take him out of the House and give him something useful to do.
We have an agreement between us that we will start off with small business, then go to tourism, and then to culture and heritage. This doesn't preclude coming back to an area, but that is how we would like to proceed. That being the case, the member on the right here will look after the Small Business part of your portfolio.
F. Gingell: Perhaps we could first of all sort out some financial numbers. The only special account this minister is responsible for is the small business incentive program. I have gone back to the creation of this account in 1989, trying to compare the numbers in the public accounts with the numbers in the budgets. I am having some problems. The first item is: could the minister please advise us as to the amount of loans that were made under this program in the year 1993-94?
Hon. B. Barlee: The fiscal year 1993-94 is just closing. Those figures will be available shortly, but they are not available right now. We will provide them to you.
F. Gingell: For the year 1992-93, you originally budgeted to make loans in the amount of $10 million under that program. When you came out with last year's budget, on the left-hand side of the statement there was an updated estimate. You had, in fact, cut that estimate down from $10 million to $4 million. The amount you loaned, shown in the public accounts -- the audited financial statements -- just issued for the year ended March 31, 1993, was $1,903,347. I was wondering if you could tell me what went wrong between the original plan of $10 million and the next estimate. When the year was three-quarters through, it was $4 million; then it came down to the final number of fractionally under $2 million.
Hon. B. Barlee: We want to encourage industry to move from debt financing to equity financing. Your figure of $1.9 million is right. We have approximately $2 million here, so
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there's not much difference there -- about $800,000, I think. There are no new loans being advocated now.
F. Gingell: If no new loans are to be made, why have you put $2,300,000 into this year's budget?
Hon. B. Barlee: These were previously approved or under the job commissioner.
F. Gingell: In the year 1993-94, you had planned your budget to make loans of $5 million. In fact, your latest estimate appearing in the 1994-95 estimates has reduced that from $5 million to $500,000. Now you're telling me that loan applications and decisions made prior to April 1, 1994, will, in effect, take this from the $500,000 that was loaned in 1993-94 and the $2.3 million that's anticipated being paid out in 1994-95. Are you saying that basically closes out the program?
Hon. B. Barlee: The disbursements that are anticipated to be made in 1994-95 as recommended by the Job Protection Commission, are $1.2 million; and funding to honour commitments made in previous years is $1.2 million -- which makes up that $2.3 million.
F. Gingell: Perhaps the minister could advise the committee of the historical record of the recovery of advances made under programs recommended by the job protection commissioner.
Hon. B. Barlee: Essentially the record of the Job Protection Commission is very good -- it's better than the banking record. I have a list of companies that we have disbursed funds to over the last several years. I haven't got the default rate. I believe it's under 1 percent -- I can get back to you on that. It may be slightly more, but not much.
F. Gingell: The way these accounts work -- and if I may, I will just ask you to quickly turn to page 248 of this year's estimates.... We actually show there the amount of money. If you go down to the small business incentive program, you'll see that is where the $2.3 million is shown under disbursements. The amount of interest collected on any of these accounts goes directly into the consolidated revenue fund, but collection of loans made in prior years is shown under receipts. This indicates that during 1994-95 you do not anticipate receiving any funds on loans previously made.
If we go back to the commencement of this special account in 1989 -- created by bringing in three other funds, those being the aquaculture fund, the industrial incentive program and the small manufacturers' incentive program -- the fund started with roughly $37 million in it. It was anticipated at the beginning of this year to be down to $14 million, which tells us that $23 million has been loaned out since 1989 under these programs. Yet we don't see any receipts or repayments coming back in.
Hon. B. Barlee: That's correct, because, as we both know, those receipts go right back into general revenue.
F. Gingell: No. Interest goes only to general revenue; receipts come back here.
The Chair: Through the Chair if you want it on the record.
F. Gingell: No, Mr. Chair.
The capital amounts -- the repayment of the loans -- have to be credited back to the special account. Perhaps you could reconsider your response. That'll keep us busy for a little while.
Hon. B. Barlee: This is not a revolving account, though.
F. Gingell: I wonder if I could ask the minister or his staff to go to this year's estimates, page 251. No. 2 in the footnotes was seen to represent only the recovery of the original advance, investment or loan principal as disbursements. Interest on outstanding advances, investments or loans is credited to the appropriate special account or to general fund revenue. Because this is not a revolving account, the interest is all credited to general revenue. I was under the impression, from everything that I've read, that the receipts of these funds are credited back to the special account, that they are purely and simply a financing transaction and not a receipt of revenue by the government, in exactly the same way as the disbursement of the original loan or advance was not shown as an expense of government.
P. Halkett: If I could try to explain this as I understand it -- subject to checking; it's been a while since I've dealt with this account -- this table which starts on page 249, schedule C, is an attempt to show receipts and disbursements for all of the financing transactions of government. Conceptually, these are accounts where if the money is expended, obviously it's a disbursement; and if it is recovered to the account, it's a receipt to the account. For example, I'll see if we can find one here that's balanced. I'm looking for the Crown land special account on the top of page 250. The receipt is for $1.6 million -- that's the disposal or the rental of Crown lands -- and the receipts come to the Crown land special account. Disbursements are payments out for land acquisition or improvement.
The other one I'm familiar with is the rural area property taxes on the top of page 251. That's $116 million in and $116 million out, so it's an in-and-out transaction. It doesn't affect the budget.
The small business incentive program special account fund is not like the others; we are obligated to make disbursements from the amount provided but, because of the design of the fund, the receipts do not come back to the fund. Certainly that's my understanding. I'll undertake to check on that before our next session.
F. Gingell: What I would like from the ministry is the amount of the recoveries that have been made under loans made in previous years; the action that the ministry is taking to ensure that these taxpayer funds, which have been advanced, are being properly managed; and what actions are being taken to recover them. I see that the amount of $750,000 is included in the budget as a reserve for doubtful accounts and concessionary loans. In the explanation of the budget, on page 198, footnote (e), it says: "This subvote provides for reserves for doubtful loans, and the interest subsidy expense for concessionary loans made under the Industrial Development Incentive Act." Mr. Chairman, seeing that the Industrial Development Incentive Act is not in this section of the budget, and is not a responsibility of this minister -- it is, in fact, a responsibility of the Minister of Employment and Investment -- I would seriously ask that this vote be reduced by the amount of $750,000, because there is included therein an item that is not the responsibility of this minister.
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Hon. B. Barlee: I believe, hon. Chair, that the member's on the wrong vote. We're on 51; I think he's on 52.
F. Gingell: True, Mr. Chairman, but the way all of these items have been dealt with in the past is that we only deal with the minister's vote -- we only deal with vote 51 -- and we deal at that time with all of the items that that minister is responsible for, which in this particular case includes vote 52. And the $750,000 to which I refer is part of vote 52, the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture.
Hon. B. Barlee: Mr. Chair, what the member's suggesting right now is contrary to parliamentary practice.
F. Gingell: What is?
The Chair: Hon. minister, it may help that it has been the practice of this committee to examine all the actions of the ministry under the vote of the minister's office.
Hon. B. Barlee: We don't mind discussing it, but we cannot reduce the vote.... At least, we cannot reduce the amount mentioned by the member.
F. Gingell: Well, maybe I could put it in these terms. Would the minister please try to explain to the committee why there is an amount included herein of $750,000, which is a provision for bad debts and the cost of concessionary loans under an act -- the Industrial Development Incentive Act -- that is not part of his ministerial responsibilities and not part of his budget?
Hon. B. Barlee: This is a special account under the small business incentive program. We have a certain amount, $14.5 million, and we've loaned disbursements of $2.3 million, which leaves a balance of about $12.25 million at the end of the fiscal year. That's on page 200.
F. Gingell: Maybe I could have a moment just to have a look.
Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, please do not confuse that opening balance of $14,561,565 with the amount of money that has been advanced under these programs. The balance that remains at that point is the difference that is arrived at by taking the amount that was originally approved to be the amount of this special account and deducting therefrom all of the loans that have been made.
You are now into this terrible problem I had a couple of years ago, which keeps coming back to me like a recurring nightmare, of this antiquated accounting system. I would suggest to you, Mr. Minister -- if your estimates are correct; and these balances are not correct to start with, because they are just estimates -- that the amount of loans made under this program, the amount of money advanced, is the difference between $14,561,000 and the original balance in the account, which was $37,209,000, indicating that loans have been made in the amount of $22.7 million. All of these loans in the past couple of years -- and particularly as of March 31, 1992 -- were carefully valuated and provisions made to provide for bad-debt losses. So I wouldn't believe that this $750,000 provided in this year is part of that. Can you enlighten us?
[D. Schreck in the chair.]
P. Halkett: This is quite technical. With the indulgence of the committee, I'll try to give a technical answer. The important footnote to read is on page 200, which then ties back to the provision. If I may read it for the benefit of the committee, the footnote on page 200, the second paragraph -- this also ties back to my earlier comments -- says: "The account has no operating revenue or expenditures since amounts received for interest and principal on outstanding loans are credited to the general fund...." That's what I was trying to outline for the member when we were talking about page 251. The footnote on the bottom of page 251 could have articulated much the same as I've just read out from the footnote on the bottom of page 200. If I may continue: "...and all administrative costs, concessionary expenses and reserves for doubtful accounts are funded through voted appropriations." So the voted appropriation being referred to in the second footnote on the bottom of page 200 is, in fact, the reserve for doubtful accounts and concessionary loans. The provision for doubtful expenses -- if I can use that term -- as distinct from receipts or disbursements, is the $750,000.
The second point is concerned with the responsibility between this ministry and the Ministry of Employment and Investment for this series of loans. In fact, when this ministry was set up in September 1993, the responsibility for the two sets of loans changed, with us taking the small business portion of that and the Ministry of Employment and Investment taking what in our terminology is the larger loans or provisions.
So we have accounting responsibility for some of the outstanding loans. The disbursements are shown on page 200. The receipts come back, as the footnote says, to the general fund. The provision for bad debts is shown on page 196, all of which are tied to our package of responsibilities.
F. Gingell: So can the minister please go back to the first question that I asked, which was: how much money do you expect to recover in the year 1994-95 on loans made in prior years?
Hon. B. Barlee: To resolve this question -- and we haven't got that answer here -- you might want to meet with the departmental comptroller. We will have that answer, but it will take a little more time than what we're allotted right now.
F. Gingell: During the minister's opening remarks, he dealt with the matter of community grants. I wonder if the minister could briefly tell the committee the process in which community grants are dealt with by his ministry.
Hon. B. Barlee: Community grants are allocated among 75 MLAs, and I look at them quite closely. Some of those MLAs have drawn more from that granting system than is their general allocation. If you were to average that out among the 75 MLAs, it would come out to about $133,000 per annum. I'll take my own case. This year I've spent $189,000 drawn from that. Therefore I will not be able to draw very much next year, because I'm over my allocation. So we try to average that out. Some people are several hundred thousand dollars over. We have made it very clear that this will not be the case in years to come. Other people are significantly under. What I'm trying to do here is be evenhanded about it so that people will receive their fair share.
F. Gingell: The question I asked was on process. How does the process work? Who makes the decisions?
Hon. B. Barlee: Applications are received every quarter, and the committee makes the decisions.
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F. Gingell: Can you tell me who is on that committee and who appoints them?
Hon. B. Barlee: The committee is appointed by executive council, as most other committees are.
F. Gingell: Can you tell me what classification of persons describes the makeup of the members?
Hon. B. Barlee: I think the qualifications of the committee are reasonable and are representative of the House as a whole.
F. Gingell: Come on, answer the question.
Hon. B. Barlee: No, I think that's true.
F. Gingell: Are all the members of the committee MLAs?
Hon. B. Barlee: Yes, I believe all five members are MLAs.
F. Gingell: Does the committee have a fair sense of balance, in that there are MLAs of both sexes on the committee?
Hon. B. Barlee: I believe it's two women and three men.
F. Gingell: Does it have a similar form of balance so that it represents more than just the government NDP members? Are any opposition or independent members on the committee?
Hon. B. Barlee: I've mentioned to various members from all sides of the House -- independents, the Reform Party, the Liberal Party and so on -- that they have approximately $133,000 a year to draw from, and they're aware of this. I've told that to anyone who has asked me this, without exception.
F. Gingell: This seems like question period. Perhaps the minister could answer the question I asked.
Hon. B. Barlee: I thought I'd answered that before. The committee is appointed by the executive council, and there are five MLAs -- two cabinet ministers and three MLAs -- all from the government ranks.
F. Gingell: No, you had not said before that they were all government members. I must admit that recently, in a discussion with the bureaucrats who administer the program.... It wasn't until that point that I knew it was a committee of MLAs that sits and makes these decisions. I must say I was surprised it was done in this fashion. It's politicizing it to the greatest extent. I think it just creates a possibility, heaven forbid, that any citizen of British Columbia could feel they were being treated differently, unfairly or without a fair and sympathetic hearing because they hadn't elected the favourite-colour-of-the-month MLA during the last provincial election.
I suggest to the minister -- because I know this government is most intent on not being labelled with the patronage accusations that they continually and properly made against the previous administration -- that the allocation and approval of these grants should be done in a clearly non-partisan and fair fashion. So here's one opportunity for this ministry to change their ways in this coming year. He stated very clearly at the end of his statement that he would listen to and take advice from members from all parts of the House, and perhaps this is one place where we could start.
I have one final question on this issue. Would the minister please advise us of the names of the MLAs who sit on the committee at this time?
Hon. B. Barlee: For the hon. member, I have a list of the disbursements made in the last three or four months, which I think is rather interesting. Only about half a dozen of those were over $200,000. There were 51 to government members, 24 to the opposition. Some of these were: Vancouver-Mount Pleasant was over $200,000; Skeena was over $200,000; Powell River-Sunshine Coast, which is the former Leader of the Opposition's riding, was over $200,000; North Vancouver-Seymour, which is a Liberal member's, was over $300,000 and closing on $400,000; Nanaimo was over $200,000. That's about it.
It's fairly apportioned, and I think I did mention I would be very evenhanded about how those awards were made. They will not be $133,000 per year per riding. I think we all know that. It does vary. Some people ask for $150,000, and if they do, they eat into next year's allocation. I can make this list available to the member at any time he so wishes. I have no problem with that at all. Some of them are multi-jurisdictional; in other words, they hit upon Liberal, NDP and Reform Party MLAs. That's the largest section.... I think it's a little over $7.5 million altogether.
F. Gingell: Perhaps we could go back to the start of this exchange again and the minister could answer my question, which was: who sits on the committee at this time?
Hon. B. Barlee: The following members are on the committee: the member for Nanaimo, the member for Vancouver-Little Mountain, the member for Okanagan-Boundary, the member for Shuswap and the member for North Vancouver-Lonsdale.
F. Gingell: In an earlier answer, I had understood the minister to say that there was a committee of five, two of whom were members of cabinet and three who were not. I take from this that there is a committee of five and they are all backbenchers. Or is there a committee of seven with two cabinet ministers?
From what the minister has said, he is happy to make available to us a nice simple list of all the grants made in 1993-94. I take it that the annual budget was around $10 million last year. That is 75 times $133,000. I also take it that the budget for the year 1994-95 is anticipated to be in the same $10 million range.
Hon. B. Barlee: That's approximately correct.
C. Tanner: In the same line of questioning, could the minister tell me two things? First, does that funding come from lottery funds? Second, could the minister tell me who the senior bureaucrat is who looks after that program?
Hon. B. Barlee: My deputy minister takes care of that.
F. Gingell: The British Columbia government has been working hard and cooperating with provincial governments from all the other nine provinces of Canada, and with the federal government, in dealing with the issues of interprovincial trade barriers. Perhaps the minister could
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advise us where we stand on these issues now and what his ministry hopes to accomplish in this coming year.
Hon. B. Barlee: I believe that properly belongs under the Employment and Investment ministry.
F. Gingell: I'm sure you can appreciate that all British Columbians who are involved in small business are very much interested in the issue of interprovincial trade barriers. I would have thought, from the name of your ministry, it would have come into this ministry rather than Employment and Investment. But you must have had some input in representing your clients in small businesses. Can the minister speak to that at all?
Hon. B. Barlee: I think that everyone wants fair access to other markets, but that does properly belong under the minister who is involved in trade, not my ministry.
F. Gingell: The minister's initials always remind us, of course, of one of his favourite slogans, which is Buy B.C. I was wondering whether this ministry has any thoughts and ideas on how they integrate the kind of pressure they bring or the encouragement they bring to Buy B.C., when the government of British Columbia is part of a nationwide discussion and debate on ways in which trade barriers can be reduced.
Hon. B. Barlee: I'm frankly surprised that the member has criticized our initiative...
F. Gingell: I didn't criticize it.
Hon. B. Barlee: ...or questioned our initiative, Buy B.C. I think it's fairly logical. They have a similar program in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick; virtually every province in the country has a similar program -- all the Liberal provinces, all the NDP provinces, and the one Conservative province.
F. Gingell: During the minister's opening statement he dealt at some length with a matter that was of great interest to us: the types of things that government can do to encourage tourism. I was wondering whether his ministry has done any work or taken any position or done any studies on the issue of casinos.
Hon. B. Barlee: We've looked at it like everyone else, and this does not fall under my ministry at all.
Concerning various programs, I did find it rather odd that the opposition was very keen on carrying the NAFTA, which will probably result in considerable advantages to our neighbours to the south. Whereas we are concentrating on keeping the money in British Columbia, you're quite willing to send it south of the border, which I find interesting.
F. Gingell: NAFTA. Well, I'm sure that this minister and his ministry recognize the world the way it really is and not the way where we'd like to wave a magic wand and change things. Recognizing, as I know he does, the importance of understanding and recognizing the way the world is changing and that we in our provincial jurisdictions have to be prepared to react quickly and do the right things, I was wondering if the minister could advise us of the types of things they've been doing in his ministry to ensure that British Columbia takes advantage of the opportunities that NAFTA opens up to the workers and the businesses of British Columbia.
Hon. B. Barlee: I find that vein of argument interesting. First, if the playing fields were equal, I would say: certainly, let's take advantage of the worldwide trading consortiums. But the playing field is not equal. The Americans have levelled several what I call predatory countervails. The list goes on and on: one time it's hogs, the next time sugar, then wheat and then lumber. I don't call that a level playing field; I have problems with that. I don't mind any agreement between two nations that is an even agreement. This is certainly not an equal agreement. I don't think the member would have to stretch his imagination to consider that the NAFTA, which in many parts is secret, is not an equal agreement between two sovereign nations.
F. Gingell: I'm sure that if the minister ever runs out of complaints about the NAFTA, I can give him a whole series of errors the Conservative federal government made in negotiating the free trade agreement in some rather complex areas in energy-sharing arrangements. But whether we like it or not, the North American Free Trade Agreement has passed. There's nothing we can do about it, except -- as is clearly his responsibility -- do all that can be done to develop opportunities for British Columbia businesses and workers and try to improve our most unsatisfactory unemployment level. I'm sure -- at least I hope -- this minister has a lot more to say about the good things that must be done and that his ministry is doing, rather than continually harping on what has happened in the past and on all the complaints we regurgitate time after time.
Hon. B. Barlee: I just thought that we should exercise prudence, and I don't call it prudent when somebody is a lesser partner in a so-called agreement. If we were equal partners.... Certainly I think no one could envisage that we're even nearly equal partners. I have no problem with equal partnership or equal opportunity. But when one of the countries goes out of its way to launch predatory countervails.... In fact, it was in the news last week that they are going to the last line on lumber again. Frankly, I don't think that's fair ball. That's a personal view, and I think people who have studied NAFTA would probably agree. I'm surprised that the federal government did not revisit that agreement. According to their pronouncements during the election, they were certainly going to revisit it. But they did not revisit it, and that's fine. Nevertheless, that doesn't say that we have to accept it holus-bolus because it has been signed and therefore it's law and so on. I think there is a responsibility of any government, whether it's federal or provincial, to make sure that one side is given equal opportunity. I don't think they were given equal opportunity.
F. Gingell: I take it that your ministry is doing nothing whatsoever -- I've asked the question three times now -- to assist and encourage British Columbia businesses to move into markets and opportunities that may be there for us.
Hon. B. Barlee: We are doing that on three different fronts -- certainly on two. Under our aegis in Tourism, we're launching nine initiatives, and I think the initiatives are significant. We are targeting five areas in the world: the U.K., Germany, the United States -- wheel traffic and fly-in traffic -- Japan and Southeast Asia. We're launching some initiatives that are imaginative and innovative, and I think
[ Page 9880 ]
they will be copied. But that doesn't say that I have to like the NAFTA. Frankly, I don't; I think there are too many flaws in it. The provisions concerning water are flawed, as are a number of other agreements. I think the member opposite agrees with me. This doesn't prevent us from diversifying and making certain strategic plans for the future. In fact, we've taken in $5.6 billion in tourism this year, for instance, and I think you will find that we will have taken in $6 billion by the end of 1996. That's an increase of $400 million.
F. Gingell: I'm really pleased that tourism has the focus in your ministry that it does. But when you talk about free trade agreements -- the original one and the North American Free Trade Agreement -- and the opportunities that should arise out of them, I must admit that tourism isn't an industry that immediately comes to mind. I would have thought that tourism was not much affected by the provisions of the free trade agreement. There was fairly open free trade in tourism among Mexico, the United States and Canada prior to the agreements being entered into, and I wonder what would have changed.
I was really searching for -- and giving you a platform to talk about -- the things that your government may be doing in giving encouragement to high-technology industries like computer programming, environmental engineering and some of the other things that British Columbia has such a strong expertise in.
Hon. B. Barlee: I believe that the member is on the wrong vote again. That's in vote 24, if I recall correctly. B.C. Trade has a certain responsibility, and Training and Technology does as well, but that does not impact directly on this. There are things that do impact on this ministry.
As far as tourism being a non-player is concerned, it is the largest industry in the world by far: $3.5 trillion.
C. Tanner: Could you, in not too many words, tell us the difference between the Small Business part of your ministry now and what it was when it was in the other ministry?
Hon. B. Barlee: There are several differences. First of all, as I said before, trade is not directly under my aegis or responsiblity or mandate. Small business, in this instance -- and some of it is under another ministry, of course -- is generally recognized as those businesses that have a gross income of $25 million or less and 20 employees or fewer. So the other businesses that are above that mark come under another ministry. That's why it is "small" business.
We fleshed out the ministry in several aspects as well. We kept the government agents, which I think are integral to the long-term strategy of the ministry. We have 60 government agents around the province; they serve the government quite well, with very few exceptions. We have about 24 regional economic development officers in various parts of the province, and they coordinate both with the government agents and with other ministries.
When I look at the overall picture of small business in British Columbia.... Small business in always problematic. All of us know this, and both members on the opposite side have been in business, as I have. The mortality rate is significant. There's not much doubt about that at all. But when I look at the comparative figures -- British Columbia to the other provinces in the Dominion -- we are doing.... It's really quite significant that when people come into British Columbia they say it is a different province.
In fact, if I remember correctly, the new federal Minister of Fisheries, Brian Tobin, about two weeks before the election ended, said that British Columbia is the only province that can stand on its own. I think small business in this province is indicative of that.
Bankruptcies are down 20.1 percent. Incorporated small businesses are up 14.2 percent. I think that points to a generally healthy economy, led by a sector that is exceptionally important. As I say, they probably produce about 81 percent of the new jobs in the province, and that cuts right across. Under that Small Business part of the ministry, we're fleshing out strategies that we think will positively impact upon those parts of the populace who have been left out of the equation -- such as, in certain aspects, young people, who are generally having a difficult time finding jobs; women, in some instances; and first nations people.
I consider this an equal part of the ministry. Everyone breaks the ministry down into three sectors. A lot of people put Small Business first, or Tourism first, and Culture third. I don't look at it that way. I think Culture is a very important part of the ministry and impacts both on Small Business and certainly on Tourism. The other two, of course, are quite aligned; there's quite a bit of crossover, as the member knows, between tourism and small business.
It's a matter of adopting a strategy that I think will serve us well in the long run. I think this should be a performance ministry. In both Ontario and Quebec, they call this a new superministry; I don't know whether that's true or not. I do know, though, that it has more potential than almost any other ministry in government -- and I mean upside potential. I think we'll be employing well over a quarter of a million people -- probably close to 300,000 -- in tourism by the end of this century. I hope that our small business sector will continue to thrive; indeed, I think it will.
C. Tanner: Mr. Minister, the best description of "small business" that I know is that it is not bothered by government, and has low taxes and easy financing. I don't know that you do any of those things. I don't know what your ministry is doing. It seems to me that it's looking after a couple of segments of the small business market out there -- native affairs and women. I suspect that's a very small segment of it, although one must admit that the female component of small business is growing rapidly and, as it turns out, they are individually more successful than the male sector. The fact of the matter is that it's still a very small part of small business.
If you are not cutting taxes, if you are not getting out of the way of small business to let them do their thing, and if you are in fact bringing in more restrictions, and not helping them finance, what exactly are you doing?
Hon. B. Barlee: I think we've done several things. First of all, I make a practice of visiting virtually every chamber of commerce that invites me -- that's a lot of them, and I'm behind in that. I've visited dozens already and have been invited back in several instances. We've also put out over 8,000 copies of a discussion paper, asking businesses to list in a range from one to ten the things that bother them the most. We're going over that now. We've received practically a thousand replies, and we think we should be able to reduce some of the paperwork they're inclined to do.
We have also put 25 regional economic development officers around the province. We have an employee share ownership program, which is generally called ESOP -- I hate acronyms. It has worked extremely well. We have WOF, the Working Opportunity Fund, which I think is working quite well. And we have the equity capital program, which is also
[ Page 9881 ]
working quite well. We have the aboriginal community initiative, which I think is something we have not taken advantage of. If you look at the Four Corners region of the United States, you will see that they've taken significant advantage of their first nation cultures. We have not done this, and we have a culture that is equivalent to or better than their culture.
These are just some of the initiatives in small business; and small business, frankly, welcomes them. I'm not saying that all small business is onside; I wouldn't make that statement. But I do say that when I travel around the province from place to place.... I was just in Nakusp last week, and we packed about 45 people into the room. We could have gotten 75, but the room couldn't hold them. That's not bad. These are individuals who are....
I have a lot of time for small business, as both members know. You're on your own. Essentially, if you make a mistake, it hits directly at you. The money you provide to launch your business is usually your own, or your assets are at risk. You don't have a pension plan; you have to resolve that yourself. You usually don't have a buy-out plan. It's a fragile part of the economy, but I think it's the most important part of it.
In the five months I've been here I've put into place certain strategies that I think will serve small business and the province well in the coming years. I see no indication that it's going in the opposite direction. Our unemployment rate dropped significantly last month again, and as usual, we created the majority of the jobs in Canada. Those records aren't perfect, but they certainly are indicative that we're going in the right direction.
C. Tanner: The minister mentioned that he sent out 8,000 questionnaires and got 1,000 back. What was the number one answer that he got back on the questionnaires?
Hon. B. Barlee: The number one answer -- and if I remember correctly, about 53 percent came back -- was that they could not get adequate funding.
C. Tanner: The minister has just answered my question. So what is his ministry doing about that?
Hon. B. Barlee: I think some of the programs that we've launched already are indicative of where we're going. This government absorbed -- if I remember correctly, and I think I do -- something like $320 million which we had to write off in small business and large business debts when we assumed office. That $320 million came right out of the back pockets of the taxpayer.
Again I'm going from memory, but I think I am pretty close. Upon questioning the Big Five banks in Canada, we found their loss on small business loans is around 1.38 percent. Frankly, I do not think they have done their job. They've made some massive mistakes, but that has been on the corporate elite side, not on the small business side. In fact, I was at this meeting last week with the bankers and indicated that I felt they should put some more of their resources into the small business community. I think they're giving us lip service but little else.
C. Tanner: I'm sure the minister knows all about lip service, because that's mostly what we're getting here this afternoon. What I'm asking him is: what is his department doing to make small business more viable and to help them find the financing they need -- which, by his own admission, is the number one answer to the questions he got? And what has the minister done, for example, with credit unions, which this government has some control over within the province -- what has he done to get them into the small business field? What's he doing to induce and find for small business in this province financing, lower taxes and less government regulation?
Hon. B. Barlee: The man on my left-hand side was one of the major players in the credit unions of British Columbia last week; he's coming over to see me, I think, in about nine days. They are launching a program that will be concentrating on small business. Some of the banks have come up with an ombudsperson for small business; we have also been in significant contact with the major banks in the country, so we're working with them. I don't think it is the responsibility of the taxpayer, essentially -- perhaps the member and I disagree here -- to provide funding for small business. I think that's properly the responsibility of those companies that are in that business, and I certainly think the various banks are in that business. And the losses have been significantly lower than one would expect, at 1.38 percent. With profits of $800 million a year, they can probably afford to take a little walk into the small business community. Now, I know that the member opposite might want the taxpayer to take that risk; I think the banks are doing very well, and I think they should take some of that risk.
C. Tanner: We both agree about one thing, that the last government made an absolute mess of lending money to private enterprise, and I don't think they should be doing it. I never have thought that and I haven't suggested it here this afternoon. What I'm suggesting, though, is that the minister is not doing anything to make it easier for small business to find money. We were recently addressed by the credit unions, and when I put the question to the board of governors of the credit unions of British Columbia, they didn't have an answer. They said: "Well, you know, we like to play it safe in mortgages, and we like to look after small loans on appliances and vehicles, but we don't want to get into that, because we got our fingers burnt in the 1980s." Well, everybody got their fingers burnt in the eighties in that business, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be back in it, and the government should be prepared to be giving them some encouragement. And I haven't yet heard from this minister any encouragement that he's given to any small business, other than to a female or a first nations person.
Hon. B. Barlee: I thought that we had.... Actually, I was wrong; I've just got the figures now. It wasn't 1.38 percent; it was 1.43 percent. So I stand corrected -- I am five-hundredths of 1 percent out, and I apologize for my slip of memory there. But we've been working with the Canadian Bankers' Association. We have pointed out that they have a certain responsibility to small business. To be quite candid, I do not think that it is the responsibility of the taxpayers of British Columbia; I think it is the responsibility of those corporations and industries that are in that business. So that's what we're doing. We're also working with the credit unions, and they are very powerful in the province of British Columbia -- and also, of course, in Quebec.
So we're taking initiatives that do not put the taxpayer at risk, and I think this is the right way to go. I think the record speaks for itself; I think our record on small business is exceptional. As the federal politicians say, British Columbia is a country that stands apart -- when they get off the plane, my God, they can't believe it. So some of the ECP has encouraged 5,700 investors to invest $194 million into small
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businesses in British Columbia. We have the ESOP program, as well, and we have the WOF program. So this way the taxpayer is not at risk. I think the member may be asking me to put the taxpayer at risk. I'm not willing to do that.
F. Gingell: If we may just review again quickly those programs, because I don't completely understand what the ECP is.... Perhaps you could deal with that. I know a lot about what you call ESOP and I call the Employee Share Ownership and Investment Association of British Columbia, because that was a project of the previous administration. I was one of the first directors of the organization, and one of the founders.
You talk about WOF. I noted down the numbers that you mentioned before -- you said that they had raised $45 million and had only invested $2.1 million. They've been going for two years now, haven't they? Yes, it was announced in February 1992, so they really haven't accomplished a great deal.
Perhaps you could tell the committee a little about the ECP -- who started it and what it is.
Hon. B. Barlee: The ECP is under the Small Business Venture Capital Act. It's an equity capital program, ECP, and it provides a 30 percent tax credit to encourage individuals to invest in venture capital programs, VCCs.
F. Gingell: This is the VCC program?
Hon. B. Barlee: That's correct -- it has two names. So they in turn invest in eligible British Columbia businesses.
As far as WOF is concerned, your figures are correct. The Working Opportunity Fund has brought in about $45 million. The CEO of that fund, David Levi, is an extremely careful and prudent manager. He has put about $2.1 million into four companies. Those companies are doing very well. If we make a mistake that would be broadcast far and wide. We don't intend to make any mistakes. He will invest as time goes on. He'll look at some high-tech companies; he's doing that now. Generally it's in the high-tech field, and I think we have more work to do there; there is not much doubt about that. I don't think he can be faulted for not rushing in and making investments left, right and centre without diligence. I think he's been diligent.
W. Hurd: I have a series of questions that are relative to the Working Opportunity Fund. I wonder if the minister could describe exactly what regulatory authority his ministry would have over the Working Opportunity Fund. What are the lines of accountability with the fund? Has the question been posed previously?
F. Gingell: No, it hasn't.
Hon. B. Barlee: The Working Opportunity Fund was sponsored by seven of British Columbia's largest trade unions. It was registered under the Employee Investment Act, the EIA, as an employee venture capital corporation for the purpose of investing in emerging businesses which diversify the British Columbia economy. The goals are fairly good. Under the EIA, employees are offered tax credits from both the federal and provincial governments as an incentive to purchase WOF shares. There have been 12,000 investors since 1992. One of the investments made was $400,000 in the Canadian Oil Filter Recovery Corp. of Kelowna -- they've done very well. They've increased their facility significantly; they're hiring more people. Another investment made was $275,000 in Pro Carry Systems International of Burnaby. This is a manufacturer of police and security force equipment. They're dipping into the market very well indeed. There was $880,000 invested in Stone Electronics of Victoria, a manufacturer of Divelink underwater communication systems for the recreational scuba market. The fourth investment of $550,000 went to Photon Systems Corp. of Burnaby, a fibre optics equipment manufacturer. Those are the four major and significant investments under that fund.
I don't find much fault with it. I have frequent meetings with the CEO, David Levi, discussing where we should be going with this, whether there are any taxpayer funds at risk and so on.
The Chair: Before recognizing the member, with no intention of entering into the debate, the Chair will caution all members that the proper matters for debate in these estimates are those which fall within the estimates of the minister. If any private sector company is to be analyzed, the Chair would urge the members to try to relate the holdings or activities of that company to the activities within the budget of the ministry.
W. Hurd: I am assuming that the ministry devotes funds to analyzing and requires accountability reporting from the Working Opportunity Fund. I assume that I will be corrected if I'm wrong. Questions about the fund itself are certainly appropriate.
Is the minister aware of the relationship between a company called Working Enterprises Ltd. and the Working Opportunity Fund? I understand it is also chaired by David Levi, promoter of the Working Opportunity Fund.
Hon. B. Barlee: I mentioned the three funds that we're concerned with. I'm not familiar with the fourth.
W. Hurd: In the prospectus for the Working Opportunity Fund, Working Enterprises Ltd. is described as the promoter of the fund, which is owned by six trade unions in the province, including involvement for the B.C. Federation of Labour. The reason I ask about the relationship between Working Enterprises Ltd. and the Working Opportunity Fund is that Mr. Levi appears as both president of Working Enterprises Ltd. and chairman of the fund.
Hon. B. Barlee: I don't know if that is registered under the Employment Investment Act, the EIA. You give me no indication whether it is or is not.
W. Hurd: I was referring specifically to the Working Opportunity Fund simplified prospectus acquired from the Legislative Library. I refer to page 2 of the prospectus, following the table of contents, in which Working Enterprises Ltd. is described as the sponsor of the fund.
"The sponsor is owned equally by seven trade unions representing approximately 275,000 employees in government and a variety of industries in British Columbia. The sponsor appoints a majority of the fund's board of directors. Under British Columbia securities laws the sponsor is regarded as the promoter of the fund."
I assume this passage refers to the appointment of the board of directors of the Working Opportunity Fund.
The reason I ask the question is that, according to recent news reports, Working Enterprises Ltd. has recently acquired 51 percent of Community Box Offices Inc., CBO, which is a rival to TicketMaster in the province. I wonder if the minister has any knowledge of that transaction by the promoter of the Working Opportunity Fund and whether
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any of those shares are going to find their way into the fund itself.
The Chair: Before recognizing the minister, the Chair will again caution the members to please try to relate this fund to the administrative responsibilities of the minister and the estimates before us.
Hon. B. Barlee: The Securities Act regulates WOF. WOF is a private, taxpaying company which is owned and controlled by about 12,000 shareholders. They have an elected board of directors of 11. So they are, indeed, a private, taxpaying company. The return on their shares was about 18 percent over two years, which is reasonable, not spectacular; it's careful investment and, I think, fairly prudent.
W. Hurd: I appear to be having difficulty connecting to the line of questioning so I'll try again. Working Enterprises, which is a limited company controlled by six trade unions in the province, is listed as being the promoter of the Working Opportunity Fund. It also appoints members to the board of directors of this fund. I guess my line of questioning relates to the activities of Working Enterprises Ltd., which is controlled by or at least directed by the chairman of WOF. In his assessment of the Working Opportunity Fund or the resources from his ministry which are devoted to tracking the fund and to analyzing its performance, does the minister also subject Working Enterprises Ltd. to the same scrutiny as far as his ministry is concerned?
P. Halkett: To the best of my knowledge -- and again, we'll check on this -- what I call WEL, and what you describe as the promotion firm, would be regulated by the Securities Act. As you indicated, should they make investments in other firms, that would be under the purview of the Securites Act which reports to the Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations. Under the act which our minister is responsible for, we would be concerned with the Working Opportunity Fund and eligible investments as defined under that act. I would have to investigate whether the firm that WEL has invested in is or is not eligible under the provisions of the act which we are responsible for, and I would undertake to determine that.
W. Hurd: My question really related to whether the minister or the ministry devotes any funds under its budget to monitoring the activities of Working Enterprises Ltd., which clearly has a line of responsibility to the Working Opportunity Fund. Again, I register my concern about Working Enterprises being a limited company under the Securities Act in British Columbia and about its president, Mr. Levi, making a separate series of investments -- I assume on behalf of the company and its board of directors -- at the same time as he is chairman of the Working Opportunity Fund. Could the minister tell us whether in his view Mr. Levi would be responsible for making acquisitions or purchases on behalf of the Working Opportunity Fund at the same time as he is directing affairs of this particular limited company, which has the responsibility to appoint directors to the fund and is listed under the Securities Act as being the promoter of the Working Opportunity Fund?
The Chair: Once again, before recognizing the minister, the Chair would caution that this may not be the appropriate forum to debate the affairs of a private company. Could the minister please relate the answer to the jurisdiction and administrative responsibilities covered by these estimates.
Hon. B. Barlee: I again say that this is a private, taxpaying company. It's controlled by seven different unions and 12,000 shareholders. The CEO of just WOF is not restricted.... And we spend a negligible amount -- nothing, I think -- in the ministry to track it. As a courtesy, he calls on me every month or so and lets me know how the Opportunity Fund is doing.
C. Tanner: By agreement with the minister and the opposition -- and there's nobody else of the odds and sods, I mean the independents, here -- we were going to close it down at 5 o'clock. So I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:03 p.m.
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