1994 Legislative Session: 3rd Session, 35th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 27, 1994
Volume 14, Number 17
[ Page 10325 ]
The House met at 2:07 p.m.
D. Lovick: I note in the gallery today two visitors from the Harbour City, Nanaimo: Mr. Cliff Shoop and Ms. Beatrice Spooner. I would ask my colleagues in the chamber to please join me in extending a warm welcome to both of them.
V. Anderson: In the gallery today we have as guests Alexis Pavlich, a forestry student at UBC, and Rebecca Johnson, a political science student at UBC. Also in the gallery we have some 90 students from Churchill secondary school in my riding, with their teacher, Mr. S. McLaughlin. Also in the precincts today were students from Lord Kitchener school, with Miss M. Adamovich as their leader. Would the House make them all welcome.
J. Doyle: Today I'm very honoured to have in the galleries my best friend and a constituent, Paul Peacock. Paul is the chair of the hospital board in Golden. Please make Paul welcome.
T. Perry: In the precincts in a broad sense today are a large number of distinguished scientists participating in a conference at the University of Victoria on depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer. I'd like to invite members to join me in making them welcome to our province. I hope some of them will visit us here, if they're not here right at this moment. I hope members will take the chance to participate in their sessions at the University of Victoria.
Hon. M. Harcourt: I would like members of the Legislature to give a very warm welcome to the consul general for Spain, Mr. Jose Zorilla, who is stationed in Toronto and is responsible for all points west. I'm sure he's going to be out west many more times. We're looking right now at a high-speed Spanish-designed and -built train for the Eugene to Seattle to Vancouver corridor. I'm sure we're going to have many more business opportunities for you, sir, when you come this way. You may have a full-time office here shortly. Welcome.
J. Sawicki: As all members know, in addition to our partners and other close friends, the most important people in our lives are our constituency assistants. I would like to introduce my constituency assistant, Barry Bristman. I'm asked also to bring greetings from the hon. member for North Vancouver-Lonsdale. I'm sure all the government caucus would like to welcome their respective constituency assistants who may be in the galleries right now.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Today is Vancouver East Day for kids wanting to get an education. I am delighted to welcome 60 students from Sir Matthew Begbie Elementary in East Vancouver, with their teacher Ms. K. Read. Later on today there will be 30 more grade 11 students from Vancouver Technical Secondary, with their teacher Mr. A. Evanson. Will everyone please make them welcome throughout the day.
INQUIRY INTO PERRAULT CASE
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I rise today to make an announcement on a matter concerning our province's corrections system. British Columbians deserve to have full confidence in their corrections system. I stated inside and outside this House that I would take the necessary steps to ensure that the Danny Perrault case receives a thorough and independent review. Therefore today I am announcing the appointment of Madam Justice Jo-Ann E. Prowse, of the Court of Appeal of B.C., to immediately begin an independent, public commission of inquiry into the corrections branch's decision to transfer Perrault to the New Haven Correctional Centre.
Because of the urgency of this matter, I have asked Madam Justice Prowse to inquire into this matter and any public safety issues relating to it, and to report back to me by June 15 of this year. Her report will be made public, subject to any legal restrictions affecting cases such as these. Madam Justice Prowse will have the authority, under the terms of her appointment, to engage private lawyers to provide her with advice about publishing or disclosing information.
It is imperative that the process for investigating serious cases, such as this one, in our corrections system be rigorous, fair and impartial -- and be seen to be so. That is why I have appointed Madam Justice Prowse to conduct this commission of inquiry. But more than that, we need to ensure that the investigations of any incidents of concern to the public, corrections staff or offenders are conducted independently in the future, and are seen to be conducted independently.
I would like to announce today my intention to create an independent investigation, inspection and standards office in the Ministry of Attorney General. The new office will investigate corrections-related incidents and complaints. It will report directly to me and be completely independent of the corrections branch. I will be introducing an amendment to the Correction Act for the new office in a few minutes.
J. Dalton: Firstly, I thank the hon. Attorney General for giving me his statement in advance, so that we were aware of what the minister was happily announcing -- or at least half-happily, I would say. The minister has at least acceded to part of the official opposition's request for a full and independent inquiry into the corrections system in general, and not just the Danny Perrault case in particular.
The hon. Attorney General talks of public confidence. We all know that public confidence in the corrections system, among other things dealing with justice, has been shaken in recent days. I won't belabour that point right now. But I would impress upon the hon. Attorney General that we would like this taken the next step. The Attorney General has gone halfway on this. Admittedly, the Danny Perrault case is of importance. We've canvassed that at some length in the estimates, and perhaps we'll do so again when we reconvene those estimates. But the official opposition stands on record -- and I would submit that the Attorney General, as well, has made it clear, both in this House and outside -- that the next step should be taken, and that's a full inquiry. This is a half-measure. It's better than nothing, and until this moment nothing is what we had. But the official opposition will continue to press for a full inquiry.
We certainly do welcome the appointment of Madam Justice Prowse. We know that she will do her job objectively, speedily and with credibility; and for that, at least, we thank the hon. Attorney General.
The Speaker: The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi rises on what matter?
[ Page 10326 ]
D. Mitchell: I too would like to thank the minister for providing a copy of this notice, and I would like to ask for leave to respond.
The Speaker: Order, hon. member. The hon. member knows the rules. His party is not recognized. The hon. member rises on another matter?
D. Mitchell: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to ask for leave to respond to the ministerial statement.
Some Hon. Members: Aye.
The Speaker: Order!
Hon. member, we went through this on previous occasions, and we established that unless the member had status to respond to ministerial statements, we would not put it forward as a request, because it's contrary to the rules.
Are the members saying that they want to...?
Some Hon. Members: Aye.
The Speaker: Okay, leave is granted, hon. member.
An Hon. Member: Nay.
The Speaker: Order, please. Would the hon. member please take his seat. I heard a nay. Permission is not granted.
MISCELLANEOUS STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 1994
Hon. C. Gabelmann presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 1994.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I am pleased to introduce Bill 33, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 1994. The Correction Act is amended to establish a director and office of investigation, inspection and standards for correctional matters that is separate from and independent of the corrections branch and the commissioner of corrections. The director of investigation, inspection and standards shall report directly and solely to the minister, rather than to the commissioner of corrections.
Secondly, the Election Act is amended to cancel the general enumeration of voters scheduled for this year and authorizes the chief electoral officer to conduct enumerations as necessary. The chief electoral officer has requested this amendment, as significant changes have been implemented over the last five years which make a provincewide enumeration redundant and a waste of taxpayers' money. A full enumeration costs in the neighbourhood of $8 million. The chief electoral officer advises that British Columbia is the first jurisdiction in Canada to develop a fully electronic, continuous voters list, which is being continually updated. By this means we can achieve much greater accuracy than with a door-to-door provincewide enumeration, at a fraction of the cost. Special enumerations will be conducted by the chief electoral officer as required, to target high-mobility areas, young people and other groups that are traditionally under-registered.
Thirdly, amendments to the Motion Picture Act will improve enforcement of the act by allowing the director of film classification to attach conditions to a licence and by clarifying the section which provides for the inspection and seizure of adult films in contravention of the act.
There are also minor amendments to the Scholarship Act, Social Workers Act and Supreme Court Act. I shall elaborate further on these amendments in second reading of this bill.
Bill 33 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
INVESTIGATION OF AGRICULTURE MINISTER BY CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST COMMISSIONER
G. Campbell: My question is for the Premier. Yesterday we learned that the Minister of Agriculture was in an apparent breach of section 3 of the Members' Conflict of Interest Act. Today it is clear from comments of the minister that he is also in breach of sections 2(1) and 2(2) of that act. I have therefore written to the conflict-of-interest commissioner asking that he expand his investigation into the minister's actions. Can the Premier tell this House how many sections of the act have to be breached before he will show some leadership and demand accountability of his ministers?
Hon. M. Harcourt: The Leader of the Opposition seems to misunderstand the whole purpose of the toughest conflict laws in this country. He is prepared to be the judge, jury and hangman and to let due process go all to heck. The Leader of the Opposition is prepared to make a decision that there is a breach when all we have from him is an allegation that has been referred to the commissioner to investigate. He is investigating. The Leader of the Opposition should let the commissioner of conflicts investigate the allegation he has put before him.
G. Campbell: I am appalled at this Premier's lack of ethical standards. We have now learned from this Premier that it's all right for a minister to make the address of a sexual assault victim available to her attacker. We've learned from this Premier that it's all right for the Attorney General to file a false affidavit. Last night we learned from this Premier -- and my question is to him -- that there are no extraordinary circumstances when a minister of the Crown uses his public office for personal benefit. What are the extraordinary circumstances that this Premier would recognize in order to demand accountability and ask for the resignation of a member of his cabinet?
Hon. M. Harcourt: I think the Leader of the Opposition is again coming very close to breaching the privileges of a member of this Legislature, and other MLAs, by making allegations that he turns into findings of fact -- findings under the toughest conflict laws in the country -- which are automatically investigated by the conflict commissioner. As the Leader of the Opposition and his pitiful members have found out, making allegations become fact when due process takes place is a heck of a lot tougher to do than what they've done so far. They found out that an honest mistake was made by the Attorney General. The special prosecutor found just that: an honest mistake.
The Speaker: Final supplementary.
[ Page 10327 ]
G. Campbell: On March 21, 1991, this member -- now Premier -- said in the House that a minister of the Crown who was under investigation by the conflict-of-interest commissioner has an obligation to step aside. That public obligation remains, Mr. Premier. That public obligation does not change because you happen to be in government. Now the Premier says: "As long as you're a member of the NDP, do what you want to do. That's fine with me."
My question to the Premier is: when is he going to set aside his double standard? When is he going to re-establish the ethical standards of this House and demand the resignation of the Minister of Agriculture while he is under investigation by the conflict-of-interest commissioner?
Hon. M. Harcourt: Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, who was on the phone yesterday with a Liberal constituency president concerning this allegation, I was out dealing with real people. I was in the Okanagan dealing with tree fruit growers who are suffering unfair trade practices. I was in the Okanagan dealing with workers in value-added forestry plants who want access to logs.
This government established the conflict-of-interest act. There wasn't a conflict-of-interest act that had any teeth at all. We have established a new, higher standard with a conflict-of-interest act that deals with real and apparent conflicts. When a letter is received by the commissioner, the commissioner investigates. Under the Crown Counsel Act, when the special Crown counsel receives information, he investigates. Those high standards are now in place because of this government.
GENDER BIAS IN CABINET
L. Stephens: The Premier axed the former Minister of Education -- a woman. He fired the former Minister of Government Services -- a woman. He demoted the former Minister of Social Services -- a woman. And he led the pack in getting rid of the former Speaker -- also a woman.
L. Stephens: To the Minister of Women's Equality. Does the minister support...
The Speaker: Order, please.
L. Stephens: ...this shocking...?
The Speaker: Order, hon. members. Will the hon. members please come to order.
The Speaker: Order! Hon. members, obviously there is something humorous that is escaping the Speaker. I must advise all hon. members that we have only a 15-minute question period, and these interruptions are taking up the members' time. Would you please allow the hon. member for Langley to proceed. The question, please.
L. Stephens: Thank you, hon. Speaker. My question is to the Minister of Women's Equality. Does the minister support this shocking gender bias that the Premier has displayed?
Hon. P. Priddy: I am delighted to respond to the member's question. In point of fact, I would say that I am very proud, as are all members of this caucus, of the initiatives that this government has taken around...
The Speaker: Order, hon. members.
Hon. P. Priddy: ...equal representation for women in the province of British Columbia. I would reference three points. I would reference the fact that in the two and a half years since this government was elected, the number of women in management positions has increased in every single management category in this government, and this government is proud of that. In agencies, boards and commissions throughout the province -- where women have never before had a voice, except in very, very small numbers -- over 50 percent of those board and commission appointments are women.
The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member.
Hon. P. Priddy: Under the Premier's....
The Speaker: Order, please. I would ask the hon. minister to please conclude her remarks.
Hon. P. Priddy: Under the Premier's leadership, this government has taken the lead in admitting gender bias in the justice system. This government stands firmly behind the initiatives that bring women's voices to the table.
The Speaker: Supplementary, hon. member.
L. Stephens: Well, the Premier has repeatedly stood by his man: the former Minister of Forests, the Minister of Health, the Attorney General and now the Minister of Agriculture. Will the Premier acknowledge the obvious gender discrimination in his decision-making, which protects the men and sacrifices the women?
Hon. M. Harcourt: I look around me here, and I don't see too many women members from my caucus being sacrificed. I see a record number of women. Seven members of the cabinet are women. I see that for the first time, seven deputy ministers are women. I see a change in British Columbia, and I see that women are gaining the equality that they should have. This government is leading the way in that equality.
The Speaker: Final supplemental, hon. member.
L. Stephens: The Premier's reactions to inappropriate cabinet behaviour show that the Premier has an agenda and a personal interest in protecting his male colleagues in his cabinet and firing the women. Will the Premier admit that when it comes to disciplining his cabinet...
The Speaker: Order, please.
L. Stephens: ...he will administer harsh public justice and discipline only to the women in his cabinet?
[ Page 10328 ]
Hon. M. Harcourt: I think that you as a Liberal caucus should look in the mirror and at the four women whom you fired so savagely.
G. Wilson: Having listened to this part of question period, I'm tempted to utter a phrase that got me, certainly, and most of the members in the Liberal caucus in here: "This, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason that nothing gets done in the province of British Columbia, and you saw it here."
The Speaker: The question, hon. member.
TEACHERS' RIGHT TO STRIKE
G. Wilson: My question is to the minister responsible for education. Today the talks between PSEC and the B.C. Teachers' Federation have broken down and are at a serious impasse, because this government has gone back on its commitment to those teachers that there would be a grandfather clause in existing contracts, negotiated and agreed to in any new provincewide bargaining system, and that there would be a guarantee provided by this government for a local right to strike on non-monetary issues. Will the Minister of Education tell us why his government has gone back on those commitments and why he would allow the BCTF and PSEC to be in such a dangerous breach in terms of agreement today?
Hon. E. Cull: As the minister responsible for the Public Sector Employers' Council, which is conducting consultation right now about the new provincewide bargaining, I will inform you that these comments are entirely premature. We are in the process of discussing the proposed legislation with not only the B.C. Teachers' Federation, but also the B.C. School Trustees' Association, the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, and other bodies interested in how this legislation is shaped. No decision has been made. No draft legislation exists at this time.
G. Wilson: To the Minister of Finance and minister responsible for PSEC, I understand that Linda Baker, the representative of PSEC.... Meetings with the BCTF have come to an impasse, and the BCTF's commitment to assist in the drafting of appropriate legislation with respect to the two-tiered provincewide teacher bargaining system is now in severe jeopardy as a result of this government going back on its commitment. Is this government committed to a grandfathering of existing negotiated contract clauses with respect to local school districts, and will this minister respect the local right to strike on non-monetary issues?
Hon. E. Cull: When we announced the decision to go to provincewide bargaining, we said that there would not be any local right to strike; that the right to strike and the right to lock out would be only at the provincial level. That is necessary to provide stability to students and their families, which is the number one reason for bringing in this legislation. At this point, the BCTF may not feel that they're getting all the guarantees they want in the discussions, and I urge them to return to discussing this with the PSEC secretariat. The B.C. Teachers' Federation has a lot of internal divisions. I urge them to work to overcome those and ensure that we're able to bring forward legislation to meet the needs of students in this province.
The Speaker: Final supplementary.
G. Wilson: It's amazing that a government with a commitment to the legal right to strike for organized union members in this province is now prepared to remove the right to strike from the teaching sector. I suggest that perhaps they're moving toward an essential service classification, which is news to the people of British Columbia. The press release dealt strictly with those matters regarding monetary issues. When did the government change its position with respect to a local right to strike on non-monetary issues to include all issues, regardless of whether they have monetary impact?
Hon. E. Cull: Unlike some members in this House, this government supports teachers' rights to free collective bargaining, and that's what this legislation is about. But moving to a system that says there will be provincewide bargaining does not remove the right to strike. In fact, many other parts of the labour system -- the pulp employees, the B.C. government employees themselves -- have a similar system of provincewide bargaining, where the right to strike rests at that level.
The Speaker: Hon. members, the bell terminates question period.
RELEASE OF CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION BY MINISTRY OF HEALTH
Hon. P. Ramsey: I rise to answer a question taken on notice on April 6. The question by the member for Richmond East was: "Would the Minister of Health indicate how many other requests have been made by convicted offenders to access their files?"
Every year, up to 500 patients at the Forensic Psychiatric Institute are able to review their files, with a clinician present, after their files are severed of third-party information. The patient mentioned in the media allegations early in April, and referred to by the member for Richmond East, was the only one to receive a copy of a file without it being put through a formal freedom-of-information procedure. The request for this file had been reviewed informally by FOI officers.
As I have noted for the House, new policy in the Ministry of Health requires that no third-party information will be released except by referring patient records to the formal freedom-of-information procedure.
Hon. G. Clark: First of all, hon. Speaker, I'd ask leave of the House for the Select Standing Committee on Finance, Crown Corporations and Government Services to sit today at 2:45 p.m. in the Birch Room.
Hon. G. Clark: In Section A, I call Committee of Supply, the Ministry of Housing, Recreation and Consumer Services. In the main House, I call continued debate on second reading of Bill 32, the BC Forest Renewal Act.
The Speaker: Hon. members, before recognizing the hon. member on second reading of Bill 32, I will permit members to leave who are intending to do so.
[ Page 10329 ]
BC FOREST RENEWAL ACT
Hon. J. Pement: I'd like to continue my conversation with regard to the Forest Renewal Act. Yesterday I talked a bit about an area of Bulkley Valley-Stikine -- the Lakes District -- and the evolution of the forest industry within that community. I also spoke about past government policies that were detrimental to our forest industry, with regard to overcapacity mills and other scenarios that the past government seemed not to recognize as ever-increasing concerns for our industry.
The past government looked at forestry as a status quo situation. This government has not agreed to that scenario. We have looked at land use and other values in the forests, and looked towards working with the industry and investment in the land itself through the Forest Renewal Act. We've looked towards the sustainability of the forest base and the forest industry itself, which we recognize is the most important industry in our province. We've looked at the sustainability of the economics of our communities, particularly our smaller resource communities. In this bill, we've also looked at the stability of jobs within the forest industry and the fact that we need to look at jobs slightly differently than we used to. We have to not only focus on the harvesting side of the industry but also on the jobs in the silviculture and reforestation side of the industry. We need to raise those jobs, through certification and skills training, to the point where we understand that these jobs are imperative to raising our land base and ensuring that the industry will sustain itself.
This act speaks to partnerships with industry, workers, environmentalists and community leaders -- all looking toward bringing their expertise together so that we can have a better industry, so that we can encourage the enhancement of the forest base, and so that we can assure communities that there is some stability, particularly on the resource industry side.
[F. Garden in the chair.]
We are looking at renewing the forests through enhancing reforestation and silviculture. We're also looking at protecting and restoring the environment by repairing damage that was done in the past. We've had watershed damage, and we've had resource roads decommissioned; we can bring those back into forest production as well. There is a lot of work to be done out there, and we need to create some valuable jobs to ensure that that work is done. Those jobs require skills training. The people who do those jobs must also understand the ecological balance of the forest in terms of future harvesting and renewal.
We are looking, through this and other bills, to building and improving on today's forestry practices. We have improved in the recent past, but we have to continue to work toward better methods of silviculture and extraction from the forests. When the Forest Practices Code comes forward in the Legislature, it will go hand in hand with this act. I feel that we are building a strong foundation for the future of the industry. We are investing in people, we're investing in jobs and future jobs for our children, and we're investing in our communities. We're looking at value-added options, so that we're not looking at the status quo, where we send cants out; we're looking at having a supply for the value-added side as well. We're looking at the forest sector skills council, so that there is a focus on bringing up those skills for the workers.
Within this act, we're also talking about economic development and diversification of communities. I have been out in some of the communities in my constituency since this act has been introduced in the Legislature, and there is endorsement for this act by the communities. They recognize that they are communities in transition -- not transition out of an industry, but a change in the industry and in the way we approach this industry. Therefore the leaders and members of the communities are saying that we must do something. We must look at the economic side of it, and we must look at diversification within the industry as well. By doing so, our communities will be strengthened.
The interesting part of this Forest Renewal Act is the fact that the resourcing of the act, of jobs and of investing in the forest base will come from the forest industry itself. Through the increase in stumpage, we will direct money back into renewal of our forests. Where we have concerns within specific communities and specific sectors of the industry -- in different mills and different mixes of the industry -- we have the option of a technical review. If a particular part of the industry is going to be adversely affected by the stumpage, we have the opportunity to review, analyze and take a closer look at that particular area. The other side of this finance scenario is the equitable distribution among the regions. By mentioning the regions within the act, we are saying that each region is contributing to the financing of this act, and also to the industry itself, and that we are going to renew the forests in those regions from which we are extracting timber and the fibre supply.
I find this act very exciting, because it touches on a very large scope of what the industry and the forest are about. It encompasses communities, workers and industry itself, and brings them back in in terms of discussion, dialogue and setting up new approaches to deal with concerns that we have been facing in the last few years. Also exciting is the fact that the business plan of the new Crown corporation is going to be debated in the Legislature. That is something that has not happened before. That is the democratic process for all of us -- all MLAs, all British Columbians: to have a part in developing that business plan. Our communities are going to really rejoice in the fact that if they have a concern with regard to how that investment will happen within the province, region and community itself, the concern will come directly to this Legislature.
I really look forward to seeing this act being brought in with regard for the community, for the industry and for the forest itself.
The Forest Renewal Act was developed through cooperation and partnership at a table where the dialogue was between people who worked directly in the industry. Because it was that type of forum, I expect the corporation that will be set up will reflect that partnership. That's also a very exciting thing to happen. You know, some opposition members have said that this is big government. Well, I disagree. This is good government. This is the way that we want to see our bills brought forward: with the cooperation of the community, the industry, workers, MLAs and the whole of the province in discussing and debating what's right for our industry in British Columbia.
I'm not going to take much more time today, because I did spend about 15 minutes or more yesterday with regard to this issue. But I have to say that the people in our communities are going to benefit. I expect conversation and dialogue from those communities. I expect they'll be looking for involvement and participation. I expect that we'll have a better forest industry in our communities, one that reflects the needs of the communities and of the forest.
[ Page 10330 ]
A. Warnke: I would like to make some comments on Bill 32, the BC Forest Renewal Act, because I believe that a number of aspects to this bill need further examination. I think we all know that the forest industry is in a very, very difficult situation. As a result, there need to be some initiatives, some alternatives to ensure....
A. Warnke: Oh my, the natives are restless today. My goodness! Amazing! It's really interesting that every time I get up, I no sooner.... I didn't even get into the controversial part. Here it's one minute, and already I've stimulated such a reaction. I would find it very interesting if just for a time certain members, instead of babbling away, would open up their ears a little and see that there are different ways to view the same legislation. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure that the member has spoken yet -- the one who is prattling on in the corner there somewhere.
At any rate, to try to get a point across to the member and other members as well, the forest industry is facing a very serious problem. As a matter of fact, I know of one headline of a column in the Vancouver Province recently that said: "Face It: Forest Industry's Day Is Over." You know what? If we fail to pay attention to where not only the forest industry is headed but the fishing industry, the mining industry and other primary and secondary industries, we're really headed for the very serious problem, by the end of this decade going into the twenty-first century, of how we develop the economy in this province.
Just because some legislation has been proposed here, we cannot assume that it is the great panacea that's going to solve all our problems. Certainly in this particular bill that's placed before us, the problems have not been thoroughly addressed. As a matter of fact, there are so many loopholes in this bill that it allows the government to go in different directions. The BC Forest Renewal Act creates a new Crown corporation that has so much flexibility, so much grey area in terms of planning for the future, that it reflects the problem of the way in which government is addressing the forest industry. It is symptomatic of a government that's having some real difficulty coming to terms with many aspects of the primary sectors of our economy.
A. Warnke: This is the first time I've been heckled by the Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: Pardon me. Can the member take his seat. We don't have a quorum here, and I'm going to ring the bells.
Hon. member, what's your point of order?
A. Warnke: Hon. Speaker, under standing order 6, I believe the Speaker took the initiative to call for a quorum, when in fact....
An Hon. Member: A member has.
A. Warnke: Which member asked for a quorum?
Deputy Speaker: I assumed that we were short of a quorum, and I called for a quorum. I appreciate your point of order. There will be a quorum here shortly.
What's your point of order, member?
A. Warnke: Hon. Speaker, under the same standing order 6, I'm wondering how long we intend to stay here until there is a quorum. Otherwise, I would move....
Deputy Speaker: I believe we have a quorum at this time. Carry on with your address.
A. Warnke: Well, if there is no more of a turnout than this, then under standing order 7(2), I recommend that we adjourn the House.
Deputy Speaker: I have announced that there is a quorum here. The member does not have the right to move adjournment of the House. If he doesn't want to lose his place in the speaking order, I suggest he rise and continue with his address at this time.
A. Warnke: I'm glad to see that the Speaker is so alert. You're one of the most alert Speakers I've ever run across.
I tried to point out that the economy of British Columbia faces several challenges in the primary sector. As a result, there are some warning signals that suggest the forest industry's day might be over; I quoted one headline. I hope that's not the case, but it is not impossible for that to happen. In another area of Canada, on the east coast, we've seen how a particular industry -- the fishing industry -- has not only faced a crisis but is at a very serious crunch point in time and history, all within a matter of a few years. The same signals were sent out by those acquainted with the fishing industry on the east coast. They said that something had to be done, because it was a matter of a very short period of time, just a few years, before that industry would be jeopardized -- not jeopardized for a short term but for a century, perhaps. Who knows? Indeed, we have seen how the east coast fishing industry has now faced that problem. It's here and it's now. That is also a warning to everyone throughout the continent that we do face a very serious problem in our primary sectors. It means that we have to be very sensitive and sensible about how we manage our primary resources.
We need better stewardship in the forest industry in this province. We need more intensive forestry, but we need a strategy that meets our future as well. We need to establish a firm basis not just for the rest of this decade but also for the twenty-first century. We have seen how the mining industry in this province has gone down; we have seen how the fisheries in this province have gone down. I'm afraid that unless we begin to approach forestry sensibly and manage those resources properly, we will be faced with a problem. I say this because I think that for too long in this province -- and maybe this is where I would half agree with members on the government side -- we have essentially gone through the forest assuming that there were all kinds of trees out there. We cut them at will, and we assumed that we did not have to worry about replanting, reforestation or anything like that. Those kinds of practices have to go. I think it is interesting that the people of British Columbia respond to that. They know that that agenda is not on.
But that agenda was also driven by interests and ideology. What scares me is that this bill, too, is driven by interests and ideology. This bill assumes that all we have to do is increase the state's involvement in the forest industry and all our problems will be solved. Indeed, I am somewhat surprised...
A. Warnke: Especially by the NDP.
[ Page 10331 ]
...by a number of government members trotting out a statement by Peter Bentley, let's say. The irony of all this is that the small businesses and firms that need a chance in British Columbia industry to create jobs, and that might even have a better idea than large corporations of how our industry has to be stewarded, are being shot down by Bill 32. Increasing the stumpage rates -- the rate proposed in this particular bill is over $10 more per cubic metre -- places a tremendous burden on those businesses that are really trying to make an honest buck in our society. It's rather ironic, but it also fits the ideology that there are the big businesses and then there is the state and the people who work for it, and this is the great contest of our time. Well, I have news for all members: that kind of thinking is gone; it's outmoded, and it belongs in the past...
An Hon. Member: With the dinosaurs.
A. Warnke: ...with the dinosaurs. We won't get into the specifics, but it clearly belongs in the past.
As a matter of fact, it's very interesting that the member for Mission-Kent was talking about people who work with their hands, bodies and minds. I would add that that member should also remember recent history: people also elect with their feet.
It is time that this government came to grips with the fact that what is needed -- in forestry, mining, agriculture, fisheries and tourism; in a whole variety of primary, secondary and tertiary industries -- as my colleague from Saanich North and the Islands so aptly pointed out, is new thinking regarding how we approach our problems in the economy.
Bill 32 is still rooted in the past. We see some particular problems in the environment and feel that we need to create a Crown corporation. But look at what the bill retains: more bureaucracy. Section 9 of this bill says that all people employed by this new Crown corporation, Forest Renewal B.C., will automatically be members of the public service union. That bothers me, because again that thinking is rooted in the past.
As a matter of fact, you don't have to go very far into this bill to have some objections to it. Right at the outset the explanatory note, which is one sentence, says: "This Bill sets out a government initiative for investment in the forest sector." Break it apart. First of all: "This Bill sets out a government initiative...." That really indicates to me that this is the first of many government initiatives. But "for investment"? How can anyone create a Crown corporation and talk about investment? A Crown corporation needs money, and it will be funded by the taxpayers of British Columbia.
An Hon. Member: From stumpage.
A. Warnke: Oh, that's very interesting.
An Hon. Member: Now you know.
A. Warnke: Now we know. The member opposite says "through stumpage." That's right -- knocking the consumer and small businesses. I just finished saying awhile ago that the increase in stumpage fees is going to have a negative impact on small businesses and firms that need a break in our economy. That part of the economy will drive the economy of British Columbia. The Minister of Forests ought to be the first one to get that through his thick head. Such a despicable reaction!
Deputy Speaker: Order, please.
A. Warnke: The hon. Minister of Forests doesn't even know the basic principles and facts of how the British Columbia economy works. Shame on that minister, and shame on that side!
A. Warnke: The minister laughs. When this bill has an impact on the middle sectors of the economy and when businesses go under, will that minister laugh? Oh no. That minister will say: "Gee whiz, I guess I goofed as the Minister of Forests; it's time to be something else." Maybe he wants to become Attorney General. Maybe he wants to become the Minister of Transportation and Highways and wreck that too. It's quite obvious that this minister just doesn't understand the British Columbia economy.
A. Warnke: My goodness! Obviously I've had some effect, because I've chased him away. But that's the way it is. When you point out the truth to the government side, what do we have? They don't want to face the truth. They do not want to face the impact of the policies and the bills that they have put forward. That was just a reference to an explanatory note -- one sentence -- and look at the reaction I got.
How do they invest in the forest sector? They raise the stumpage rates, as one member opposite said. In other words, they fleece the public and small industry. Fleecing the economy will not work. That's not how you create jobs and investment, that's not how you generate economic growth, and that's not how to build prosperity in our economy. It's about time that the members across began to really understand that.
It's shameful when they cannot appreciate even the basic principles of investment. Where does investment come from? I will tell you where investment comes from, hon. Speaker. It comes from savings. It comes from people who want to contribute to the economy, not from state farm.... I thought we'd done away with the kolkhozes and state farms and what not. As a matter of fact, it has proven itself in this century: those kinds of approaches do not work.
D. Streifel: We should just give the trees away?
A. Warnke: Well, there we go. There's the member for Mission-Kent over there -- the very same one who talks about working with the hands and the mind and the body. It's just too darned bad that he doesn't have a mind to start with.
It was interesting when I came to the debate yesterday. There was a member across the way -- I believe it was the member for Vancouver-Little Mountain -- talking about Bill 32 and about the supposedly rookie member for Matsqui giving a boring speech. Hon. Speaker, when I came in here and listened to that member talk about Bill 32, I thought he was so exciting that he was going to fall asleep during his own speech for sure. He made a reference to the Speaker nodding away. At any rate, it's amazing.
The fact is that while these members opposite want to play around with the economy, and while they are still committed to the idea that you build an economy through some state initiative, they miss the fundamental fact of how you build an economy. It's surprising, because socialists from
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other parts of the world have certainly come to terms with that. It is just pathetic how certain individuals who claim to be socialists still haven't learned the basic lesson of the twentieth century.
Some of these concepts of nationalizing the industry by building a state forest industry are going to wreck the economy of British Columbia. They are going to impose, through this kind of initiative, something that will undermine the northern economies. As a matter of fact, despite the fact that some members over there are from northern ridings, they never once explained how money is going to go into the northern economies. Despite the fact that in the public a number of people have raised the issue, they have not responded as to how the northern communities really benefit from this. That makes me very suspicious. It makes me sad as well, because of the 55 million cubic metres harvested in British Columbia, 34 percent of it -- over a third -- comes from the northern part of this province, those northern ridings. Yet I didn't hear those ministers and members get up and explain exactly how those northern communities are going to benefit. Oh, they talk about a long-term commitment; one talked about something for five years. We've got to think beyond five years. That's short-term in my books, not long-term.
A. Warnke: I'll tell you what. I'll throw a challenge to the hon. members on that side. They claim that as a result of this bill establishing the Crown corporation, Forest Renewal B.C., they're going to create 6,000 jobs. Is that 6,000 meaningful or full-time jobs that really contribute to the economy?
Oh, suddenly they've become quiet. I'll tell you why: their future is on the line. If they really came to terms with that, they would say: "Either we see 6,000 jobs out of this bill" -- and that is 6,000 meaningful, full-time jobs -- "or, by cracky, we're going to resign." That's what those guys should do.
A. Warnke: As a matter of fact, I have no problem going to Boston Bar or Revelstoke....
Deputy Speaker: Hon. member, address the Chair, please. Don't get into cross-discussions with other members.
A. Warnke: That's very wise counsel indeed.
As a matter of fact, I have no problem taking some of these up in Revelstoke, Salmon Arm, Cache Creek, Terrace, Smithers, Houston, Quesnel, Williams Lake, Dawson Creek or Fort St. John. I don't have any problem with talking about it in Powell River, Bella Bella, Port Hardy, Tahsis, Nanaimo or wherever. In Nanaimo -- well, that's interesting. Some of the comments from the member for Nanaimo and from the member for Cowichan-Ladysmith are something else.
But the fact is that it's easy to say the way we buy into it is that we just convince the business community, environmentalist groups, loggers and truckers -- on and on it goes -- and that we just have to sell it to them, and they in turn sell it to us, to the public. The fact is that it's easy to come up with a figure of 6,000 -- which is suspicious right off the bat. It's easy to say: "Oh, we're going to generate 6,000 jobs." How do we know that? I tell you, there's absolutely nothing in this bill that says 6,000 jobs will be created as a result of this bill. It's all hope, it's all aspiration and it's all cosmetic.
I really think what needs to be done is for this government to go back and look at the forest industry very carefully; to start weeding out some of the premises it's held in the past; to do a full, good job; and to start taking note of what's happening in our forest inventory. I'll bet you that the Forests minister himself -- I can say this because I know it -- has not got a thorough clue of what the inventory is in the province. That I know, because even the Americans have a better idea of what's happening in the province than the Minister of Forests. Do you know that? That's absolutely pathetic.
We need a strategy whereby we renew our forests and enhance our land base, and we need to address environmental concerns. Those are some of the basic aspirations in Bill 32, but you have to do it in a context whereby you understand that we are in transition to a whole new economy in the twenty-first century. And some of the observers are quite wise in saying: "You've got to get off this lumber kick. Recognize that there is a new non-lumber economy and that we have to adapt." That, I'm afraid, is thoroughly missing from the presentations of the other side.
So what do we have? Instead of better forest stewardship, we've created another bureaucracy. We've created another Crown corporation -- another state industry. And we know what's going to happen in the bureaucracy. That minister may not realize it, but the bureaucracy will grow and more funds will be allocated to it. I won't be surprised when certain individuals benefit from the bureaucracy in the next two years.
A. Warnke: No? Well I hate to disappoint you, because there will be certain kinds of appointments. We will see certain kinds of individuals head those bureaucracies, and I'm afraid they're going to be kissing cousins of the federal NDP.
A. Warnke: Oh, I wouldn't doubt it, because they've got to go someplace.
In this bill it is crystal-clear that the bureaucracy and the public service as a whole -- but especially the bureaucracy and the management within the bureaucracy -- have a loosely defined mandate. With a loosely defined mandate you get waste, patronage and hidden debts. That's basic. That's based on experience. That's what happens when you create a bureaucracy that has a loosely defined mandate, and that is certainly the case with this proposal. It is very ill conceived indeed.
[D. Lovick in the chair.]
I know that the Minister of Forests can do better. I know that this Minister of Forests brought in a premature bill. I would encourage that Minister of Forests to pull it back, improve upon it and tighten it up. We know that minister is capable of tightening up the problems. We have faith in that minister. We have to have faith; we have no other option for the next 18 months. We're stuck with him. I think it's time, before the session ends, to tighten up the loosely defined mandate of this bill, then bring it back. As it stands right now, we're headed towards a serious problem in this province.
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J. Tyabji: I'm delighted to be able to take my place so early in the day. The Leader of the Opposition has chosen not to speak now, and it works out very well.
I'm afraid that government members will not be happy with my comments on this bill, but I hope we can provoke enough debate so that when we get to committee stage we can introduce some constructive amendments to some of these sections. For the minister's sake, I hope that we have an extensive debate both in the principle section, as we are in now, and in committee stage.
When I first heard about the BC Forest Renewal Act, it sounded wonderful. I thought it was something that was long overdue. The title -- the Forest Renewal Act -- and the fact that there was silviculture and that there was going to be job creation and investment in the forest all sounded very good. When Peter Bentley, who is well respected in the forest industry, stood up in support of it, and we saw all the other people standing up in support of it, I certainly was prepared to take a very close look at it and hopefully come to a sense of accord with the government's direction. I have to say that when I read this act -- when I sat down with it and looked at it, keeping in mind that I have a very different philosophical perspective than the government -- I was shocked at the contents and implications of this bill. I look forward to the minister's rebuttal of these comments.
What do we have here? Do we have a freeing up of the forest industry or a dismantling of the vertical integration so that small and medium-sized businesses can flourish? Do we have increased timber supply to the value-added manufacturers and small businesses in the interior so that they have an easier time meeting the market demands growing in their sector? The answer is no. We don't have more timber supply going to those businesses; we don't have this government going after vertical integration. Do we have the government developing an even playing field? We don't know.
The minister is nodding yes. I would put to this minister that if this bill had been tabled in this House by the former government when this government was in opposition, it would be in an absolute panic and rage. What this does, in effect, is take the most valuable public resource that we have -- our forests, which is the greatest asset we as British Columbians have -- and put it into a Crown corporation. One might ask how that is any different from it being under the jurisdiction of the current Minister of Environment. That would be a legitimate question. Right now the provincial government has full jurisdiction over those lands.
The point is that the mandates of the BC Forest Renewal Act, which are to renew the forest economy, enhance productive capacity and create jobs, etc., are usually reserved for the private sector. Those mandates are generally reserved for the businesses of B.C. -- businesses that would be able to flourish with those objectives if they had the burden of taxation and some of the unfair competition that we have from the majors.... When I say unfair competition, it's in terms of timber supply and access to timber, and some of the problems that exist with tenure as it is provided today. If that had happened, if the mandate of the act was something that the private sector was free to pursue, rather than having all the regulations and obstacles that they have, one could really support the government's initiative. But what the government is doing is taking the most valuable public resource we have, putting it into a Crown corporation and putting itself in direct competition with the private sector. That doesn't make any sense to me.
One might say: all right -- maybe they're putting together a Crown corporation, and there's going to be a broad cross-section of people at the table to decide what to do with the public resource; perhaps we're taking this valuable resource and putting it somewhere where it can create jobs and enhance productivity, but we're letting everybody have a say in the direction of the Crown corporation. Once you pass the mandate and find out who appoints the board.... The government appoints the board. This government, which does not exactly have a good track record in terms of the objective appointment of people in positions of government....
Hon. A. Petter: Shame!
J. Tyabji: I challenge the minister to release the list of non-patronage appointments that they've had with some of these positions.
This government is going to be appointing to the board of this Forest Renewal B.C. the people who will be deciding what the Crown corporation does with the greatest public resource we have. We have a board appointed by the government. But made up of whom? One might say: all right, maybe we're willing to trust the government to appoint these people. But who is going to be appointed? Will it be teachers? Will it be members of the public? Will it be consumers? Will it be people from the private sector or small business? What we have is a board made up of industry and union representatives, with a chair from the committee. We have representation on that board that doesn't in any way resemble the cross-section of society that should have some say in the direction of what we do with our public resources.
So we're taking our public resources and putting them under a Crown corporation that is less accountable to the public than the current Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks. We're taking all our lands and putting them where we have less ability to understand what's going on. We're giving them over to a Crown corporation with a board appointed by the government, and this board is like the fox watching the chicken coop. We've got industry and union people, who have a direct vested interest.
Hon. A. Petter: Environmentalists, first nations....
J. Tyabji: And the minister.... I will get to that a little bit later.
An Hon. Member: Communities, governments....
J. Tyabji: I see the government back-pedalling furiously on some of these statements, and I look forward to the minister's rebuttal.
We have representatives who have a direct vested interest in the outcome -- people who will not, in any way, shape or form, be neutral in terms of decision-making on the public's greatest resource. The minister has called out "environmentalists, first nations," and I think what we found in the CORE process....
Let's look at the CORE process as an initiative of this government. They came forward and said: "Here we have a very good idea. This is what we're going to do." I would actually refer the minister to my speech and to the speeches of some of the other members of this House either against or cautioning the Attorney General about CORE, saying that the mandate of CORE did not have enough teeth in it. Yet it had so many people at the table with a vested interest in the outcome deciding what was going to be done with the land base. The inevitable problem was that recommendations coming out would not be acceptable to the general public.
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Sure enough, what have we found with CORE? With all the people at the table, a consensus-building agreement and all the various niceties that the government put in place for CORE, we had the largest demonstration in the history of this government on the front lawns of the Legislature, spurred on by the report from CORE.
In Bill 32, the BC Forest Renewal Act, what do we find in terms of forest renewal in B.C.? Who will they be able to make agreements with? It says: "enter into contracts with individuals, first nations, businesses, institutions, local governments, groups and other organizations...." This is where the government would say: "You see, we've clearly covered anyone who has an interest in getting into a contract."
Then it talks about "grant, loan or guarantee." But who is going to make the decisions? The people making the decisions about whom they enter into contracts with will be the board appointed by the government. So how is that accountable? How is that a case where we could say: "All right, that's hands-off by the government." On the contrary, the Minister of Forests is going to be able to influence what we do with the largest public resource we have.
I find it interesting that when we talk about the committees the board may establish, there's no limit to the number of people on these committees. Of course, it's going to be representative of all the different groups that the government feels should be at the table, so they'll probably be fairly large committees. They must establish five committees, and those five have a mandate: for example, "increasing investment in the forest resources and in the forest land base." It doesn't say whether that's private or public investment -- just investment, a nebulous term. We could have B.C. 21 investing in another Crown corporation, we could have this Crown corporation investing its own resources to fulfil its own mandate, or we could have private investment. What I don't understand is why a Crown corporation is necessary to increase investment in our forest sector. That doesn't seem to make sense to me.
J. Tyabji: Hon. Speaker, the minister says he'll explain it, so I'll leave that for now. Maybe we'll go after it in committee stage, depending on the minister's comments to close the debate.
With regard to the second committee "promoting activities that assist...forest industry diversification," I would assume that includes silviculture. "Forest industry diversification" is a bit nebulous, but I'm guessing that some of this also falls within the mandate of B.C. 21, the Crown corporation formed last year. We also see that we've got "increased manufacturing" and "further processing of wood supply." These are the things we'll have to talk about in committee stage. But in the initial stages of looking at it -- and I'm sure the minister will explain this -- why do we need this through this Crown corporation? Do we not have adequate representation in the private sector that could do this equally well -- whether it be deregulation, lightening the tax burden or a change in the tenure system -- and therefore allow the private sector to fulfil these objectives without the Crown corporation, especially if we go after vertical integration?
Then we've got "investing in the environmental values of the forest." I don't understand what that means, and I don't understand why that needs to be in this Crown corporation when we have that as part of the mandate of both the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Forests -- not the investment, but certainly the protection of the environmental values of the forest. If that's part of their mandate, why could the government not ensure that that is done by regulating and monitoring the private sector that is already in this field? If we're talking about silviculture, we know that we've already got some provisions for silviculture in B.C. 21, and we know that the private sector will be adequate in meeting our demand and meeting the government's requirements for silviculture.
Then we've got "fostering forest employment opportunities and job training and other related initiatives to assist forest workers and to expand the forest work force." This is almost identical to what we saw in B.C. 21. A lot of jobs are coming out of the Crown corporations of this government, and the money for them has to come from somewhere. When you create a Crown corporation to help bring those jobs about, you have to finance the administration of the creation of those jobs. Those jobs could be created in the private sector if the money were available. Where's that money coming from?
Then we've got "supporting community development and adjustment." That sounds like the job of Doug Kerley, the job protection commissioner. If not, I'd be curious to hear from the minister where there's a big difference. If there's going to be some overlap, how is that going to occur? How is this Crown corporation going to tie into the work already being done by the job protection commissioner?
Then it says: "In the course of carrying out its duties, each committee must take into account the need for increased participation of first nations and aboriginal persons in the forest economy." That's already going on right now in terms of joint venture arrangements between aboriginal peoples and the forest industry, whether it be through the ministries of Aboriginal Affairs, Forests or Environment. Those projects are happening now, and they have been for some time, so I'm not sure why this has to be done through a Crown corporation.
I don't take issue with all of these things. The objectives are good; they're commendable. It's a commendable objective to see jobs protected. We have to recognize the changing paradigm of the forest sector. We have to recognize sustainable forestry and sustainable forestry practices -- absolutely. There's no question that we've made some terrible mistakes in the past in B.C. It's nice to see that the forest industry is willing to cooperate with government. My question is why? What is the bottom line? We know the forest industry is a profit-generating industry. Given that this is a Crown corporation, given that the government has complete control, given that cabinet will be appointing a board taking accountability out of the hands of the public and of the Ministry of Crown Lands and putting it into a new institution where there's very little accountability, why is the forest industry behind this? These things will be canvassed more in committee stage.
I find it interesting that the board could manage or supervise the affairs of Forest Renewal B.C., or it may be a CEO. That's "may." An executive director, a CEO, may or may not be appointed. When implemented, these kinds of things will be very interesting to watch. Who decides that? Who drives it? Whose agenda is this, and to what extent will this be influenced by cabinet direction? So far we have seen that the Crown corporations of this government very much follow the agenda of the government. We can understand that those Crown corporations are able to follow that agenda. The question that comes up is: five years from now which agenda will these Crown corporations be following in the event that this government is not sitting as government?
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Who is going to decide? Would this government feel comfortable with a Social Credit, Reform, Liberal or Alliance government -- or whichever government comes in next -- appointing a board having no accountability and basically having full control of the forest industry and forest resources? I don't think so.
F. Garden: It's accountable to the House.
J. Tyabji: The member for Cariboo North, which covers Quesnel, Williams Lake, Horsefly and all those wonderful communities -- communities that we hear too little about in this House, I might add -- is saying that it is accountable to the House. Actually, we find in this act that it's not really fully accountable to the House, because even though an annual audit will be put to the Minister of Forests, what will be presented to the House under section 10(10) is a report and financial statement, referred to in subsection (7), that gives a general accounting but is not a proper audit.
Hon. A. Petter: And a business plan.
J. Tyabji: And a business plan, the minister is saying. It's true that there is a business plan: the business plan as directed by the government, but how on earth...?
J. Tyabji: All right. I'll wait for committee stage on that. The minister is saying that there will be the select standing committee of the House, which there has been a lot of debate on in terms of representation. "The business plan...must be laid before the Legislative Assembly by the Minister of Forests, as soon as practicable," -- which is not really defined, but we'll leave it for now -- "and then stands referred to a Select Standing Committee with responsibility for forests." But it will not be coming for debate before the House.
J. Tyabji: The minister is saying that it will come back for debate. I'm putting that on the record for the Minister of Forests. I will say to the minister that under section 10(6), I actually made a note that says: "Very good." It's good that there is some accountability to an animal of the House, anyway, and I look forward...
J. Tyabji: And in this House there are many animals.
...to a debate in this House on the business plan, after going through the select standing committee, as committed to by the minister.
I believe that this undertaking is a mistake. I believe that what we are seeing from this government -- and I'm taking issue with their philosophical direction here -- is a movement away from accountability in the Legislature and toward government by Crown corporation. We see that happening now. We have some initiatives with regard to the Transportation Financing Authority, and we see the Minister of Transportation and Highways overseeing them in conjunction with the Minister of Employment and Investment. We see B.C. 21. We see the existing Crown corporations for ferries and hydro, ICBC, etc., and you could go on and on. We have all of these Crown corporations taking on roles where they have very little accountability to this House. Where I have a problem is that I believe we should be moving toward greater accountability.
When people say: "This is what I'd like to see...." If this government believes, for example, that the people of this province want to see adequate silviculture, the regulation of harvesting on steep slopes so that we don't have massive clearcuts, monitoring of erosion and siltation in the stream beds during runoff, perfect. That's great. Many of us have been calling for those things for a long time. But they should be done through an accountable minister of this House, so that we don't have the kinds of questions that have been coming forward in question period, where the names of people who are running Crown corporations are brought up in this House and the ministers -- they are at arm's length, at best, from the operation of the Crown corporations -- are trying to be held accountable. That's unfortunate. It's regrettable in many aspects. In many cases it's a personal issue with the individual running the Crown corporation -- who doesn't even have a voice in this House -- and we can't have proper debate on running the people's business. Whether it be utilities, insurance or whatever, it has become less a function of the members of the House, and therefore there is less accountability.
In addition to that, this Crown corporation will be very expensive. It has to be: by nature it will be. The minister shakes his head -- vigorously; I'll put it on the record. I have yet to see a Crown corporation that doesn't have to develop its own infrastructure. Unless there will be some kind of parallel dismantling of the Ministry of Forests....
J. Tyabji: And the minister says no. So there we go. We're starting with a brand-new structure of government, a brand-new Crown corporation. Obviously there will be costs associated with this. Nothing will be done by this Crown corporation that could not be done through the accountable ministries of cabinet.
I believe this is a big mistake. When you have resources of this magnitude, you must have some kind of public debate before you make a decision like this. What's inevitably going to happen is that people are going to realize the magnitude of the decision being made here and wonder why there was no indication ahead of time. Very few people understand the forest industry enough, and very few people have read this bill adequately, because it has only just come out. They see the newspaper clippings, and they hear people who are tied to the industry or tied to unions and government saying that this is a very good idea.
I'm not taking issue with the intent of the bill or with the mandate of the Crown corporation, except that I don't believe that mandate belongs in a Crown corporation. We don't need a Crown corporation for this. It's going to end up being a big mistake, because people will want more accountability. When they come to the minister for accountability, the minister will then say: "Go see Forest Renewal B.C.; go see someone else." It will be another way to pass the buck.
Since the last election and for years prior to that, the leader of the Alliance has been putting out a model for downsizing government, in which there is an integration of ministries and a movement away from Crown corporations. The ministries that would be integrated would be the ones that deal directly with land use in this province: Environment; Forests; Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources; Transportation and Highways; and Agriculture. If you bring those ministries together, there would be no
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passing of the buck. As I've said, the mandate of this Crown corporation is identical to what we find in Environment and in Forests and, to a large extent, in Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. Why would we not go to a more effective and efficient model, with more accountability and less government infrastructure and administration? If we want to bring everyone to the table, we can do that. Any minister can set up a committee at any time. They can set up a steering committee; they can set up a committee with or without MLAs. They can hire people to do whatever they like within their ministry.
In this session of this House we're going to have the Environmental Assessment Act and more acts under the Ministry of Forests coming back to us, and we'll have a new water act coming to us. Each of those acts is from a different ministry, and all of them have some relevance to this Crown corporation. How on earth is anybody going to understand what the rules are and where the goalposts are? Who should they ask for direction? That in itself is a problem today. People are so confused. Who's the first person they can talk to? A lawyer. How much does that cost? It will cost $500 just for them to give you an opinion about who you should see. Or maybe you can talk to the MLAs. But with the legislation that comes before this House, they will be scrambling to keep up with exactly who they'd direct you to. After this session, it's going to be increasingly difficult.
We know that the accompanying legislation to this new forestry act is going to very much parallel the Environmental Assessment Act. Yet, as I understand it, legislation is going to be coming out under the Mines ministry that will also parallel these other acts. It's confusing, unnecessary and inefficient; and unfortunately it's not very accountable, and it will be more expensive. I don't know how the minister will reconcile that by saying it won't be.
One other note of alarm that I'd like to address in these remarks is that in the last part of the bill they talk about revenue. The minister has assured us that the business plan will come before the House for debate after it goes to the select standing committee. After that business plan has been approved by the House -- recognizing that the government has a majority of members, so we'll have a debate, but it will no doubt be passed -- revenue generated through the Crown corporation will be directed to the business plan, as required by the business plan. But where does the surplus revenue go? General revenue.
J. Tyabji: The minister says no. I'll have to look at the consequential amendments to the Financial Administration Act.
J. Tyabji: All right, I will defer to the minister on this, and I'll ask him further in committee stage. As I understood it, it was going to general revenue.
Hon. A. Petter: No.
J. Tyabji: Okay. It's going back into the Crown corporation. So we'll be able to ask questions at committee stage about what happens when it goes back into the Crown corporation.
When we have a bill like this, where we have no definition of what revenues will be coming from the private sector and to what extent this Crown corporation will be in direct competition with the private sector, I am very curious to see to what extent the private sector starts to scream once some of the implications of direct competition start to hit. Some of that has been happening already. We'll have to wait and see just how cozy the government is with some of the majors six months from now.
I will close my remarks in second reading by saying that I'm in very strong opposition to the particulars of this bill but not to the intent of it. I can't say it more strongly. I'm in a good mood, so I'm not even angry about it. I've given up on anger, because it just passes anyway, so let's do this as civilly as possible. I'm in very strong opposition. It is a huge mistake; it is the wrong direction. I look forward to the evolution of this. If they can successfully pull this off, I will be the first person to tell this government that I was wrong, but I don't think I will be doing that. I very much look forward to committee stage.
Deputy Speaker: I thank the member for her comments and would remind her that just as anger passes, so too does legislation. Having said that, I recognize the member for Cariboo North.
F. Garden: It's always a pleasure to follow such an eloquent speaker as has just been on her feet. I was listening carefully to what she had to say.
We've heard lots of opposition to this bill over the last two or three days. The arguments that have been raised by the opposition have ranged from, "It's only a few big business people that are getting looked after in this thing," to: "It's only a few trade unionists that you're looking after." It goes the whole gamut. Fortunately, all these comments about anti-unionism and cuddling up to big business are on the record. All the members in the opposition will be faced with this record when they come around to having to eat their words after they see how good this bill is. I for one have every intention of going to the players I've talked to in the last little while -- which includes big business, small business, environmentalists, union members, city councils and chambers of commerce -- and I'll be saying to them that this is what the opposition is saying about the bill that they're so happy about. We'll keep that in mind, and we'll use it at the proper time.
There are very few times in a person's lifetime when they get the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time. You get lucky sometimes, if you deal with lotteries and games of chance, and can be in the right spot at the right time, but it's very seldom that an individual gets to be where history is being made. As the MLA for Cariboo North, I feel, with the introduction of this legislation, that I personally am present at a time when history is being made. This legislation will go down in history with things like the Canada Pension Plan and the ALR, which we brought in when we were previously in government -- things like the great legislation that has gone through both the federal Parliament and this parliament.
This goes beyond partisan politics. I would urge the members on the other side to join us in constructively seeing that this legislation gets passed swiftly with their total support. Let's get on with the job. I'm a little concerned about that, because based on the speeches that I've heard from the opposition, especially the Liberal opposition, they're all going to vote against it. Just about everything about this bill has been trashed, so I for one will be very surprised if any Liberal opposition member stands up and votes for this bill. But then again, we've seen that...
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An Hon. Member: They're Liberals.
F. Garden: Yes, they're Liberals.
...when they've talked against a bill they've trashed every aspect of it, and when it came to a vote they didn't have the courage of their convictions; they would vote in favour of it. There's no doubt in my mind, regardless of all the rhetoric we've heard in opposition to that bill from the Liberal opposition, that as a group, as a whole, they'll stand up and support it. To me that's just a wee bit hypocritical, but I expect it.
This bill was necessary and has been sought for many years. There are many of us who've worked in the forestry industry all our lives who have seen a real need for it. For over 30 years, governments haven't paid attention to the kind of legislation that we are bringing forward. They've allowed certain things to happen. They've set the rules, so the companies and workers work to the rules set by previous governments. I don't blame the companies or the industry for what has happened. I blame the previous governments for allowing it to happen.
Why would industry, labour and environmentalists come together in this kind of situation? As far as business people are concerned, for far too long they've seen the stumpage that has been taken out of the woods going into general revenue. And it disappears into whatever a government chooses to use it for. The previous government used it for costly overruns on the Coquihalla and for $200 million in bad debts that we had to write off. Any businessman worth his salt, seeing that kind of thing happening with stumpage money, is bound to be frustrated on the basis that not enough was getting put back into the industry. So I can understand why they were pleased when this government asked them to sit down with them and said: "The stumpage that we take from your industry will go into a special fund and will be turned back into the land for forest renewal." Historic stuff! And I was here when that happened.
For years the environmentalists have been screaming for this type of legislation. They've seen the damage to the streams, watersheds and wildlife habitat. They've been crying out for legislation that would allow us to do something to repair some of the damage done in the past. Certainly governments have come up with improvements, and some of the industries have smartened up, and the work from a certain period has been better than it was. But there's a lot of damage out there that wasn't anybody's responsibility anymore. It was done in the past, so it was left. It is there. That needs to be cleaned up. We've said with this bill that we will put some of this money into cleaning up past damage, renewing some of these streams and replanting some of these roads that are eroding. That's why the environmentalists are in favour of this bill.
Then we come to the union members. For years they've been voices crying in the wilderness -- especially forest industry union workers. I can recall going to B.C. Federation of Labour conventions 25 years ago as a pulp worker and hearing IWA members saying: "We've got to pass resolutions to say to government that they've got to stop taking all the money out of the forest and start putting it back in." It was frustrating.... Before the word "environmentalist" was really kosher, they were on their feet in these conventions pleading for money and help to clean up some of the damage that was being caused in the woods. Here they are now, getting legislation that sees some of their dreams fulfilled.
What about the ordinary citizens, businessmen and resource communities who for years have watched the resources coming out of places like Wells, Likely, Quesnel, Williams Lake and 100 Mile House? It was going right past their door. At one time they could get jobs in that industry, but because technological change came along and it got so highly automated, a lot of the little jobs that they were able to get they couldn't get anymore. All that wealth was going past their door, and the stumpage was going into the general coffers and disappearing.
For years the cry from small forest communities all over this province has been: "It's about time you put some money back into the regions." This bill does that. It will put people to work in these communities. I've heard it said by the opposition that this is going to kill these poor silviculturists who are out there planting trees, that they won't get any more jobs in the summer. This money is in addition to that. These people will still be employed, based on the present silviculture plans, to be out there planting trees. We have no intention of taking loggers and making them tree-planters. But what we will do is use these people in the small communities to hone their skills, so it won't just be cutting trees. They'll be used to thin and prune trees, and prepare land for the planting of the trees. If you're operating a feller-buncher, it makes no difference if you jump off a feller-buncher onto another type of machine that will prepare the land for planting. Then these people will come along in the summer and plant the trees. We'll have a highly skilled workforce in a growing, sustainable industry. This is why this is such a blessing to these small communities.
I've heard it said that it's just big business that's in favour of this plan, and a few union members. I'd like to quote the mayor of Quesnel: "This is a very giant step forward. When we made our Farming the Forest proposal, we only asked for $15 million for four years. This plan has about three times that amount." This man, by any stretch of the imagination, couldn't be considered a New Democrat supporter; he just isn't. He's a very good friend, and I respect him a lot. Here's an individual, a mayor of a small community, who has recognized what we're trying to do here.
I've heard it said that we're going to create job losses because of the introduction of this legislation. It just boggles my mind to think that any government spending $400 million on anything could create fewer jobs. If you're going to spend $400 million, it has an immediate effect of creating jobs in communities. I'm looking forward to the Cariboo share of this new money for skills training and the long-term commitment to the renewing of our forests in the Cariboo area.
I was talking to some council members from Williams Lake on this very basis. They were concerned, just as I've heard from the previous speaker, about some of the semantics of the program, but that will develop as we get into the next reading. They were kind of questioning, but I put it bluntly to them. Assuming a figure of $60 million will be spent in the Cariboo on this kind of intensive silviculture and training for workers, it has to provide jobs. If any business came into our community and said, "We're going to spend $40 million," they would be creating work, and we'd be welcoming them with open arms. So when this government says it's going to put this kind of money into communities, it has to have an effect. It will create jobs. But not only will it create the jobs, it's starting something that we should have done 30 years ago. But it's better late than never. From now on, we can say to young people: yes, there's a future for you in working in the forests of this province.
I've heard it said that we should not have a Crown corporation handling this situation but should leave it to the ministry. I talked to one forestry technician in Quesnel about this new bill. He tells me that at the moment, they are
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stretched to the very limit of their resources just doing the work that we give them through the ministry. They've heard about programs before, and they're a little cynical about being asked to do some more work with limited resources. He got so excited when I told him that some of the ideas he had as a young forestry technician could now come to fruition because we were setting up this separate fund totally dedicated to the renewal of our forests. At least half the money in the fund will be spent on silviculture and going out there and looking at problem forest types. You have to come up to the Cariboo to see what we're talking about.
About five years ago the council in Quesnel suggested a Farming the Forest proposal, and it was a good one. The mayor said it was only going to cost around $15 million. It was along the same lines as what this legislation is proposing. It was to go into the problem forest areas, thin them all out, create work by doing this, and allow some of the trees to grow -- and if they weren't the right species, then replant them. But it was turned down. The reason it was turned down was that there was not enough funding for it. Why was there no funding for it? It was because the previous government was taking all the stumpage and trying to pay for the cost overrun of the Coquihalla. So that good proposal was turned down. These weren't radical left-wingers wanting to snap up government money. As far as I can recall, there was a lawyer, a forest manager, a school principal, a farmer, a housewife and a small businessman on the council. Five years ago they had the vision that we needed to get started doing this before it was too late.
This legislation allows that type of thing to take place. Like I asked earlier in the debate, where were you when the legislation was passed? I'm glad I'm here, because if I do nothing else as a politician in the next four years -- if the electorate in their wisdom choose not to send me back here -- I will be proud to be able to state that I was part of a government that turned the clock on the forest industry from the downward, backward direction in which it was heading into a forward-looking thing. If we had done nothing, 10,000 jobs would have been lost in the next 15 to 20 years, based on the way we're cutting and treating our forests. But because of this foresight, that will be reversed and we can look forward to an increase in jobs in all these communities.
As I said when I went back to Quesnel with the first news about this, as far as I'm concerned -- and I'd like to state this unequivocally -- I believe that this far-reaching legislation is the salvation of the forest-based communities that I've been talking about, whether it be Powell River, Campbell River, Williams Lake or Nelson. This is their salvation. Where once they saw people and kids leaving their communities because there was no work, they can now say: "Hey, stick around, kids. We're going to need you here. There's going to be a future for you protecting our forests. There's going to be a future for you working in the value-added parts of this industry, and there's going to be a future for you with the spinoffs from the wealth that will be generated in these communities."
Once again I have no hesitation in supporting this bill. I really hope that the opposition, contrary to their badmouthing all through this debate, will change their mind and vote with the government on this bill.
E. Conroy: I'm glad I was here on time in order to take this prestigious position in favour of our new forestry bill.
For too many years governments have taken the forests in this province for granted. Too much has been cut; too little has been put back. We now face the prospect of a future with fewer trees and fewer jobs. To reclaim the promise of the forests' wealth we must change the way we manage our forests. We must renew our forests, create jobs and replant the trees we're harvesting. By achieving these goals, we can ensure a sustainable future for B.C.'s forests, workers and communities.
I recall that about 30 years ago, a very prestigious member of the forest community on the company side came and lived in my constituency for a few years. At the time I was quite an idealistic young man. I can remember engaging him in quite heated conversation -- I had the opportunity to do this because his son and I were friends -- about the state of the forest industry. It was my concern at that time that we were cutting more trees than we were replanting, and I pushed that argument quite forcefully. He was a few inches taller than I was, and looked down at me and said: "Young man, have you ever been around this province? Don't you realize that everything you're saying is absolutely wrong?" Everything I said was absolutely right. It was an argument made with emotion but based on common sense.
Another thing happened to me recently. I got a call from one of my local logging contractors, again a person who has been in the business for 30 years or more. Initially he called me because he was concerned about the reduction in the allowable annual cut and what that may mean to his work. I had the good fortune of saying that I'd get back to him within a few days, and within the few days the forest renewal plan was released. He said to me: "You know, 30 years I've been in this business. For 30 years I've seen what's gone on in the forests of this province. I'm very proud and appreciative of what your government has done. Now I can make a good living with a clear conscience, whereas before, to be competitive in the industry I love, I simply had to do things that were so against my better judgment that they were very difficult for me to do."
I think we've opened the doors to a number of people who can now approach this industry. The registered professional foresters, the people we turn out of university, are going to be turned loose on the forest industry. They are not to be the slaves of the Ministry of Forests or of the forest giants, but are going to be able to go into the forest and do the things they were actually trained to do. What a relief that must be for some of these people. They no longer have to sign off on permits they don't agree with. They no longer have to go and look at sites that virtually make them sick, when they see what the companies they have to work for have done -- knowing full well that if they raise their voice, their job is gone.
The member for Richmond-Steveston spoke about our Minister of Forests, saying that he understood absolutely nothing about economics. While listening to his speech, it became increasingly clear to me, as someone who's spent 20 years in the forest industry, that our Minister of Forests has forgotten more about forestry and economics in the last five minutes than that hon. member will ever know. I don't understand how he can make that statement.
As a matter of fact, it kind of reminded me of the approach that was taken in question period with regard to conflict. It should be in conflict of B.C. interests to have a political scientist trying to impersonate an economist. It should be a conflict to have a city slicker, whose main exposure to trees has been a walk in Stanley Park, trying to pass himself off as someone who understands the wants and needs of the forest industry in this province. It's just more and more Liberal rhetoric. There ought to be a law. Who on the opposition benches from the lower mainland, where the opposition party has its stronghold, has ever been in the bush and seen a logging show? Who has ever been in a
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sawmill? And if they have, has it just been one of those promotional tours where they don't understand what's going on? Have they ever been in a pulp mill? Have they ever been in a community that lost the industry that had sustained it for decades and seen the pain and anguish that those people have gone through? There ought to be a law against people making those kinds of statements.
We have goals that we want to work toward. We want to renew the land, and we want to keep the forests healthy. Can the opposition members understand that? We want to invest in forest land, which generates most of the wealth in B.C. -- our number one export and the main driver of our economy. Can they argue against that? We want to ensure sustainable use and employment in our forests. Can they argue against that? We want to ensure the long-term stability of forestry communities. Can they argue against that? I could go on, but I don't quite understand what they're arguing against.
The hon. member for Okanagan East stated that if the previous government had put this bill forward, the present government would be outraged. I'm here to tell you that the previous government never, ever would have put this bill forward. I'm here to tell you, Mr. Speaker, that if the Liberal Party were government, they would never put this bill forward. Why wouldn't they put it forward? Firstly, they have no initiative; secondly, they don't have any political will, since they've already been bought and paid for; and thirdly, they have absolutely no insight into creating a future for the forests of this province. So to say that we would react that way to a bill like this from the previous government has no foundation in truth, because the previous government -- and the present opposition -- simply never would have put anything like this into place at all. It would have been rape and pillage as usual, until everything was gone.
We hear talk about the forest industry in Sweden and about what a glowing light it is in the world economy and in the world of forestry. One of the things that a lot of people here in British Columbia don't realize is that the Swedish forest industry bottomed out. They have no old-growth forests. They have no salmon streams; they dammed all the rivers. They have no wolves or any other real wildlife in Sweden. I'd like to remind the hon. opposition members that the number one product in the Swedish forest industry now is B.C. jack pine. They only have to manage their forests for spruce and moose, because for all intents and purposes, all the biodiversity and ecosensitivity and stuff has been taken away. We have protected that here, and we're going to continue to protect that. I'm very proud that the BC Forest Renewal Act is going to help us do that.
The forest renewal plan is creating an industry, government, union, worker and first nations partnership. Even if there are failings in the forest renewal plan, the fact that we have gotten to the point where we have this kind of partnership in place is, I believe, truly a dynamic point in history. This is the launching pad for many of the things that will affect the future of this province. How are we going to deal with getting the forest back? We're going to have some advanced approaches to reforestation and tending our forests.
The hon. member for Nelson-Creston and I had the opportunity to travel around with our local Forest Service one day and look at some regeneration sites in probably one of the most highly productive timber areas in the province: the interior wetbelt that we represent. We have seen the results of poor practice in the past, and it's going to be very costly to repatriate some of these forest lands that have not been sufficiently restocked.
One of the approaches of the past, for example, was to leave some of our best growing sites to regenerate naturally, but one of the things we didn't take into consideration was that although these were some of the best natural regeneration sites that we have for growing trees, they also grow bushes and weed species very well, which choke out the trees and do not allow for regeneration. So we have lots and lots of land that has to be dealt with, and it will be dealt with under the terms of the new forest renewal plan; it can be brought back into production. Indeed, many of these lands are our best forest lands in this province.
I know it has been said before, but we are going to finance this through changes to stumpage and royalties. This is money that should be flowing back into the forest ecosystems of British Columbia. I'm proud to say that spending $400 million a year is really going to enhance the communities that I represent. We have a lot of work that needs to be done, given the nature of our terrain, the amount of rainfall we get and our soil types. This is very welcome money, and it's going to pay major dividends to the people of this province in years to come.
I'd like to give a bit of an overview as to how this whole thing is going to work and where the forest renewal plan fits in. We have the timber supply review, which will gather information on our timber resources and recommend harvest levels in order to achieve sustainability. That in itself is a marvellous step. This is the first time in the history of the province that that has been undertaken. With the forest renewal plan, which is going to be the glue that holds all this together, we'll reinvest in the forests, increase the value of the forests and strengthen the forest sector not only for today but also for tomorrow.
The next thing we're going to do is come forward with the new Forest Practices Code, which will make better forest practices and laws with tough penalties to enforce them. Again, new legislation has been needed in this province for decades. Virtually everybody I know who has been a responsible advocate for this industry has talked about a new forest practices code, so we can get to the point where we finally have due respect for the forests, and we can get on with the proper management of the forests and can ensure sustainability.
The Commission on Resources and Environment is going to lay out for the people of this province where the working forest is. That's important for industry investment; they will know where the parameters of the working forest actually lie. When they go to make investments, they will know full well exactly what's within and what's outside of the forests in British Columbia.
The forest renewal plan will build partnerships with British Columbians to benefit from the potential of land identification and commercial forestry. Our protected areas strategy will ensure that the rich diversity of our province is protected by doubling parks and protected wilderness areas to 12 percent of the provincial land base. That is something that should have been done years ago. We are going to live up to that election promise. We're doing it.
The B.C. Treaty Commission, interim measures and first nations policy forums. We can't move forward with a sustainable forest industry in this province unless the first nations people are involved. They want to be part of the industry. They want their claims settled. We're moving forward. I sat in the estimates of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and listened to how we're moving forward in dealing with aboriginal land claims and aboriginal concerns. I would suggest that we've moved more in the last two and a half
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years than previous governments have moved in the last 20. So I'm very proud of that.
With regard to our forests, for the first time in the history of British Columbia we've got a government that has the fortitude to think beyond its own mandate to the future of my children and my grandchildren. This is a bold step. I talked once before about initiative, political will and insight, and that's what we have here. This is a long-term goal that's going to benefit all the people of British Columbia. And when we're long gone and in our graves, hon. Speaker, people are going to be saying: "What a brilliant piece of legislation that was. That was the saving grace of British Columbia."
Because of the way the forest renewal plan is to be funded, we can prepare for both today and tomorrow. Funds can be set aside from better years, as we know, and used in leaner times so that the ongoing investment in the public forests can be maintained evenly over the years. Because this is a long-term plan, the amount of funding spent on different areas will change over time, which is important, because the needs are going to change over time. For example, some forest communities will need to deal with change now, so more money will go into those communities. As well, environmental rehabilitation can start immediately. Long-term training for the next generation of forest workers will expand as technology moves in, thereby displacing more of the workers in the industry.
I'm proud of this legislation. When the announcement was made, I told one of my colleagues that one of the reasons I ran for office was to get this kind of legislation. I think British Columbians are going to proclaim a national holiday -- a provincial holiday, rather...
E. Conroy: We might as well go for the works, yes.
...when this act is proclaimed law. We are truly at the crossroads in British Columbia. As a New Democrat government, we have dealt with the situation, and we've chosen the right path. I know that when the official opposition gets to a V in the road, they take it. So we're taking the right path.
It has been a pleasure to stand here and speak to this bill today.
R. Chisholm: I ask leave to make an introduction at this time.
R. Chisholm: I'd like to introduce Ms. Ann Muehlebach, an instructor from Chilliwack Multicultural Services. She has 45 visitors with her today, Canadian newcomers. I wish the House would make them most welcome.
H. Lali: I request leave to make an introduction.
H. Lali: I notice two constituents of mine sitting up in the galleries, one of whom is Wendy Eeckhout, who is my constituency assistant. The other person is Susan Holmberg, who formerly owned the Merritt News in the community of Merritt. Would the House please make them welcome.
Hon. P. Ramsey: It's a great pleasure to rise in the assembly today to talk about Bill 32, the BC Forest Renewal Act, and what it means to the people of this province and of my community, Prince George. Perhaps here in Victoria we recognize intellectually the importance of the forest industry to our province, but maybe we don't feel it enough.
Maybe we don't recognize that over 94,000 British Columbians are directly employed in harvesting the wood from our forests; replanting the trees for the next round of harvesting; processing wood through the mills; and marketing it in the United States, Europe and Asia, bringing and creating wealth for the people of British Columbia, for the forest firms they work for and for the programs we enact as the government of British Columbia. There are 94,000 direct jobs and over 140,000 indirect jobs. That's a very central and important part of our province's economy.
Someone said that the forest industry has been the heart of British Columbia; it's surely the heart of my community. In Prince George close to 60 percent of all paycheques come from the forest industry. Now, like many other interior cities, we're diversifying. We're building a new university for British Columbia; we're becoming not just a forestry centre but a knowledge centre for the interior of the province. But I think forestry will continue to be central to the industrial activity and wealth creation in Prince George for many years.
I have to tell the assembly that there's been concern about the future of the forest industry in Prince George. Even in the spruce capital of the world, as we've called ourselves for years, there was concern about whether this vital industry would have a future -- whether policies of government would make it a sunset industry rather than what it deserves to be: a sunrise industry for this and future generations of British Columbians. I think those concerns were legitimate, and they came from several sources.
First, for the last decade or more there's been concern about whether the amount of wood we're actually using is going to be sustainable. Perhaps in past generations -- in the forties, fifties and even part of the sixties, when the forest industry was just coming to the central interior -- the forests and resources seemed endless. It seemed that there was always another valley to build a road into and another stand of high-quality spruce to harvest. It seemed that there were always more opportunities down the road or up the valley. But now we increasingly recognize that we work with a finite land base and a finite resource. Though it is very large, it has its limits.
For years, though, we took more from the land than we gave back. We did not treat it with the respect that it deserved as an ecosystem, or as a sustainer of our communities and industries and the jobs that our families and communities depended on. There were legitimate concerns -- and now we're hearing them increasingly -- about the level of annual allowable cut. Can it stay up? Or how much must it go down? I don't think people realize that this concern has been around since the very first royal commission on forestry, the Sloan commission, back in the 1950s, which recognized that as we moved from a first-growth forest to a secondary forest, there would be a necessary falldown in annual allowable cut, and we would have to make provisions to keep that cut up. But for years, for decades, we did nothing. We ignored the reality that was coming at us. We pretended that there was always one more valley, but there isn't.
There are also concerns in my part of the province about forest land that was alienated from the productive forest. It was harvested and not replanted. The amount of what was called insufficiently restocked land grew by hundreds and thousands of hectares year after year as we took the resource and did not replenish it. We also took that resource and
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alienated it permanently from growing trees. We put it into agricultural leases that, quite frankly, grew no good crops; we put it into agricultural leases that were harvested, cleared and left -- too many of them in my part of the province. In some areas of the province, agricultural leases worked well, but I can tell you that around Prince George, I can point to many that were agricultural in name only -- for the purpose of getting the lease -- and rapidly became timber extraction and then barren land.
So this whole concern about whether we can keep the cut up and whether this resource, which our industries, jobs and communities depend on, would be there has been very real, I think. Then in the mid-1980s we had the process of sympathetic management, which exacerbated all these concerns. It said: "We don't care whether the AAC is sustainable; let's cut. We don't care about restocking insufficiently restocked land. Silviculture is a secondary matter; let's cut the silviculture budget." Those were the realities in the 1980s, and it has taken us time to come around.
But here, with the Forest Renewal Act, we have the solution to preserve, and indeed increase, the products from our forests. We are going to put in $2 billion over the next five years. We are going to put it into measures that will not only maintain but also increase the amount of wood that we can harvest on a sustainable level from our forests. We're investing in the land. We're putting back; the time of taking has ended. We work in synergy with our land, we respect it, and we are going to rebuild it.
Intensive silviculture is an integral part of the Forest Renewal Act. Putting money and jobs into spacing, thinning and pruning trees will grow more wood on the same amount of land. Wood means more products, more products mean more jobs, and more jobs mean more wealth for the communities that depend on them and for the province. This forest renewal plan will also address the problem of insufficiently restocked lands in other areas of the province where we have not done a good job of harvesting and replanting. It will put trees back where no trees were; it will repair the past damage and neglect that, quite frankly, those who care about the forests have known and can identify, logging road by logging road, valley by valley, throughout the Prince George forest region.
Finally, not only are we going to grow more wood on the land that is already forest and restocked forest land that has been neglected, we're going to add to the area of land that's already there. Some of those agricultural leases that really were not agricultural, where the land is not really appropriate for agriculture, will be repatriated to their best and highest use as forest land to benefit the industry and the people of the province.
So that big concern that people from Prince George have had about whether the wood that the industry depends on would be there in the future is being addressed by this forest renewal plan, by Bill 32. It's being addressed in a way that's not a one-shot deal.
I heard a lot of talk from the Liberal opposition yesterday about their concerns about establishing Forest Renewal B.C., this new agent of the Crown which is to look after and renew our forests. I heard them talk about how concerned they were that it was independent and that it had some sort of permanence. I'm more concerned about the reverse of that. We've had too many one-shot deals in forest renewal. FRDA was an excellent program, and it finally seemed to kick-start the previous administration into attending to silviculture. But FRDA ended. There have been too many one-shot and one-budget deals to renew our forest land. This is a program that says: "We are committed in the long term. Forests don't grow and renew in the term of a government of four years, or even in the life of a member of government; forests grow over decades, over 100 years." We need a program that is going to be in place over the lifetime of forest cycles, not the lifetime of governments.
[F. Garden in the chair.]
Forest Renewal B.C. will provide the stability of programs that we require when we're dealing with forestry issues. I was amazed to hear members of the Liberal opposition say that they would prefer a program that was subject to the swings of political fortune and to every call of an election, a program that didn't have a dedicated source of funds or a dedicated mandate but simply could come and go at the whim of an individual government. We think the forests of the province deserve more than that. They deserve a legislated mandate to build forest renewal in as part of what we do for our forests and our communities.
I was also amazed to hear members of the Liberal opposition criticize the composition of the people who are going to serve this province, the forest industry and forest workers by agreeing to sit on the board of Forest Renewal B.C. I heard one of the members of the Liberal opposition call them political hacks. It's absolutely incredible. These are people from industry, unions and communities around the province who have worked with government to put this forest sector strategy forward. I would ask the Liberal opposition -- scarce though they be at this time of day -- whether they really want to consider people of the quality of Peter Bentley, Gerry Stoney and Jack Munro as political hacks? Do they want to call the mayor of Prince George, who served on that committee, a political hack? I say shame on that denigration of the people who have served their province and their communities well, by putting together a forest renewal plan that will serve the forest industry and forest communities of this province.
The BC Forest Renewal Act will address the concerns of people in Prince George concerning whether the forest that we depend on will be sustainable. But it's only part of our strategy; it's only part of what we need to do to ensure a sustainable and prosperous forest industry. The second large concern that people in Prince George have had over the last decade is whether there are going to be sustained markets for forest products. That, too, has been no sure thing. We have had vexatious and unfounded countervail processes from the United States. That has put fear into the hearts of many forest and mill workers in Prince George and other communities. This, of course, arose first under the previous administration. I would say that their response was to cave in to the pressure and not to fight it. Did the Americans say: "Thank you very much; now you're playing fair, so we'll accept you"? No. They came back for the second bite.
When we took over as government in 1991, we found the American government yet again threatening the markets for our forest products. I am proud to say that this government did not deal with this threat by appeasement. It dealt with that by taking it on vigorously in every forum it could find, and eventually it prevailed and the countervail went into the oblivion it deserved. That was one threat to our markets. We've worked hard to make sure that is no longer a threat. We have the movement of forest products into the markets of our neighbour to the south.
There has been another threat, and that, quite frankly, has been our own mismanagement of the forests. When we hear people in Europe and in other markets say, "We're concerned
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about how you're managing your forests," we've said very clearly: "You're right to have been concerned. We didn't do as well as we should have. We didn't attend to the full diversity of the values in our forests, nor did we replant in the past as we ought to have." But we now have in place in this province -- soon to be introduced in this Legislature -- a Forest Practices Code that's going to establish standards of forest management second to none in the world.
That is important, not just because of the forest ecosystems, and the recreation, wildlife and various other values that British Columbians place on them, but also because it sends a clear message to the customers of our forest products that we care about the health of our forests; that we're in the forest business not for the short term and not to the detriment of other forest values, but as part of a sensitive twenty-first century approach to the management of forests. Concerns about markets are there, but we as government are taking steps, through the Forest Practices Code and through the vigorous leadership of the Premier in defending B.C.'s forest practices in Europe, to make sure that those concerns do not become a reality.
Perhaps the biggest concern that I've heard in Prince George over the last decade about the forest industry is whether it is going to be a source of an increasing or shrinking number of jobs. During the last decade we saw the number of jobs per volume of wood harvested decline by close to 50 percent. Instead of having, say, one job for every tree cut, we now had half a job. That meant fewer workers, fewer incomes, less wealth and less revenue for the governments that depend on a healthy forest industry. That decline was not caused by creating 12 percent as parks, nor was it caused by proper harvesting. It was caused by advancing technology and, in some cases, by an industry that looked to the past for its products, rather than to the future.
I remember that during the election in 1991, I stood in a forum on forestry in Prince George. Perhaps with a bit of overstatement, I waved a 2-by-4 around and said that this was a proud symbol of what the Prince George forest industry had produced -- and indeed it was. I said that the production of dimension lumber had been a staple of the forest industry in Prince George and would continue to be an important part, but it couldn't be the only part anymore. Though boxcars and flatcars full of 2-by-4s, 2-by-6s and 2-by-12s would continue to go south to the port of Vancouver and to the markets of the United States, we needed to diversify; we needed to have boxcars full of windows, furniture and even chopsticks moving down those tracks also. This BC Forest Renewal Act is taking the steps to move our industry in that diversified direction. We're doing what needs to be done, what I and other members of this Legislature heard as we went around the province last year, touring the value-added industry. I'm pleased to see that some members of that committee who were with me on the tour have now entered the chamber, because I think they remember, as I do, the concerns we heard from those who wanted to see a renewed and enhanced value-added industry.
They were concerned that their workers have proper training. This bill speaks to the importance of training forest workers not just in silviculture or in work on the land, but in work in the plants that manufacture forest products. We heard them say very clearly that they needed assistance in identifying and penetrating markets. We heard them say that they needed better research on forest products that we could produce. We heard them say that we had to find ways to bring sectors together and make sure that the lumber needed for value-added manufacturing was there when the plants required it. This Forest Renewal Act is laying the framework to make that happen, to make sure that we will have jobs in the traditional sectors of the forest industry and in producing the traditional products, but also that we will have those new products.
Recently I toured a value-added plant in Prince George. It was remarkable to see the diversity of products there: everything from window blanks to laminated panels to pieces of wood the size of arrow shafts. They didn't need a beehive burner for their waste; they just put it, once a week, into one of those industrial dumpsters. They were using every part of the wood, except the smell. That's the future of the forest industry in this province -- looking for diversification of products. The board that will administer the funds of Forest Renewal BC will look in that direction too: bringing sectors of industry together, looking at markets around the world, and helping build more products, more jobs and healthier forest communities.
That is what I see when I look at this act, and that's what the people in my own community see, too. When the Minister of Forests announced the forest renewal plan, I was curious to see what people in Prince George would say -- whether they would say, "Ah, a one-shot deal; we've heard it before," or whether they'd see what was actually there. They saw the value of this plan. To quote from the Prince George Citizen, they said:
"...it raises hope that the people in the boardrooms and government offices and union halls of B.C. finally realize that unless we get serious about reforestation, our province's major industry will be flat on its back in a few years."
They welcomed what they called wide endorsement:
"...wide endorsement of the plan by the forest industry, environmental groups, IWA-Canada and the B.C. Forest Alliance is a sign that some sort of truce, if not full accord, has been reached by the former combatants."
They're right. This is a plan that's going to bring industry together, bring forest communities together and assure a strong future for the forest industry. They concluded their editorial by saying:
"All British Columbians should hope this spirit of enthusiasm and cooperation prevails, and that this new initiative successfully heralds a change in attitude and a new way of doing business in B.C.'s forests."
I'm proud of what we've accomplished by working in partnership to develop this forest renewal plan. I believe our government has a vision of a better future for British Columbia and its forest industry -- a more certain future, with a healthier environment and a prosperous economy. This plan is part of an overall plan to solve the land use challenges we face in British Columbia. We've already put other measures in place. We put in place the timber supply review to help us achieve sustainable harvest levels. We put in place the Forest Practices Code to ensure higher sustainable harvest levels in the future and proper management of all forest values. We put the CORE process in place to move away from land use conflict and to foster mutual understanding and a broader vision. We put a protected areas strategy in place to double our parks and protected wilderness areas. The forest renewal plan takes a fair share of wealth from the forests and puts it back into the forest land, where it begins. We have a comprehensive plan for a sustainable future for our land and for all British Columbians.
Let's put aside those conflicts of the past, stop playing politics with the future of our forests, and build the forest industry and the forests that our province deserves.
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J. Weisgerber: It's a pleasure for me to rise and speak to the BC Forest Renewal Act, Bill 32. I've got to tell you, Mr. Speaker, this very thin piece of legislation is a great disappointment to me. Ten days or so ago this legislation was introduced in the House with great fanfare, including a lockup. It was timed very carefully -- it was a Thursday evening at about 5 o'clock -- to manipulate the reporting coverage and the impact that this legislation might have.
I've been around the Legislature for a number of years now. Once a year we go into a lockup for the budget, and there's a very good reason for that: if the government were to telegraph its budget intentions beforehand, there would be an opportunity to manipulate sales taxes and other things. So there's a very good and legitimate reason for a lockup. It's a big event around one of the big events of the year: tabling the budget.
When I was advised that the government was having a lockup to review a piece of legislation, I believed that we were going to see a truly unique, radically new and different piece of legislation. We got locked up, and my first reaction was: so what's new? This is ho-hum. It's the same old same old. There's nothing new here. There's nothing that hasn't been tried for decades, if not years. There's nothing new in this legislation at all. This is a lot of media hype. This is a lot of activity by a government trying to dig itself out from several difficult situations that it has found itself in. This is a desperate act by a government that has seen its popularity continue to fall in the two and a half years that it has been in office.
What was this lockup to announce? There was a lockup to announce that the government was going to form another Crown agency, which would collect $500 million or $600 million a year from the forest industry that would not be recorded in the financial budgets of this province. Some $500 million would be taken and redistributed, after a $100 million rake-off by the provincial treasury, with the remaining money spent by a board of directors -- a group of people unknown, unannounced and mysterious at that time -- who would not be accountable to this Legislature. This group of people wouldn't have to come into this Legislature to defend spending $400 million or $500 million a year of public money. They were going to pretend that it was their own corporation. They were going to spend $400 million or $500 million or $600 million a year of our tax dollars without any reference to this Legislature, without any inclusion in the financial statements of the province, without any opportunity for British Columbians to examine the decisions or the way these dollars were being spent. Perhaps the reason we were locked up was so that we wouldn't have an opportunity to publicly express our outrage at the way this was being handled.
What is this new corporation going to do? According to the legislation, it's going to assist forest industry diversification. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. I am aware that governments have been seeking to achieve forest industry diversification for decades. Secondly, they're going to assist further processing of wood supply. We've moved from cutting cants to cutting 2-by-4s to value-added manufacturing. The minister from Prince George talked about having toured a value-added plant in his constituency. That in itself was rather incredible, inasmuch as that member has represented Prince George since 1991, and in 1994 he has a tour of the plant. What the minister also failed to tell us was that the plant had been there in 1991, operating as it is today. It had been established by the former government, and now the minister pretends he found a value-added plant that is the personification of what his government is doing. It is a very good plant. It's a very good idea, but there's nothing new. It has been the result of a process that has been ongoing for at least a decade in this province, and I expect it will continue for decades into the future. Diversification and value-added manufacturing in the forest industry are laudable objectives, but they didn't come as bolts of lightning with this BC Forest Renewal Act. It is nothing more than the continuation of an evolutionary process that has been going on for decades in this province.
What are we going to do with the $400 million, $500 million or $600 million in additional stumpage being taken out of the forest industry? How is that money going to be spent? We in here aren't going to know. We're not going to have an opportunity to question the decisions in here. We don't know how much of that money is going to be spent on silviculture.
J. Weisgerber: Perhaps there's an echo in here, or perhaps someone is nattering behind me, but in either case would....
Deputy Speaker: I was planning to draw it to the attention of the members when the echo got too loud. It is now getting to that point. Please allow the member to make his speech.
J. Weisgerber: I know that the government benches have pumped themselves up, somehow believing that they have found the silver bullet: Bill 32, BC Forest Renewal Act -- the thing that is going to lead them out of the darkness, back into the sun of public opinion support. I know they're disappointed that that is not going to be the case, and I know they don't like to hear my comments in criticism of this bill. But let me tell you, Mr. Speaker, the government has denied British Columbians an opportunity to examine the decisions that will be made around the way $500 million or more of public money will be spent. We don't know how decisions are going to made about silviculture. We don't know how much money is going to be put into forest renewal. We don't know how much money is going to go into value-added manufacturing. I have a deep concern about the fact that the government is going to fall into the trap of starting to assist again.
An Hon. Member: Why don't you guys listen? You might learn something.
J. Weisgerber: It's unfortunate that government members don't seem to have the opportunity to speak on their own in this Legislature. I know the government is nervous when people like the former Minister of Government Services get on their feet. They're nervous about what that person might say, so they try to restrict their access to speak in the Legislature. There are times, I know, when the Whip fails in his duty.
There are legitimate concerns about the way this money will be spent. There are legitimate concerns regarding the forest industry's ability to pay the kind of stumpage increases that are forecast in this bill.
It was interesting to see the announcement in the rotunda, with all its fanfare, and the endorsement by Peter Bentley, chairman of Canfor. It was more interesting to read in the Vancouver Sun on April 26 that Mr. Bentley found out that all those things he had been led to believe by the government
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were not so. He believed that he had been misled into endorsing this forest renewal program. He expressed great concern over the forest industry's ability to support an additional $400 million or $500 million or $600 million a year in stumpage with falling lumber prices.
What we have in Bill 32.... And you know, in the three years that this government has been in office, this is the third Bill 32 they've introduced. The first one was a disaster, the second one they withdrew because they couldn't find the courage to put it through and the third one turns out to be a big, sad disappointment -- an overstated, overblown, under-achieving piece of legislation that is totally lacking in detail.
It's very thin legislation. This is the government's silver bullet for the forest industry: six pages, including the face page, and at least two of those pages are committed to detailing how the board of directors is going to be formed and how they're going to be paid. The government has every minute detail worked out as to how they're going to pay the board of directors and about four lines about how the $500 million is going to be spent, with the clear understanding that this is the last time we're going to get an opportunity to talk about it. Like B.C. 21, the government is going to take almost half a billion dollars in taxation and spending and move it away from this Legislature, away from scrutiny and questioning, and into a corporate entity which will favour the friends of this government and has nothing to do other than be a knee-jerk reaction to the criticism of the CORE report. That's what this bill is.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
This bill is a desperate attempt at creating a smokescreen. This bill does nothing to deal with the problems created by the setting-aside of 21 percent of the forest base -- the land base; it's far greater than 21 percent of the forest base -- on Vancouver Island. The government pretends that with a couple of lines that suggest they are going to take $500 million and turn it over to an anonymous group of people to spend for undefined purposes, folks are going to somehow believe that this will solve all the problems this government has created.
Indeed, there is nothing wrong with the motherhood issues that this bill identifies. We're losing absolute control in this Legislature of half a billion dollars in spending; there's absolutely no plan....
J. Weisgerber: There's absolutely no plan. And the novice minister, the member for Nelson-Creston, says: "We're going to refer it to a standing committee."
C. Evans: And your members will be on it.
J. Weisgerber: We're going to have a member on it. Isn't that marvellous! It's not going to be done....
C. Evans: That's democracy.
J. Weisgerber: Ah, isn't it marvellous!
C. Evans: If I didn't feed you lines, you wouldn't have a speech.
J. Weisgerber: Mr. Speaker, if the sad time ever comes in my life when I need that member to feed me lines in order to make a speech, I will thank you and every other member, and take my place.
The Speaker: Order, please.
J. Weisgerber: We have a piece of legislation in front of us that has no detail, that was not developed and that was brought out as a knee-jerk reaction. On examination, I believe that it will find itself failing, because it doesn't have in it a process for this Legislature or for British Columbia to examine, guide or control the expenditure of a large chunk of money that the government fails to recognize as another tax. Not long ago, the Premier stood and very proudly said that there would be no new taxes. One must only assume either that the government doesn't recognize the $500 million in stumpage as a tax or that at the time the government tabled its budget -- barely three weeks before this bill was introduced -- it didn't know this legislation was coming. Those are the only two possibilities.
No, there are three possibilities: (1) the government didn't understand that this $500 million is a tax; (2) they didn't understand yet that this bill, this knee-jerk reaction to the CORE report, was being developed; or (3) the Premier and the government deliberately decided to come in and mislead the members of this House by saying there would be no new taxes. I will leave it to you, Mr. Speaker, to the members of this assembly and to British Columbians to decide which of those three options to believe.
J. Beattie: It's my pleasure today to rise to speak on Bill 32. Before I begin with my prepared remarks, I'd like to address a few of the issues that the hon. member for Peace River South has brought to the fore.
The question I think the public is asking is: "Is there life after being a Socred?" I'm afraid this member has pretty well given us to believe that there is no life after being a Socred, because his cynicism and lack of clarity and objectivity on issues -- with all his years of having associated with the previous government -- have really destroyed his sense of perspective on this.
The hon. member should remember that it was his government that created the Okanagan Valley Tree Fruit Authority -- an agency which, in many respects, mirrors the creation of the corporation that will extend the funds for forest renewal in this province. I say this to the member not to attack him personally but to remind him that he was part of a government that recognized the value in designating money through Crown corporations for appropriate expenditures to support industry. In fact, I'd like to let the hon. member know that the president of the British Columbia Fruit Growers' Association commented on the agency that his government created and said that it worked very well and saw that the agency that will guide the initiatives of forest renewal in this province could do equally as good a job.
I want to also comment briefly -- just so the public is not completely misled by this member -- on the accountability that this agency has to the House. It says here: "The business plan submitted under subsection (5) must be laid before the Legislative Assembly by the Minister of Forests, as soon as practicable, and then stands referred to a Select Standing Committee with responsibility for forests." This is an initiative that the Reform Party in particular, which has often called for greater use of select standing committees, should be supporting. I'm sure that at the end of the day they will support this bill. In fact, I'll put my money on it today that those members will support this bill. I see the hon. member
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for Peace River South wishes to drag me into committing myself to some funds. We'll speak after the session, hon. member.
I'd like to also read from section 10: "The report and financial statement referred to in subsection (7) must be laid before the Legislative Assembly by the Minister of Forests as soon as practicable." I wish to say that I am confident that this Legislature, with the support of those fine citizens of British Columbia who will be on this agency, will spend the public's money in a way which will benefit all of us.
I'll now refer to my speaking notes. I'd like to say that as a member of this government I'm very proud to stand today and support the forest renewal plan. This is an unprecedented partnership among communities, business, environmentalists, first nations, workers and government. It provides $2 billion in the next five years to renew forests, to ensure that family-supporting jobs for the people who work in the forests will still be there, to secure the future of the forest industry, to secure a healthy forest environment and a prosperous economy, and to protect B.C.'s way of life. The forest renewal plan is a major departure and a fundamental change in the way we manage our forests. The government has developed the first genuinely long-term plan to sustain B.C.'s forests and forest economy, not just for the next few years, as the Minister of Health commented, but for the next 100 years or more.
J. Weisgerber: I think we already read that speech.
J. Beattie: Is that right? Let me refer to it again, because these points are very important. This is a plan we can all be proud of. It will generate a long life for the forest industry in this province, and it is something that we can all be committed to.
Yesterday I had an opportunity to go into the interior with the Premier to speak to remanufacturing companies, the IWA, the chambers of commerce and the Interior Lumber Manufacturers' Association. I can say that people have reservations about some aspects of this plan, particularly with regard to the stumpage rates that will be charged, whether the sliding scale is appropriate and whether it will protect the bottom line of the forest sector. But I can say that, without exception, the public is onside with this type of initiative. I think it's important to recognize that 94,000 jobs in this province are supported by the forest sector, and more than 140,000 jobs are indirectly linked to that sector. It's an enormous contributor to the gross domestic product in this province. The public wants to understand that there is a long-term articulated plan to protect the forest sector.
Over the past two years this government has brought forth a number of disparate initiatives which have focused on and highlighted some of the key problems that have existed in this province over a number of years. For example, I refer to the fact that this province, working with the federal government, has brought in a Treaty Commission, which at last is going to address the outstanding needs of our aboriginal people. Taken in isolation, it is often difficult for the public to see the import of that, but it is a very important initiative.
We've also embarked upon the CORE process, an opportunity for all people in this province to bring to one table the concerns they have about how the land, resources and environment are being used in their areas. There is a lot of discussion about whether or not the consensus process can work at the end of the day. But if, in the end, the government is forced to make a decision based on the information that has been brought to the table, we know that all the information will be available for those decisions.
Previous to our election -- and now in this period of governance -- the government committed to protect 12 percent of the province as ecological zones.
An Hon. Member: That's leadership.
J. Beattie: It is leadership, and it's the type of leadership that is supported by good scientific research, such as that done by the Brundtland commission and recognized by the environmental movement and, indeed, by the 10,000 to 15,000 IWA workers who were on the front lawns of the Legislature. Twelve percent is an acceptable and important figure. The protected areas strategy is one of those important initiatives that says we need to protect the varying ecological zones in British Columbia, but we also need to recognize that there is a great deal of habitat and a great deal of wildlife -- flora and fauna. It's something that has to be done, and the public has generally accepted that.
In the last few months the government announced the Forest Practices Code. We can look back at the history of the management of our forests in British Columbia, and we don't need to be ashamed, but we need to be honest that we have overcut. We have abused our forest land base. In many examples, we can say that the government made decisions in the forest industry that were not based upon sustainability. The Forest Practices Code will be an important initiative to govern the technical tasks at hand in terms of harvesting timber and making sure that the timber taken out is replaced in a proper manner.
Into this mix, some important initiatives have had their failings, because they are brave, new, progressive, untried initiatives. They have been criticized in certain sectors, but they are accepted initiatives in the main. Albeit they are accepted, there have been some failings. Now we throw into the mix the important Forest Renewal Act which draws together all these disparate activities of the government -- or that are at least seen as being disparate -- into a comprehensive vision of how we see the forest and the land base in British Columbia being utilized in the future.
What gives me the sense that the government is going in the right direction is that the New Democratic Party, as reflected in this government, has always attempted to balance the needs of individuals against the steamrollers of economy and government. Government is big and powerful; business is big and powerful. In the forest renewal plan, we are bringing the focus down to the people who do the work in this province. We are focusing on those individuals who have children to send to school, houses to pay for, families to support, and who want to be productive members of society. We don't want to displace one person for the good of the province. We want the good of the province to be supported by people working at jobs that they want to do.
There are so many aspects of this initiative, one of the most important being the skills and training secretariat that will be established. It will not only bring to the public's attention the skills that are required to be a forest worker but will also highlight just how important a profession it really is to be a forestry worker in this province. At the end of the day, as we grow in our understanding of how the forests need to be used and developed, the esteem and status of forest workers, tree planters and remanufacturing workers will also grow.
Speaking to 30 or 35 IWA workers at Greenwood mill yesterday, the Premier heard them talk about the problem of getting wood fibre.
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British Columbia has the best wood fibre in the world. The type of wood fibre grown in this province makes the best wood product in the world. That's why we know that the remanufactured products we create will have a market throughout the world -- in the Far Eastern countries, in Mexico, in South America and in Europe. The IWA workers yesterday said to guarantee them a wood supply, and we said yes. We are working with the major tree farm licence holders to make sure that they divert wood to the remanufacturing sector. But we also saw that they had a sense of pride about the work they do. They know it's difficult work. Often they didn't come out of school with a lot of education and training, but they got those skills on the shop floor. They're important skills, skills that we have to and will protect. We will show to the rest of British Columbians that they represent a substantial investment in the future of our province.
Many have spoken on the forest renewal plan, and I'd like to refer specifically to the eloquent speech by my friend the member for Nelson-Creston. I've listened to the hon. member for Prince George North, the Minister of Health. Indeed, I listened to the hon. member from West Vancouver, who spoke very well on this issue. I think some of the comments from the Reform Party have merit. We are negotiating continually to make this forest renewal plan a reality. It's going to take continuing discussion with those in the forest sector. We're going to look for good input from the other side. But at the end of the day, the people of British Columbia want to see a sane and rational approach to their resource, and they want to see it protected. At the end of the day, I think they will believe and accept that the forest renewal plan is the proper approach.
H. Lali: I rise in support of Bill 32, the BC Forest Renewal Act. Before I do so, I notice in the galleries another constituent of mine who has joined us, Ryan Holmberg. Would the House please make him welcome.
I'm going to divide my speech into four parts. Firstly, I'm going to talk about what the forest renewal plan entails. Secondly, I'll talk about what people outside government are saying about the Forest Renewal Act. Thirdly, I will talk about my constituency in general and what my constituents are telling me about the plan. Lastly, I will speak on how out-to-lunch the opposition parties are on this particular bill, especially the Liberals and their so-called new leader.
As I stand here, I'm very proud. On the day that the announcement was made, I was very proud to be a British Columbian and to be a witness to an historic event. What we have introduced is landmark legislation, Mr. Speaker. It is perhaps the most significant legislation since the introduction of the agricultural land reserve in 1973 by a government of which you were a member.
It is indeed a unique partnership between environmentalists, industry, workers, communities, first nations and government, brought about as a result of a very open, consultative process. It is a fulfilment of our 1991 election platform, when we said that we would revitalize the forest industry, change the way that we manage our forests and ensure the long-term sustainability of the environment and the forest industry. The Premier said that we would end the neglect of our forests, and we would clean up the mess that the Socreds left behind. It was such a mess that some of the Socreds are now running over and calling themselves Reformers.
Last month the Premier made a commitment to the people of British Columbia to protect jobs in the woods. The Premier said that anyone who wants to work in the forest industry will continue to have a well-paying, quality job in the forest industry. He said that forestry is not a sunset industry; it is a sunrise industry. The Premier of the province also pledged that any future land use decisions will not be made on the backs of the forestry workers of this province. The Premier and this NDP government have lived up to those commitments.
Now I'd like to deal with some of the specifics. Our goals, as outlined in the forest renewal plan, are as follows: renewing the land base and keeping the forests healthy; investing in the forests, which generate much of British Columbia's wealth; ensuring the sustainable use and enjoyment of B.C.'s forests; ensuring the continued availability of good forest jobs; and ensuring stability for the communities that rely on forest resources. As I mentioned earlier, the forest renewal plan is creating a new partnership with government, first nations, the forest industry, workers, communities and environmentalists in order to manage and direct this major investment in our forests. The partners will bring their expertise to this plan and ensure that it meets its goal of renewing B.C.'s forests and forest industry.
Nearly half of the plan's investments will go toward reforestation and silviculture. Harvested areas will be replanted sooner, and all the NSR lands will be replanted as well. Better care will be taken of the trees we plant, through improved thinning, spacing, pruning and fertilization. Lands available for planting new trees will also be increased, because some of the marginal agricultural lands will also be replanted. We will also be channelling more money into silviculture research and development, which will focus on planting trees that lead to higher timber values.
We will also be restoring and protecting our environment. While past environmental damage will be cleaned up, priority is put on rehabilitating rivers, streams and watersheds and removing or repairing some of the unused logging roads. There will be new investment in restocking and protecting fisheries, wildlife and other resources depleted in the past because of past government neglect.
Over time, renewing our forests and restoring our environment will offset the predicted reductions in the yearly harvest and job levels. New jobs will be created in forest renewal; an estimated 6,000 new jobs will be created over the first five years of the plan.
The forest renewal plan also will work in conjunction with the Forest Practices Code to change the way we manage our forests. We will have better practices in place, with tougher laws enforced through tough penalties.
It's very important to constituents of mine, who might be listening, that we also will be increasing the jobs and the value of our forest products. By renewing B.C.'s forest industry, the forest renewal plan will create more value and jobs from the trees we cut. Presently we have 94,000 direct jobs and another 140,000 indirect jobs in the forest industry. As I mentioned earlier, 6,000 additional jobs will be created in the first five years.
The plan also will assist value-added companies to start up, expand and develop new markets. Government will work with industry to ensure greater access to wood supply for value-added companies that create more jobs. A forest skills council comprised of workers, industry and government will be set up, which will improve training for forest workers.
Each program under this plan will contain initiatives to increase first nations participation in the forest economy, including structuring joint ventures with first nations companies, forest worker training, and competitive bid proposal assessment and development training. Communities that rely on the forest will be strengthened
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through new job opportunities and new investments in local economic development and diversification.
I just want to touch on the financing. As you are aware, the financing for this plan will come as a result of an increase in stumpage fees. It's predicted that we're going to bring $400 million per year into this plan over the next five years, for a total of $2 billion. It's not the short-term, year-to-year, make-work plan that past governments have put in place. It's a long-term investment. We're looking at 50- to 80-year terms of investment in the renewal of our forest resources.
A separate Crown agency will be set up that will be responsible for how these funds are allocated. It will be brought about as a result of the passing of a law in this Legislature, so that the money will not go into general revenue and no greedy ministers -- it doesn't matter what party or government they may represent -- will be able to dip their fingers into the pot. If any money, even a single penny, is going to be taken out of the pot, it will not be done without the consent of this Legislature, because an ensuing amendment or a new act would have to be introduced in order to take a single penny out of that plan.
There will be representation from the various stakeholders in this agency, including all the groups I mentioned earlier who formed this partnership through the forest sector strategy they've been working on for the last year. In the process of expending these funds.... There is a process, unlike in the past. When this agency draws up its plan, it will go to the minister, who will then turn around and send it to a standing committee of the Legislature -- and that is a committee of all parties of this Legislature. Every penny that is spent will be accountable.
I just want to talk briefly about my constituency. Some 30 percent of Yale-Lillooet is dependent upon the forest resource. Some of the sawmill towns that I have in my riding include Boston Bar, Yale, Hope, Lillooet, Lytton, Princeton and, of course, my own hometown of Merritt, where I have worked for a total of two and a half years in various sawmills. Some of the companies in my constituency include Weyerhaeuser, Tolko, Ardew Wood Products, Aspen Planers, J.S. Jones -- formerly Fletcher Challenge, now owned by Teal Cedar Products -- Ainsworth Lumber, Lytton Lumber and countless others. I have the distinction of having more sawmills located in my riding than in any other riding in this province. As I mentioned, I also have a background in the sawmill industry, as does my entire family and the family on my wife's side as well, including her uncles and our fathers, brothers and cousins. We have three generations of history in the forest industry.
Last week I went on a tour of some of the towns in my riding with the hon. Minister of Small Business, Tourism and Culture. We talked to over 500 people in Merritt, in Boston Bar and in Hope. We toured the various mills, including Aspen Planers and J.S. Jones. People came to the open meetings we held in Merritt and in Hope. We had people from Ardew Wood Products, who actually shut down their mill for an hour and half to two hours so they could send all their forestry workers to listen firsthand to what is entailed in the plan. Indeed, we talked to over 150 grade 11 and 12 students at Merritt Secondary. We also talked to mayors, councillors, people who represent the chamber of commerce, and small business persons. We talked to the average person on the street, housewives and househusbands. We talked to a lot of people.
My constituents, without exception, said the same thing over and over to us: "Why wasn't this done before? Why didn't previous governments have the courage to introduce what this government is introducing?"
L. Boone: No guts.
H. Lali: That's right. The hon. member for Prince George-Mount Robson says that the previous government did not have the courage or the guts to make the changes that were necessary to achieve sustainability for our environment and forest resources.
An Hon. Member: The Liberals don't even have guts enough to have a position.
H. Lali: Exactly -- they don't. I'll get to that in a minute, hon. member for Nelson-Creston.
Those people in my constituency were excited about the jobs that were going to be created and the future that it would entail for those who are interested in entering occupations and careers in forestry. They were excited about the stability that it would bring in the future for the local and rural communities in my riding. They were excited about the health of the environment and the forest industry for generations to come. There is widespread support for this plan among business, labour, first nations and all the other stakeholders I mentioned.
I am going to relay some of the messages that other people have about the forest renewal plan. Peter Bentley, the chief executive officer of Canadian Forest Products, had this to say: "This legislation deserves the support of all British Columbians. This is far too important to let it become a political football." Mike Apsey of the Council of Forest Industries said: "For the first time ever, a fund is going to be set up that administers reforestation and the protection of our environmental values...we think this is going to work." Jack Munro of the Forest Alliance said: "It's a very positive step toward ensuring that the forest sector will provide economic and social benefits for generations of British Columbians." I see the hon. member for Nelson-Creston smiling, because he understands full well, having been a logger in the past. Gerry Stoney, the president of the IWA, said: "...it means year-round decent-wage union jobs and stability for the businesses and communities that depend on those jobs." Vicky Husband, an environmentalist with the Sierra Club, said: "This is a...major step in the right direction. I'm very pleased. The plan recognizes a lot of the things we've been fighting for."
What is the opposition saying? They've either been saying nothing or that they don't like Crown corporations. They've had all of these doomsday scenarios that they've been harping on for the two and a half years that they've been in opposition. The member for Nelson-Creston mentioned that the opposition thrives on conflict. Conflict is their very being. If there is conflict, they exist; without conflict, they can't survive. They're opposing change simply for the sake of opposing change. This NDP government was elected on a platform of change. If we do not bring about the change that this plan will bring, if we do nothing, there will be a falldown, and as a result of that falldown we're going to have a 15 to 30 percent reduction in the annual allowable cut over the next 50 years.
We've heard the Socreds -- what's left of the Socreds -- say the same old theme that they had in the past. They're not saying anything different. They want to bring in those piddly little programs that deal with one part of silviculture and have it on a yearly basis. We had a Forests minister from the Social Credit Party who said, I think in 1987, that they were going to spend over $1.4 billion on silviculture over five years, when we knew that all they did was repackage the money that was already there in environment and forestry,
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and the only bit of new money available was $100 million. Yet when the next minister came in, he kiboshed the plan that he had in place, and every other minister kiboshed the plan that was in place before that.
Then we have the Reform Party. The Reform Party is the same old wine in a different bottle. They left the Socreds because of all the past years of neglect, yet they're saying the same tired old rhetoric they used in the past. They're also talking about the same repackaging that the Socreds....
What about the Liberals over there? What is Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition saying about this? As usual, they have the same pathetic response to every piece of progressive legislation this government has introduced that they've had in opposition for the last two and a half years. You'll see them speaking out of both sides of their mouths at the same time. They've been doing flip-flops every day. At the rate they're doing flip-flops, they're making professional gymnasts look like amateurs. They think they've got the field on this. It also depends on which Liberal you're talking to and at what time of the day you're talking to what Liberal. Are you talking to the Forests critic or are you talking to the so-called new leader of the Liberal Party? They say something different each time.
Let's look at what some of the Campbell-led Liberals are saying about the forestry plan. At least when the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast was leader of the Liberals they had a sensible policy. The Liberals said: "The Liberal Party of B.C. recognizes the importance of a stable forest industry in the province. It is also recognized that there is a need to review current practices with a view to securing a more acceptable administrative structure...and land management." Then they went on to say: "...job retraining programs and a program including research and development...will promote development of value-added and tertiary industry." Yet when the plan was introduced, the Liberal Forests critic from Surrey-White Rock said following the press conference: "I rate it a two or three on a scale of ten." Yet later on in the evening that same Liberal critic went on to say: "I applaud the commitment under law to put $400 million a year into the forest land base...." He also said: "The investment is great." He said one thing three or four hours earlier, and later he did a complete flip-flop and said the opposite.
Let's listen to what the Liberal leader -- this so-called new, improved version of the Liberal leader -- said when he was talking to Rafe Mair on CKNW on February 23:
"I think that the forest industry in the province of B.C. is absolutely vital to our future. I think if we forget how important it is to our future, we will all lose. We will all suffer, whether you're living in greater Vancouver or you're living in Quesnel or you're living in Cranbrook...."
And he continued:
"One of the things that we have to do as we look at forestry is that we have to say how we provide for sustainable forestry by more investment in the forests, by more active forest management. And one of the ways to do that is to say there are parts of this province which are for an active forest program...so that people have security over the long term, instead of this uncertainty that says: 'I'm not sure whether I'm going to have a job next year or two years from now.' They want a plan for the future, just like you and I do, and they can do that."
Then he said:
"...if we keep on pretending that somehow the world hasn't changed, we're going to keep on reaping the benefits of these industries without changing them. We're going to be in trouble."
He also said:
"Now I think the forest companies have got to do that. I think the government has got to help, in terms of encouraging management of the forests, in terms of investing in the forests, in terms of marketing the forests. All of these things have got to be done."
Now listen up, all you Liberals over there. This is what your new, improved leader said:
"I think, frankly, when the Premier went over to Europe he did a sensible job in terms of saying: 'Look, this is where we're going. This is what we're trying to do.' I applaud him for that. I think he did a good job in Europe."
That's exactly what the forest renewal plan does.
I'd like to ask: what made the Liberals change their mind? From their statements earlier, every time they get up to speak in the House they're indeed taking a hypocritical stance. They're going to speak against this bill, and they're going to vote for it. That's probably what they will end up doing. They don't even know why they're opposing it. They have no comments regarding the specifics or the meat and potatoes of the bill. The only comments they have are: "Why is a Crown corporation going to be looking at this? Why is there an agency set up?" If we had put it in the general budget, they would have said: "Why is it in the general budget? It's going to be dipped into by other ministers." I explained earlier that it is set up separately so that no cabinet minister can touch it. They don't understand. They're out of touch with the forestry workers and with rural British Columbia. I'd like to see the Liberals stand out on the street corners in my riding and say the things they're saying in here. I guarantee you that they'll get tarred and feathered, or lynched, or both.
H. Lali: They don't even know where Spuzzum, Yale or Merritt are. As the member for Nelson-Creston said earlier, the Liberal Forests critic lives 300 miles from the nearest forest. What does he know about forests or the interior? They're not speaking for rural communities in the interior. They have the gall to stand up in this Legislature and lecture us when they haven't got a single member elected from the area north and east of Hope. Their city-slicker leader, who is a developer, probably wants to clearcut every part of the province so he can start developments everywhere. Where is he right now? He was supposed to debate earlier and he took off, like he usually does. Where is that city-slicker leader of theirs?
H. Lali: That's right, he couldn't stand up and actually debate. He's just like the rest of the gutless Liberals.
I'm a rural MLA and a member of the interior NDP team and the working group of our general caucus, and we fought hard for this. We fought for the last two and a half years so we could make this a reality and have jobs for our constituents. I'm proud to say that this government listened to the concerns of rural British Columbia and brought this forward in the form of an act so we can start cleaning up the mess that was left behind in our forests by Social Credit.
In concluding, governments have taken forests for granted for too long. Too much has been cut, and too little has been put back. If we do nothing, then we face the prospect of a future with fewer trees and fewer jobs. The issue is about land. The land belongs to the people. This plan gives back to the land. In essence, we are giving back to the people in all those rural communities what past
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governments took from the last two or three generations. We are changing the way we manage our forests. We are ending the valley-by-valley conflicts, and we're replacing that with a partnership. We are creating more jobs from our resources through value-added, and we're ensuring the long-term sustainability of our environment and our forest industry. We're bringing stability to our forest-dependent communities. We're ending the lopsided balance of the past, which favoured the urban lower mainland while the rural interior, the upper Island and the north of this province were sadly neglected under Social Credit.
One and a half years ago we had a strategic plan that said regional economic development was going to be the number one priority. This forest renewal plan represents the backbone of that regional economic development plan. My constituents are telling me that British Columbia and its forest industry cannot afford not to have this plan in place. These people in my constituency, and indeed throughout the province, are also telling me that they remember with pride that the NDP brought in the agricultural land reserve 20 years ago. In 20 years they will still not only be remembering the ALR, but they will be remembering with pride that it was the NDP who had the courage and the guts to bring in the forest renewal plan, which is going to change the way we do forestry in this province.
I see the lateness of the hour, and that Committee A is to be reporting soon, so I would like to move adjournment of the debate.
Committee of Supply A, having reported resolutions, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. A. Edwards: Hon. Speaker, I would advise that Committee A estimates have just been completed, and the mini-debate on them will take place tomorrow morning.
Hon. A. Edwards moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:49 p.m.
The House in Committee of Supply A; G. Brewin in the chair.
The committee met at 2:49 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF HOUSING, RECREATION AND CONSUMER SERVICES
On vote 44: minister's office, $354,847 (continued).
Hon. J. Smallwood: When we commenced our estimates, there were a number of questions that I made a commitment to bring information back to the House on. While I recognize that some of the members who asked the questions are not present, I'll read them into Hansard for their information.
First of all, the member for Delta South requested clarification on a number of items contained in the B.C. Housing Management Commission's financial statement. The additional information that I'd like to provide.... I emphasize that during his questioning, we gave him an approximate number. I have a number that more closely reflects the value of the land held for development by B.C. Housing, and that is approximately $13 million for this year.
In addition to that, there was a question requesting clarification with respect to the increase in B.C. Housing Management Commission's administration. I'll speak directly to the member on that, looking at the information he had. So I'll make the commitment to report back on that.
In response to the question raised by the member for Surrey-Cloverdale concerning the $10,000 allocated for British Columbia's participation in the national campaign, the federal contribution for Fitweek is $350,000, to be coordinated through Participaction. Participaction has raised an additional $85,000 from corporation sponsors. These funds are used for the production of printing material, information kits, posters, logo sheets and press kits, as well as for the purchase of national media advertising. British Columbia will spend $4,000 to purchase and distribute the material produced for Fitweek and is reviewing the proposal to conduct a national recreation forum on the topic, "Youth at Risk." B.C.'s share for the national forum will be $5,000.
V. Anderson: The report of the Provincial Commission on Housing Options has set out numerous recommendations. I indicated earlier that I thought it would be useful if we went through these recommendations to get the minister's response to them. It would give the province an understanding of where the minister has probably been in some of these areas, and where the ministry is planning to go.
We might begin with recommendation No. 1: "All urban land owned by the government of British Columbia which is surplus to the government's requirements should be developed expeditiously for housing and related community uses." The minister might tell us where that's at.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The only comment I'm able to make in that regard is that the policy is actively under consideration.
V. Anderson: That may be the answer all the way through, but we'll find out. Recommendation No. 2: "The provincial government should redirect growth away from the two metropolitan areas to other urban areas of the province."
Hon. J. Smallwood: The statistical information tabled by the Ministry of Finance along with the budget this year clearly stated that a considerable amount of development has now shifted away from the lower mainland to other urban areas. It shows that our overall government strategy, as well as the strategy for this ministry, is well underway. It's a reflection of the leadership provided by this government and our commitment to those communities that have not traditionally enjoyed governmental support in economic and social development. This ministry is actively involved with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and their management strategy, and it will help, through its participation, in furthering our policy development. In addition to that, as this ministry puts forward its proposal calls, we are
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committed to ensuring that those new developments are shared equitably throughout the province.
V. Anderson: Following up on the last answer, am I to understand that the Housing ministry and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs are combining for a management plan in municipalities across the province, and if so, might there be more detail about what that plan is?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Yes.
V. Anderson: Yes, but no detail.
Recommendation No. 3 is: "The provincial government should move quickly to reintroduce the authority for regional planning in the capital region and greater Vancouver region, as well as in those areas of the province where housing and planning issues transcend municipal boundaries." So there are three areas: Vancouver, Victoria and others beyond municipal boundaries.
Hon. J. Smallwood: In some sense, my short answer to the first question holds true for this one as well. Where the Ministry of Municipal Affairs is the lead ministry on the growth management strategy and is actively working on strategies such as the Georgia basin, our ministry is providing support to those committees to ensure that the lead our ministry provides in housing is represented in those deliberations.
V. Anderson: Recommendation No. 4 is: "The Municipal Act should be amended to set out more specific rules for the public hearing process for rezoning land. Also, the province should ensure that guidelines are developed and communicated to all local governments to ensure that the public hearing process is conducted in an equitable manner."
Hon. J. Smallwood: I was just checking for our most recent.... I met with the Urban Development Institute as well as other industry representatives. This is an area they are particularly interested in. The commitment that I made to them at that time was to meet with the Minister of Municipal Affairs, ensuring that this item was on our joint agenda. That meeting has taken place, we have that commitment, and that policy development will be part of the mutual work of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
V. Anderson: When you say that policy development is part of what you're following up on, does that mean there will be legislation, or new directions, or orders-in-council? What kind of direction might be coming out of that, so the municipalities might have some assurance in their housing planning of what's coming and how it's coming?
Hon. J. Smallwood: We don't intend to prejudge that policy work. I can assure the member that those partners in both the housing industry and municipal governments will be involved with that policy development and will be fully apprised of any decisions government makes down the road.
V. Anderson: I trust that not only the housing industry but also the constituents of the various areas affected will find a means of being involved in those discussions.
Recommendation No. 5 was that "local governments should prezone land for all types of residential development in accordance with the policies of their official community plans." Could the minister indicate what significance or meaning or direction is being given here in developing certain kinds of housing, rezoning and community plans?
Hon. J. Smallwood: As the member, I'm sure, is well aware, last session's Bill 57 made it easier for local governments to prezone land for housing developments. In addition to that, the work that this ministry has underway with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs on regional planning and growth will again look for opportunities to enhance the abilities of both regional and local governments to address this area.
V. Anderson: No. 6 recommended that "the Municipal Act should be amended to require all municipalities to establish annual housing production targets, including targets for affordable housing." This is being amended to make this a requirement for municipalities. What's the direction in this regard?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I apologize if I didn't catch the whole question. The question, as I understood it, was with regard to the requirements for municipalities to deal with amendments to their official plans. The recommendations flowing from the commission are broadly recognized not only by government but by the participants themselves as being fairly complex recommendations. In particular, when there are mandatory recommendations that would impact municipal powers and functioning, the provincial government is very reluctant to get into that area unless the municipalities themselves are in agreement.
I'm sure the member will recognize that the constitutional authority of all levels of government is clearly established, and that the role and authority of municipal governments to deal with zoning authority and land management within their boundaries is very clear. The province has chosen, through Bill 57 and other initiatives, to provide enabling opportunities for municipalities, and to support local community organizations -- whether it's through the industry, housing societies or community groups -- in participating in that democratic process, ensuring that municipalities take advantage of that enabling legislation.
V. Anderson: If I may summarize, then, it would seem to me that the next three recommendations, all of which are requirements, probably would come under the same direction and response that you've just given. They would be enabling rather than requiring, if I understand the direction. I'll just list those recommendations and make sure they apply in the same way.
The first one requires all municipalities to adopt plans and strategies to ensure that there is an adequate supply of serviced residential land available to meet housing needs; the second one requires municipalities to establish reasonable time frames to review and process residential development applications; and the third one requires all municipalities to levy development cost charges equitably on the basis of habitable floor area rather than on a per dwelling basis. Am I to understand that the ministry has taken the stance of not requiring, but in each case encouraging, municipalities to make their own decisions?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The position the ministry has generally taken is that of providing enabling legislation to empower municipalities, to give them additional powers under the Municipal Act to act more effectively and more efficiently in the interests of meeting the human needs in their communities. In addition to that, we have provided
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resources through planning grants or workshops for municipalities, where ministry staff have toured the province and met with municipal officials, elected representatives and community groups to spell out very clearly the new tools the municipalities have at their disposal.
V. Anderson: Recommendation No. 10 says that municipalities and electoral districts throughout the province growing at a faster rate than the average for their region should be eligible to receive proportionately higher revenue-sharing grants from the provincial government. The recommendation takes into account the rate of growth and whether there will be greater recognition from the province because of that increased growth.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I have to declare that I may be in a conflict of interest by answering on this particular recommendation, since I represent the municipality of Surrey. However, I want to point out to the member that this recommendation falls under the purview and responsibility of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
V. Anderson: Recommendation No. 11: "The Municipal Act should be amended to require the Capital Regional District and the Greater Vancouver Regional District to establish an annual infrastructure levy on all residential properties to assist in financing the services in municipalities experiencing high levels of housing growth."
Hon. J. Smallwood: My comment is fairly general. This particular area would fall under the work that is being done cooperatively by our ministry and Municipal Affairs around growth management.
V. Anderson: This is one that I know some action has been taken on, and there are some questions. "A new mortgage assistance program for first-time homebuyers should be established which takes into account regional differences in housing prices. Specifically, the price ceiling for eligible homes should be $150,000 in greater Victoria and the Fraser Valley, $175,000 in greater Vancouver and $100,000 in the rest of the province. The amount of the guarantee should be 15 percent of the home price."
Hon. J. Smallwood: My comments will include both 11 and 13. I point out to the member that in this year's budget, there was an announcement for the property purchase tax exemption for first-time homebuyers. That announcement has been very well received, and not only by potential first-time homebuyers. As we announced in our initial statement, we expect -- looking at our demographics of renters -- that we will see approximately 25,000 renters eligible to take advantage of that initiative by this government.
V. Anderson: While we're on that, we might raise the question that people have been asking about. The conflict is with the regulations as they apparently now exist; you must take advantage of the home you're buying within 45 days. When people are renting and their rent agreement does not enable them to move out within that 45-day period, there's a conflict. There's a real concern about how this is going to be resolved.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I've had an opportunity to talk to the Minister of Finance, and we'll have an announcement shortly.
V. Anderson: We'll wait with interest for the announcement, and so will the community at large.
The next couple of recommendations, in effect, have been answered in the questions we have been dealing with at this particular point.
I will move to No. 15: "The provincial government should introduce a program for low- and moderate-income families who are currently renting and who want to purchase their first home. We recommend the creation of a 'made in British Columbia' equity cooperative housing program." Then they list the elements of that program. I'm sure the minister is aware of those, and perhaps she could respond to that.
Hon. J. Smallwood: This is an area where I'll make a fairly general statement. I'm sure the member can sympathize: while we are dealing with this year's budget, many of our program initiatives will not be announced until the next month or so. The strategy underway with this ministry -- and I referred to it in earlier discussions -- is about developing a strategy that makes sense in B.C., that is built in B.C. and that reflects for the first time the real needs of communities throughout this province. It's a strategy that reflects the continuum from homeless and homeless-at-risk all the way through to bridging programs to home-ownership. I think the member will, as all British Columbians will, embrace the challenges this ministry has before it and be very pleased with future announcements.
V. Anderson: It's like the introduction to the next movie that's coming up. It whets your appetite but doesn't tell you what it's about and particularly doesn't let you know what the climax of the movie might be.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Come, and bring a friend.
V. Anderson: Do we have popcorn provided as well?
Recommendation No. 17 says: "The provincial government should allocate all housing to be built under the federal-provincial non-profit housing program to families with children and people with special needs." That's a fairly wide-ranging comment.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Regrettably, as the member is well aware, the federal government is no longer contributing to new unit development anywhere in Canada. The province has maintained its commitment to funding its provincial allocations. We recognize that family housing is a major concern throughout the province, and it will be a priority for our government.
W. Hurd: I have a brief series of questions about manufactured housing with respect to those who are renting a portion of their dwelling requirement each month. I understand that the minister has had numerous representations on the extension of Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters benefits to those who qualify and are renting space in manufactured home parks. I wonder whether we can expect some decision or implementation of that idea in the current fiscal year, whether the ministry intends to study the issue, and where it stands at the present time.
Hon. J. Smallwood: This is a particularly interesting area. Where an individual rents their manufactured home and the pad that the rental home is on, they automatically qualify for SAFER. In the situation where they own the manufactured home and rent the pad, they qualify for the homeowner grant, not for a rental subsidy.
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W. Hurd: Is the minister prepared to acknowledge the inequity of that situation? Elderly residents of a manufactured home park are therefore at the mercy of an escalating pad rental rate, which in many instances can be as much as an apartment would be in a rental complex or any other type of housing in the province. Without access to the SAFER program, single elderly people are in the unenviable situation of either moving their manufactured home to another location, which in most cases doesn't exist with land as scarce as it is in the province, or continuing to pay the escalating rates. Would the minister acknowledge that this is really an unfair situation, which is being exacerbated by the critical shortage of land for manufactured housing parks in British Columbia?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Not only has this government acknowledged that there are real issues of concern to manufactured home owners and those who rent, but this government has taken action. I'm sure that the member is well aware of Bill 67, which was brought in and passed by the House last session, enabling the government to set up, in cooperation with both manufactured home parks and manufactured home owners, a dispute resolution committee. That committee is now functioning, and I'm awaiting their initial recommendations in setting up the process. Throughout this province there have been many manufactured home park committees set up, and a number of these issues are being addressed in a cooperative fashion between the park owners and the homeowners.
In addition, the member talked about the issues on the supply side for park pad rentals. The member will be pleased to know that future announcements will deal with providing opportunities for increased access to land and the possibility of affecting the supply side in dealing with those concerns the member so eloquently outlined.
W. Hurd: At this point, I'd even settle for a reasoned opinion from the minister responsible for housing in the province. Does she believe that, given the difficult circumstances that exist today with single elderly people who are renting manufactured home pads, and given the upward pressure on those rents, does she -- as a matter of philosophy -- agree that these people should be eligible for SAFER benefits in the province?
Hon. J. Smallwood: There are a couple of issues here. I've outlined very clearly the government's actions and the government's strategy to address the supply side and deal with some of those pressures. In addition, I've also established the difference between a renter in a manufactured home park and a homeowner. I'm sure that the member is familiar with his own riding and some of the realities within those manufactured home parks. Let me share with the member that in talking with both manufactured home owners and the park owners throughout this province, it's been made very clear to me that many of those homes are very expensive assets. While they do enjoy government subsidy through the homeowner grant, I think the member himself would see the wisdom of a broader strategy that acknowledges renters in tight situations, and at the same time tries to address difficulties in relationships between park owners and homeowners, while developing a strategy that impacts on the supply side.
W. Hurd: It's important to read into the record that there are people not only in my own region of Surrey but in other areas of the province who are living in manufactured homes that they own. Yes, those have some residual value, but no, there is nowhere the homes can be moved, and those people are paying more than half -- well over half in some cases -- of their total income for the pad rental every month. It's important to note that, because I know the minister has received representation on their behalf about the importance of extending this particular benefit to people who, because of age, infirmity and the status of their monthly income, are not in a position to move and must still pay the pad rental increases, such as they are. I know the minister has received representation from them and from park owners about their state.
Can the minister tell us what it would cost in round numbers to extend the SAFER benefits to the elderly residents of manufactured home parks to qualify under the existing regulations? It's my understanding that the amount would be somewhere in the vicinity of about $8 million. I wonder if the minister could advise the committee whether she has costed out the extension of benefits and how much the taxpayers would have to pay to do that.
Hon. J. Smallwood: While we will endeavour to get those numbers for the member, the member should also be aware that this is a $20 million program, so $8 million would be a significant increase to the existing program. When all levels of government are under considerable financial constraints, that would present a real challenge. While I recognize that there are individuals in manufactured homes who are in need of support, surely the member is not suggesting that the government open up its process and provide both homeowner grants and rent subsidies to some of those individuals.
W. Hurd: It occurs to me that if the government had saved $500,000 on its budget advertising campaign, as well as the expense of B.C. Trade for a wrongful dismissal action, they would be one-eighth of the way to helping the people in manufactured home parks who face a critical problem with their monthly rent. But far be it from me to question the spending decisions of the current government.
Perhaps I can ask if the minister will commit to the committee to come back with a figure for extending the program for those who would qualify. Does she has a reasoned figure in mind, or is the ministry completely unaware of who would qualify and what the cost would be? The $8 million figure has certainly been reported to me secondhand, and I would hope that the minister would be able to provide a more accurate figure on both eligibility and the cost of extending this program, given the fact that not many manufactured home parks in the province, as the minister has pointed out, would qualify for this particular benefit. I just put this out because I think it's important that the figure be available to the committee.
Hon. J. Smallwood: If the member, rather than playing politics with the issue, would listen to the answer, the member would know that I made the commitment to provide that information to him to the best of our ability. Our estimates show that there are some 40,000 to 50,000 individuals who rely on manufactured homes and manufactured home parks in the province, and some 1,500 individual sites.
But I want to take this a step further. The member entertained himself by making some political references about the government's budget and the government's priorities in spending. I want to take this opportunity to state again that this government is not playing politics with this
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issue; this government is interested in action and in meeting real needs. This government has not only brought in legislation that gives both residents of manufactured home parks and manufactured home owners the opportunity to resolve differences, but it has also provided a dispute resolution committee where parks were unable to deal with those problems. We have acted on behalf of those residents and continue to address their very real needs both on the supply side and by extending provisions of the Residential Tenancy Act.
W. Hurd: What I'm hearing in the minister's responses is that she doesn't believe this program should apply to people who rent pads in manufactured home parks. I respect the right of the minister to hold an opinion, but some of the questions I've posed today are those that have been posed to me by such people as representatives of the United Manufactured Home Owners' Association and other groups in Surrey who have expressed concern about this issue in the past. I'm sure they will be interested in the answers that are forthcoming today.
I want to ask a brief question about what support there is available to non-profit societies that attempt to put together affordable housing projects for their communities and then find themselves having to deal with local governments when it comes to rezoning and other such difficult issues that invite public hearings at the local level. Can the minister tell us how the ministry can assist these societies in dealing with these difficult political issues at the local level?
Hon. J. Smallwood: In addition to the changes brought about to enable municipalities to more actively embrace the challenges around affordable housing -- we talked about that; perhaps the member was not present -- B.C. Housing provides technical support for non-profit housing societies in developing their proposals. It has encouraged community groups working with municipalities to deal not only with availability of zoned land but also, through some of the changes to the Municipal Act, with issues such as bonus zoning, designating specific areas in the community plan for rental housing, and so on.
W. Hurd: A question regarding the affordable housing plans that, I understand, the municipalities are working on: can the minister clarify whether municipalities are encouraged to work with developers to provide an affordable housing component in a new development? I know there are instances of that occurring in the city of Surrey, as the minister will know. Is the ministry encouraging local governments to negotiate a development contract with developers with respect to providing a market-driven affordable housing component in a larger development? Or is that something the municipal governments are expected to initiate on their own?
Hon. J. Smallwood: There were a number of changes brought in in the last legislative session through Bill 57, which provided additional powers to municipalities to enable them to address affordable housing issues within their municipalities. The ministry has toured the province and is working with housing societies, the housing industry and municipal governments, along with interested citizens, to explain those new provisions, providing technical support for municipalities to understand how they can best use the new legislative powers that were provided through Bill 57.
W. Hurd: Just a further question on that: should an affordable housing society not only attempt to do the land assembly and pursue rezoning applications but also work with developers to secure a component within a development for affordable housing? In a place like Surrey, for example, or in other fast-growing regions of British Columbia, is that a strategy that the minister feels might be more productive?
The reason I raise this issue -- as the minister knows -- is that affordable housing societies in British Columbia have found it exceedingly difficult to put together the funds to acquire expensive land, to hire an architect, to go through all the steps and then find that as a result of a rather acrimonious public hearing at the city or municipal hall, the project is either substantially revised, scaled down or changed. I wonder if the minister is attempting to encourage some of these societies to work more closely with the ongoing development that's changing the face of so many municipalities, regional districts, cities and towns in the province of British Columbia, as perhaps a better strategy than having them run up against a brick wall at city hall. This seems to happen so many times in places like Surrey and elsewhere. I would welcome a comment on that.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'd like to introduce a couple of additional elements to the member's question.
In addition to the technical support that is provided through B.C. Housing, the PRHC, through B.C. Housing, provides support through the purchase of land. Non-profit housing societies receive considerable support from government in putting together their proposals and achieving their goals.
I also want to acknowledge the point the member made that there are significant challenges for housing societies in putting a development forward and getting to a completion date. The government has provided education and support material, as well as organizational support to the non-profit sector throughout the province, to help provide on-the-ground support in a broader, collective fashion. In the last year we've seen the formation of the Non-Profit Housing Association, which is made up of 500 non-profit housing societies. The province has provided establishment funding to that association for ongoing peer support and educational development.
I really want to take the opportunity to emphasize some of the changes that have taken place in the province since the provincial housing commission reported out. In the last number of years we've seen a drastic change in the way municipalities are embracing this challenge. In the past, the Housing Commission was involved with its work.... The work of municipalities focused almost exclusively on infrastructure development: roads, sewers and lighting. There was very little discussion at the community or municipal level around designing communities for people and meeting human needs. I'm sure the member is aware of some of the debates, pro and con, not only in our own municipality of Surrey but in other....
The leadership provided by municipalities like Burnaby, for example, has provided direction in meeting that community's affordable-housing needs and in putting aside land for affordable housing. We've seen the debate happening at the community level. The province has provided additional legislative authority to municipalities, and is providing organizational support to municipalities and to non-profits. This is only the beginning, hon. member. I'm sure, again, that you're only too cognizant of the fact that the federal Liberal government has withdrawn from the
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national housing strategy and that we have lost two-thirds of the funding committed to a strategy in this province. That is a significant blow. This government hasn't ducked the challenge, and we're moving to meet the needs of communities and housing societies.
W. Hurd: I'm certainly glad the minister brought up the subject of the burgeoning federal debt and the problems that governments at all levels are experiencing in funding programs. I think that speaks to the urgent need to become far more creative and innovative in the way we deal with affordable-housing challenges, not only in the city of Surrey but throughout the province of British Columbia. If that means actively working with the development industry and securing a portion of a development for affordable housing through some sort of incentive, whether it be a tax remedy or some other means, surely that represents a valuable and important strategy to keep people properly housed, given that governments are so constrained in providing direct money for land acquisition and some of the other huge upfront expenses.
I have a specific question about non-profit housing societies in the province that do proceed to a point where they go before a municipal government with their proposals. They have the plans that they have worked on, one assumes, with the municipal staff, and then they face acrimonious public hearings, which, unfortunately, can happen as a result of changes to neighbourhoods. Is the Ministry of Housing, B.C. Housing, in any way able to provide them with assistance when they reach that critical stage at the local government level? It seems to me that no matter how worthy a project is, no matter how important a contribution it would make to the local region, it sometimes falls victim to the pressures we see in neighbourhoods with respect to new developments. I wonder if the minister could elaborate on what support services are available once the society gets to the point where it has to deal with the neighbourhood concerns that are raised at municipal halls.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm afraid I'm not as generous with the federal government as the Liberal member across the way. The shortsighted policies of this new federal government do nothing more than continue a Tory agenda. The Tory government withdrew its commitment to a national housing strategy. When I met, prior to the budget, with the new Liberal federal minister responsible for CMHC, I encouraged him to see the wisdom of investing in housing.
Let me share a story that makes the point better than I could myself. A number of months ago now, I met with a number of community groups that are providing housing throughout this province. One member of that delegation represented Canadian Mental Health and told me the story of an individual named Alex. When Alex was a child, he was subjected to considerable abuse. His father had a serious drinking problem and was mentally ill. When Alex was disciplined, he was put in a refrigerator. He suffered considerable brain damage and has subsequently shown signs of mental illness. Alex lived on the street. He is a very aggressive young man and is very difficult to deal with. The person who was telling Alex's story -- for the members' information, I'll tell you that Alex is not the individual's real name -- the Canadian Mental Health representative, sort of took Alex under her wing and found him an apartment. When Alex was living on the street he was hospitalized on a regular basis because of both his physical and mental health needs. Those hospitalization visits were very expensive, and they were regular.
When Alex was found and supported by the health worker, and found his own accommodation, the first thing Alex did when he went to the door was to say to that individual: "How many people have the key to this apartment?" She told him that this was his apartment and he was the only person who had the key. He went in the apartment and said: "How many people use this bathroom?" She said: "Alex, that's your bathroom. You're the only person who uses that bathroom." He said: "Okay. Well, when can I have a shower?" And she said: "You can have a shower any time you want, Alex."
They left Alex there and didn't hear from him for about two days; and they got a little worried that maybe Alex needed some additional support. They contacted the landlord and visited Alex. Alex had slept for well over 24 hours because while living on the street he became so run-down. He was so frightened of the dangers that were on the street and the threat that it provided to his very few personal belongings.
To make a long story short, hon. member, Alex is no longer visiting the hospital. That investment in housing and support for Alex not only provided him with the kind of security and safety he needed individually, but it provided the stability needed so he could maintain his medication, and he could begin to take advantage of the opportunities that were presented by other programs as well.
Bottom line: Alex could get on with his life instead of continuing to deteriorate and draw more and more on the health system in this province. That kind of investment is not only cheap in dollars and cents for providing the basic need of shelter for an individual like Alex, but it's an investment in the social infrastructure provided in this province through either health care, social services or other departments.
Hon. member, when I say I'm not as generous as the Liberal member across the way in acknowledging the federal government's withdrawal, I say that it is shortsighted. The federal government could have embraced the challenge, as this province did, of ensuring that it used its resources, fiscal or other, by providing federal lands to underwrite the cost of social housing or by exploring other legislative options it has at its disposal. I encourage the federal minister to explore those opportunities rather than simply throwing up his hands and embracing the Tory government's established agenda.
W. Hurd: I thank the minister for that long answer to what I thought was a relatively simple question. I find it rather interesting that nowhere in that rather lengthy answer was there a mention of the fact that, as the minister well knows, the federal government currently pays about 35 cents of every dollar it spends on debt-servicing costs. I suspect that if we don't get that issue under control, a lot of Alexes and a lot of other programs are going to fall through the cracks in this country and in this province because we simply don't have the means to do anything more than service -- in the case of the federal government -- a $400-500 billion debt. The minister well knows that a lot of worthy programs can't be funded, given that kind of harsh financial and fiscal reality. While I recognize the wisdom of what the minister is saying in terms of a short-term investment, I also recognize that the surest way to kill the social programs the minister holds so dear -- as we all do -- is to simply increase the debt to the point where we spend 40 to 50 cents of every dollar to provide international financiers, banks and bondholders with the kind of interest they expect on their investment in that debt.
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I again go back to my original question, which is whether the ministry can provide assistance to local societies in getting over this difficult hurdle they face at city hall with respect to neighbourhood rezoning. I think the minister has made a valid point about the importance of getting young people with mental illnesses off the street, but she will also acknowledge that there's tremendous public concern in neighbourhoods -- unwarranted concern. We know that about the types of people who live in affordable housing projects, and I think that if there were a way to ensure that neighbourhood concerns were allayed in some way....
This is what happens when word of an affordable housing project coming before city hall goes around the neighbourhood. People go to city hall and register their concerns as a neighbourhood, and often the affordable housing society, which has the best of objectives in mind, is overwhelmed by this kind of public attention in the media, in the newspaper and at the public hearings. It seems to me that many worthy projects can be placed in jeopardy by that process at city hall.
I wonder if the minister can tell the committee whether affordable housing societies that do get to this flash point at city hall can expect some assistance in terms of dealing with the neighbourhood and addressing the concerns that are raised. Otherwise this kind of protect-the-neighbourhood syndrome takes over, and worthy projects can end up being scaled back or sacrificed. In some cases, all the work that's gone into them over two years can come to an end. I welcome some comment or commitment from the minister on that.
Hon. J. Smallwood: First of all, I would love to get into an extensive debate around your federal government's strategy in managing the debt compared to our government's strategy and philosophy in managing the debt. But we'll save that, perhaps, for another ministry's estimates. I think it is a good example of our philosophy and what our government stands for as compared to a Liberal government.
Let me answer first on the technical question dealing with zoning changes at the municipal level. I agree with the member that this is an area of significant concern. All too often communities don't embrace the reality that communities need to be inclusive and recognize that all citizens have a right to enjoy that community. Our ministry not only provides active technical support but often provides a staff member at those zoning hearings to help clarify issues for councils and the non-profit housing societies.
I understand that the member is particularly concerned about this area, knowing that a very good non-profit housing project was not successful in his own riding because of this very scenario. I would ask the member whether he was there and available to that non-profit housing society to speak to the council on behalf of his values of inclusiveness, ensuring that people of lower incomes can live in his own riding.
W. Hurd: As the minister well knows, I worked with the society, provided letters on behalf of the society and was as disappointed as anyone that the project didn't succeed. I think it underscores the problem we can run into at the local government level, where -- I'm sure the minister agrees -- it wouldn't be appropriate for an MLA to interfere in the affairs of local government when a public hearing process is in place to hear a neighbourhood concern. I think that providing letters of support and expressing my support for the project is worthy, but attending a public hearing and disagreeing with the people who are registering concern with their local government is not the best situation to be in when it comes to trying to promote affordable housing in the province. It behooves the ministry to provide some active resources for people who find their societies in that situation. I say it's unfortunate, because I understand that it happens elsewhere. They reach a point where no amount of support from the opposition is likely to be successful.
What is required is some sort of commitment from the provincial government, which, as the minister says, is fond of devoting resources to these issues because of the value of promoting these social initiatives. There are times when affordable housing societies do need that assistance, direction and support when they are putting a proposal together. For the sake of those societies in my own riding and in other areas of the province, where I'm sure it's a problem, I would hope they can rely on that support.
Hon. J. Smallwood: It's very unfortunate. I'm sure the people who worked so hard for that particular proposal would really have appreciated the member speaking on their behalf. For the member's information, the province was there. We did have staff in support of the non-profit society, providing the kind of information and support the member was talking about. While the member wasn't there, the province was.
The Chair: On a new topic perhaps.
W. Hurd: I have just one additional comment. I'd be very interested in hearing the minister's comments about why that particular project failed, in her view. I mean, obviously, the province was there.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Because you weren't there?
W. Hurd: The minister says because I wasn't there, and even though the member writes a letter and supports it in the local media.... I'm very flattered she would suggest that my presence or lack of it at a public hearing at city hall would have such a dramatic impact on this project, when the minister's intercession clearly failed to achieve that kind of result.
That raises an interesting point. Can the minister tell us how often her ministry does appear at public hearings in the province on behalf of these projects? Is speaking on behalf of these projects at public hearings something the ministry does on a regular basis? That was really the gist of my original question: what kind of support services are there? I would certainly welcome an assurance from the minister that this is the kind of service every affordable housing society can expect in the province: the willingness of the ministry to attend public hearings at the local government level.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me go over, again, the provincial leadership that is provided not only for developing a provincial housing strategy but in support of all the partners in developing affordable-housing options. With the federal withdrawal, this ministry has embraced the challenge. We provide technical support, and when a housing society specifically asks for staffing support at rezoning hearings, we meet that request wherever possible. We have supported the development of non-profit housing associations, to provide training and peer support. Through our initiatives, we have provided additional legislative powers to municipalities, and we continue to develop options in ensuring that the province is at community tables along with housing societies, municipalities, developers and builders. This is
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simply the beginning. This government is providing leadership in establishing and developing a strategy to meet community needs, in addressing these very real concerns and in assuring developing communities throughout this province that there is a human face and that those human needs are being addressed.
V. Anderson: Back to some of the policy recommendations from the commission. We were at No. 19: "The province should require that the boards of all societies which provide housing through thenon-profit housing program must include tenant representation." Is this a requirement that will be followed through on, or a recommendation? What would be the options of the minister in this regard?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'll the answer the question in two different areas. First of all, the Public Housing Tenants' Advisory Committee has been struck, and there has been an appointment from the tenants' advisory committee to the B.C. Housing Management Commission board. We have looked for ways of not only supporting the development of additional tenants' advisory committees within public housing but also providing educational support. As I said to the member, the establishment and support of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association will provide the kind of provincial table that enables the government to support education and skills transfer to meet the goals of non-profit housing associations in supporting their tenants' involvement as well.
V. Anderson: I appreciate the minister's responses. She didn't comment on this particular recommendation -- whether it would require tenant representation on non-profit housing boards or whether that would be up to the people themselves.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I referenced the ongoing work.
V. Anderson: The next recommendation deals with index-linked mortgages: "The provincial government should pursue the use of the index-linked mortgage to fund housing programs in British Columbia."
Hon. J. Smallwood: This particular financial tool, as the member can well imagine, is simply one of the financial tools that can be brought to bear in supporting non-profit housing development. We're looking at a comprehensive package, and it's too early to make announcements on that.
V. Anderson: I'll move over to No. 22, because I think No. 21 is a more general one. The recommendation is that "the allocated but unexpended portion of the budget for the rental supply program should be reviewed with the objective of reallocating the unexpended funds to other rental programs." That raises two questions: what are the unexpended funds at this point, and will they be reallocated to other programs?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The 1992-93 allocations went to the homeless-at-risk initiatives. There were 13 projects. I don't have a total, but I can give you the individual amounts: $7.54 million, $1.93 million and $1.1 million. That's interministry funding, and there's support from the Municipal Affairs, Social Services, Health and Women's Equality ministries. Likewise, in 1993-94, that money was designated to initiatives for the homeless.
V. Anderson: The next recommendation has to do with the ability to enhance the existing SAFER program by raising rent ceilings to more appropriate levels, to reflect changing market conditions. As market conditions alter, what is the process by which the SAFER program relates and responds to that?
Hon. J. Smallwood: My apologies. I didn't hear the last part of the question.
V. Anderson: The recommendation has to do with making rents relevant to changing market conditions, the assumption being that market conditions and rents are going up on a regular basis. How is SAFER keeping on track with that?
Hon. J. Smallwood: We'll get the specific answer for the member with regard to the SAFER program, but generally the program is monitored on a monthly basis. I'll have to table the specifics later.
V. Anderson: The next recommendation states: "The provincial government should revise the shelter allowance component of GAIN, based on market rents in regional housing markets." I know this is also related to Social Services, so perhaps the minister could indicate what kind of discussion is going on between the Minister of Housing and the Minister of Social Services relating to the shelter allowance component of housing in that ministry.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The issue of GAIN shelter is in the exclusive purview of the Ministry of Social Services. We're in discussion with them on a number of broad policy issues pertaining to housing.
V. Anderson: Recommendation No. 25 has to do with the provincial renter's tax credit. The recommendation is that it "should be eliminated, with the annual amount of the tax credit being redirected to other rental programs for households in core need." It's recommending a change of policy, I believe, and I'm wondering what your reaction is to that.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The provincial renter's tax credit replacement is part of the new programs our ministry will be announcing. Our budget reflects some of those programs, and some of the additional new programs will be covered under B.C. 21.
V. Anderson: We have promises and then a whole new area of B.C. 21, which we look at with anticipation and fear sometimes; I'm not sure which it will be on occasion.
Recommendation No. 26: "The provincial government, through the British Columbia Housing Management Commission, should develop a strategic plan to use older non-profit housing projects more effectively through updating, conversion and densification." They're indicating that a budget of $7.5 million is required to facilitate the development of the strategic plan and the first regeneration projects. Is there a move for this reusing or upgrading, if you like, of the older non-profit housing projects for more effective use?
Hon. J. Smallwood: This is an area that I've asked the B.C. Housing board to look at. There are a number of projects currently under consideration.
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V. Anderson: The next one has to do with the Condominium Act, recommending an amendment "to ensure that condominium dwellings can be rented by their owners by eliminating authority for strata councils to pass bylaws restricting rentals."
Hon. J. Smallwood: The responsibility of the Condominium Act falls under the Ministry of Finance, and a decision has been made not to proceed.
V. Anderson: I understood the minister to say that the decision had been made not to proceed on this, in discussion, I presume, with the finance committee....
Hon. J. Smallwood: The Ministry of Finance decided that.
V. Anderson: I understand the minister to say that the Ministry of Finance made that decision. She didn't say whether she agreed or disagreed with the decision; she just acknowledged that it was made. I won't put her on the spot about that, although I might be tempted to.
The next one is: "The provincial government, through the British Columbia Housing Management Commission, should allocate an additional $100,000...for the establishment of community-based housing registries and information referral centres outside the two metropolitan areas. Access to this funding would be contingent upon matching grants from local governments." I know there are housing registries in Vancouver and a recent one in Victoria. This recommendation is asking about registries outside those two cities.
Hon. J. Smallwood: While the member is focusing off the lower mainland and Vancouver Island, I can assure the member that where communities are in a position to enter into discussions with our ministry with regard to setting up housing registries, we will embrace those opportunities when they present themselves.
V. Anderson: Do I understand from the hon. minister that the initiative needs to come from the local government to the ministry rather than the ministry taking initiatives to the local areas?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The initiatives are not from local government but from local community groups. At this time our ministry is in a position of being able to support, with constrained fiscal ability, those community initiatives and is not in a position to go out and beat the bushes, if you will.
V. Anderson: Next is recommendation No. 30: "The provincial government, through the British Columbia Housing Management Commission, should establish a rent assistance program for families with children on a rent-geared-to-income basis." Could the minister comment on this particular recommendation as to whether it fits in with current policy, or are they just reviewing it at this point?
Hon. J. Smallwood: An interministerial special needs housing committee has been formed. We're looking for the recommendations of that committee and the development of interministerial protocols to deal with the specific needs of those families.
I'm getting a little ahead of myself in answering 31 rather than 30, but on the question to do with rent assistance, in the broadest terms, the government has a couple of options. The member already acknowledged the involvement in renter's assistance, not only with the SAFER program for seniors, but in addition to that, the shelter supplement for income assistance. The province is actively involved in meeting, as I said, with the different community partners in trying to affect the supply side. It's simply a choice of where government can most effectively put its resources. The resources that are already committed on those two very major programs are significant. This ministry is focusing its resources on the supply side.
V. Anderson: No. 31, which you've already begun to respond to, talks about the links between the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of Health. Would it not be logical to also have the Ministry of Social Services? When you talk about an interministerial committee, what ministries are involved in its planning?
Hon. J. Smallwood: All the ministries the member mentioned, plus the AG and Women's Equality.
V. Anderson: As far as the recommendation about dedicating a percentage of housing to people with special needs is concerned, could you indicate the policy the ministry has at this point and the policy the ministry is projecting? Is there a percentage or a formula in social housing for those who have special needs?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The member will be glad to know that the policy has been accepted and implemented for all new developments, and B.C. Housing is reviewing options for existing ones.
V. Anderson: In reviewing the options, is funding available for upgrading or modification of existing housing in order to make more of those rental units available for people with special needs?
Hon. J. Smallwood: There's a federal program available for rental rehabilitation for the disabled.
V. Anderson: I understand that there is a federal program. Is there any provincial assistance in that regard -- or only the federal program?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Yes, the ministry responds on a project-by-project basis. I think it's one of the areas, like most areas, that we have a restricted ability to meet. Very clearly it is within the ministry's goals and objectives to meet those needs wherever possible.
V. Anderson: Has the ministry been doing any planning on making information available, particularly in new construction or in remodelling facilities that can be adjustable -- sinks, cupboards and other things? I know a couple of units in Vancouver where this was undertaken. As different people moved in, there was the capability to adjust facilities for people with special needs. It's often true -- for instance, in the case of elderly persons who moved in -- that they had no need of it, but then something happened and they suddenly did have the need. There was the ability to adjust. If that could become a regular part of construction, it would make the situation much more flexible as time progresses.
Hon. J. Smallwood: One example of the ministry's funding and foresight is Noble House in Vancouver. None of t
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he members have had an opportunity to visit, but I believe the third floor of that co-op houses a number of individuals who are paraplegic. The technology used to provide semi-independent living for those individuals is state-of-the-art. It's an example of not only the support and foresight of our ministry but also the kind of partnering with community groups that provides those opportunities.
V. Anderson: A number of the recommendations in this particular section have to do with making available more units that are wheelchair and otherwise accessible not only in the rental market but also in transition houses and community shelters. Has a general guideline gone out for all new programs that the government is supporting to encourage this extension of availability for people with difficulties and to assist them with the extra costs involved?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The answer is yes.
V. Anderson: Another question was on the number of rent supplement dwellings for people with AIDS or who are HIV-positive, and the recommendations that they should be doubled immediately. Can you indicate what the advancements and improvements in that area have been?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Between 1992-93 and 1993-94, rent supplements have more than doubled. There are still very few suites available; in 1993-94 there were 57.
V. Anderson: What are the locations of those that are available? Is there a move to make them more available throughout the province? Are they available in certain districts like Vancouver or Victoria, or are they throughout the province?
Hon. J. Smallwood: They're currently located in Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo.
V. Anderson: The next recommendation has to do with children who are required to leave transition houses and do not have alternative safe housing. The recommendation is that they should be given priority by the B.C. Housing Management Commission on its regional waiting lists. When responding to that particular request, perhaps the minister could indicate what kind of priority lists there are, not only for women coming out of transition houses but also for other people in emergency situations who are trying to find their way into housing managed by the commission.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The policy giving priority to women and children leaving transition houses was in place in March 1993. This policy is implemented throughout the province. The policy has been supported and monitored by a transition house priority placement committee consisting of representatives from transition houses and B.C. Housing. As of December 1993, this policy has affected 80 households.
V. Anderson: Recommendation No. 38 has to do with elderly people on low and moderate incomes who require assistance with daily living but not the intensive health services of a long-term care facility. A program that comes to mind is the Abbeyfield program. What kind of assistance is available to these persons who are, if you like, semi-assisted? They are independent, yet they need the intermediate stage of independent living that Abbeyfield House provides.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Our ministry works with the Ministry of Health in developing their policy framework for supportive communities for seniors, with the aim of supporting seniors to live in their own homes. This is the general direction of the Ministry of Health.
V. Anderson: The minister commented earlier about the initiative for the homeless and some of the funds going to that. The next recommendation, No. 39, deals with that in particular. Could the minister explain to us which initiatives for the homeless are being undertaken in a new way within this current budget?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I would first like to go back to the previous question. The member talked about the Abbeyfield co-ops, and I'm sure he is aware that Abbeyfield gets its capital funding from our ministry. Our ministry has provided support for those models.
The initiatives for the homeless that I can talk about are the ones announced over the last couple of weeks, with $8.9 million for eight initiatives throughout the province. A proposal call will go out for new programs for this year's budget, and we won't know until communities have an opportunity to respond to that proposal call how to answer the member about projects for this year's budget.
V. Anderson: Following in that same vein on No. 40, I have a question about an interministerial committee. Is the interministerial committee that we talked about earlier dealing with these proposals or is a separate body working on this?
Hon. J. Smallwood: It is the same committee.
V. Anderson: Recommendation No. 41 gets us into discussion of secondary suites: "The Municipal Act and the Vancouver Charter should be amended to provide one additional residential dwelling -- hereafter called a 'secondary suite' -- in existing and new detached dwellings 'as a right....'" Would the minister comment on what might be forthcoming? What is the ministry's policy regarding secondary suites?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Recommendations 41 through 44 deal with secondary suites, so my answer is the same for all of them. We have set up a secondary suite working group. There is a technical working group reporting to that committee, and I expect a report out within the month.
V. Anderson: Within a month? That is probably a report to the minister. Will that be coming out to the public within a month, or can the minister give us a time frame? When might there be some indication to the public of that forthcoming study and report?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The committee is reporting to both me and the Minister of Municipal Affairs. I haven't seen a report from the committee on the work underway, and until I see it I'm unable to comment on next steps.
V. Anderson: Recommendation No. 45 talks about liaison with the federal government and cost-shared programs. If I understand the minister correctly, she basically said that there's no prospect of discussion at present, so I won't push her on that.
I'll move to No. 46, which makes a recommendation that the Housing Management Commission should become a
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Crown corporation and be renamed the British Columbia Housing Corporation. I'm wondering what her response is to that particular recommendation. Is it pro or con?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The member skipped over one of the recommendations from the report, and that was the recommendation to establish this ministry. I want to make the point that we're here, we're working and we're providing the kind of leadership necessary to address many of the recommendations and many of the concerns of individuals and communities throughout the province.
V. Anderson: You picked up on that one, and I realize that you had already acted on that.
I will still come back to recommendation No. 46 and the question of whether the Housing Management Commission should be a Crown corporation. I gather from your action that the recommendation is that it should exist where it is -- within this ministry. I just want to confirm that.
Hon. J. Smallwood: There is a review underway, and I'm not prepared to prejudge it at this time.
V. Anderson: I appreciate that the minister has many reviews underway and many committees meeting; I'm not sure how they're going to get anything done with all the committee meetings they must be attending. But we can assume that the necessary planning is being undertaken and give them, of course, the benefit of the doubt and look forward with anticipation.
No. 48 recommends that the provincial government should facilitate the establishment of a British Columbia housing centre to monitor and publicize housing initiatives, to serve as a clearinghouse of ideas and information, and to encourage the development of affordable housing strategy at the local and regional levels.
Hon. J. Smallwood: That particular recommendation will take further research, although it gives me an opportunity to talk about the model that we're developing within this ministry in support of provincial organizations like the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association or the B.C. Cooperative Housing Federation. This ministry is also able to play a role in providing a bit of a clearinghouse itself in supporting municipal governments and providing technical advice and information to community groups and housing societies. It's our long-term goal to ensure that the ministry can support the initiative of communities in meeting their individual needs and in that way provide education and support material.
V. Anderson: Recommendation No. 49 recommends an advisory committee, which I understand the minister has already implemented, so we'll simply take that as given. I presume that they'll be looking at No. 50, which talks about bond issues and debentures. I'm sure the minister would simply answer that it's part of the discussion that's underway. I've come to No. 51: "The ministry should encourage the standardization of building inspection procedures and practices throughout the province." Is there a process of working with this? In dealing with local municipalities, the regulations differ a great deal from one area to another. Contractors, agencies and non-profit societies trying to work in different jurisdictions find it very complicated, time consuming and much more expensive. Is there some kind of standardization process in place?
Hon. J. Smallwood: This past month, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs put out a discussion paper dealing with building regulations in British Columbia.
V. Anderson: I presume that would also deal with recommendation No. 52. The constitution of the B.C. Building Code would probably be part of that same discussion paper, and I appreciate this.
At this time, I would turn the discussion over to another member.
J. Tyabji: My question to the minister is with regard to the recent decision of an arbitrator in Kelowna, Miss Linda Cross. There was a processing fee charged by a manufactured home park owner to someone who had recently located in that park. The question I have is with regard to jurisdiction. The ruling that Miss Cross came up with, which your staff is probably familiar with, is that she did not have jurisdiction to rule on whether or not the processing fee was allowable. Clearly, under the Residential Tenancy Act, it was not. She said that because it was an issue of land use, she did not have jurisdiction and that it would then be something more along the lines of self-government. I'm wondering, first of all, if the minister is aware of that specific case. If not, I can give her some background documentation. If the minister is aware of it, could she comment on whether or not there has been some change in direction with regard to jurisdiction on aboriginal land? Prior to this case, there were similar cases in which the arbitrators did rule and did have jurisdiction to rule.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I don't know all the details of this specific case. Let me address this in general terms. Issues, particularly in the community you represent, have been varied. Some park owners on aboriginal land have voluntarily decided to be guided and governed by the Residential Tenancy Act, but that is a voluntary agreement between the manufactured park owners and the homeowners or their tenants. There are a number of instances where they have not chosen to comply with the Residential Tenancy Act, and there is no legislative authority to ensure compliance. Because it is aboriginal reserve land, it is governed by federal legislation. We are hopeful, in the process we have underway with the manufactured home park dispute resolutions committee, that we will be able to resolve some of these community disputes on a voluntary basis. Again, for the member, we have no legislative authority in that area.
J. Tyabji: This particular band is in the process of enacting a bylaw to adopt the Residential Tenancy Act, but it hasn't been done yet. Where there is some confusion -- and I would pass on some of the documents to the minister -- is that prior to the bylaw being in place, they had been under the jurisdiction of the arbitrator. This is very recent, unless there's something to change the jurisdiction in this minister's direction. Almost identical issues have been brought before the arbitrator for a ruling. It was a surprise that there was no jurisdiction.
Although there's no legislative jurisdiction, I understand that the actual jurisdiction of the minister is in the administration of the contract. The minister is saying no. It is my understanding that the only way there is no jurisdiction is if it's with regard to the use of the land. Where two individuals are involved in a dispute, the minister can intercede or the arbitrator can make a ruling. This has been
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done before without the Residential Tenancy Act being in place.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The role of the Residential Tenancy Act is in a contract between the landlord and the tenant around the tenancy agreement. Concerning an issue where an arbitrator has ruled, the area becomes difficult when the landowner -- in this case, the aboriginal community -- decides to evict. Then it becomes a land use issue and is governed by federal law.
J. Tyabji: That's what I had thought -- that it's a land use issue versus a dispute. In this case, the issue brought before the arbitrator was a dispute over charging a processing fee, in contravention of the Residential Tenancy Act. It is now an issue of eviction, because this issue having been brought up, the landlord chose to evict the tenants. The individual who owns the park happens to be aboriginal, and the business is located on aboriginal land. I offer this to the minister for some feedback. It is my understanding that the Westbank band, which is one entity, falls under the federal act with regard to land use, and the minister has no jurisdiction. Contract and processing-fee disputes between businesses and individuals fall under the Residential Tenancy Act. I don't know if my question will make the difference, because this is where I wonder if there's a change. In this case, the business owner is a member of the Westbank band and is aboriginal. Is some element of self-government involved? If not, then I would argue that there is jurisdiction. I'd be happy to provide the minister with the entire case to look over. Certainly the arbitrator referred to a lot of legal precedents. She made the issue one of land use. I don't understand how that could.... If there hasn't been a change in jurisdiction, there's no question that she had the ability to actually rule on that.
The Chair: Hon. members, we did spend a little time canvassing this with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, as I recall.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I laid out for you the principles of law that govern in the broadest context. I'm unable -- and, quite frankly, unwilling -- to comment on individual cases or on arbitrators' decisions. If the member has an ongoing problem in addressing a constituent's needs, our ministry would be happy to talk to her.
J. Tyabji: I'd be happy to provide the minister with the documents. I was looking for developments that would indicate that a change of jurisdiction had occurred. If that's not the case -- the minister says no -- then that's reassuring. I will provide that specific case and a lot of legal documentation that goes with it.
One thing I'd like to offer here is a comment. I actually have to go; I have other things to canvass, but they're not as critical. There is another member who cannot be here, and has some things to bring up, and I know that a couple of other members have some more questions. If the minister, in her incredible kindness and generosity, would see fit to adjourn the estimates a bit early -- perhaps not even early -- or keep them open, there would be one member who would be very grateful for that. I will have to answer to him later if they close, so I would just like to put that on the floor.
The Chair: The Chair and the minister are in the hands of the committee, in one sense.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I would encourage the member to keep talking so that we can waste the time until he can come.
V. Anderson: I'd like to go back to the budget booklets and clarify some information. First of all, groups were transferred into the ministry from a variety of sections. I'd like to hear a comment on these and on the makeup of this new four-ministry program under the four facets of this ministry. On page 243 of the estimates booklet, I see the transfer of money and programs into the ministry, and that some 175 FTEs were transferred into the ministry. I'm wondering how these are divided within the four sections of the present ministry. I would ask if the minister is able to help us to be aware of the number of FTEs in management services and coordination of cooperatives, in housing programs, in recreation programs and in consumer services. I think the total is probably the 175 that have been transferred in. How are they divided among the different portions of the ministry?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Of the 175, there are six in the minister's office; 39 in management services and coordination of co-ops; 19 in housing programs; eight in recreation; and 103 in consumer services.
V. Anderson: Some questions are now arising. In looking at page 171 of the estimates of the Ministry of Housing, Recreation and Consumer Services, we notice that the full-time-equivalents, as they attempted to balance these out, are listed as having gone from 204 to 175 -- a decrease of 29 in the shuffle. Perhaps the minister can explain how this has come about.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm not sure where the member is reading. They've gone from 175 in 1993-94 to 204 in 1994-95.
V. Anderson: The other way around? Sorry, I was subtracting instead of adding. It has gone up by 29 in the process of bringing those four into place. I appreciate that clarification.
Although the minister has commented on this section briefly when other members were here, I would like to look at the coordination and management of cooperatives. In her introduction, she hinted that this was a totally new focus within the ministry. I wonder if she would clarify that. Is the focus on developing and encouraging cooperatives? Is it also on developing and encouraging credit unions or credit facilities within communities? Is it either or both of these? What, specifically, is the new mandate of this portion of her ministry?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Our responsibility in this ministry is to focus and enhance cooperative development and government generally. All regulatory responsibilities, whether for credit unions or agricultural co-ops, continue with the existing respective ministries. The mandate our ministry has is to increase awareness and support and to ensure that government programs address this sector in an equitable manner. In this year's budget announcement there was an initiative that includes cooperatives in the corporate capital tax exemption, in recognition of the new status of cooperatives in our government.
In addition to that, our responsibility is to identify and address barriers that exist in government through legislation, and to work with the cooperative sector and with
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the federal government's cooperative secretariat in looking for new opportunities for the cooperative movement in the province.
V. Anderson: I come from Saskatchewan, of course, where we were used to that kind of cooperative undertaking in almost every community. When you say you are looking for new opportunities for the cooperative movement, are you talking about a whole variety of cooperative movements, such as cooperative stores, cooperative credit unions and cooperative housing? You've mentioned some of the agricultural co-ops. Are you talking about encouraging cooperative activities within the economic development of aboriginal communities? Am I hearing you say that this is a policy to encourage and help all ministries work better with cooperatives in all these specific areas? Are some of the examples I'm suggesting part of the package but probably not limited to that?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The answer in short form is yes. There are so many innovative projects underway, and one of the projects that I would reference is a health cooperative in Nanaimo. Throughout the province communities are getting together and trying to resolve their social and economic vision for their communities. This is just one additional tool in addressing those objectives, and this government wants to ensure that all communities and individuals have all the tools available to them to make informed choices and use the model most appropriate to address their individual community concerns.
V. Anderson: So if I understand it correctly, the purpose of this ministry is to encourage both an appreciation and an understanding of the cooperative movement, to facilitate the government in all aspects of working with cooperative movements in the community and also to provide some focus for community people to understand the opportunities of cooperatives and to develop them. Will there be programs of education in cooperative undertakings? Will there be training for persons who would like to know how to work with cooperatives? Will they be undertaken and sponsored through government programs, or is that outside the mandate of this ministry?
Hon. J. Smallwood: We will be looking for opportunities not only in government but also in the community sector. We'll be working with the B.C. branch of the Canadian Cooperative Association to enhance opportunities as they present themselves.
V. Anderson: In looking at the roughly $4.5 million for this particular section of the ministry, the larger part of it is in salary and operating costs, with only a very small amount -- $150,000 -- in grants. I gather that the focus of this ministry is mostly on staffing and developing programming and education to reach into the community, rather than on grants or loans or contributions to community groups to develop their own programs.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The line item the member is referencing is for the whole ministry; the cooperative part is one very small program included in that line item. Included in management services and coordination of cooperatives -- the line you referenced -- is the deputy minister's office, financial administration, the information management branch, human resources, public affairs, information and privacy, and finally, cooperative development, which is one FTE.
V. Anderson: That was the breakdown we'd hoped to get in the briefing so that we would have a clearer picture of how these breakdowns took place in the ministry. It's harder to understand that without the breakdown we might have had in the briefing, which could have helped us in that regard.
I understand there's only one FTE in the cooperative part of it, so that gives a totally different picture than what we see at first glance. The coordination of cooperatives is listed as a major item, whereas it's only one FTE out of 39. So it's actually a minor item in both financing and the number of focuses within it. That clarifies that. The assumption was that it was a major item within that, rather than a minor one.
Most of it, then, is management process. The other 38 FTEs are really in management of the housing stock that we have at the present time. Am I right that most of the management of the housing stock of this ministry...? In other words, what are the other 38 persons and projects basically doing in undertaking the work with the $4 million that's there?
Hon. J. Smallwood: If I can draw the member's attention to page 174, there's a vote description under (a), "Management Services and Coordination of Cooperatives."
V. Anderson: I'm quite able to read that, but it doesn't give a balance as to the weighting of these particular areas, as with the co-op one, for instance, where it was only one out of 39 persons. Just reading the description without knowing the relative amount of budget that goes with it gives you no understanding. Most of these could be undertaken by one or by many people. It's understanding what is really being said by those words that is important in looking at a budget.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Under this vote, these are services to the ministry, not B.C. Housing. The deputy minister's office has four FTEs; cooperatives, one; financial administration, 17; information services, eight; human resources, seven; public affairs, four; and information and privacy, one.
V. Anderson: Financial administration is by far the largest with 17, and the presumption is therefore that it also has the largest amount of the budget. Could you explain to us what financial administration encompasses and what finances it's managing? Is it the area through which all four of these sections are managed, or is it only within that section that the management is taking place?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Financial administration provides accounting and administrative services, such as budget control, annual estimates, payroll financing and report, expenditures and revenue control, telecommunications, accommodations and vehicle management.
V. Anderson: I understand that. Is it providing administration services for all four sections of the ministry? That's what I want to clarify. It's not just within that section, but it's the administrative services. I'm getting nods to indicate that it's the overall administration for the full ministry.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The answer is yes, as long the member understands that it does not include B.C. Housing.
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V. Anderson: As long as I understand that it does not include B.C. Housing management? Okay.
Let's move down to the housing program. The largest part of the program is within the grants and contributions area. The minister might comment on the grants and contributions there. It indicates that there's a decrease of $150,000 -- if my math is right -- in the combined section under housing programs this year. When we're talking about increased pressure on housing, it has gone from $83,426,000 in housing programs to $83,276,000 -- a decrease of $150,000. When we think of the increasing demand on housing, I'm curious to know why this has decreased, and whether it's a difference in grants or contributions. Where have the differences come from in the focus and thrust of the Housing ministry this year?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The answer is two-pronged. It reflects some efficiencies that have been recovered and some savings through financing options. It will not impact the programs. We are still committed to producing the same number of units.
V. Anderson: Perhaps the minister would elaborate for us the differences between the grants of $20 million and the contributions of $61 million, and give more specifics as to what the grants are and what they're generally used for -- also the $61 million in contributions and what the focus of and the difference between those two designations might be.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The grants portion is SAFER, and the contributions are the provincial government's subsidies to B.C. Housing.
V. Anderson: Looking at Consumer Services, which is another new division in your ministry.... Perhaps the first thing to clarify is that there is a $4.5 million increase in funding in that area. It has gone from $7 million to about $12 million. Perhaps the minister might explain to us the focus of the $4.5 million in that area. I realize that it is the largest ministry with 103 FTEs, so a fair bit of that is salary. But there is also that large 50 percent expansion in the ministry program.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The funding increase is approximately $4.5 million. It includes some salary increases -- a provision for inflation. It deals with increases in manufactured home park mediation and primarily new programs that were established by legislation last time around, such as the Residential Tenancy Act arbitration review process and some expansions around provision of services within the residential tenancy branch.
V. Anderson: Would I be fair in saying that the largest increase may be around the implementation of residential tenancy services as a result of the implications of the new Residential Tenancy Act and regulations and the kinds of programs that may be going with that?
Hon. J. Smallwood: We have a number of significant reforms underway with the residential tenancy branch. I talked about the arbitration review process and the issues around access to arbitrators by people throughout the province. Included in that will be an impact around new programs. We are unable to give you the exact dollars at this point, until we have the programs themselves.
V. Anderson: That raises some questions -- I'm not sure how the minister wants to go into it at the present time -- around residential tenancy. There's a great deal of discussion around that area in the community at the moment. On the one hand, a number of condominiums that have not been sold are now coming onto the rental market in a way that they haven't previously. On the other hand, more landlords may have only one or two residences that they're renting in their own building, so there are more small landlords who are not even part of the rental association but are independents. There's a whole new system of interaction in the community. I'm wondering how the minister is taking into account all these new dimensions as we move into this area of consideration.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm unable to talk about any legislative initiatives, as the member well knows, but I am prepared to talk about the consultation process we've had underway in the last number of months. It's been a very positive process in that we've had an opportunity to talk to some 90 different groups throughout the province, representing a number of different interests in the rental community -- landlords, tenants and a variety of organizations representing the different sectors.
In doing that, there were a number of areas of concern that we heard very strongly. In particular, with reference to the member's comments, it became very obvious to most who engaged in those discussions that while the investment in rental stock has been in condominium or secondary suites -- small landlords, as the member indicated -- there's a real need to provide education and support for those landlords and tenants, recognizing that those landlords are business people who are offering a business service by renting out accommodations. It struck me in many of the discussions I've had, including those on talk shows, that many landlords are not aware -- and this may be a reflection of some of the new, smaller landlords -- of the provisions and support that currently exist in the residential tenancy branch. That said to me that we have to do a better job. We're addressing that by some additional resources in providing information to those landlords in business counselling and by levelling that playing field for tenants. In a tight housing market, tenants have very few options and need to understand not only the resources available to them but the rights they have as tenants under those contractual arrangements with their landlords.
Not only are we hearing some of those concerns and ensuring that we will be addressing them to the best of our ability, we're also looking at providing resources to the people who do that good work through the residential tenancy branch to ensure that both parties, landlords and tenants, have the support necessary for addressing their legitimate concerns.
V. Anderson: I realize that you can't discuss the act, but we can talk about some of the principles involved in working on it. I thank the minister for her response.
One of the concerns I'm hearing out there is that for many of the renters in whatever accommodation, the circumstances are relatively happy and contented, and it works out relatively well. The problems come with a small percentage of one market or the other -- condominiums, large landlords or small landlords. There is a concern that whatever measures are put into place to deal with the small number of those who are really complainants -- with justification, in many cases -- don't hamper the larger number in their operations. Everybody should not suffer
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because some people -- either landlords or renters -- are causing difficulties. There is a concern about dealing with the problems without making a larger problem for everybody else, who at the moment are getting along relatively well. Does the minister have any comments about how that might be approached?
Hon. J. Smallwood: As the member well knows, the model we introduced prior to our consultation was a consumer protection model. It was targeted specifically at the bad actors and provided a vehicle for redress for those people suffering from unjustifiable rent increases.
When I talked about the consultation process, it struck me that both landlords and tenants readily admitted that not only is it a small number of landlords who are abusing the power they have in that relationship, but it is a small number of tenants, as well, who abuse and give tenants a bad name. So both landlords and tenants were looking for a vehicle to support the good-neighbour relationships that exist in the majority of rental situations and to address those abuses where they occur.
V. Anderson: To try to wind up a few of the things that we have here, rental supply is a major concern. On the one hand, there is the regulation of what exists, and on the other hand, there is a major concern about providing more rental supply. Would the minister make some comments about what we might see as initiatives -- without details, perhaps -- in trying to get a variety of rental supply not only in the lower mainland but throughout the province?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The supply side for affordable housing is of major concern to our ministry. With the federal withdrawal, we are met with significant challenges in doing that. The provincial government, through the B.C. Housing Commission, set about a strategy that identified the resources each of the partners could bring to community tables to try to enhance and spend smarter the money we have. We talked about the increases to the rental stock through secondary suites and condominiums. The committee working on secondary suites will hopefully be addressing ways the province can help enhance and support existing secondary suites and increase the supply.
We have significant problems in the province with vacancy rates, which directly address the issue of supply. The rates are: metropolitan Vancouver, 1.1 percent; city of Vancouver, 0.9 percent; Kitsilano and the different communities in Vancouver, zero percent; Kerrisdale, 0.3 percent; Richmond, 0.9 percent; Victoria, 1.8 percent; Nanaimo, 1 percent. As the member well knows, a healthy market is approximately 3 percent.
It is not simply a situation in Vancouver; it impacts communities throughout the province. We see the city of Cranbrook at 1.7 percent. Let me read the statistics correctly: in 1993, the rate in Cranbrook went from 1.7 percent in April to 1 percent in October. We saw the vacancy rate fall in Kamloops from 1.1 percent in April to 0.4 percent in October. It's the same story in most cities and towns throughout the province. In the city of Prince George, in April, the rate was 3.6 percent and in October it was 1.7 percent.
We have perhaps the hottest and tightest housing market across Canada. Again, it points out the need for the leadership that this province is providing in developing a housing strategy, and the challenges that we'll have to meet with the federal government's lack of foresight.
V. Anderson: Continuing with the rental market discussion, I think rental housing in my own riding is over 50 percent of the housing. Do you have an indication across the province as a whole of the comparison between rental housing and owner-occupied housing? What proportion of our population is living in rental housing? In my area it's over 50 percent. I'm wondering how that varies across the province, in order to get a picture of the size of the situation that we're dealing with at this moment. I think there is an image in many people's minds that part of our heritage is that everybody owns their own home. But I don't think that's at all true. That is part of the understanding of the reality of the situation which is helpful for us to have.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The overall provincial average is approximately 60 percent home-ownership and 40 percent rental.
V. Anderson: Of the 60 percent, I presume the majority is running from the mortgage company. They're in the process of owning but not actually owning, which is rent of another kind and also has to be taken into account.
That leads me into my next question, which I perhaps could have dealt with during Consumer Services. Does debtor assistance come under the Consumer Services program? If so, could you explain a little about that? One reason this was raised is that students have gone very much into debt over the years because of their student loans. Because of a lack of job opportunities, they are now beginning to ask if they should be looking to debtor assistance when they come out of college as one way of coping with the debts they've incurred getting their education. It probably wasn't initially set up for that purpose; but at this point, I hear of students coming forward to look at that possibility.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The debtor assistance branch provides counselling and, with the agreement of creditors, can set up orderly payment of debts. The federal student loan program does not participate, nor does Revenue Canada.
V. Anderson: Perhaps we could lobby them on behalf of the students to become part of that.
Those are the questions I had for the minister, and I want to thank her for this undertaking. I don't know if the minister wishes to extend it for other members who might come in later, but that's all the questions we have at this particular time. Thank you for your cooperation and your sympathetic concern.
Vote 44 approved.
Vote 45: ministry operations, $102,113,153 -- approved.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I move the committee rise, report resolutions and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:22 p.m.
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