THURSDAY, JULY 17, 1997
Volume 7, Number 1
[ Page 5909 ]
The House met at 2:05 p.m.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Today there are some people visiting from beyond Hope and from another country. I would like the House to welcome some of my friends and constituents from Cariboo South who are here. They are Trapper and Debbie Craig and their daughter Mickey from Williams Lake; Wendy McPhee, who is my executive assistant, and her daughter Jen from Williams Lake -- she may want to be introduced as Jenny, but to me she's Jen; Pat Murphy and her son J.P. from Williams Lake, and some of their family from Newcastle, England, are with them. Please give a special welcome to Mary Liddell, Kathleen Wilkinson, Christine Sellars, Tom Sellars and Jane Sellars.
J. Dalton: I'm pleased to introduce two officials of the Society of Notaries Public of B.C. They are Mr. Stan Nicol, the secretary-treasurer, and Mr. Ken Sherk, the vice-president. Please welcome them both.
Hon. C. Evans: In the gallery joining us today are the mayor of Kaslo, Al Beix, who the Premier will remember as the tow-truck driver who can actually get elected because he helps people; and Aaron Jones, who is a forester from Meadow Creek Cedar. They are both here to talk about wetbelt stumpage and the Kootenay-Boundary land use plan and a whole lot of other good stuff. So would the House please welcome these gentlemen.
B. Penner: I have the pleasure today of introducing a number of guests in the gallery. First of all, there's Bob Munroe, who is the owner of Duffey's Restaurant in Chilliwack, and Gary Bizzo. Duffey's Restaurant has the theme of a cow, which, I suppose, is suitable in an agricultural community like Chilliwack. People may have seen Mr. Munroe today dressed as a cow, as he's here trying to get the attention of the Attorney General, I think, because his restaurant has had some licensing difficulties with the liquor control branch. Also present today are Bernie and Elaine Klop from Chilliwack and their daughter Marlene and son Hendrick. Would the House please make these people welcome.
D. Symons: It is indeed a pleasure for me today to introduce to the House Dave and Alice Martens. Dave is my brother-in-law, actually. They are visiting from the fair province of Ontario and really discovering today what a beautiful province British Columbia is, although they have been here before. Would the House make them welcome, please.
CONSULTATION ON LABOUR CODE CHANGES
AND STATUS OF BILL 44
To rectify that problem, hon. Speaker, which is important -- and I know you think it's important, as well -- I have a question for the Premier. Will he confirm today that all the job-killing potential of Bill 44 will be removed, that those policies will not be reintroduced into the Legislature and that in fact that bill and those ideas are dead, buried and gone forever?
Hon. G. Clark: Clearly, if we brought in legislation, we believe that it's fair and balanced legislation. I believe that. Clearly lots of other people don't agree with that. My view is that the legislation is fair and balanced, and I've said that all along. I said that at 3 o'clock; I said it at 6 o'clock; I say it right now. Many people in British Columbia don't agree with that, but it's important that labour legislation has a balance between labour and management rights. Given that there's a lot of concern about the legislation -- and given that I believe it's unfounded concern, as well -- it's important that we have discussion with the business community and others about legislation before we proceed with it in the House.
I've acknowledged clearly that consultation should have taken
G. Campbell: Far from being disappointed, this side of the House is very pleased that we were able to stop this government from introducing this bill. [Applause.]
You know, the difficulty here is that far from actually listening and -- imagine! -- actually learning from the voices that were opposed to this bill, the Premier is still trying to sell it. The fact of the matter is that the bill was going to kill jobs and investment in this province.
On Tuesday night the Premier had a meeting with his big union boss friends and told them that he was going to withdraw the bill, but we also know that the Premier said at the time that they weren't supposed to worry because he would take care of those backers in other ways. That kind of backroom deal sends an incredible investment chill across this province. My question to the Premier is: will he state unequivocally, will he state categorically, that the policies contained in Bill 44 will not see the light of day in British Columbia's Legislature again?
Hon. G. Clark: I thought the member opposite believed in consultation. Now he wants to prejudge that consultation for the members. I urge the members opposite to make representation to the review panel if they feel very strongly about this legislation.
I know that these questions were scripted for another time and another place, but we have withdrawn the legislation, and we're going through a process engaging British Columbians in it. I urge the members opposite, instead of constantly just being negative and sticking to the script, to go and be constructive for a change. Be involved in the reform of the Labour Code. Have your input into it. I'll make sure you have a place on the agenda so you can make your presentation.
[ Page 5910 ]
[2:15]G. Campbell: There was nothing more constructive we could have done than to kill Bill 44, and that's what we did.
I will give this Premier some constructive advice: start being clear with people about where his government is going. He told people prior to the last election that he was opposed to sectoral bargaining. Mr. Georgetti says: "No, no, no. We need sectoral bargaining." So what happens? We get sectoral bargaining.
The question to the Premier is: who is running this show? Is he going to be consistent? Is he going to be straightforward? Is he going to give people the benefit of actually coming up and saying to them, "This is what's going to happen in British Columbia," or is he going to let Mr. Georgetti continue to run the province and damage job creation?
Hon. G. Clark: If it will help the member, I'll give him full credit for us withdrawing this legislation.
Last time I looked, Mr. Georgetti wasn't very pleased with us pulling this legislation. It's pretty clear that this government represents all of British Columbia. That's what we intend to do. That's what I said after the election, and that's what we're doing. Labour law must represent a balance between labour and management, and that's what we intend to do.
Look at the record of what's happening in British Columbia: retail sales up 4.9 percent in 1997; manufacturing shipments up 9 percent; exports up 13.6 percent; housing starts up and sales up 6 percent. That's more jobs. Instead of sitting here and trying to play out your ideological wars, why don't you join with the government and work to create jobs in this province?
C. Hansen: You know, it sounds like the same kind of rhetoric we heard from the Deputy Premier yesterday, this rhetoric about how well they think this province is doing, when the facts don't hold that up. We've got a standard of living that's down by 5 percent in this province since 1989.
This morning on a Vancouver radio program, the Minister of Labour said: "We didn't know the perspective of the various parties before we proceeded with Bill 44." Yet on June 26 in this very House, the Minister of Labour said: "
Hon. J. Cashore: The official opposition talks about rhetoric, when the fact is that they manage to spread rhetoric very well. To take a statement out of context in a lengthy broadcast and take that position is absolutely ridiculous.
The Speaker: Order, please. My apologies, member for Vancouver-Quilchena, for making you wait for your question. Please proceed.
C. Hansen: I find it ironic that the minister would be concerned because we quote him. "What I said was not what I think you heard me say" -- is that what I hear the minister saying now? Let me get this straight.
Yesterday we saw the Minister of Labour admit that they had made a mistake. He said: "I did not handle the consultation on this bill very well." When he was asked about this a few weeks ago, he said he didn't consult with the small business community in British Columbia on the specifics of Bill 44, because he knew they would not like it. Why should anyone believe that the NDP will handle this new round of consultation any differently than the joke of a consultation process that preceded Bill 44?
Hon. J. Cashore: That's the problem with this opposition. They don't understand
The Speaker: Members, please.
Hon. J. Cashore:
Hon. J. Cashore: I'm very proud of the service that I have provided in this Legislature. I'm proud of my role as a member of cabinet, and I can teach you a thing or two about how to do opposition well -- which you don't do very well. You don't seem to understand, hon. member, that prospectively you have an opportunity to have a role in crafting something that will be good for the future of British Columbia. Instead, you choose to look to the past, as you always have, because somehow you believe that the Liberals have a right to rule in this province. But the people don't agree with that. [Applause.]
The Speaker: Thank you, members. Order, please.
The Speaker: It's okay, Peace River South. You and I are patient people.
ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
FREE VOTE ON TREATIES
The minister has now had a full two weeks to review the recommendations of the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. We know that he wasn't too distracted with the labour bill, because the Premier was looking after that. We heard on day one that the minister had no intention of adopting the minority report findings. But can he at least answer one simple question around the recommendation of his own party members? Does the minister, or does he not, support the recommendation by his own caucus colleagues and, indeed, all members of the committee to allow a free vote in this Legislature on treaties?
Hon. J. Cashore: First of all, I want to thank the hon. member for the question and say how interesting I find it that the party that has 32 members in the House moved towards a party that holds its meetings in a telephone booth, in joining them on that minority report.
[ Page 5911 ]
With regard to the free vote, I
The Speaker: Order, members. Members, order! Order, member for Matsqui!
Members, whether we like it or not, this place must be animated in debate, but this is becoming a travesty, quite frankly, when we can't even hear questions and answers. It's simply not acceptable. My apology to all of those members who tried to ask questions and to answer today, because we have not behaved well.
The Speaker: Member for Vancouver-Little Mountain, I will not tolerate those kinds of interruptions from you again.
Minister, please continue and wrap up your answer.
Hon. J. Cashore: With regard to the minority report, I have not had the opportunity to review the report with cabinet or with caucus, which I intend to do. I can tell the hon. member, though, that I do not have any personal problem with that recommendation.
The Speaker: I'm going to allow the question because we lost so much time.
J. Weisgerber: For the information of the minister, we've been having a lot of trouble getting telephone booths. I understand that the minister has booked them all up for his consultations on labour practice. [Laughter.]
The Speaker: Order, members. I know we're all glad we extended the time.
J. Weisgerber: The select standing committee unanimously agreed that, as a minimum, treaties should be ratified by a free vote in this Legislature. The opposition believe that there should be a referendum either on the mandate for treaties or on the precedent-setting Nisga'a deal. But we all agree -- NDP, Reform, Liberal members -- that there should be a free vote on any treaty that comes to this Legislature. Will the minister recommend to his cabinet colleagues the adoption of a free vote as a method and mechanism for ratifying treaties in this House?
Hon. J. Cashore: I've gone far enough with telling the hon. member my personal position on that, so I'll leave it at that.
The Speaker: The bell terminates question period.
Hon. J. MacPhail: By leave, I move that in addition to the powers previously conferred upon the Select Standing Committee on Forests, Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, the committee be empowered to sit during any sitting of the House.
AND VALIDATING (No. 2)
AMENDMENT ACT, 1997
Hon. M. Farnworth: I am pleased to be able to present Bill 35 for its second reading. Bill 35 is an act under the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act that will put in place a number of potential resolutions to what all in this House are aware is a very serious situation in the community of Naramata. The amendments in this particular act come about as a request of the regional district of Okanagan-Similkameen. I'll just briefly review the situation in Naramata for the members of the House, how this act came to be, and then we can proceed further into second reading debate.
[2:30]As most members are aware, this act comes out of a conflict between a developer and a regional district in the community of Naramata that has evolved over the last two or three years, with a potential for a very large settlement that could have a serious impact on the citizens of Naramata. It has become clear through the arbitration process that is currently underway -- and in fact will be finishing soon -- that if certain amendments were to be put in place regarding the status of particular lands, that would have an impact on the potential settlement that the citizens of Naramata may or may not have to bear. We have to move, and we have to move quickly, to put these amendments in place before the arbitrator makes his final decision, so that he may take these into account.
The other key section of this bill deals with the ability to pay. Currently, if we did nothing, the citizens of Naramata would be responsible for legal fees and any potential settlement to be paid out in one full shot. Clearly that is unacceptable to the citizens of Naramata and it is unacceptable to the government, and I believe it is unacceptable to all members of this House. What is required is legislation that will allow any legal costs and settlement to be spread out over a period of years, so that people are not faced with undue hardship, not faced with uncertainty of where they are going to get the money. These amendments will address that problem.
There's a lot more that I would like to discuss; there are a lot more possible solutions out there. These amendments don't resolve all of them. They don't deal with all the issues. One of the problems right now is that the arbitration process is still underway. These amendments don't preclude govern-
[ Page 5912 ]
ment taking further action in the future. What they do is offer a first part of a solution, to say: "Look, we are aware of the situation. We are aware of the problem. We have not forgotten you."
These are amendments that have come out of the regional district, which is directly involved with the arbitration process. It's designed to assist the people of Naramata, to ensure that they don't face undue financial hardship and to let them know that government is working on a solution, that government is concerned and that we don't intend to let them down.
With that, hon. Speaker, I'd like to close by saying that I expect that over the next few months there will be more work done. We are following very closely the situation in Naramata. We're watching with great interest what happens with the arbitration process. I've done the best I can to keep my colleague the member for Okanagan-Penticton involved. I've made a commitment in estimates that I would do that. We've established a good working relationship. I'm extremely pleased with the cooperation that I've had from both sides of the House, within the government and with members opposite. I expect that to continue. I don't see this as the final solution or the final resolution to the issue in Naramata. As I said, I see it as a first stage, and I expect to be working closely with members on the other side of the House to achieve a complete resolution. With that, I'll close my remarks.
The Speaker: In response, in second reading debate, I recognize the member for Okanagan-Penticton.
R. Thorpe: I appreciate that. And thank you to the minister for his opening comments.
This House and this government have a very, very serious issue before them. This particular enabling legislation addresses Naramata. It addresses only a very small part of the significant concern the people in Naramata have unfortunately experienced for a number of years. I trust that out of the difficulties of the people of Naramata, this government will embark upon a very proactive approach to looking at other irrigation districts in the province of British Columbia and ascertaining whether in fact other people, other families -- this is about families -- have potentially the same type of difficulties as the unfortunate people of Naramata have experienced.
There's one thing about the people of Naramata: they will rebound. They have worked hard, and they will build their future. But they would want other British Columbians not to have to go through what they have gone through. From the kids at the school, who have had great difficulty, to the orchardists, the farmers, those who operate vineyards, and the senior citizens, this has taken a tremendous toll on the community of Naramata. Often when we think of these issues, we only think in dollar terms. But the most serious issue in this situation is the human damage, the human stress. Some people may not ever recover from this terrible experience.
Yes, hon. Speaker, this minister has to date worked very hard on this issue. He has worked in cooperation with myself and other members of the opposition, and we do appreciate that. The minister has committed to continue to work that way. It will be my responsibility, on behalf of the residents of Naramata, to ensure that this continues to receive a principal share of mine for the people of Naramata. This issue must be resolved as soon as possible. As difficult as it is, while it is in arbitration -- and now the arbitrator is working through his award -- people can accept that there will be a delay. They don't like it, but they accept it. By the nodding of the minister's head, he also doesn't like that there is a delay.
Where I have a concern -- I want to re-emphasize it -- is not with the minister and it's not with his staff. Quite frankly, to date they have done everything that they said they would do or what they could do. But I would be remiss if I did not reflect, on behalf of the citizens of Naramata, some of the difficulties that they have experienced based on promises of this government. On May 6, during an election campaign, the Premier promised a full public inquiry. He promised that it would be done promptly. Well, hon. Speaker, what do you think happened? It hasn't taken place -- another broken promise. That's unfortunate.
The Premier then, after some 25 or 26 representations from my office, finally commissioned the study. That study was completed on December 17 but not released for some two months after the fact. That, too, was unfortunate. But now we see that in late June -- June 24 to be exact -- the Premier said: "The province does have a role to play." He said that it is not fair to expect the Naramata ratepayers to bear the entire brunt of this award damage. These people have been fighting this for 15 to 16 months. As the head of the Naramata Citizens Association recently said, they are taking the attitude: "We'll believe it when we see it."
So this minister has brought forward, in cooperation with the regional district of Okanagan-Similkameen, enabling legislation. Let us remember that that's all it is. It enables; it is not a cure, as some people would have liked. I believe some people think that it may be a cure. It's a band-aid; it's a tool to help solve a very drastic problem.
The other things that I want to say
Naramata -- for those who haven't had the opportunity to visit -- is a wonderful, wonderful place located on Okanagan Lake, and I am honoured to represent it. We have attended many community meetings -- and I do thank the minister for attending a very large community meeting on March 10 and for being as open and as frank as he was in that situation. Those things do help. I am pleased, and we will obviously support this bill today. But I want and I need, and the people of Naramata need, the full commitment of this minister -- not only after we get the legislation done but once the arbitration award is out -- to aggressively develop a timetable to meet with the residents so that this province and this Premier can at least keep one promise to British Columbians and especially to the people of Naramata, because promises have been broken to date on that.
Hon. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak. I do look forward to working with this minister to make sure that the people of Naramata are treated fairly and equitably by the government of British Columbia.
G. Abbott: As the Municipal Affairs critic on the opposition side, I would just like to make a few brief comments today with respect to Bill 35. The situation at Naramata is obviously a very troubling and very complex one. What Bill 35 does -- and it's certainly the reason why we will be supporting it here -- is create a toolkit with which to resolve, hopefully, the problems which surround the very difficult and troubling situation at Naramata.
[ Page 5913 ]
It's important to note -- and both the Minister of Municipal Affairs and the member for Okanagan-Penticton have noted it -- that the MEVA or this Bill 35 itself doesn't solve the problems. But it does put in place, I think very importantly, a set of tools which will provide the basis, hopefully, for the prompt resolution of the situation that exists in Naramata.
[2:45]Again, as the member for Okanagan-Penticton noted -- and I think noted very passionately -- lives have been turned upside down in Naramata, and hopefully this bill represents an important step toward turning things right side up again in the community. This is going to take some time. It's going to take, I think, a lot of effort on the part of several parties, particularly the regional district of Okanagan-Similkameen, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, the Naramata irrigation district and, first and foremost, the people of Naramata. These parties and others will have to work very hard to try to reach the difficult compromises that are going to be necessary to find a final resolution to the unfortunate situation that exists at Naramata.
Bill 35 -- and, again, the minister has mentioned this himself -- may not be everything that everyone is looking for in terms of resolution of this situation. I'm sure it's not. Much remains to be done before the situation in Naramata is resolved. It's a situation that has literally made some people in the community sick from the stress and upset associated with what could possibly happen because of the situation. I know that we all hope, and I'm sure we all pray, that we will find in the foreseeable future a resolution which is acceptable to all parties.
I haven't been as close to this situation as the previous two speakers have, but I have been close enough to it to know that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and the member for Okanagan-Penticton both deserve to be commended for the roles that they have played in moving forward towards a resolution of this situation. I don't expect that either gentleman would welcome congratulations; congratulations are something that are extended when something is brought to closure or successfully resolved. That hasn't happened yet, but nevertheless, I think that both the Minister of Municipal Affairs and the member for Okanagan-Penticton deserve to be commended in the most positive way possible for their efforts in bringing about what we see here today -- an important step on the road to resolution.
I think both the minister and the member have worked in a constructive fashion to advance the issue, and I think they have advanced the issue in what I'll term here as the good, old-fashioned way of actually talking to people and seeing what can be done. This isn't always as easy as one would think, and I have seen more than a few situations where the temperature rises so high in a situation that politicians are scared to talk to people anymore. I know that in this situation -- particularly the member for Okanagan-Penticton has had many high-temperature calls -- rather than try to run from the issue or say, "Sorry, I don't have a solution for you," he went the extra mile and met with many of his constituents in Naramata and said: "I'm listening. Do you have any ideas about how we might move forward and solve this problem?"
Similarly -- and I'll say this to both the minister and the member -- I know that it takes a lot of courage to stand in front of a room full of angry people and listen to their concerns. Again, I commend the minister and the member for having the courage not to try to run from the situation but to meet
I think we also have to remember the broader context in which the Naramata situation occurred, and the member for Okanagan-Penticton mentioned this, as well. The minister and I had a very good discussion in estimates about the kind of situation that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, and I suppose the province, has with respect to what may be alternately termed water districts, irrigation districts, improvement districts that exist across the province. I think we were both a little surprised to learn that there were 286 of these districts across the province. Hopefully, not all 286 will be fraught with difficulties. Hopefully, a great many of them are functioning very well and efficiently, and I'm sure this is the case.
This is not a situation -- the 286 improvement districts -- that was created in the last five years. This is a situation that has historically developed over many decades. The issues surrounding the continued existence of improvement, water and irrigation districts are certainly not going to be resolved overnight. That much is clear. This is a big problem, and as I told the minister in estimates, I'm kind of glad that he's the one that has to deal with it at this point. It's going to be a difficult one to resolve.
But I think what Bill 35 does is serve as a timely reminder that there is a form of government out there that perhaps doesn't have the same kind of level of control, the same kind of statutory regulation that we see in more widely known forms of municipal governments -- municipalities, regional districts and so on. This bill serves as a timely reminder that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs needs to work diligently with the Union of B.C. Municipalities, with the water, irrigation and improvement districts themselves and, indeed, with other British Columbians to ensure that we do not find ourselves in a year or two -- or ever, hopefully -- in another situation like the most unfortunate situation that has occurred in Naramata, which this Bill 35 aims to address.
To conclude, Mr. Speaker, I just want to emphasize again that this bill provides the basis or the toolkit to begin to address this very difficult situation which exists in Naramata. I know that the resolution of this situation cannot come quickly enough for the people of Naramata. It's tragic in many ways, the situation that they face. I know that all parties will be working to see an expeditious resolution of this. Again, I want to commend the work that has been done by the minister and the member for Okanagan-Penticton. On behalf of the official opposition, I want to extend our hopes and our best wishes to all parties toward a resolution of this unfortunate situation in Naramata.
The Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister's comments will close second reading debate.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I'd just like to conclude by thanking the hon. members for their comments. I will just go over a couple of points and address some of the issues that were raised.
I guess the first is that we are acutely aware -- not just the ministry, but the government -- of the feelings of helplessness, the feelings of anger, the feelings of frustration and
[ Page 5914 ]
uncertainty that exist in Naramata. It is our greatest desire to be able to bring resolution to this problem and to ensure as much as we can that people feel that the issue of Naramata is resolved in a way that can bring satisfaction to as many people as possible. I recognize that that's not going to be easy. I also recognize that it's going to be some months yet before we see a conclusion to this whole issue.
For the people of Naramata, I want to say these things. First, in terms of an inquiry, it's my desire to do that, and I indicated at the meeting in Naramata that I thought we needed to do that. There was an initial inquiry done for the Premier, who asked for one. It came back with a series of recommendations. Those recommendations are being worked on within this ministry and within other affected ministries. The arbitration process is currently ongoing. I expect that it will end probably by the end of October or the beginning of November -- that is the latest information I have. I've also indicated publicly to the people of Naramata that I will go up to Naramata, and I fully intend to do that. Hopefully, at that time we will be able to answer as many questions as we can.
I've been asked publicly if I would conduct a public inquiry. I'm looking at how an inquiry can be constituted and what mechanisms are required to institute an inquiry. I think an inquiry is needed not just in terms of Naramata but on the fundamental issue that both members opposite have raised. It's one which I see as being critically important and one which we addressed in the estimates debate, and that is around the role of improvement districts, water districts, irrigation districts. There are 286 of them. They have not, as the member for Shuswap said, appeared in the last five years. They have evolved and have been in place for some 60 or 70 years or perhaps even longer.
I think it's time that we review the legislation that governs them and see what is working, what isn't working and how isolated an incident Naramata is. Is there the potential for what happened in Naramata to happen in other places? We need to see if legislative changes or complete structural changes are required to ensure that if these forms of governance are to remain in place, they are able to do so. If perhaps the time has come to restructure them, how do we do it? I think that should take place in as wide-open a discussion as possible, with a full understanding of Naramata as certainly one of the key guideposts, signposts or parameters you look at in terms of how we address the issue.
I just want to say to the hon. members that I appreciate their comments. I think we worked well together on this issue so far. I don't see that changing. The government is committed. It has taken actions responsibly, I think, and has done so in a manner that has been open and forthright. We continue to do that. It is my fervent desire, because it is the highest priority in the ministry as far as I'm concerned, to bring a resolution to this issue and to bring closure for the people of Naramata so that they can get on with their lives and with rebuilding their dreams and we can move forward. With that, hon. Speaker, I move second reading.
Bill 35, Municipalities Enabling and Validating (No. 2) Amendment Act, 1997, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
AND VALIDATING (No. 2)
AMENDMENT ACT, 1997
[3:00]On section 1.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I move the amendment to section 1 standing in my name in the order paper.
[SECTION 1, in the proposed section 36(11) of the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act (No. 2), by adding "June 13, 1997, being" before "the date on which this section received First Reading in the Legislative Assembly."]Amendment approved.
On section 1 as amended.
R. Thorpe: The only concern I have with the whole section is
Hon. M. Farnworth: The answer to the hon. member's question is no. In fact, there is a specific subsection (7) that references that issue.
Section 1 as amended approved.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Hon. Chair, I move the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendment.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Bill 35, Municipalities Enabling and Validating (No. 2) Amendment Act, 1997, reported complete with amendment.
The Speaker: When shall the bill be reported as read?
Hon. M. Farnworth: With leave of the House now, hon. Speaker.
Bill 35, Municipalities Enabling and Validating (No. 2) Amendment Act, 1997, read a third time and passed.
[ Page 5915 ]
Hon. M. Farnworth: Hon. Speaker, I call second reading of Bill 26.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 1997
Hon. M. Farnworth: It is my pleasure to move this bill, which is a companion act to Bill 25. This is the local government planning practices and development approval process in terms of fish and habitat protection.
One of the greatest challenges in terms of protecting urban streams in this province is the fact that so many of our urban streams occur within high-growth areas. This is especially true on southern Vancouver Island and in particular on the lower mainland, where in some areas we have already lost considerable numbers of streams through development at the turn of the century and in subsequent decades. The fact is that we didn't give much consideration at that time to fish and habitat protection. They were sort of relegated down the list, and we lost a great deal of the resource in the lower mainland.
There is a significant amount of the resource left, however. There are significant streams on the lower mainland. I know that in my own particular area, Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam, there are numerous salmon-bearing streams that contain significant wild stocks of salmon. There are streams that have significant work being done on them by community volunteers to ensure that wild stocks remain or where stocks have been depleted, that enhanced stocks -- hatchery-raised fish -- can survive.
[G. Brewin in the chair.]
There has already been a lot of work done at the local government level. In the near future, I will be helping to open a new well on one of the streams in my own community, a well that is going to restore flow that has been blocked off by urban development. It is that issue I think this act helps to address.
As growth takes place and as new subdivisions are built up, what happens is that runoff takes place. After the rain, it drains fast into the storm drains and out to the rivers. The land that used to hold the water back and soak it up like a sponge -- to release it slowly and gradually over time and thereby provide a steady stream of water for these urban streams -- is no longer able to do that, because a great deal of land is covered over by blacktop.
Planning practices have a great impact on streams. It used to be that you would go out and subdivide the land by sections and quarter-acres down to standard square-sized lots, and it didn't really matter about the topography. It didn't matter what streams were in place, and we didn't worry about setbacks. We can't continue to do that.
In my own area of Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam, there is a tremendous growth opportunity over the next 20 to 25 years. There will be a huge influx of people. It is already happening. Planning practices are currently in place, and they are identifying streams. That's what we've got to start doing: identifying the important environmental habitat and how we go about protecting it.
How do we go about ensuring that those streams are not only able to have the stocks in them identified but also able to have what is required to make them viable over the long term? What is required to make them sustainable over the long term? How much development impact can they in fact sustain before they are irrevocably damaged, before the stocks are threatened and before special enhancement measures have to be taken?
There is a role for all three levels of government. We have signed an agreement with the federal government that recognizes the province's vital jurisdiction within the fisheries of this province, and now there is joint work taking place. It is not just the province, because so much depends on the local government level. That's where the land use planning decisions are made that affect small, local urban streams, and that's where there is a vital role for communities -- an extremely important role.
That's what this legislation does. It's an enabling piece of legislation that gives municipalities the powers and tools to ensure that we protect fish habitat in this province. It is not done through a coercive top-down approach; it is being done jointly with consultation. It is building on what already exists at the local level, and there are some excellent examples of communities currently working to ensure that we do the proper planning processes.
We need to do long-term environmental studies before development takes place to ensure that developers are doing the right practices, whether it be setbacks, building, densification or being innovative in how we look at developing in particular zones, whether it be old established neighbourhoods or new neighbourhoods. Three communities I can think of right off the top of my head, for example, are North Vancouver, which has taken a very proactive role, the community of Burnaby and the communities of Port Coquitlam and Port Moody in my own particular area. They have all been extremely supportive.
What this legislation does is give further tools to these communities to ensure that proper practices can be put in place -- for example, the ability to regulate how much of a particular lot is covered, blacktopped or made impervious to rainfall, and things like setbacks that are taking place in existing land use planning processes, but over the long term. These are all extremely important.
This legislation, as I say, is a companion piece to work being done with municipalities in terms of trying to get a general broad agreement on what the protocol in Bill 25 is about. My understanding is that it is just about complete, that there's considerable agreement on it. With that, I will close my remarks. I look forward to the remarks from my colleagues opposite. Then we'll conclude with remarks later on.
G. Abbott: I'd like to rise and join in the second reading debate with respect to Bill 26 and the statutory provisions contained in it. I will be continuing the disturbing trend of today of actually being complimentary on a piece of legislation. This is a pattern which I set with regret but have some difficulty in not continuing with respect to Bill 26.
The bill does a number of things; it does get involved in a number of areas. Most of them, I think, are commendable, and perhaps all are commendable. There are a few questions I have with respect to some of the elements, and we'll deal with that in committee stage. But the purpose of this bill, the direction in which it's going and the way in which the direction is being implemented are all things that we can support very readily on the opposition side of the House.
The most important thing from my reading of the bill, and I suspect, given the comments of the minister, he shares this view as well
[ Page 5916 ]
appropriate to enter into a covenant for riparian protection, then as I understand it -- and I'm sure the minister will correct me if I'm wrong -- neither is obliged to enter into the covenant. I think this is in the right direction.
Some may argue that this kind of protection should or must be extended. I guess the argument can be made persuasively in some instances. But the philosophy of government on this side -- and I think even the government on the other side is coming to embrace this -- is that we need to empower local government, make them more autonomous, more in charge of their own destiny. This is the philosophy behind this bill that, again, we put in place the tools with which local government can help to build better communities. I think it's the right way to go, and I certainly support that.
The value of this Bill 26 -- and the minister has certainly explained it, as well -- is that it will encourage better environmental management of areas adjacent to watercourses. The minister has enumerated the many reasons why we should do that. It adds a new tool for use by municipalities and regional districts to better manage their riparian areas, and the benefits of this are clear. It should be good for water quality, for fish and wildlife, for prevention of erosion and for prevention of flood damage, because preservation of natural riparian areas is a thing which helps in a very substantial way in all of those areas.
[3:15]It's important to note, as well, that local governments already have the opportunity, and in some cases the obligation, to require certain setbacks from watercourses. This varies across the province as a result of the circumstances that exist there. There is much variation across the province in regard to setbacks, but a setback of 15 metres is probably among the most common. Under Bill 26, local governments can now add a very substantial carrot to the stick of setbacks which they already wield. It will provide greater certainty and continuity with respect to land use on riparian areas by the use of covenants.
As well, under the provisions of Bill 26, local governments will be able to provide a tangible financial benefit for property owners along watercourses. If the local government and the landowner feel that a natural riparian area is worth preserving in perpetuity, this provides the tool to do that and to provide a tangible financial benefit to the property owner at the same time. This should produce a win-win situation for both the landowner and local government. Local government, obviously, secures better protection of riparian areas throughout the community, or at least those parts of the community where covenants are put in place. Landowners will see a reduction of some size to their annual tax bill, as well as the satisfaction of enjoying the continued protection of an area which is undoubtedly important to the landowner as well.
As well, Bill 26 allows local government the opportunity to pursue conservation projects or plans, which are modeled on earlier efforts in this regard by private societies. We have in my riding of Shuswap a couple of very good examples of where private societies over the past decade have attempted to do on a private basis what is now being sanctioned in Bill 35 for local governments. For several years in Shuswap, groups like the Salmon River round table and the Turtle Island conservancy society have worked very hard for the restoration of a watercourse, the Salmon River, which runs through the Shuswap region. These groups have concluded that the key to restoring water quality, to restoring riverbank stability and to restoring fish and wildlife values was and is the protection of riparian areas.
They have worked very hard, commendably so, to put voluntary covenants in place with landowners along the Salmon River to achieve this purpose. Some landowners have embraced these voluntary covenants out of concern for the environmental health of the Salmon River. This now will put a new tool in the hands of, in some instances, the district of Salmon Arm and, in other instances, the Columbia-Shuswap regional district to contribute to this as well.
The efforts of the past by these groups will be greatly enhanced by the additional mechanism of the tax exemption as provided by Bill 26. Again, the obvious tool that will now exist, quite apart from landowners being concerned about the future of a watercourse and the preservation of the riparian areas they own, is that they will have a tangible benefit that they can look to as well.
Section 2 of Bill 26 sets out the process to be followed by local government in granting tax exemption under the act. As the bill notes, a one-year exemption can be provided through a bylaw supported by at least a two-thirds vote of the council or regional board. An exemption for a longer period of time, up to ten years, can be achieved subject to petition or counterpetition approval by local electors.
As well -- and I'll just briefly note them -- there are some other additions to the bill. Section 10 obviously provides for additional authority with respect to runoff disposal; another section, landscaping for environmental purposes, and so on
I just want to say again that we on the opposition side will be supporting this bill. There are indeed many commendable features to it, and I commend the government on proceeding with it. With that, thank you.
J. Sawicki: I too want to rise and just say a few words on this bill. I really appreciate the comments from the member for Shuswap. Clearly I think those of us in this House who previously served on municipal councils -- and especially those of us who perhaps worked on environmental issues on councils, just as we may be working on environmental issues here -- really can see the value of this bill and the extra tools that it will give to municipalities to assist not only in protecting fish but in protecting natural habitats, greenways, riparian zones that go through our communities.
I'll try to keep my comments succinct, but I did want to add to the comments of my colleague the hon. minister and the member for Shuswap on a couple of other parts of the bill that I think will be tremendously helpful to councils.
Already mentioned is the tax incentive to landowners. Local councils have already had that kind of ability in terms of heritage properties and other features, but particularly when we are in the position of new lands being developed, along with some of the other tools that have been provided by this government in the Municipal Act, in terms of density bonusing, development permits, etc
The other area that I was particularly interested in is the explicit authority that this bill gives to include policies respecting natural environments -- and that includes ecosystem and
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biological diversity in urban areas -- in the official community plan. It might come as a surprise that here, in 1997, we are passing legislation that only now gives that express authority. Many municipalities -- and as the minister has mentioned, I think my community of Burnaby is one of the more progressive ones -- have certainly done that in the past. I think that's really important, because official community plans at the local government planning level are the documents that set out the vision of the kinds of communities that people want to build. Again, thinking in terms of fish and the habitat and riparian zones and greenways, surely all of those things are desirable features that we would want to see in our official community plans.
There are some, quite frankly, who think that this bill should go further, and that could be a matter of debate. There are some who think that some of the provisions are self-evident. When I think of some of the things that Burnaby has already done
Our government has given as one of its top priorities during this session the broad aspect of protecting fish and the fish strategy. While we often think that endangered fish habitats tend to occur out in the forested areas or as a result of other threats, the fact that the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board identified urban streams as the number one endangered stream category -- if you want to call it that -- in terms of habitat gives extra significance to this legislation now before us.
Finally, I would just say that while this bill has several individual provisions that I think are very exciting for local governments, to me it's the collective -- taken altogether -- that I think is extremely positive. It will help local governments keep connections between providing for residential, industrial, commercial uses, as they must do in their official community plans. It will help us keep connected at the very basic level of a neighbourhood, connected to the natural environments that make our communities much more livable.
I would like to commend the minister for bringing this bill forward and express my strong support here at second reading stage.
M. Coell: I would like to add my voice of support, along the same lines as the member for Burnaby-Willingdon. This is a very positive piece of legislation for municipalities. I am pleased to see that the government worked with the UBCM in bringing this legislation forward.
One of the areas of this bill that I'm pleased to see is the Islands Trust Act and the changes to that which will allow the islands to continue to be a beautiful and desirable place to live and to visit. I think the change to section 1 allows that, and I'm pleased to see it there. As some of the other members have mentioned, the quality of life that this legislation will lend to neighbourhoods
So I would congratulate the minister on this bill, and I look forward to comments during committee stage.
Hon. M. Farnworth: To offer my concluding remarks, I thank the hon. members for their comments. I think it is a pleasure, and I would have a slight disagreement
This piece of legislation is an important tool for local government. We've talked and discussed a number of the aspects of the bill: riparian preservation and some of the tools enabling that to take place; the tax exemption; the importance of proper planning; the importance of being able to recognize that there are differences between areas which are currently built up and do need a slightly different approach to or slightly different tools for dealing with them, as opposed to areas which are slated for development, where we're able to start right at the very beginning, right at the base -- before streets have gone in, before lots have been surveyed, before houses have been constructed -- and ensure that what's required to ensure that those streams remain viable, productive, healthy salmon streams is in place. So with those few remarks, I'd like to move second reading of Bill 26.
Bill 26, Local Government Statutes Amendment Act, 1997, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 1997
On section 1.
G. Abbott: On section 1, because I lack the encyclopedic knowledge of the Islands Trust and its workings -- unlike the member for Saanich North and the Islands -- I was just looking forward to an explanation of this section by the minister.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Basically, this amends the portions of the act that relate to the Islands Trust and ensures that they have the same opportunities as other municipalities and regional districts in other parts of the act.
G. Abbott: The source of my confusion is in the terminology that says: "
Hon. M. Farnworth: The trust council sets the overall policy, whereas the committees do the island-by-island policy and implementation.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
G. Abbott: My first question relates to subsection (1)(a): "
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bill or elsewhere, a definition of when riparian lands start and stop? I suspect the minister can easily explain where they start; I'm curious where they stop.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I can, indeed, easily answer where they start. It's usually where your gumboots start to fill with water.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Yes, except in floods. Anyway, where they stop is to be determined by local government. And in fact, what you might see is
G. Abbott: I understand the minister's response, and I'll take it one step further. Does that answer indicate -- and I'll try to put this as succinctly as I can -- that what the local government determines to be the appropriate distance from the water's edge to the riparian setback edge will also be the same or contiguous with what the local government decides is an appropriate setback under the companion bill to this?
Hon. M. Farnworth: It is possible, but not necessarily. The local government will in fact be consulting with Environment staff to determine what exactly are specific environmental concerns on a particular piece of property and then making a local decision.
G. Abbott: I understand from that rather Mackenzie King-ish description, that it's contiguous if necessary but not necessarily contiguous. Is that right? Thank you. On to
G. Abbott: I always suspected that this minister was a Liberal at heart, as is the Attorney General, but I'm pleased to have a quote like that to really confirm it.
G. Abbott: We won't want to go too far on that one, given the experience of last
Okay, we're on section 2, section 343.1(1)(a), under "eligible value": "
Hon. M. Farnworth: Just so that I can clarify: by that you're referring to how big the tax exemption -- the potential financial saving -- is to the property owner?
G. Abbott: I'll back up just a bit. Mr. Brown has a farm in a community, and he has several hundred feet of riverfront. He and the council decide that it is appropriate to have a riparian area covenant 50 metres wide. Given that this is just a portion of Mr. Brown's farm, how will the local government and/or Mr. Brown and/or the Assessment Authority -- and/or whoever -- set about to determine what the saving in terms of taxation will be to Mr. Brown?
Hon. M. Farnworth: It would be done on a straight percentage basis. Let's say Farmer Brown's riparian zone takes up 10 percent of his total property; then he will see a 10 percent reduction in his taxes.
G. Abbott: That's fair enough. And because Farmer Brown is obviously going into this arrangement in a public-spirited way, because it is a voluntary covenant, I know he's not going to quibble about the value of his riparian area being more valuable than other parts of the farm. Clearly people go into these kinds of arrangements with some community intentions in mind, and I don't think it would be a big deal. I appreciate the clarification by the minister with respect to that.
If I could proceed, then, to the provisions with respect to local assent, particularly under
I know that what this provision in the bill is attempting to do is have a counterpetition process for the longer period, and clearly the 5 percent is the threshold of people opposing that bylaw. If more than 5 percent oppose, it's not clear to me, in the statute, whether the municipality or the local government is then obliged to go to a referendum to achieve that assent. The municipality can already get the shorter-term, one-year assent by a two-thirds vote. So is it a referendum issue that's contemplated, or is it simply a matter of forcing the local government to do it on a year-by-year basis?
Hon. M. Farnworth: No, it would not be on a year-by-year basis but on a referendum.
G. Abbott: Subsection (6): "The Lieutenant Governor in Council may, by regulation, establish additional requirements for property to be considered eligible riparian property." It is not clear to me from the bill what is envisioned there, and I would like some clarification with respect to what the government means by that subsection.
Hon. M. Farnworth: We have the ability, for example, to put some limits on how much the exemption would be, in terms of developmental rights being given up. Let's say you're creating a riparian zone but that may impinge upon development rights. So the question is: what is the value of those rights that you are technically or potentially giving up? It could vary. You might have standard zoning, and you might be able to claim that if this were commercial, it would be much more valuable. So there is the ability there to limit the amount that an exemption may potentially be.
G. Abbott: I'm not sure if I completely understand the minister's explanation. I'm a bit puzzled by it. I think I have come a little bit of the way towards understanding it. I'm sure
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it is more a reflection on my ability to comprehend than his ability to explain, but perhaps the minister could take another run at it from this perspective. He can perhaps re-dress it up in Farmer Brown terms or whatever so the message gets through. Why not just put the tools in place, rather than putting in a provision which provides the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council provisions?
[3:45]Hon. M. Farnworth: Let's see if we can take a run at it this way. Farmer Brown has his piece of property and Farmer Andrews has his above that. There's a stream going through it that in fact may not have fish-bearing potential. Let's say you're in the interior and it's an alkaline stream. You know the alkaline lakes: not much lives there except a bunch of sandflies. Let's say a local community is giving tax relief, saying there are riparian zones that protect fish when in fact there aren't, and it's just a way of giving tax relief to give tax relief. This would be a provision that the province could use to step in and limit that. It's not anticipated that it would be used on a regular basis, but there are always exceptions. You and I are working on a problem that has arisen around one of those exceptions, and that's what it's there for.
G. Abbott: Thank you for that explanation, and in fact, I think I understand now. While I understand the reason for the inclusion of this section, I suspect -- at least in relation to municipalities and regional districts, which have a very clear line of responsibility back to their electors and a very regular basis on which they're judged on their performance and their errors and omissions -- that this is a provision which the minister may come to regret having included in here. I think that if the municipality, contrary to the provisions of this bill, gave tax relief because they were trying to deal with sandflies, why not leave that in the hands of the local government and the electors of the local government to determine whether the local council or local government had abused their position?
I think the practical consequence of this is that the ministry will be pulled into disputes which are essentially local disputes. I guess that's my point here, as much as anything. The minister can respond if he wishes.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I understand what the member is saying, and I don't disagree with some of it. At the same time there is also a provincial interest, because whenever an exemption is made there is a lowering, if you like, of potential provincial tax revenue. So that sort of covers the provincial interest in that regard.
As I say, I don't anticipate it being a big problem. It's there to deal more with an exception, should one arise, and that's all it is. It's not intended to be used to override local governments or regional districts, and I don't anticipate that happening.
Sections 2 and 3 approved.
On section 4.
R. Thorpe: When this bill came out, I made sure that I circulated it to my various municipal governments. The corporation of the district of Summerland agrees to support the amendment to section 551(a) of this act. But what they'd like to know
Hon. M. Farnworth: They'd be able to issue a standard municipal ticket and to ticket an offender.
R. Thorpe: I'm sorry, can you
Hon. M. Farnworth: They could issue a standard municipal bylaw enforcement ticket. That would be the mechanism they could use.
G. Abbott: I have, again, an explanatory question here. What puzzles me about the inclusion of section 4 is that it would appear to me that the issue it's addressing is the pollution and obstruction of a stream, creek, waterway, etc. I wonder why this provision is in this bylaw, because it's patently obvious that, I'm sure, this has already been done in other statutes. I'm wondering whether in fact its inclusion in this statute is going to lead to some confusion on whose responsibility it is -- whether it's the responsibility of the provincial government, through its agencies, or of the local government to deal with pollution when it occurs. While it may be in here with the best of intentions, it may in fact serve to confuse the issue about whose responsibility it is to address a pollution problem.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I understand what the member is saying. Basically, what it comes down to is being an issue almost of practicality, in that quite often a municipal bylaw enforcement person may in fact be the first person at the scene or who comes in contact and then can take the first steps in terms of some sort of enforcement process.
Let's say, for example
That would allow
G. Abbott: This, again, may be something which, in a short period of time after a problem has emerged, the government will want to reconsider. Perhaps the minister will want to reconsider it, even at this point, although that's up to the minister.
But to make my point clear, if a scenario occurs as you've mentioned -- a bylaw enforcement officer for a municipality happens along on what appears to be a case of someone polluting -- it's perfectly reasonable that the local bylaw enforcement officer documents, in every way he can, the specifics of the situation that has occurred and passes that along to the appropriate provincial or federal regulatory auth-
[ Page 5920 ]
ority that determines that
The problem I'm having with this bill is that it appears to -- but I don't think really does -- give local government (a) the technical ability to determine what is pollution and what is not. That clearly is something, at least in my view, which senior governments have over time developed a kind of monopoly on, with respect to the expertise. And (b), do they possess the statutory authority? Even if they're able to technically determine that something is pollution, do they have the statutory authority to proceed from there to deal with it?
Hon. M. Farnworth: What this is going to mean is that it's going to give the authority the ability for you, as a municipal bylaw officer, to take immediate action. The municipality may not decide to. They may, in fact, feel that what would be an appropriate policy for them is to document the case and then forward it on to a higher level of authority for them to take action. That may very well be what happens.
But I think it's also fair to recognize that, quite often, other levels aren't able to take action on small -- or what are perceived to be small -- cases or smaller infractions, and that quite often they may be involved in trying to document and deal with a problem of much larger scale and a larger-scale issue. So the municipality may say: "Okay, look, we've documented this once before. This is the second time I've seen this individual doing that. Clearly something has to be done."
Quite frankly, the most effective deterrent or most effective sort of notice that you're doing something wrong comes if you're caught, you're being told you're committing an offence, and then you're given a $100 fine. That has an immediate reaction. It doesn't involve court costs, court time or other expensive law enforcement procedures. So it gives the ability to the municipality to take immediate action. They may choose that as the process they want to take, or they may choose to follow some different process. But it's up to them.
R. Thorpe: I won't belabour the argument. I think the ministry will in the short fullness of time develop some view as to whether this provision is working or not working. Again, just to make my point clear, I'm one who is very clean -- or very keen -- on having clear
R. Thorpe: And clean -- all of the above.
I'm very keen on having clear lines of authority and not having overlapping areas of jurisdiction, where it's not clear who should be doing what and where, and people start getting into finger-pointing exercises that become unproductive.
Will municipalities respond to this by developing their own kind of mechanism or organization to begin to determine when and where someone is polluting? Perhaps they will. But I suspect it will become one of these situations where, because this exists in Bill 26, the province will say: "Oh no, we're too busy to deal with that. It's not of sufficient gravity. You guys deal with it, under the authority that you have under section 4 of Bill 26." On the other hand, I suspect some municipalities will respond by saying: "Oh no, we're not dealing with that. That's your baby."
[4:00]Again, I don't want to argue all day about it, because experience will show whether the concern is valid or not. But my concern is that we will get into an area of overlapping authority, where it's not clear who should be acting, and we will get finger-pointing of an unconstructive nature.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I understand the point the member is making, and it is potentially a valid point. I guess what I'd say in response is that with what I've seen so far in terms of cooperation with municipalities on this legislation, the response I've got is that they're quite comfortable with it.
I think it would be unfortunate if we got into the type of situation where either the province or the municipalities are finger-pointing and saying: "It's your responsibility." My own sense of what is going to happen is that where you have minor local problems coming up, the municipality will deal with them, for the simple reason that those types of small problems are quite often brought to the attention of the municipality by local residents who want to see action. They will recognize that the municipality does have the ability to do something.
What you will then see happening is that the municipality recognizes that this takes place. But where there are repeat offenders involved -- for example, where they're documented through systematic documentation by a bylaw enforcement office that may not have ticketing or where there has been a series of tickets issued and an offence is clearly continuing -- they'll say the province needs to be involved. They need a more thorough investigation, because there may be something much greater happening than what appears to be taking place, and that would be the process that takes place.
I would expect and hope that there would be a measure of cooperation taking place. Down the road, if we or the municipalities find that there are changes that need to be made, I'm not averse to making them.
G. Abbott: I was going to let the minister have the last word, and what I have to say is not controversial. It's just that I suspect what will be necessary is some definition about local minor things versus larger provincial-scale things, because that won't be clear, and as there always is in these situations, there will always be a rather fuzzy area about where the jurisdiction of the municipality begins and ends and where the jurisdiction of the province begins and ends. Based on experience, I'm sure the minister will be able to deal with that successfully -- hopefully.
J. van Dongen: I'm very interested in the discussion on this section. I'm certainly not familiar with the act that's being amended here, the local government statutes act. I think I understand the intent of what the minister is trying to do, and I guess in a way I support it, subject to the comments that the member for Shuswap made about a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities.
I think there are situations where it is possible to rely on and utilize local government staff who are on the ground and are out and about. They may see things that need attention, and I think it's an area we can probably explore and work with in future. I guess I'm also concerned about how open-ended this authority is, and it strikes me that it's permissive. It allows local governments to act in certain circumstances, but it strikes me as pretty discretionary.
I'd like to ask the minister about subsection (a.1), I guess it is, where it talks about the authority to impose penalties for
[ Page 5921 ]
contravention of a prohibition under paragraph (a). I'm wondering if the minister could tell if there is some kind of schedule or code with respect to those penalties. Is the discretion as to what the penalty may be completely up to local government?
Hon. M. Farnworth: There's no set schedule in the legislation. It would be up to the municipalities, on a standard schedule that they have in their municipalities regarding bylaw offences.
J. van Dongen: So the expectation is that they would follow that schedule, and the penalties would be comparable to similar offences that could take place under existing bylaws they're enforcing. Also, from my perspective as Agriculture critic, could the minister confirm if this section applies to all lands within the responsibility of a local government?
Hon. M. Farnworth: That is correct.
J. van Dongen: I have just one last question to the minister on this section. Where someone could possibly feel that they've been aggrieved by the use of power under this section, would their only course of action or appeal be to the local council, or is there some form of appeal mechanism in the act right now with respect to bylaw offences?
Hon. M. Farnworth: The standard procedure would be in the regular way you would fight a ticket you got that you felt was unjust -- either through a bylaw court, Provincial Court or judicial recourse.
Sections 4 to 9 inclusive approved.
On section 10.
G. Abbott: I want to look briefly at this section. Could the minister explain to me, initially, how this provision is different than the authority that I understand municipalities currently enjoy under the Municipal Act?
Hon. M. Farnworth: Currently you can build on your property at the time your property is constructed. Let's say you cover 50 percent, and that's fine -- okay? What you have to do is maintain the ongoing integrity of that disposal, so that a year down the road, you can't go and pave, say, 100 percent of the property.
G. Abbott: I guess that's the source of my confusion. From municipal days, I recall legal action on the part of a local government against a landowner who had decided to cement in a significant portion of his land area. Am I to presume that the action was a part of his violation of a building permit or something like that -- because the statutory authority does not exist at this point, apart from this bill?
Hon. M. Farnworth: That's correct.
Section 10 approved.
On section 11.
G. Abbott: Just like on section 10, my question is along the "why" line, and I would like some clarification. On the explanatory side of the bill, it says section 11 allows local governments to require landscaping for environmental purposes. I would like some clarification of what that means and of how it might differ from the ability of municipalities currently to require landscaping under development permits or zoning requirements.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Previous to this act, basically the authority was to deal with masking landscapings -- between a residential and a commercial development, for example, leaving a strip and planting in a few cedar trees or what have you. This deals more with allowing the ability to designate specific types of environmental plantings and environmental riparian landscapes, ensuring that you have the appropriate mix of vegetation and the appropriate type of plants -- that sort of thing.
G. Abbott: Again, I try to throw this into a real-life kind of situation. Mr. Brown decides that he wants to put in a motel, appropriately set back from the lake or the river. Under the provisions of this, the council can say: "Fine, you can do that -- provided that you put in 30 metres of trees to ensure that there's not unnecessary wear and tear on the riparian area." Is that correct?
Hon. M. Farnworth: That is correct, hon. member.
Sections 11 to 20 inclusive approved.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Hon. Chair, I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; G. Brewin in the chair.
Bill 26, Local Government Statutes Amendment Act, 1997, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I call committee on Bill 14.
ENVIRONMENT, LANDS AND PARKS
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 1997
On section 1.
[4:15]Hon. C. McGregor: I move the amendment to section 1 standing in my name in Orders of the Day.
[SECTION 1, in the proposed section 6(2) of the Commercial River Rafting Act, by deleting "Section 38" and substituting "Section 40".]Amendment approved.
Section 1 as amended approved.
On section 2.
C. Clark: As we consider this bill, I'll preface my comments by saying that I certainly support the intent of this bill,
[ Page 5922 ]
which would be to streamline the appeals process. Anything that can reduce the time it takes for an appeal to be worked through the process, and as a result, add to the certainty for the appellants in that process, is something that we certainly support. I'll preface it with those comments, but I do have some questions that I know the minister would like to take the opportunity to clarify for us as we get into the body of this bill.
My first question relates to the ability of the board to require the deposit of an amount of money which it considers sufficient to cover all or part of the anticipated costs. I note that that section doesn't include a requirement that those costs be fair and reasonable, nor does it include any limits on how the board might interpret that. I wonder if the minister can tell us why that wasn't included, and maybe just respond to my comments. Perhaps they have given it some thought.
Hon. C. McGregor: The principles of natural law are at play, and we did in fact consider what the member said in terms of "fair and reasonable," because all of us would agree that's an appropriate thing for members of the board to use. If they were not fair and reasonable, then they could be subject to judicial review.
C. Clark: Of course, it's essential that in the process of streamlining the way the appeal system works, we don't scare away or otherwise deter individuals who might not have access to the kinds of resources as individuals that, say, a large corporation or a large interest group might. The minister told me that she has considered
Hon. C. McGregor: Those principles are enshrined in the law of our province and indeed, of the nation, I would suggest. I take what the member says seriously in terms of not requiring someone who might be in financial need to pay up-front costs; but the legislation makes it clear that it is a discretionary power. It says "may"; it does not say "must." So obviously, those kinds of financial considerations can be taken into account by the board.
C. Clark: Just for the purposes of future reference, there are no explicit hardship provisions in the act for this particular section. I wonder if the minister could just clarify for us that part of the discretion of the board includes allowing for specific hardship cases, in cases where people might not have the resources and might otherwise be deterred from launching an appeal that might otherwise be quite worthy.
Hon. C. McGregor: It is the duty of members of the board to give due and proper consideration to any submission that's made to them, and they would, then, have to consider what was laid before them in terms of any particular hardship, including the financial impacts on the individual who might be making an appeal.
J. van Dongen: Just to follow up with the minister on this section
Hon. C. McGregor: This is a principle that's widely held in other administrative tribunals. It is also consistent with other legislation within our ministry, including the Pesticide Control Act and the Water Act. The Water Act has been in place since 1924, and in that time, that provision has been used only once. However, it is -- as I said earlier -- a principle that's consistent with other legislation, and it also can act as a deterrent to frivolous appeals.
J. van Dongen: Well, that was really my next question. I don't think we want to belabour this section, but it is a very onerous section, and if it was only used once in that many years, then maybe it doesn't need to be here. But does the board have the ability to reject an application at the front end on the basis of it being a frivolous application? I know that in subsequent sections there is the ability to award costs for a frivolous hearing, but does the board have the authority to reject a frivolous application at the start of it?
Hon. C. McGregor: No.
J. van Dongen: So if there was a frivolous application, then subsection (14.1) would be one way that the board could deal with it -- and that's what you're saying?
Hon. C. McGregor: Yes, I confirm the member's understanding.
C. Clark: My colleague referred to the lack of a leave test in this legislation. And I note that in other jurisdictions with similar legislation, there is explicit authority given to the board to strain out frivolous applications at the very beginning of the process, before anybody has to hire a lawyer or anybody has to start calling around for outside experts and incurring a lot of cost. That leave test
"Leave to appeal a decision shall not be granted unless it appears to the appellate body that, (a) there is good reason to believe that no reasonable person, having regard to the relevant law and to any government policies developed to guide decisions of that kind, could have made the decision; and (b) the decision in respect of which an appeal is sought could result in significant harm to the environment."There is one example of a leave test where it appears that the government has attempted to protect both sides of the debate, so that appeals don't go forward that might have the effect of watering down or harming the government's ability to protect environmental standards significantly while, on the other hand, ensuring that individuals aren't unduly harassed by vexatious and frivolous appeals. I wonder why the minister has expressly decided -- if she has -- not to include a leave test. Would she perhaps consider including such a test at this point?
Hon. C. McGregor: Actually, the member brings up a very good point. I recall in her opening remarks on this legislation her concern that people not be shut out of the appeal process. That's exactly what this
The member opposite can, I'm sure, imagine what would happen in the eventuality of an individual making an appeal and having it ruled frivolous or vexatious when they view it to be something much more serious than that. So in an effort
[ Page 5923 ]
to achieve balance and fairness and, frankly, openness, I think what we've put in place instead is what the EAB calls a sort of premediation, prehearing process, where they have the appellant talk with them about the nature of their appeal and resolve it in that manner first, as an alternative. Then it moves into an appeal -- gives them a right to an appeal -- but, as a safeguard, puts in place a provision which says: "In the eventuality that after we've heard all the basis on which you wish to appeal this matter, we view it to be frivolous or vexatious, then you can be open for charges for the cost." So that's the way we've tried to achieve the balance and fairness that I know the member would also support.
C. Clark: Is the requirement for the mediation process going to be included in the regulations?
Hon. C. McGregor: Yes, it is a practice within the EAB at this time. There's also an ability for the appellant to request a prehearing conference -- but it will not be part of the regulation.
C. Clark: Can the minister tell us why her ministry decided not to include that in this legislation so that it would be explicit? I understand that it's the practice and not already a regulation and that it's not anticipated that it will be included in a regulation. Is there a particular reason that it hasn't been made more explicit?
Hon. C. McGregor: Again, it's a mechanism designed to not have the appeal process bog down or slow down. If we put in a regulation that required a premediation or prehearing process when that indeed would not be productive -- the appellant and the licensee were clearly at loggerheads and couldn't reach any sort of an agreement -- then it would be a waste of time to require that.
[4:30]C. Clark: I may not have made myself clear. I wasn't suggesting that, in any way, the ministry should have a definite requirement that everybody go through a mediation process. The legislation would be, in many respects, rather pointless, because we wouldn't really be streamlining the appeals process. But the minister did mention -- and I was curious about her comments -- that the practice of the board is that the mediation process might or can be available at the request of one or other of the parties. It's a voluntary process, I understand. I wonder why that particular practice, the one that currently exists, hasn't been codified and made more explicit.
Hon. C. McGregor: I believe I've answered the member's question, but I'll try again. What we've done, through policy and practice, is try to resolve the matter outside of the appeal mechanism that's described in the act. There's not a requirement for it to be in the act for us to engage, as policy, in trying to resolve the matter before it goes to appeal. Again, I would point out that we don't want an automatic mediation provision; we want to give the Environmental Appeal Board the opportunity and the flexibility to resolve disputes prior to coming to the formal appeal mechanism.
C. Clark: I'll just clarify that I was not suggesting, nor have I suggested at all in this debate, that there should be an automatic requirement for mediation in the legislation. I haven't said that, and I'm not saying it now. I want to just be very clear about that in the course of this debate. I'm simply exploring this possibility, given that it's already policy. I was curious about the minister's reasoning for not including it in the legislation. If she's chosen not to do that, we'll certainly see how it works out in practice, when and if the legislation comes into force.
This section also says: "An order
Hon. C. McGregor: No. It does mean that if the board has taken a bond in, then they can order a disposition towards the costs that might have been awarded.
C. Clark: On the same section, I have some questions regarding the use of technical experts on the board. I know this is a question that's been raised with the minister by interested parties in the past. I want to explore it in this committee process so that it's on the record.
There is a concern that the board is not composed of people who have technical expertise in the areas where they're deciding an appeal. We can see in the newspapers these days the result of one such process, where there weren't necessarily any experts on the board and the confusion that resulted from the failure to consult technical experts in that case.
I know that the board has the ability to include a technical expert as a member of the board and replace a member of the board with someone with that expertise. Can the minister just tell us if that power has ever been used and how often it's been used?
Hon. C. McGregor: Hon. Chair, I seek your direction. I don't believe the member's question has anything to do with section 2.
C. Clark: Hon. Chair, I'll seek your direction or the minister's direction on where we might be able to deal with that issue in the course of committee deliberations on this bill.
Hon. C. McGregor: I'd certainly offer a meeting with the member if she wants to discuss the makeup of the Environmental Appeal Board.
C. Clark: The reason I am asking this question is obviously because, in streamlining the board, there will no longer be the process of speaking to the ministry first and dealing
There's a great deal of technical expertise within the ministry, and I imagine that frequently people who go through the appeals process and go to the ministry first are able to resolve some of those technical issues with the ministry before they ever get to the Environmental Appeal Board. In the streamlining of the board, what may happen is that if people don't go to the ministry first, they may not have the benefit of that technical expertise. So I'd suggest that as a result, it may be even more important that there be an avenue through which people can access that expertise at the board level once they get there, because they may be skipping the first part of this process, which is what the bill is intended to do and is certainly something we support. There have been
[ Page 5924 ]
occasions in the past where the board has probably suffered because of a lack of technical expertise, and the parties who have appeared before the board have suffered for it.
I would ask the minister if indeed
Hon. C. McGregor: The ministry will still
C. Clark: I appreciate that comment from the minister. My first point would be just to repeat what the minister told us earlier, which is that the premediation process is a voluntary process that the parties may or may not choose to enter into. That, of course, is the point of this bill. In cases where people don't enter into that premediation process, they will not have the benefit of that technical expertise at the board level or before, because they're not going to that earlier stage.
I note and appreciate the minister's comment about parties being able to bring in outside experts, but of course that is an option that will only be available to people or to parties that have the resources to be able to perhaps fly those experts in, maybe put them up in accommodations or a whole myriad of things. If we're talking about an individual citizen who has a legitimate appeal that deserves to be heard but requires some technical expertise to be able to ensure that the appeal is heard in a fair and knowledgable manner, they may not be able to have access to that expertise. I wonder if the minister could respond to my comments.
Hon. C. McGregor: As I indicated to the member in my earlier answer, members who are engaged in an appeal can invite anyone to attend as an expert witness. They can invite someone from our ministry or some other person of their choosing that can support their opinion in a technical way. The board is also in a position where they can ask for technical expertise if they believe they do not have the ability to adjudicate the process fairly or knowledgably.
I just point out to the member that it's been my experience that people who are generally not prepared to engage in a mediation process, in a conflict where the matter is at issue, are not likely to want to engage in a premediation process again through another agency. We are trying through this act to actually streamline the appeal process, not to create new levels and new automatic opportunities for people to meet again and meet again. That's been one of the concerns that's been raised by staff, in terms of how the previous appeal process has been handled. It has been very lengthy, and it has taken too long to have the appeal finally heard.
Again I go back to what we talked about earlier. We're trying to achieve a balance here. We're giving people access to a fair and judicious process. But on the other hand, we want it to be done in a timely way.
C. Clark: I'll preface my comments again with the statement that I certainly agree that we should streamline the process and that I don't believe we should have an automatic premediation process. Otherwise, there is no point in this bill. I support the purposes of this bill. So I'll keep making that point in response to everything the minister says, because I think I'll have to, to ensure that my comments aren't misinterpreted.
My comments, though -- and I hope the minister takes them to be constructive -- are with respect to technical expertise on the board. This is particularly true for a board of this type, if we are talking about the complicated matters that might flow from a case where someone is alleging a company is polluting. Both that company and the individual would benefit from technical expertise being on the board. Those are very complicated scientific matters. I can't imagine how it would do anything but improve the board. Without the initial process of discussion with the ministry being required anymore, I think it's essential that the ministry guarantee that there be technical expertise available on the board.
It is my understanding that while the ministry does have that power, they have never, ever used it. They've never used it to replace someone on the board with someone who has technical expertise, even though I know some very complicated cases have gone before the board. In some cases, those decisions have later had to be overruled by cabinet. It leads to a very complicated and difficult process. So I'll offer those comments again to the minister. I know she is undertaking some discussion with her officials, so I'd maybe ask her to respond.
Hon. C. McGregor: The deputy minister who is charged with the responsibility of managing the Environmental Assessment Board takes her responsibility very seriously. When she puts together panels to hear an appeal, she makes sure that each one of those panels reflects the technical expertise that's necessary to be able to deal judiciously and fairly with the matter before them.
In addition to that, I've indicated to the member, I think at least twice, that the members may call witnesses of a technical nature, so that they can hear the specific information if they are not aware of the technicalities of the issue before them. In fact, it is incumbent upon the members to do so, because if they were not to, they are subject to judicial review by the courts.
[4:45]C. Clark: I'll leave my comments on this section at that. I really just want to register my concerns and the concerns of many people who've contacted me, particularly from industry, about this bill and about the fact that, in the past
To simply say that parties to the board can go out, fly in their own expert witnesses and put them up for the night at a hotel, if they need to, really doesn't address the concern that I've raised very fully. It's expensive. It's not necessarily, you know, the most efficient way for people to be spending money. That money may not be available to some of the people who go before the board. I know the minister will be
[ Page 5925 ]
aware that there are many cases of individual citizens who go before the board who do not have a great deal of resources available to them.
I'll leave my comments about this at that, but I certainly want to register those concerns. Perhaps the minister will at some time see fit to take them into account and perhaps to act on some of these concerns, which aren't just my concerns. They're the concerns of many people out there who appear before the board, some of them on a regular basis. Rather than just letting the issue sit and slide by, I hope the minister will eventually deal with some of these concerns that have been brought to her. My colleagues may have a few comments to offer, as well.
Sections 2 to 4 inclusive approved.
On section 5.
J. Wilson: I see in here that the definition of pesticide has been broadened to include plant growth regulators, plant defoliators or dessicants -- herbicides, I believe. Why would herbicides be included in a definition of pesticide?
Hon. C. McGregor: The definition of pesticide as it existed prior to this amendment is exactly as is printed. The only addition has been the addition of the word "micro-organism."
J. Wilson: I see. Then, since the definition hasn't changed, could the minister explain to me why herbicides are included as a pesticide?
Hon. C. McGregor: Because weeds are pests.
J. Wilson: Could the minister name a few pesty weeds?
Hon. C. McGregor: Actually, the member opposite, during the estimates, brought to our attention the orange hawk-weed, which is an example of a noxious weed.
J. Wilson: It's somewhat of a relief to find out that we can consider a weed or plant a pest. Maybe there will be a way of getting around this problem that we encounter with the lack of funding to control some of the pests out there. I believe that that is all I have on that section.
Restrictive use goes into integrated pest management, which is part of section 5. I believe it was indicated earlier that integrated pest management plans were designed to be put in a place not on private land but on public land. Is this the case?
Hon. C. McGregor: This will apply on public land or on private land that's used for forestry, transportation or public utility purposes, or in the case of commercial transmission of electricity, natural gas, soil or water for the public or a corporation.
J. Wilson: Then the target for this integrated pest management planning is some of our public works like Hydro, gas pipelines, and other companies out there that are working on Crown land. Is this correct?
Hon. C. McGregor: Yes, and forest companies as well.
J. Wilson: Does the Ministry of Environment have any program where they would have a pest management plan brought in to address some of these situations?
Hon. C. McGregor: The integrated pest management plan is a process which is outlined under paragraph (c). There are a number of techniques, and combinations of techniques, that are listed there. The integrated pest management process will have the applicants going through those to determine what is the best way to achieve their goals in pest management.
J. Wilson: I think what I am looking for is this: if a forest company has to file a pest management plan, does this include a ministry as well -- say the Ministry of Forests? If they have some type of program or work out there as part of the small business forest enterprise program -- which could happen, because maybe there needs to be some spraying done or something that is the responsibility of the ministry -- will they be required to submit a plan like this?
Hon. C. McGregor: Yes. It will apply to ministries that are engaged in pest management, including the Ministry of Forests or the Ministry of Transportation and Highways. We have done consultation with those ministries, and they're supportive of this.
J. Wilson: Since we have two ministers involved here, does the Minister of Environment have any agenda to develop pest management plans to control some of the pests they encounter?
Hon. C. McGregor: The Ministry of Environment is not actively engaged in any pest management.
G. Abbott: I'm rising to discuss the concerns I have with the definition of integrated pest management contained in section 5. I outlined my concerns with respect to this in second reading debate, and perhaps the minister has had an opportunity to think about those. The problem I have, initially at least, is with the definition of integrated pest management, which means "a decision making process that uses a combination of techniques to suppress pests and that must include but is not limited to the following elements
I think it would be more appropriate to use the term "may." With integrated pest management, some have argued -- including some personnel from the Ministry of Agriculture -- that the farmer faces a variety of situations, a variety of pests and a variety of climatic conditions, and it may not be appropriate in every instance to have a requirement to deal with all these elements. I think the purposes -- perhaps they're laudable purposes -- of the Ministry of Environment could be met here by using the term "may." That may at the same time help ease what I think will be quite an onerous and weighty paper requirement associated with all this. I'd like the minister's comments on that.
Hon. C. McGregor: I'm sure the member has just forgotten that we had this discussion earlier. It isn't going to apply to farmers. It is going to apply on public lands, as I pointed out, and then those other commercial purposes: Ministry of Forests, Ministry of Transportation, pipeline rights-of-way and that kind of thing. It isn't being applied to individual farmers.
I would also point to the meaning of integrated pest management in the act. It is making reference to a decision-making process. It is the process of thinking through the pest management plan, which must include consideration of all
[ Page 5926 ]
these items, so there must be due consideration given to each of the points there. It doesn't mean that the plan will have to contain provisions that cover each.
G. Abbott: I was in fact reasonably alert when the minister announced the areas or sectors that would be subject to this, but what I have in mind here -- and perhaps the minister can advise me if this is not the case -- are the farmers who are operating whatever kind of agricultural operations on leased lands from the provincial government, for example. Those are the farmers I have in mind. Am I to understand that they are exempt from this as well?
Hon. C. McGregor: Those lands are specifically excluded.
G. Abbott: Farmers will not be affected by this -- period -- whether they are on private land or publicly leased land from the provincial government.
Hon. C. McGregor: That is correct.
J. Wilson: Once we put this in place -- and I don't see any wording in here that says agricultural operations are exempt -- is there anything to prevent this thing from carrying on and applying to private property at any point in the future, should the minister decide that it would be to someone's benefit to do that?
Hon. C. McGregor: There is an amendment to this bill under my name on the order paper, section 29.1, which will make clear the exemption.
[5:00]Sections 5 to 7 inclusive approved.
On section 8.
G. Abbott: Section 8, on first reading, appears to be quite a strong response to a contravention of the requirements. Could the minister explain the scope of the provincial response to a contravention here -- just explain a little more fully what's involved in section 8?
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
Hon. C. McGregor: It's the same powers that existed prior to this amendment. The only difference is that we've added in the wording "or approved pest management plan."
Sections 8 and 9 approved.
On section 10.
J. van Dongen: Just a question to the minister for clarification for me. If you look at section 10, section 13(2), it appears there's fairly open-ended power to the administrator. I want to ask: with the addition of the option, I guess, for people in a position to file pest management plans, are the provisions with respect to the administrator's authority here the same under the amended legislation as under the previous legislation?
I'm thinking of situations where the administrator revokes a licence or a permit or whatever, possibly for a good and valid reason. But in a situation where there is a problem that needs to be attended to, is this legislation any different? Is there any sort of direction other than the professional goodwill of the administrator to work with the permit holder, to deal with whatever problem they're facing at that time?
Hon. C. McGregor: As in the previous section, there are no changes in the act as it exists, other than to add in the words "or pest management plans."
Sections 10 to 21 inclusive approved.
The Chair: Shall sections 22 through 25 pass?
Hon. member, on which section?
J. van Dongen: Well, I'm not sure, hon. Chair. You're moving so quickly now that I'm losing track, but I want to raise a question that applies to a number of these amendments. There may not be a place where it applies directly. For example, under section 20 it may apply, particularly when we're looking at page 11, at sections 44 and 45 of the legislation. I'm concerned, and certainly in a lot of the appeal situations that I've looked at
I'm concerned that in some of the legislation I've seen there aren't clear instructions or policies for decision-makers as to the process of notifying the applicant of the decision and at the same time clearly notifying the applicant about their right of appeal. I don't think it is dealt with directly anywhere in this act, other than possibly under the powers in a previous section.
I wonder if the minister could comment, from her experience and her staff's experience with these appeal processes. With a lot of the cases I've been involved in, people are not clear, first of all, what the decision was that was made. I think there needs to be a concise format established by regulation or by policy, so that decision-makers set out clearly what the decision is, the rationale for the decision, and then set out clearly again by policy -- in that same letter -- what that person's right of appeal is. I'm wondering if the minister could comment on that.
Hon. C. McGregor: Well, I certainly take the member's concern seriously. What we are doing in this part of the act is trying to ensure that the notification provisions are consistent with other notification provisions in other acts, although I understand what the member is saying. We are taking actions to try and make sure that people are aware of what their rights are to appeal. There will be appropriate time lines. One of the things we're doing is giving out a pamphlet on the EAB, when people are talking about the potential of an appeal, so that they understand what their rights are and what the time limitations are.
I can give the member an example of something that happened in my own constituency, where someone appealed a pesticide application permit of the local regional district and went past the 30 days. The Environmental Appeal Board did agree to accept the appeal and consider the reasons why it had not made the 30-day time limit. In the case that I'm aware of, they made a decision not to hear the appeal because they believed the appellant had adequate information to understand that he had the 30 days in which to register his appeal. Based on that decision -- having read the correspondence -- I
[ Page 5927 ]
would assume the Environmental Appeal Board would also consider appeals that might come somewhat after the 30 days, considering the particular circumstance of the case.
J. van Dongen: I appreciate that the minister is obviously aware of the concern, even from her own experience, and I think it's good to have the pamphlet. But also, as I say, in the letter that sets out the decision, I think it's good to clearly set out the appeal. I thank the minister for her comments.
On section 22.
Hon. C. McGregor: I move the amendment standing in my name on the order paper.
[SECTION 22(b), by adding "in subsection (3)" before "by adding the following paragraph:".]Amendment approved.
Section 22 as amended approved.
Sections 23 to 29 inclusive approved.
Hon. C. McGregor: I move the amendment standing in my name in Orders of the Day.
[SECTION 29.1, by adding the following section:
Consequential AmendmentAmendment approved.
29.1 Section 44 of the Pesticide Control Act Regulation, B.C. Reg. 319/81, is amended
(a) in subsection (1)(a)(i) and (ii) by striking out "licences and permits" and substituting "licences, permits and pest management plans",
(b) in subsection (1)(b) by striking out "permit requirements" and substituting "permit and pest management plan requirements", and
(c) in subsections (3) and (4) by striking out "certification, licensing and permit requirements" and substituting "certification, licensing, permit and pest management plan requirements".]
Section 30 approved.
Hon. C. McGregor: Hon. Chair, I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendments.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Bill 14, Environment, Lands and Parks Statutes Amendment Act, 1997, reported complete with amendments.
The Speaker: When shall the bill be read a third time?
Hon. C. McGregor: With leave of the House now.
Bill 14, Environment, Lands and Parks Statutes Amendment Act, 1997, read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I call second reading on Bill 18.
AMENDMENT ACT, 1997
Hon. A. Petter: I move that the bill now be read a second time.
This bill sets out a number of amendments to the following public sector pension statutes: the Pension (College) Act, the Pension (Municipal) Act, the Pension (Public Service) Act and the Pension (Teachers) Act. These pension plans represent an important part of the public sector compensation arrangements with employees. The plans are used by more than 700 public sector employers in British Columbia and cover 285,000 plan members, of whom 60,000 are pensioners. The plans are well funded and have invested assets in excess of $28 billion.
It is important to note that these amendments have been reviewed and recommended by the respective pension boards to implement the pension portions of these important government structuring initiatives. The boards have equal representation from government as plan sponsor and employees as plan members, and are independently chaired by the superannuation commissioner.
The first purpose of this bill is to provide public sector employers affected by amalgamation, restructuring and downsizing initiatives with an opportunity to use pension-based early retirement options to ensure orderly and financially sound transition. One of the early retirement initiatives is to provide public sector employers with the ability to create a special retirement incentive plan. This plan allows a public sector employer to apply to the superannuation commissioner to have the early retirement reduction percentage waived or altered for a specified period for a specified class of employees. These rule changes comply with the requirements for registered pension plans established under the federal Income Tax Act. They require that the employer fund the increase in the pension benefit provided under the early retirement initiatives by making a direct contribution to the pension fund.
[5:15]A second component of the pension-based early retirement initiatives is a phased early retirement program in the college pension plan. This initiative, which is similar to one already in place in the teachers pension plan, will permit a college instructor to gradually phase into retirement by working part-time and being on pension part-time. This initiative has no cost to the plan, since the final retirement pension is actuarially reduced by the value of the pension paid during the part-time period. This change implements one of the pension options agreed upon by the Post-Secondary Employers Association and the joint union caucus on behalf of trade unions in the multi-institutional framework agreement of May 15, 1996.
The third component is an opportunity in the municipal pension plan for an employee to pay fully for a period of eligible past service. This change was requested by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities in order to provide their employer members with more flexibility in the options provided to a terminating employee. In the past, an employer was required to pay at least one-half of the cost of this type of service purchase. Again, this initiative has no cost to the plan, as the purchase of service cost will continue to be calculated on an actuarial basis. It will also apply to all employers who participate in the pension plan.
[ Page 5928 ]
The second purpose of this bill is more specific, and deals with the pension aspects of the health regionalization initiative. It includes the newly established regional health boards and community health councils as employers under the Pension (Municipal) Act and provides transitional arrangements to those employees being transferred from the Ministry of Health to a board or council.
This is achieved by, first, establishing a new regional health board or community health council as an employer under the Pension (Public Service) Act and the Pension (Municipal) Act; second, providing Ministry of Health employees who are being transferred to employment with the regional health board or community health council with an opportunity to remain plan members and contribute to the public service plan if they wish; and third, providing the new regional health board or community health council with an opportunity to delay membership in the municipal pension plan for any new employee transferred from an employer which does not participate in the municipal pension plan.
The third purpose of this bill is to implement changes needed to meet federal government requirements for the registration of pension plans under the federal Income Tax Act. The major change included in this part of the legislation is to bring the pension portability provisions in line with the current federal Income Tax Act.
Currently, the pension portability arrangements provide that someone who is a member in more than one of the public sector pension plans can elect at retirement to have their service combined for a determination of pension eligibility and application of the rules for unreduced early retirement. This amendment, following the federal requirements, provides that an individual in this situation must either choose a pension calculated on the rules of the specific plan or transfer the funds to the pension plan in which the pension is currently participating.
The fourth purpose of the bill is to make a number of housekeeping changes, including the addition of a few new employers. The inclusion of the new employers in the pension plan is consistent with past practice and will provide employees of these organizations with an opportunity to participate in a pension plan. The remaining housekeeping amendments correct minor drafting errors which occurred in the 1993 legislative amendments, which brought the public sector pension plans into compliance with the province's Pension Benefits Standards Act.
F. Gingell: I hope that the people who are watching this debate won't be expecting some fireworks, as so often happens between the government and the opposition, because I basically support creating rules and bringing in the regional health boards, the community health councils and the community health services as employers. I support grandfathering the health employees who are being moved from organization to organization. This government never gets anything right, Mr. Speaker, as you know, and they have to keep organizing, changing, reorganizing and so on. Poor provincial bureaucrats never know from one week to the next who they're working for. But at least they have the assurance that there are grandfathering rights being brought in within this act, so they will not be disadvantaged.
I also support the concept of bringing in flexible retirement practices, so that teachers can move from full employment to part-time, continuing their income partly from payment for teaching and partly out of their pension plans.
As the minister said when he spoke about the opportunity for certain employers that are covered under these provisions and the request from the UBCM to allow employers to pay the full cost of the current value of benefits into the plan for periods not worked for the employer
Of course, I support amendments to the act that are necessary to bring provincial legislation into compliance with the federal Income Tax Act, so that people aren't put at a disadvantage income tax-wise. I accept the inclusion into the plan of employees of the B.C. Principals and Vice-Principals Association. So we in the official opposition will not be opposing this bill, and we look forward to its early passage.
Hon. A. Petter: I appreciate the member's comments and his general support for the direction of the bill. With that, I move second reading.
Bill 18, Pension Statutes Amendment Act, 1997, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
AMENDMENT ACT, 1997
Sections 1 to 63 inclusive approved.
Hon. A. Petter: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Bill 18, Pension Statutes Amendment Act, 1997, reported complete without amendment.
The Speaker: When shall the bill be read a third time?
Hon. A. Petter: With leave of the House now, hon. Speaker.
Bill 18, Pension Statutes Amendment Act, 1997, read a third time and passed.
[ Page 5929 ]
Hon. A. Petter: Hon. Speaker, I call second reading of Bill 29.
PARK AMENDMENT ACT, 1997
Hon. C. McGregor: Hon. Speaker, I move that the bill now be read a second time. It is my honour and pleasure to rise to speak on the principles of this bill. Throughout this government's administration, we have taken major steps to protect some of the most beautiful and precious wilderness areas in our province. This historic progress has made British Columbia a world leader in environmental protection and conservation. This bill is an important stride towards the government's goal of protecting 12 percent of B.C. by the end of the century and the further enhancement of the most outstanding provincial park system in Canada.
The first aim of this bill is to legislate increased protected-areas designations and secure representation of ecologically diverse areas across British Columbia. This bill will permanently protect more than 86,000 hectares of new park land and establish 15 new parks for all British Columbians to enjoy. Three of these new parks -- Bishop River, Upper Lillooet and Mehatl Creek -- have all been preserved under the lower mainland protected-area strategy announced in October 1996. Together these large new parks total over 60,000 hectares of pristine wilderness. They offer outstanding back-country recreational opportunities and preserve a diversity of natural features, including old-growth forest and habitats for spotted owls and grizzly bears. Smaller new parks are also established at Callaghan Lake between Squamish and Whistler, at the Homathko estuary at the head of Bute Inlet, at Rendezvous Island northeast of Campbell River and at the south end Texada Island.
This bill includes major additions to existing parks as a result of the lower mainland protected-areas strategy. Over 6,100 hectares near Sockeye Creek are added to Birkenhead Lake Park east of Pemberton. More than 9,100 hectares are added to Chilliwack Lake Park. There are also additions to the Golden Ears, Desolation Sound Marine and Sargeant Bay parks.
This bill establishes several new parks preserved as a result of the land and resource management plans. Under the Kispiox LRMP, we have two new parks: Bulkley Junction and Kitwanga Mountain. And under the Kamloops LRMP, this bill establishes a further five small special-feature parks: the Deadman Hoodoos, Epsom, Greenstone Mountain, Pritchard and the Walhachin Oxbows. The bill has also established as a park the internationally known granite monolith, the Stawamus Chief, just south of Squamish. This magnificent landmark was protected under the Nature Legacy of British Columbia after extensive consultation with the community, local government, mountaineering groups and first nations.
[5:30]In addition, we are providing permanent legislative protection to more than 70 parks and protected areas already established under order-in-council. They include areas protected in 1996 as a result of the Vancouver Island and Kamloops LRMP processes: Dionisio Point on Galiano Island, and Okanagan Mountain -- two new parks which now have management plans in place following public consultation; Fintry Park on Okanagan Lake, purchased in 1995 under the Nature Legacy of B.C. -- it offers outstanding family-oriented camping, picnicking, boating, swimming and hiking opportunities; Skagit Valley, a major new park with spectacular wilderness values and superb recreational opportunities; and finally, Stein Valley, originally announced as a part of the Nature Legacy of B.C. and in many ways the jewel in the crown.
Tied to the establishment of these new parks are amendments to the Park Act to honour commitments made in the strategic land use planning processes to allow some existing uses to continue in these new protected areas.
Hon. Speaker, it is the second aim of the bill to expand some existing parks and to make corrections to schedules C and D of the Park Act. Besides the additions to Birkenhead Lake, Golden Ears, and Desolation Sound Marine Park that I've already mentioned, we are also adding recently acquired lands to four parks in schedule D, as follows: first, 103 hectares of one of B.C.'s most important grizzly bear habitats are being added to Tweedsmuir Park near Bella Coola; secondly, Flora Islet, purchased through the joint federal-provincial Pacific Marine Heritage Legacy initiative, is being added to Helliwell Park; thirdly, small additions are being made to both Cape Scott and Gowlland Tod parks.
In addition, we have incorporated corrections to the legal descriptions and area figures of some parks in schedule D. The changes to the legal descriptions are the result of improved surveys and checking of the parks since they were established.
Similarly, through improved digital mapping technology, we have discovered and corrected a number of area figures given in Park Act legal descriptions which are inaccurate and do not match the more accurate measures that are now being used by the land use coordination office and which are used in the land use planning processes to calculate progress toward the 12 percent goal. The variations in the Park Act are largely the result of older, inaccurate, manual calculation methods.
In summary, this legislation will put into statute the boundaries of 84 parks, ensuring that only the Legislature can change the boundaries of these protected areas. Any future changes to these park boundaries will have to be done by statutory amendment through the same democratic process by which this assembly establishes these parks. This ensures that these protected areas cannot be reduced through casual administrative decisions in the future. There is no higher form of environmental protection anywhere in the world, and we certainly have every right to take pride in what this bill has achieved.
Through this bill, our province is once again demonstrating its international leadership in the establishment of protected areas. More than 9.4 percent of our land is now protected. The creation of these parks is crucial to our goal as we work toward achieving our 12 percent target. In doing so, we are promoting sustainability in our economy and other benefits that touch on the lives of all British Columbians. The sheer beauty and majesty of these protected areas encourages people from all walks of life to devote more time to healthy recreation. They also benefit small businesses and encourage new investment in tourism and recreation, often in remote rural areas where it's needed the most.
British Columbia's unique environment is part of the reason why we are a top destination for businesses and tourists alike. We all benefit from the government's commitment to environmental protection, and this government intends to keep it that way.
Members should take the time to visit these protected areas to see for themselves the unique gifts this government is
[ Page 5930 ]
preserving for generations to come. You need to see the diversity of the natural features and the animal and plant life to appreciate for yourself the unique treasure that we own here in the province.
In conclusion, this bill is a further major milestone in the preservation of the beautiful and bountiful natural heritage of British Columbia. It is a great pleasure for me to move second reading.
The Speaker: I understand there is some agreement, and in that case, I need a motion.
B. Penner: Noting the hour, I move that the House rise, report progress and adjourn.
The Speaker: The only motion required, hon. member, is adjournment of debate, but the motion is in order, so I will take the motion.
The Speaker: The member for Abbotsford on
J. van Dongen: I wonder if I could get some clarification. Will there be an opportunity later to speak on this bill?
The Speaker: Yes, indeed. I'm not sure when the bill will be called again, but certainly the debate on the measure before us will continue -- indeed, must continue. Does that clarify it for you?
J. van Dongen: Okay.
The Speaker: The question, then, is adjournment of the debate -- unless there is a point of order, minister. The motion, then, is adjournment of debate. I'm sorry for the confusion.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I move that the House at its rising stand recessed until 6:35 p.m., and thereafter sit until adjournment.
The Speaker: Do we still have Committee A in progress?
The Speaker: For future reference, members, I would like to know in advance; but in any event, we will wait until we get a report from Committee A.
Committee of Supply A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Things are moving fast around this place. I move that the House at its rising stand recessed until 6:35 p.m., and thereafter sit until adjournment.
The House recessed at 5:41 p.m.
The committee met at 2:33 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF EDUCATION,
SKILLS AND TRAINING
J. Weisbeck: I'd like to speak for a moment about matching grants. First of all, the Premier promised there would be no cuts to education; subsequently, the grants were cut in '96-97 to one-half, and, of course, this year they've been completely removed. This has obviously had a very large impact on the universities. UVic has lost a million dollars for the purchase of library books and periodicals. UBC has lost over a million dollars, and they used those funds for library, periodicals, scholarships, endowments and fellowships. SFU lost over $1.1 million, and the comment made there by the executive director of development was that this could have serious, long-term repercussions. She said: "You can't quantify the financial impact at this point, because it is a psychological factor. It creates donor hesitancy. The donor says: 'I can't afford this project on my own and therefore won't do it.' " I was wondering if the minister could answer: for all these matching grants, has there been any impact that you know of on private sector donations?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I haven't heard anything specific, in effect, on donations to universities as a result of this reduction in the matching grant program. I think all universities have benefited from the matching grant program over the years, in establishing a donor base and establishing universities as an object of charitable giving, and I expect that that will continue. I think that most people who were granting to a university found the matching program a bit of icing on the cake. Not only was the money that they were donating for a specific purpose serving to advance post-secondary education -- university education -- at the institution that they wanted to support, but there was some additional revenue coming in from government.
I think the member knows that donations to universities were vastly in excess of the matching grants that were provided. I expect that the people will continue to donate generously to universities in British Columbia.
J. Weisbeck: Apparently UNBC were very, very concerned about their matching grants, particularly because they rely heavily on new funding, being a new university. There was an editorial in the Prince George Citizen that sort of states what their concerns were:
"When the University of Northern B.C. set up its North to the Future endowment fund in 1992-93, the provincial government made a promise to the people of the north. It said it would match dollar for dollar until the year 2000 the donations from corporations, small business, service clubs and individuals to a special UNBC fund."They've also stated in one of their newsletters:
"The effect on UNBC, however, would be proportionately very much larger. As a new university, UNBC does not have decades of fundraising support by earlier matching-dollar programs behind it. Scholarships and bursaries have all beenI guess I find it a bit disappointing. When new universities are set up, they rely on this sort of funding just to get themselves started, and then they find that, into the program, they have the rug sort of pulled out from underneath them. I wonder if the minister would comment about that.
[ Page 5931 ]
raised recently with the assistance of the current program. Matching dollars have been a key feature in the to date successful fundraising program, allowing receipt of funds that would otherwise not have been pledged."
Hon. P. Ramsey: Let me just say a couple of things, since the member is quoting from a newspaper in my town and talking about a university that is obviously of importance to me and to people throughout the north. First, after reading that editorial, I asked the ministry to locate for me the document that indeed committed our government to providing dollar-for-dollar matching to the year 2000, as that editorial says. We've been unable to do that. I believe the editorial is in error. I expressed that directly to the editor of the paper. Regrettably, the editor chose not to publish anything about the error contained in the editorial. The other thing that I found strange about that editorial was the assertion that the generosity that northerners have shown towards their university would somehow not have been there had the matching program not been in existence. I find that, frankly, an incredible assertion. I believe that it's factually wrong.
I would say this. The University of Northern British Columbia was founded by initiatives from a broad coalition of folks from throughout the north. Not just newspapers and community leaders, but ordinary working people in the northern half of this province donated to a society whose sole purpose was to advocate for the founding of a university in northern B.C. There were no matching grant programs at that time, and yet individuals gave very generously of their money and of their own individual efforts to lobby not this government but our precursor, and this government as well, for the establishment of that university.
I find those two parts of the editorial -- and remember, it's an editorial; this is not a factual opinion piece -- quite misleading, and I'm sorry that the member chose to quote them.
I guess that what I feel about my university, I think many people feel about theirs: they're willing to support it whether or not the government provides matching grants. We are the last jurisdiction in Canada to provide this sort of matching grant program for universities. I wish, frankly, we could have continued it at a higher level than we are continuing it. But given the necessity of putting as much money as possible into direct education services -- which the member opposite says he finds inadequate even at the level we've been able to do so -- it would not have been the right decision to maintain this program at the level that we did last year, or at a higher level, while reducing classroom services.
As I say, I wish the amount were higher. We have maintained some budget for the matching grant program, targeted specifically at bursaries to assist students -- and that's very, very important, particularly for people at UNBC -- and we have had to reduce the rest of the program.
J. Weisbeck: That was my next question. The $700,000 that's remaining on that particular line
J. Weisbeck: Yeah, I realize that. But why is it there, and why isn't it in the other line where the student financial assistance programs are? I just find it a bit confusing -- where you place it in the budget line there and why it isn't in the student financial assistance programs line.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The reason is because this is for bursaries that are institution-administered. University students can apply for bursaries that are run by the provincial government; those are the ones in the student financial assistance budget. They also have the opportunity, as I did when I was a student, of applying for bursaries and grants that are administered and funded by a particular institution -- a university. These are contributions towards bursary programs administered and run by universities for which they do go out and seek matching grants.
J. Weisbeck: The last line of the post-secondary education program budget is the debt service contributions, and we've got an increase of 2.63 percent. I'd just like to know what the implications of that are.
Hon. P. Ramsey: During my opening remarks, I referred to the building program at post-secondary institutions over the last five or six years, which has amounted to some $800 million -- a really significant increase in the amount of investment in buildings at our universities and colleges. A large number of those have come on stream in the last 12 months -- I think there are some five or six that were completed last year. That has simply raised the amount of mortgage that we have, and therefore raised the interest payments, which this line reflects.
J. Weisbeck: We've been downgraded in our ratings, as well. Has that had any impact on that?
Hon. P. Ramsey: No.
J. Weisbeck: I just want to move on to tuition fees. I think this one particular policy has obviously had a profound effect on universities and colleges and the way they do business.
Last year during the estimates, I asked whether there had ever been a study on the impacts of tuition fees and the freezing of them. The minister at the time answered that the Orum report stated that
My question is: is this Orum report accepted by the ministry, or is this something that the former minister is following?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I recognize that you were waiting all year to be able to address that to the previous minister.
Let me say this. We set out very directly on this policy of tuition freezes in the spring of 1996. At the time, it was clear that what other provinces were doing in the face of the federal cuts to post-secondary was cutting grants to universities and colleges and then encouraging colleges and universities to make up a significant portion of that cut through increased tuition fees.
[ Page 5932 ]There was a great deal of concern that I surely heard from students and from others who wished to become students about the effect that this would have on access to post-secondary education in British Columbia. Having looked at this, having looked at the plans of other provinces and the projections of colleges and universities in our own province as to what level of tuition increase would have to be implemented to make up for federal cutbacks, we very deliberately chose another course. We said that we wanted to keep access to colleges and universities as affordable as possible.
We wished to send a clear signal that education was a right for all, not a privilege for a few who could afford it, and that therefore we would top up from provincial revenues the entire amount of the federal cuts. In exchange, we wished the colleges and universities to, first, freeze tuition to keep these educational opportunities widely accessible; and second, create additional spaces with fewer additional dollars than they might ordinarily expect. That was the deal. It was a deal that we struck with the colleges and universities and with the students of the province at the time.
It was the right deal. This year, again, we did the same and announced -- I got to announce it last year, and I got to announce it again this year -- a tuition freeze for the second year. I believe it is a correct policy.
Now, I have heard the member opposite state in the House during question period that the Liberal Party is not convinced that a tuition freeze is the appropriate course of action in the face of federal cutbacks. This side of the House clearly does support that; we think it is important. I would be interested in hearing from the member opposite, because I am not clear on the Liberal position on this -- whether they support the tuition freeze, which has been widely welcomed by students attending post-secondary institutions in British Columbia.
J. Weisbeck: We'd all love to offer education free to students in this province, but the fact is that you're giving certain autonomy to the colleges, that they have to raise certain amounts of funds
These tuition fees do not affect all students equally. There was a survey done by the alma mater society for UBC, and they found that 40 percent of students could afford a 5 percent increase in tuition fees and that 32 percent could afford a 5 to 10 percent increase in tuition fees. Basically, when it comes down to it, it doesn't affect equally across the board. Some students are able to afford their education. We're also dealing with a different age group, as well. This freezing tuition fees is directed at individuals from 18 to 24 years of age. Now we're coming to a new age; we're coming to older students who are able to finance their education a lot more readily.
Australia, in 1974, removed tuition fees completely and found that there was no increase in their enrolment and participation rates.
Recently there was a very interesting little article in the local paper, the Times Colonist, which states this individual's views on freezing fees. He says:
"However, bragging about freezing tuition fees is not the answer when our colleges and universities are in a budget crisis. If the government doesn't want to adequately fund British Columbia's colleges and universities, then more money from higher tuition fees will certainly be required to ensure that students will have sufficient resources available.This is one individual's opinion on the impact of tuition fees.
"Last year's imposition of a tuition freeze was nothing more than a political ploy to ensure that this government would be re-elected. It had nothing to do with whether post-secondary students could and should afford an increase."
I certainly believe that across-the-board cuts to anything don't work. We have to look at individual facilities. You'll find that each individual institution has a different impact on them. Fees make up from 18 to 25 percent, so I don't think blanket-anything works in this province.
There's been a mention that you've talked to students and that you've asked students. I know you had a student forum, and you asked them what impact that would have. My question is: particularly in the forum, how were these people chosen? Do you feel that this was a proper cross-section of our student population to come up with this sort of result?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I would ask the member to be a little more clear. He said many things about the tuition freeze. He has quoted an editorial which opposes the tuition freeze. I would like to know, from that member, whether the Liberal Party is opposed to the freeze on tuition fees for college and university students.
J. Weisbeck: I'm not here to present the Liberal policy statements; I'm here to ask questions on the ministry. I'll pass on that, thank you very much.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I find that incredible. The member stands up here and for five minutes goes on with an attack on the tuition freeze, with an attack on what student after student has said to me they welcomed -- which their organizations have welcomed, which has received broad support from faculty and students across this province.
The member says that a tuition freeze does not affect all equally because tuition fees do not affect all equally. Absolutely, hon. member. You are absolutely correct. A tuition of $2,000, $3,000 or $10,000 makes no difference if you're living in West Van and you come from a family that pulls down a six-digit salary. If you happen to live in Prince George North, and you are the first member of your family to ever consider going on to college or university, the tuition barrier at the door can look like a huge obstacle to overcome. Faced with that or faced with a 15 or 20 percent hike in that, many students would make the decision not to go to college or university.
We support it. There are indeed different ways of making sure that we recognize the different financial circumstances of students. The student financial assistance program clearly does that. We believe that keeping tuitions at a reasonable level is an important part in ensuring equality of access so that people can get the skills they need.
Now, I will take it, hon. member, that the Liberal Party opposes this freeze, because that is what I have heard from this member. He has quoted editorials attacking this policy, and I believe that it is important that the people of this province reading Hansard know clearly that while this party is in favour of keeping tuition low and has frozen tuition for two years in a row, the Liberal Party believes that we should let them rise as the marketplace would dictate and bar students from post-secondary education, the way that students are facing huge barriers in Ontario and Alberta.
J. Weisbeck: Once again, I'm not here to defend or to express our policies; I'm here to ask you to defend your policy.
This has had a huge impact. Everyone I've spoken to at colleges and institutes is having difficulty balancing their budgets. There have been impacts. When the question was put to the students out there, I wonder whether they were told that
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there would be some impacts from freezing tuition fees, that there would be courses cut, that there would possibly be ancillary fees increased, or whether they just weren't given the whole story.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Ancillary fees have also been a subject of discussion with colleges, and we have asked them to make sure that they do not increase, either. I believe most colleges and universities have agreed to include fees that are applied broadly to all their students and to also maintain a freeze on those.
J. Weisbeck: In my attempt to find out what was happening in the system, I made up a questionnaire and sent it out to the various colleges and institutes. Unfortunately, I didn't get as good a response as I would have liked. I think I ended up getting about a 40 percent response rate. I was a bit disappointed, because I didn't know why they wouldn't return my questionnaire. I understand from another source that they were a little concerned that I was going to stand up here and wave this thing in these estimates and say that so-and-so college said this, and that somehow or other they were going to get reprimanded, or whatever.
Regardless of that, I found it interesting. We asked about six or seven very simple questions. For example, one question was: "With the freezing of tuition fees and no increase in grants, did you increase any other fees?" "Did you attain the stipulated 4 percent increase in enrolment in the 1996-97 fiscal year?" A subquestion was: "Did you lay off any staff, and have you cut any courses or programs?" Question 5: "Are you able to accommodate all eligible students, and what percentage of students received all requested courses?"
With the freezing of tuition fees, I had: "Did you increase any other fees?" The response was that 20 percent had to increase other fees; 80 percent said no, they didn't increase other fees. "Did you attain the stipulated 4 percent increase in enrolment?" And 60 percent said no, they didn't get that increase in enrolment. "Had you cut any courses or programs?" And 80 percent said yes. "Are you able to accommodate all eligible students?" And 60 percent said no. The last question was: "What percentage of students received all requested courses?" And I had about an 85 percent average.
The point I was trying to find out here is that
It was interesting, because later on, while I was already into this process, I found out that the ministry had actually done a task force survey as well, which I found very interesting, and I'll be discussing that at a later point. But if the minister wanted to respond to my little survey, please feel free.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Let me just say a couple of things in response to the member. In '96-97 we set, for the system, a target of increasing spaces in colleges and universities by approximately 7,000 full-time seats. The estimated net growth in full-time-equivalents in actual seats was estimated by the college and university system at 6,893. This was in February of this year, so they thought they were fairly close to the target.
The academic year has recently ended. We expect to get audited figures in the next month or so. But at least the preliminary results suggest that we achieved most of the expansion of seats in the system that we intended to create in the '96-97 year.
As the member knows, the target for this year is to increase the capacity of the college and university system by an additional 2,900 seats, and we have asked the universities and colleges to submit enrolment plans for achieving those figures at their individual institutions. So again, we will be revisiting that, monitoring it through the year and auditing it at the end of the year to see where we've gotten to as far as the targets that we set for increasing system capacity.
Of course, the ongoing challenge for the system is to work like a system and provide additional opportunities for enrolment in areas that are vitally important for skills and training to support our economy. Obviously that's usually where students want to go to get the skills -- where they can get the good-paying job and get on with their career. That requires some continuous adjustment. I think everybody knows people who did not get into the specific program that they wanted or found that the specific course that they wished to get into at a college or university was full and that they had to wait a semester to get in. Most students in our college and university system still complete their courses of study in a timely fashion and are able to do appropriate substitutions and get through in a reasonable length of time.
I have two other comments. First, the member referenced that 20 percent -- I believe he said -- of the institutions he surveyed said they had increased other fees. If the member wishes to share some of the specifics with me, I would be interested in which institutions they were and what fees.
[3:00]What we have said to the college and university system is that we have no objection to institutions raising fees if they are tagged to a specific increase in service that is wanted by and provided to students. The example I have sometimes used is: if UNBC decided that it was going to provide expanded Internet access from every dorm room on campus and wished to charge a fee for that and had the broad agreement of the students, I would certainly have no difficulty with it. We had a minor kerfuffle in Vancouver when Vancouver Community College said: "We're going to provide some increased services in the area of transportation for our students, and we're going to fund it through a parking fee." I said: "Fine, go ahead."
On the other hand, we have said to colleges and universities: "If you're looking at broad fees that are simply another source of general revenue, we think that's a bad idea, and if you're even contemplating that, you should only move forward with approval of students, preferably by referendum." UBC proposed a couple of such fees and then later withdrew them after consulting with students.
So we have been really proactive in trying to deal with the issue of keeping fees low.
The last thing I want to reference is a concern that I think the member and I actually share, and that is to make sure that we are clearly monitoring how institutions are dealing with what are admittedly tight budgets as they move towards meeting the enrolment targets that we have set.
I think the member knows that in response to concerns from the field around the '97-98 budget, I instructed the ministry to put in place a task force of senior officials from government, college presidents and board chairs, representatives of faculty, representatives of support staff and representatives of students to consider the impact of '97-98 budgets on the
[ Page 5934 ]
college and institute system and recommend to me ways in which we could do three things: one, achieve the targets that we've set for enrolment growth and ensure access for students; second, balance institution budgets, because while it may be appropriate for an institution to run by deficit one year, there must clearly be a financial plan to run roughly in balance over a period of time; and third, to minimize layoffs.
The task force has recently reported to me, and the ministry will soon be providing me with their options for responding to the recommendations in the report.
J. Weisbeck: In response to your question about the examples, I have several here. Residence fees were increased by approximately 1 percent in one situation. In one situation they were discussing with students the establishment of a technology fee. "The college achieved a 3 percent increase for learning partnerships and learning highways. The college increased profile enrolments 6 percent, slightly over 1 percent from the previous year, but we are still under 100 percent of the program profiled in both years." Those are a couple of examples. There was a small increase in parking, as well, in one place.
J. Weisbeck: Is this the one that has bingo or calendar advertising?
Some of the impacts
Hon. P. Ramsey: Both the University of Northern British Columbia and the College of New Caledonia, which are jointly offering the new course, believe so. I must say that I have received a lot of correspondence on the issue; I imagine the member has, as well. UNBC has been given some additional money to continue offering the degree-completion program for one additional year, and I know that the university is looking at ways of extending the offering of that program even beyond the '97-98 academic year.
Clearly, as UNBC looked at what resources it had and what programs could best meet the need for trained nursing personnel in the province, particularly the northern half of the province, they felt that diverting funds that were used for the program that you're talking about into the new degree program was the appropriate decision.
J. Weisbeck: I've been in correspondence with a professor at the University of Victoria. There has been quite a large cut in political science courses. I understand that about 21 courses have been cut at the higher levels. It would appear that the courses are aimed at the sessional instructors. I guess I'd like to know what the criteria for these cuts would be. Obviously it's much easier to get rid of a sessional instructor than it is a tenured instructor, and get rid of that course. Is that the goal?
Hon. P. Ramsey: This ministry and my office do not approve of nor are even involved in decisions of the kind that you're discussing. Changes in course offerings within a particular faculty at an individual institution are within the purview of that faculty and that institution. They respond to student demand, the market for people with particular skills and degrees and the like. Those are the decisions that educational administrators make every year in all institutions in the system.
J. Weisbeck: You had commented on the task force, and the ministry was very kind in giving me a copy of the executive summary. There are a number of findings that I would like to ask about.
First of all, it says that as of May, 16 of 20 institutions either have or expect to have a balanced budget for their operations in this '97-98 year. I was always under the impression that they had to have a balanced budget. Is that not correct?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The member is in large part correct about whether institutes and colleges can run deficit budgets. They cannot, except with the permission of myself and the Minister of Finance. Occasionally that is granted if a college or institute has a long-term plan for getting back into balance, but it's clearly the exception not the rule. College and institutes are allowed to carry forward surpluses from previous fiscal years to deal with the current fiscal year, as well.
What we are doing with the results of this task force
I have accepted that recommendation. I'm not quite sure whether we want an external expert or how we want to do that. I want to do it as quickly as possible with the least expenditure of public funds as possible.
I met with the task force two weeks ago -- how time flies when you're having fun -- and told them that I accepted that recommendation and would be acting on it.
J. Weisbeck: The second finding was that 11 of 20 institutions are projecting they will achieve the FTE enrolment targets. What are the consequences of that to the institutions that haven't reached those goals?
Hon. P. Ramsey: There are a variety of potential impacts of not meeting it and obviously a variety of reasons for failure to meet projected targets. Among the reasons for not being able to meet a projected target, or feeling you might not, would be low student demand in some areas. In some cases we're encouraging colleges to adopt some best practices to achieve more enrolment with the same number of dollars where there is demand. That's one of the things that the task force revealed. As colleges and institutes share best practices, we think they can achieve higher levels of enrolment with the same public dollars.
In addition, though, there are a couple of recommendations to me in here to provide some additional revenue to colleges. We're also looking at those recommendations.
So it's early days yet. The task force, as the member knows, was organized in two phases. The report you have is phase 1. We'll be continuing to work with them as we deal with the recommendations of this phase and also look down the road to part 2: how we share best practices among colleges
[ Page 5935 ]
and institutes to enable them to increase enrolment within existing revenues; strategies to address the fiscal challenge and to make sure we're staying close to budget; and strategies to assist the ministry in determining what the likely future funding requirements are for 1998 and beyond.
J. Weisbeck: In lieu of these results
Hon. P. Ramsey: One of the tables in the report we're talking about collects enrolment information for '96-97, as near as we can tell -- the year not yet being totally complete at the time the information was gathered -- and then shows the projected levels of enrolment for '97-98, the coming one. The change, year over year, is going to be up -- for 13 of the institutions. So they will be closer to, or more above or at, the targets we've set for them for the coming year. Three expect to do worse, and obviously that's a concern for us. We want to figure out how we can help them. Four expect to be essentially unchanged.
As I reported earlier, we were able to come very close to meeting the target for an increase in spaces in the college-university system for '96-97. I hope that at the end of the day, we'll be equally successful this year, though clearly there are some challenges this year. That's why I struck the task force, and that's why I'm looking hard at their recommendations.
J. Weisbeck: Item 3 talks about the loss of staff basically -- 234 positions in the last few years. How does this relate to course cuts?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I must say that I accept the member's concern about making sure we have educational opportunities. The fact is that we had 7,000 more spaces in the system last year than the year before. So there are always adjustments in courses, but I submit that there are probably as many course increases as course cuts. Otherwise, where do you put 7,000 more students? What colleges and universities have done is gotten more efficient in how they serve those students and provide the educational services.
One of the impacts has clearly been on staff at some institutions. Education is a highly personnel-intensive business. A great percentage of budgets go on personnel. The figure that the task force includes represents a variety of layoffs of support staff as well as faculty and administrative positions. Yes, there have been some reductions in staff across colleges, and that is difficult. That's why I asked the task force to examine ways of making the impact on personnel as low as possible. That was one of their goals, and that's one of the things I am concerned about. On the other hand, there is some good news in that in spite of that, they were able to increase spaces for students by nearly 7,000 this year, and we think we can do another increase of 2,900 seats this year.
J. Weisbeck: Item 4 talks about the many and diverse changes in the system in the past two years and the negative impact those have had. I'm just wondering if some of the policy changes we've had in the last two years have been a little too aggressive for the system, and I'm assuming one of those was the demand for increasing enrolment and tuition changes.
[3:15]Hon. P. Ramsey: Actually, I thought some of the other points referred more directly to the challenges of enrolment increases. I would say that education is rapidly changing. I'm not sure that's necessarily bad news. For instance, we talked earlier in this session of estimates about the necessity for colleges and institutes to provide appropriate technology and training on appropriate technology. That is clearly a challenge for colleges and institutes. I think we've talked at least in passing about the change in physical circumstances of many colleges and institutes in the last several years. An $800 million building program has resulted in many new facilities. I mean, change is always a challenge. That's been a stress. We've also moved into a period where we're moving towards acting more like a system rather than individual institutions, both on the program planning side and on labour relations. That's a challenge to the system.
So there have indeed been a lot of changes. I haven't even mentioned some of the challenges that we're going to be asking colleges to undertake as we look at ITAC and some of the changes in the way we're doing apprenticeship and trades training, as well as the role that colleges have taken on -- I think very well -- in being one of the contracted areas that helps provide Youth Works and Welfare to Work programs.
J. Weisbeck: You already spoke about the one option that was available to you. Is the labour adjustment fund currently in place, or is that a
Hon. P. Ramsey: The labour adjustment fund is in place. In total across the system, it's $3 million a year. What the colleges and institutes have asked for, through this task force, is that we loosen the criteria by expanding the terms and conditions under which the funds may be used by the institutions. What the criteria currently say is that you can only use it for labour adjustment. It's like targeted funds. If there is any surplus in the amount that you have been given for labour adjustment, you don't get to spend it on anything else. They have asked that we loosen the criteria and allow them to use any portion unexpended on labour adjustment on other institutional expenditures. I have accepted this recommendation.
J. Weisbeck: We spoke earlier about the need for funding for new equipment. I referred to the one college that had 2.5 percent of their budget for replacement of technology equipment, etc. What percentage does the $5 million now take it to? This particular institution had commented that they would need 5 percent of their budget to actually bring their equipment up to par, to where their needs would be.
Hon. P. Ramsey: First of all, let me say clearly that I said to the task force when I met with them that I was not prepared to go back to Treasury Board and seek an increase in the budget a week before I was defending the budget in the House and that I felt the ministry and the college-institute system were going to live within the amount that had been allocated for it. I did commit to asking the ministry to look at other sources of revenue, funds or programs funded within the ministry that were devoted to technology, to see if there were any unexpended or unallocated funds we could give to the colleges for increased purchase of technology. That work is now ongoing. Currently the budget for equipment replacement in the college-institute system is just under $13 million a year. So a $5 million increase in that would be significant. The $13 million figure represents just over 2.5 percent of college and institute budgets.
J. Weisbeck: I want to move into student assistance, student loans. The "Conclusion" of the Orum report stated:
I'm just wondering what level we are at right now. In what place do we sit among provinces in Canada?
[ Page 5936 ]"Many of the changes recommended in this report require an increased commitment to post-secondary education by the provincial government. Considering the importance of a highly trained and educated citizenry to the future of the information-based economy developing in British Columbia, this commitment is necessary. The committee suggests that B.C. currently [is] in sixth place among provinces in terms of financial assistance expenditures per full-time enrolment
. . . ."
Hon. P. Ramsey: I should point out for the committee that the Orum report was written in 1992, so we are talking five years down the road here. Much has changed in financial assistance both in this province and in others. Probably the most regrettable change has happened in other provinces where grant portions of student financial assistance have been eliminated. We are now the only province in Canada that provides any grant assistance for the first two years of post-secondary education. I'll ask staff -- I think they're probably mulling it over now -- where that puts us in terms of overall financial assistance. But if we're not at the head of the pack, we're probably very close to it. I also referenced in my opening remarks an increase of some 4 percent in the amount we have been able to provide this year for students who need financial assistance.
J. Weisbeck: I do appreciate that this report is somewhat old, but I want to refer to it often, particularly because of its significance from last year's estimates, obviously. Are there any plans to upgrade this report or do another report of a similar type?
Hon. P. Ramsey: One of the pieces of work that my predecessor in this portfolio undertook -- I don't know if it was a result of last year's estimates or not -- was to act on a recommendation of the Orum report and establish a standing committee on financial aid to continuously advise the ministry and the minister on financial aid issues. I recently met with them to hear their views on this; I think it was just prior to the federal election. I wanted to hear their views on what the federal government is proposing in the area of student assistance.
We put that in place so that we can hear, on an ongoing basis, concerns from financial aid officers, students, the ministry and others on financial assistance and then how we're doing in meeting the needs for assistance to students in the post-secondary system. We have taken, and continue to take, steps to improve financial assistance. The member probably knows that last year the per-week limit on student aid went up by $25 a week, or about $1,000 over the course of a year -- part grant for the first two years, mostly loan, particularly for the last couple of years. It does provide some measure of additional assistance.
I'm currently looking at a variety of recommendations that have come out of the committee. Another place for providing some additional increases in financial assistance is targeted at some of the areas where people are having the most difficulty, particularly single parents who are returning to school and find the burden of maintaining a family and studying very, very heavy.
[S. Orcherton in the chair.]
J. Weisbeck: There appears to be quite an alarming increase in the number of bankruptcies of students in the last few years. I was looking at some of the stats here: in '93, 332; in '94, 482; in 1995, 590. Do you have any stats on what the bankruptcy rate is currently, please?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I share the member's concern with two elements here. One is the rising level of student debt in general, which is one of the most significant challenges facing financial assistance programs. The second is what's clearly an increase in students who are simply finding it untenable and declaring bankruptcy. I do not have figures for current bankruptcies in British Columbia. Staff advised me that the actual collections and handling of loans is done by the Ministry of Finance. They don't have the records within this ministry. That's done by the financial boffins.
I would point out that in my analysis of where some of the real problems are
When meeting with students, when I've talked to them about this and about the level of debt -- which is obviously a concern both to individual students and to the organizations that represent them -- they in many ways share that analysis and have suggested that I work with them to put some pressure on the federal government and work with my fellow ministers of education across the country to do so. I intend to do that. I do believe that that is one of the major challenges we have.
The announcements made by the federal Liberal government in the last federal election did little or nothing to ease this problem. I don't think it's acceptable, frankly, to have people incurring large debt burdens and then declaring bankruptcy as the first stage of their career after college or university. It is a national challenge, and it is appropriate that the provinces call on the federal government for a national response. I would welcome the member's support of my work in that area.
Student debt, incidentally, is seen as important enough to this government and to the Minister Responsible for Youth -- the Premier -- that we have put this issue on the agenda of the meeting of premiers that's happening later this summer. Your concern is well founded, it's shared, and we'd appreciate your support in some of the initiatives we're trying to undertake to ease the debt pressure on students.
[3:30]J. Weisbeck: It appears that the access to loans and loan eligibility could be simplified by removing the requirement for parent contribution to student loans. Parents aren't responsible for paying back loans, so why should they have to cosign, basically, in some situations?
I know the particular situation here
[ Page 5937 ]
Hon. P. Ramsey: I want to deal with the two issues that the member raised. The first is the requirement for parental involvement and cosigning of loans. What we have done is what all provinces have done. These are federal criteria, and we've simply applied them. I'm advised that staff are involved in national work to review those criteria.
I must say, though, that in principle I don't have a large problem with saying that part of having children -- dependents -- is supporting them in their educational endeavours. I have surely acted on that in my own life, and I have no difficulty with that as a general principle -- at least in part, basing what is available to students on what I am able to provide.
Clearly we want to target funds at students who are most in need. Part of what a student has as support is -- one hopes, one assumes, and this program makes clear -- is the support of his or her parents and family. Now, the member also referred to a case of a family where, essentially, the income was savings. I must say, I think I share the member's view that it is bizarre to me that somebody would be unemployed, have income only from RRSPs and then be denied a student loan because they've savaged their own savings during the period of unemployment. The person does have an option to appeal that decision, and I hope they did, because I think we have a case here where, technically, the correct decision has probably been made, but in human terms it seems quite bizarre.
J. Weisbeck: I understand he did appeal it and was denied as well. So maybe this is something I can discuss with one of the members.
Has there been any consideration to forming a student loan called an income-contingent repayment loan?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I think the member knows that this was an idea that the federal government floated on student assistance during the election. Every student association that I'm aware of opposes this approach. Every province in Canada has said no to this approach, with the exception of Ontario. It does nothing to reduce the level of student debt. What it does do is skate it out over 25 years. The only place that staff are aware of where this has worked successfully is Australia, where the level of student debt is low enough that it really didn't matter. So yes, it's an approach which is out there.
As I say, the federal government has floated it, and only Ontario has responded favourably. I must advise the member that I have adopted the approach that the other nine provinces have adopted. I wrote to the minister, Pierre Pettigrew, after the federal budget and said that this was not really what students would find helpful, and I urged him to take a much more serious look at the issue of student debt and federal responsibility for measures to reduce it -- not simply skate it out.
J. Weisbeck: I guess my thoughts were that it would decrease the number of bankruptcies by doing this. Do you think that's a possibility? In the long term, if you had a huge increase in bankruptcies and obviously a huge loss, do you think that somehow or other, somewhere along the way, you'd eventually be saving money in this process?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'll admit that the program, on the surface, has a certain appeal. When I first heard of it, I said: "Oh my, maybe this works." The more you look at it, though, hon. member, the less attractive it becomes. If you're deferring it because your income is low, all you're really doing is adding interest on top of interest on top of interest to the debt that you're carrying. The nut that you're paying off just gets bigger and bigger out there.
Not only that, but if the federal government is topping up the interest, as it would be -- or we would be, on the provincial side -- as people deferred and skated it out, we are paying an increasing amount for that loan as well. If the federal government wants to do that, surely a better approach would be to take that money and put it into some sort of grant program and reduce the overall level of debt.
So as I say, I don't think this is really the right approach to dealing with this issue. I have not heard from any student association that finds this attractive, and nine out of the ten provincial governments have asked the federal government to take another look at this proposal.
J. Weisbeck: There's been some concern -- and this is talking about barriers to education -- about book selection. I guess some students are finding that a particular course will offer book A, and next term it requires book B, and they're very similar. Or, for example, book B has got two paragraphs changed in it and is not a whole lot different from book A. They're finding, obviously, at $60 to $100 a crack for a textbook, that there's not a whole lot of thought
Hon. P. Ramsey: That's $62, not $6,200.
J. Weisbeck: Yes, $62. I said: "$60 to $100." Those are medical books, obviously.
This is obviously having a huge impact on students' ability to balance their budgets. Most bookstores, I understand, are run by the universities, are they not? If they are, is there some way that they could come to some sort of consensus on books?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I was consulting with my officials about a couple of things and sharing the challenges of dealing with this issue. Bookstores at colleges and universities in British Columbia are usually run as ancillary services within the institution. Generally, they are set up to provide a service for the instructors and students, as far as providing ready access to materials. As far as I know, in most institutions instructors can also -- and do at times -- contact the local bookstore to provide another service or another source of those books, although sometimes that gets a little twitchy with the bookstore. The bookstores generally are net generators of revenue for the institutions -- usually a small amount. As I said to the staff, they make their money on sweatshirts and beer mugs, not on books.
The real challenges here -- and if the member opposite has some suggestions on how to deal with it, I'd be interested in hearing them -- are two. One: instructors' ability to choose the text that they wish. Within institutions, a variety of policies are in place to require instructors to do joint selection of materials and to retain them for more than one year. Different institutions have different policies, but those are put in place at the institutional level. At the institution where I taught, in the department where I taught, we had a firm policy that said: "Once you adopt a text, you keep it for a minimum of five years and take some of the load off students, and you provide a resale market for used books and used texts and reduce the costs to people who are able to purchase a used text." Regrettably, that is not the case in all departments in all institutions. There are huge, huge variations, and that does result, regrettably, in students being faced with high charges.
[ Page 5938 ]
The other one, frankly, is even harder to solve. That is what I would say, as a college instructor, is the desire of the book publishing market for educational texts to turn the market, and to create a new edition of a text with very little rationale other than to make sure all the pages are renumbered and the old texts are no longer appropriate for the next year. My experience as an instructor was that even after we'd managed to get our department to agree on a common text and adopt it for supposedly a five-year period, we'd be two years into it and the publisher would announce that that edition was no longer available and they had a brand-new edition with all the pages renumbered and chapters reordered. And you couldn't really go from one edition to the next. So that's the publishing end of it.
And clearly the publishing industry has no interest -- self-interest -- in keeping the costs down. They have an interest in generating as many new texts and as much revenue as possible and in selling as many new books as possible each year, and I would submit that they've adopted strategies to that end. I've had some rather crunchy discussions with book representatives over the years, who have confirmed that this is probably what their outfits are doing. So I share the member's concern about the rising cost. It's clearly one of the costs of going to post-secondary, which is rising far faster than tuition. Given the cost of the books that I see as a book purchaser and reader myself, it seems apt to continue to increase.
J. Weisbeck: I'd like to move on to governance and talk about boards of directors. I had a concern from a couple of presidents, actually, about how the boards were selected. They felt that the people that were selected for the board should have some sort of connection with post-secondary education -- not just sort of plunked off the street and popped onto a board with really no knowledge of how the system works. And we see, too, that the government of the day typically has their friends along and invite them onto the boards.
J. Weisbeck: Not true? My colleague says it's not true at all that there's government patronage.
But is there any thought to having some sort of criteria, having some sort of background to post-secondary education in the selection of boards? And maybe your thoughts on how boards are selected
Hon. P. Ramsey: It's an important topic, hon. member, and one that I've had considerable dialogue about with CEOs and board chairs in the colleges and universities during my time in this portfolio. I'm not sure what the member means by connection to post-secondary education. I surely expect everybody that I appoint to a college or institute or university board to have an interest in and a commitment to public post-secondary education. I do not expect them to be educators or educational administrators; that's the staff they hire.
[3:45]What I want them to be is good representatives of the diversity of the community that the institution serves. That, to me, means that as I look at board appointments -- and I'm going through the process right now for college and institute boards -- I want to see a good mixture of backgrounds on the boards that reflects the diversity of our province. That means that I try to get a mix of various professions and backgrounds on boards; it means I try to get a mix of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds; I try to get a rough balance between men and women on boards; and I try to get -- and this is particularly important for community colleges -- a good representation of the various communities in the region that a college serves.
I've asked the colleges this year to assist me in one other goal that I want to reach with appointments, and that's to get increasing youth representation on boards. I want to have on boards people who have gone through or have been involved in education not -- as I was -- 30 years ago but, hopefully, five years ago, so that they can be involved at the board level in making decisions that affect, really, some of their peers who are now in the education system.
So those are some of the criteria that I look at when we're doing board appointments. And yes, I do at times ask whether people share some of the broad policy objectives of this government. For instance, I can't see myself appointing somebody to a college board who is vociferously in public opposed to keeping tuition low. But I assure the member opposite that I don't check their wallets for party cards.
J. Weisbeck: I'd like to speak about the senate, and I think that my recent visit to Royal Roads has given me a whole different insight into governance. Also, having discussions with the sort of traditional university, as well, that has a senate -- and the arguments pro and con
Hon. P. Ramsey: There are a variety of arrangements in the college, institute and university sector for hearing the views of professional staff on the offerings of the institution. We have senate or senate-like bodies at colleges, as the member knows, with the academic councils that have a legislated mandate. We have in the University Act, of course, a more traditional senate model; then we have in the Royal Roads University Act, and in the Technical University of B.C. Act that we'll be debating later in the session -- though I hope not too much later -- yet another model for doing this.
The goal is the same in all: to make sure that professional staff have some sort of input, though clearly the extent of that authority differs. I would suggest that what we're trying to do is make that authority appropriate for the mission and mandate of the institution. I have no quarrel with most aspects of a traditional senate at our more traditional universities. Indeed, the senate at UNBC, our newest university, is a very traditional model.
On the other hand, an institution with a mandate that Royal Roads has to broadly seek out private partners, to really engage in cost recovery, international ed, has to be light on its feet in a way that we don't require universities to be. Similarly, with the technical university
J. Weisbeck: Recently we had a bit of a power struggle, I guess, between an education council and the college board as to who actually had the power to cut majors. I wonder if you could respond to that.
[ Page 5939 ]
J. Weisbeck: Okanagan University College.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Staff have no knowledge of this. If you'll provide me with your correspondence on it, we'll get you an answer.
J. Weisbeck: One of the concerns, speaking to a couple of presidents, is that they felt there was too much micromanagement going on from government. They felt that they should be more autonomous in the management of their affairs. Would you give me your comment on that, please -- whether you feel that government is too involved in the management of universities or whether they should have more autonomy?
Hon. P. Ramsey: First of all, let me just confirm that the member is speaking of the college-institute system.
J. Weisbeck: Yes.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Look, there's a diversity of opinion on what's micromanagement and what's not. I know that some people would consider the imposition of a provincewide tuition freeze as micromanagement. I consider it broad government policy, and it would be totally inappropriate for government to say we're going to freeze it but only for those that want to play along. If we're going to have it as government policy, it should be a policy and applied across all institutions.
Colleges and institutes have broad powers under the College and Institute Act to order their affairs with their boards of governors and with their administration. They clearly work very closely with the ministry in establishing which courses they are offering, because it is a college and institute system. I think that is appropriate, as well. If anything, I am the more convinced, the more time I spend in here, that those of us who work at the centre need to act as a facilitator of the system but ask it to work as a system. It does not mean that the centre makes all the decisions and simply imposes them, but we have a responsibility -- I have a responsibility as minister, and my staff have a responsibility in the ministry -- to pull those groups together, to make decisions jointly. Those decisions may well impact on what an individual institution does, and that is appropriate. As I said in some of my introductory remarks, in world terms we are a small jurisdiction -- 3.7 million people -- and we simply cannot afford to have a post-secondary system to provide training and education for our workers in the workforce that is wholly dependent on localized regional decisions. We must ask those institutions to work together.
That's different, I submit, than attempting to be like the French ministry of education was rumoured to be in the nineteenth century, where the minister could sit in his office and know what was being taught in every classroom in France that afternoon. That's not what we seek -- not that level of micromanagement. But it is important that we coordinate our system, and it's the responsibility of the ministry and minister to do that.
J. Weisbeck: I'd like to speak about tenure. Once again I go to my discussion with Royal Roads. Seeing the model they're using right now and the impact that has, I was quite impressed with the fact that they could tie in with a number of professors around the world. Not only that, they would have their professors coming in on a contract basis, and they are very accountable. The situation is that after year they are judged by their students, and if it's found that they are not doing a good job, they don't get rehired. That makes a lot of sense to me, yet in some of the universities we see tenured professors who are there a long time. I'm under the impression that they are quite often hired for their research abilities rather than their teaching abilities.
I know that in one of the outcome reports there was a concern by students about the inconsistency in instruction. I was wondering -- and would like to have your opinion on this -- whether you believe that there is an advantage to moving to a contract basis for professors. Or are we going to stay with the system, if indeed we can? Is it so entrenched in the system right now? Are we ever going to be able to change it -- in the traditional schools, that is?
Hon. P. Ramsey: This is a good seminar topic: academic tenure. Let me say just a few simple things. First, there is obviously diversity of arrangements for employment security and ensuring academic freedom at colleges and universities. I think I will limit myself to the universities, because that's where the term really arises. College faculty have a fair bit of job security, but it's largely obtained through collective agreements or negotiated security of employment.
Tenure has been a longstanding provision of the university community to ensure freedom of inquiry and freedom of discourse, and to protect those who are hired to push the bounds of knowledge and convey their findings to others, with the freedom to do that without getting fired -- not to put too blunt a point on it -- and to ensure that tolerance and the encouragement of diversity of opinion are encouraged. That's why it exists. Is it perfect? Hell, no. I should point out to the member -- and I think he already knows -- that if you took the entire university system, probably only a minority of staff are actually tenured. There's an increasing amount that are associate professors who may not have tenure. It varies across the piece.
Some universities are adopting an approach that I find appealing, though it's clearly their responsibility to do so, and that is to ask professors who are going to serve the university for a long time whether they wish to bid on a tenure-track position based on their research capabilities and the research they produce or whether they wish to bid on a position based more intensively on their abilities and skills as a teacher and a conveyor of knowledge rather than a finder of new knowledge. I find that an appealing approach. It says that both parts are important. We clearly don't want researchers who are incapable of communicating their results; equally, we prefer that university-level professors also be engaged in cutting-edge research, but not necessarily have that as their prime focus.
So this is an approach that some universities are taking to what is admittedly a longstanding student complaint. It's almost -- I hate to say it -- a Hollywood stereotype: the professor has been tenured, has been there 20 years, spends all his time in the lab and considers students a distraction. It's a stereotype because, I suspect, in some places it exists. I don't think it's a standard across our universities. I think that most researchers are eager to share their knowledge in the classroom with their students, and I think that most people concentrate on their teaching and want to make sure they're keeping up to date and pushing the bounds of knowledge in their field.
J. Weisbeck: I note that my colleague has already talked about day care, so I don't want to get into that too much. There is one specific case I'd like to bring up, of a 27-year-old
[ Page 5940 ]
single mom who attends Okanagan University College. She said that when she first took her son to day care, it was $640 a month, and she ended up paying $55 per month at that point in time with the subsidy. Then in September '96 the day care raised their fees. She said that a $20 increase would not have been too bad, but she ended up paying $132. And in September '97 they are once again going to be raising their fees, and she is finding that now it's becoming almost impossible to send her child to day care.
I'm curious to know about the various subsidies. Obviously it changes at various age levels. I'm wondering whether there could be more consistency in the system so that we don't have this sort of situation happening.
[4:00]Hon. P. Ramsey: The day care services which are provided at many colleges and universities have expanded in the last little while, but they too are run as ancillary services. They're not subsidized by this ministry. They essentially run on a cost-recovery basis from the fees that parents pay for provision of services to their children. The Ministry for Children and Families provides day care subsidies to all on an equitable basis, and that has not really changed.
The critic for Skills and I were discussing some of the subsidies that were available to income assistance recipients and that are not available under the Welfare to Work and Youth Works programs, which used to be called day care
As far as specific fees, there is stuff like individual centres. I'm unaware of any colleges making a profit off of their day care. I do know informally of several that are subsidizing day care operations. But at the end of the day, it's not something this ministry funds. It's something that's funded as an ancillary service, and the operations are supported by the day care subsidy provided by the Ministry for Children and Families. It's an issue you could raise with that minister during her estimates.
Hon. Chair, noting the time, and as I think we are going to be at this for a little while, could I suggest that we take a ten-minute recess?
The Chair: The Chair declares a ten-minute recess. We'll reconvene at 4:20.
The committee recessed from 4:03 p.m. to 4:20 p.m.
[S. Orcherton in the chair.]
J. Weisbeck: Just one more question I want to ask on day care. This was a concern by a student from OUC who qualified for a day care subsidy and then was awarded a scholarship and, of course, had to turn it back in to Social Services. As she said: "What's the incentive for getting good grades and receiving scholarships if you lose them?" Could I have your opinion on that, or if there's some way of dealing with that.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I think we're really getting into some cross-ministry issues here. Qualifications for the day care subsidy rest with the Minister for Children and Families, so you might want to raise that with her.
The only thing I would say as a general principle is, of course, that a day care subsidy is based on financial need. A scholarship, while clearly a recognition of academic achievement, is income and is probably appropriately counted as income.
J. Weisbeck: I believe one of my colleagues has probably talked about youth employment, but I'd just like to bring up a particular situation once again, from a student from Okanagan University College.
Before I do that, though, I'm looking at some stats from Stats Canada. They commented that unemployed youth has increased from 16.6 percent to 17.2 percent in Canada; in B.C., we have 50,000 youth unemployed at this point in time, with 3,000 more in the last three months. How do we account for that?
Hon. P. Ramsey: What's the date of that?
J. Weisbeck: It should be recent. I believe this Stats Canada report is a recent report.
Hon. P. Ramsey: We're searching for a technical explanation; I'm not sure we're finding one.
Your colleague from Chilliwack and I had a fairly wide-ranging debate on youth unemployment yesterday evening, as well. You might want to check Hansard on some of the things we threw back and forth at that point.
But let me say this: I really do believe it is one of our more serious problems across the country. It's clear also that access to training and education and completion of training and education enhances a person's ability to acquire and retain employment. It's a straight-line correlation. The youth unemployment rate overall is what you mentioned. It's about half that for college graduates and about a quarter of that for university graduates. There's almost a straight-line correlation between the amount of training and education a person has and his or her ability to find and retain employment.
That's why it's so important that we take the initiatives that we have undertaken with Youth Works, to make sure that some of the youth that are finding it most difficult to find employment have an educational safety net to train and to get into the employment market. That's why it's very important that we continue the work of expanding the post-secondary system and training opportunities and some of the other initiatives that we've been debating today.
J. Weisbeck: This is an article I found in a number of papers. As I said, it is about a second-year student at Okanagan University College looking for summer employment. She said:
"I have contacted over 30 technical and scientific companies in person so far, hoping to get a jump on a summer job. Call after call, I'm hearing the same thing: 'Call back in mid-May; we hope to know by then if we'll have any money under the new government program.'I wonder if you could just comment on that, please.
"As a student, it is important for me to be able to plan my summer the way that I plan my school year; money is budgeted to the penny. The last thing I need during final exams is to be worrying about how I'm going to eat come May. Students do not qualify for social assistance or unemployment. While employers are waiting for special programs to be approved, students are left high and dry and destitute.
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"Please don't misinterpret. I do not think it is any government's responsibility to find me a job. I am bright, capable and enthusiastic enough to do that on my own. But if they're going to implement an employer-incentive program, for goodness' sake, do it before June. Even once this token youth initiative is in place, it will take from six to eight weeks to get the paperwork processed. For those keeping track, that puts us into about mid-July."
Hon. P. Ramsey: I can't comment on all the youth employment initiatives that we took under the Guarantee for Youth program. I will talk about Student Summer Works. My understanding is that the contractors, the regional deliverers of the program, were in place by April. I was surely receiving reports on success in finding positions by the end of April, so that program seems to have started relatively expeditiously. Employers should have had information about the opportunities to subsidize a position through that program in, I would suggest, April. As I say, I can't speak for all the initiatives across the Guarantee for Youth employment program, but for Student Summer Works the date of mid-May or June seems at odds with the work that I know was done by our Skills division.
J. Weisgerber: Is there some way you could check with the regional area on that, just so I could give this individual a response?
Hon. P. Ramsey: We had agencies that delivered this program across the province. We'll find out which one was in the Okanagan and have them give you information about when they informed employers of the availability of positions.
J. Weisbeck: We've spoken so often about accountability, and I think that the reports that are being done on student outcomes are very, very helpful. I think this one was done in 1993, and it's for the baccalaureate graduates; there's also one done, of course, for the colleges and institutes. How often will these be done? Are they done every few years or every five years? I just want to know whether this will be a continuous process, because I think it's very helpful.
Hon. P. Ramsey: We have pounds of accountability, hon. member. The report that you referenced for universities -- actually the 1995 or '96 survey, I think, of '93 graduates
Hon. P. Ramsey: Yeah, because you want to find out what's actually happened to them a few years after graduation. Similar work is done annually for the college system. Staff tell me that the university one, to their knowledge, is done biannually. So indeed these are produced on a regular basis. We try to make sure that we're very carefully monitoring the outcomes from our investment in education and training.
J. Weisbeck: Two of the concerns I wanted to note
Hon. P. Ramsey: The prime responsibility for responding to that sort of concern rests with the programs and institutions themselves, and they indeed do receive and review the sort of reports that you and I are discussing. Earlier in these debates the member referenced some program cuts in a faculty at UVic -- or I guess there were some new courses added and some other ones deleted -- and that may well be the sort of response an institution has to some student concerns.
More generally, I'll just speak briefly as a college and university instructor myself over the years. It's a constant pull and tug. On the one hand, as you graduate somebody from a college or university, you want to be able to say that they have a breadth of general background that would enable them to be flexible in the workforce and in acquiring future skills and training. On the other hand, you want to make sure they have sufficient depth of knowledge and skills in a particular area. It's a constant pull and tug. The students who are really keenly oriented on a particular profession or career sometimes do feel that an institution's commitment to breadth of knowledge is impeding their ability to specialize to the extent that they would like.
[4:30]J. Weisbeck: The next bullet, bullet 6, talks of another issue that is raised quite frequently: the inconsistency of instructional quality. How do we deal with that sort of thing? What sort of accountability do the institutions have towards their instruction?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I guess the good news is that overall, 92 percent of graduates in the B.C. system agreed or strongly agreed that the instruction they received during the course of their degree program was good. That's a pretty high level of satisfaction, and I think we can take some comfort that the quality of instruction is there.
There's no doubt that there's a variety of instructional methods and instructional expertise among college instructors and university professors. Most colleges and universities have centres for improvement of curriculum and instruction that their staff can take advantage of. As you know, we have some provincial centres here for technology transfer that equally attempt to help professors and instructors stay current with educational technology and delivery.
J. Weisbeck: You had a survey of colleges and institutes. One of the things that really concerned me was an item that said: "For those currently employed, far more career vocational respondents felt that their program training was very successful in getting them their jobs." That was 62 percent. From academic programs the response was 15 percent. The story I'm hearing out there now is: "I go out and get my bachelor of science or my liberal arts degree, and then I come out and I can't do a whole lot with it." How do we respond to that? There's got to be something at the end of the tunnel for these individuals. They've got to be able to find a job.
[W. Hartley in the chair.]
Hon. P. Ramsey: First, I'll point out what the question did not ask, and that was: are you employed? The answer for a very high percentage of the graduates is yes. What the question asked was whether the training you received is directly relevant to the job you have. Clearly the percentage should be higher for those who have chosen a degree program in a professional specialty than for individuals who have chosen a wide ranging education in arts or in sciences. One would expect that the result of the question for those gradu-
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ates would be: "Well, no, it wasn't directly applicable to the job that I am obtaining, because it was a broad general education."
One of the things that we are increasingly finding is that a significant number of students with a general degree are going on to some further specific training. I think over 25 percent of BCIT students now have a university degree, and they're going to BCIT to hone their skills for employment in a very specific occupation. So they're applying their general knowledge to specific training.
I think this is one of the challenges we have in structuring post-secondary education to provide the right mix there. We're going to be debating the Technical University in the House in a little while. One of the hopes I have for that institution is to focus very highly on the sort of applied career programs and focus on degree programs that are directly linked to the jobs in high-tech sectors of our economy. So it is an increasing challenge.
The other challenge I would say is even before students get into post-secondary. In my time as a college instructor, what I found too often were students coming into post-secondary doing general arts and science training, because they were really not sure what career they wished to pursue. They hadn't really made up their minds and felt, I think correctly, that a general education would prepare them for a variety of employment opportunities. Well, I submit that the better the job we do in our secondary schools of exposing our children to a range of career possibilities in a variety of sectors of our economy and realistically present to them what their career opportunities and the training and education paths are that lead them to that, the better off we'll be and the more students we'll have going through our universities and colleges that say: "Yes, I wanted to get into that career. The training I got at university or at college was directly relevant, and it worked."
J. Weisbeck: I'd like to get into collective agreements. I received documents from the ministry on the framework agreement, particularly the letter from James Dorsey giving his synopsis as the facilitator of this agreement. It had a couple of deadlines to meet, and I understand that it was hopefully going to be in place by March 1996. Obviously it wasn't. I would like to know what the status of this agreement is and how it's progressing.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The framework agreement is in place. Most of the issues that you've talked about were resolved. I think some of the last were resolved, actually, through an LRB hearing that took place we think in either late 1996 or very early 1997. It's in place at all institutions save two: BCIT and Emily Carr.
J. Weisbeck: I'd like to know why BCIT and Emily Carr are not included in this framework agreement.
Hon. P. Ramsey: This is a framework agreement, as the member knows, and it had to be ratified at each institution. At BCIT, the faculty rejected it. Subsequent agreements did lead to an agreement between faculty and the institution, which in most respects is very similar to the framework agreement. Similarly, at Emily Carr the agreement was rejected, and subsequently a collective agreement for the institution was negotiated. But the parameters of those agreements obviously fell within the PSEC guidelines and within, I believe, the parameters of the framework agreement.
J. Weisbeck: There was some concern that this was a sort of cookie-cutter approach to bargaining. Basically, we're talking about sectoral bargaining once again and the fact that there is concern out there that this wouldn't work.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I would submit that the difference is that this is not a bargaining structure that has been imposed by the LRB regulation or by legislation. The bargaining agents and the college-institute system are arranged as they wish to arrange themselves. It's not like the public school teachers, where the government has intervened and said: "There will be provincial bargaining; here is the legislation that makes provincial bargaining happen." I think there are many in the college-institute system that see a provincial level of bargaining as appropriate because, as I've said repeatedly, it helps facilitate progress in forming our colleges and institutes into one system. It helps us with some of the flexibility and adjustment that we may need as we manage that system for the benefit of all members.
Let me give you one very simple example. I'll give you an example from the past, and then see how it might be different under an even more provincialized method of bargaining. In the past, with the cooperation of colleges and institutes, the ministry has transferred programs from one institution to another. Where this has occurred, the transfer of staff from one collective agreement to another has at times been fraught with immense complication and difficulty, because you had two institutions with two sets of collective agreements and two different histories. That sort of program change and rationalization is something, I believe, that will continue to occur. If we have the facility to manage that in a way that is respectful of the rights of employees, I think that is to the overall benefit of the system. On balance, I believe that movements toward agreements that cover the college-institute sector are appropriate. But that's my view. The institutes and their employees themselves have the ability to arrange their collective bargaining environments.
J. Weisbeck: Can you visualize that this sort of framework will be moving into the university sector?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'm afraid my vision doesn't look out that far, hon. member.
J. Weisbeck: Would you like it to move into the university sector?
I want to speak a bit about prior learning and the impact on education. I've been curious to know what sort of impact it has on the traditional sort of degrees. You get a student out there who has worked for four years and worked very, very hard and got a traditional degree, and then you have someone popping in who has been out in the workforce. Granted they have the knowledge, but they haven't obtained their diplomas or their degrees in the same manner. What sort of conflict do you think this might create?
[4:45]Hon. P. Ramsey: I guess the very short answer that I'd give is that I will be very interested to see. We are just moving into this initiative in a major way now. I think we are in the second or third year of prior-learning assessment and funding for it. We have now moved to a situation where I think every college institute has people on staff that are sort of the keepers
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of the program for prior-learning assessment for that institution. We have thousands of students who have returned to college or university and have received credit for their work experience or for seminars that they may have done on the job, rather than course work within the institution.
My sense, though, is that if anything, they will be better equipped when they attain their degree than those who have simply gone from secondary school through a four-year degree program. I say that for a couple of reasons. First, I suspect that the panels that are set up in prior-learning assessment to actually evaluate a person's portfolio are probably going to be fairly tough, particularly since this is a new program, and they want it to have credibility within their own institution and, more broadly, for the community that their graduates are going to be working in. So I suspect they're going to be fairly tough -- I would suspect even tougher than conventional instruction might be.
But at the end of the day, skills and knowledge are skills and knowledge, whether attained in the workforce or in the classroom. I'm delighted that we're finally putting into effect what many educators have said for years was a sound principle, and that is that we should give people credit for their knowledge and skills, not for the particular time that they've spent in classrooms.
J. Weisbeck: I'm not clear on whether you're going to be able to apply this prior learning to degrees or diplomas or both.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Both.
J. Weisbeck: Will we be able to apply this prior learning to lower-level courses? Or will this go throughout the whole four-year system?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The answer is: any level. Those are the decisions of the institution and of the panel that's evaluating somebody's skills and experience. If I've been out there working -- in accounting or whatever -- why shouldn't I get credit for a third-year course in accounting if I can demonstrate my mastery of the knowledge and skills that the course involves?
J. Weisbeck: In order to qualify for a particular course, would there be an exam set, or is it just sort of on
Hon. P. Ramsey: There's a wide variety of assessment tools that are used. Again, I can't really generalize, because it's specific to the institution and to the program that's doing the assessment.
It might be challenge exams on certain bodies of knowledge. It might be the presentation of a portfolio. For example, if somebody can demonstrate to me in a portfolio of work that they have the ability to write clean, clear technical prose, I would have no hesitation, as an instructor, in giving them credit for a technical writing course, even if they never sat in my class for one day. Or it might be demonstration of on-the-job skills, which might very well apply in technical trades or maybe even professional work.
J. Weisbeck: I hope I never have to go to a dentist who has prior-learning skills.
I'd like to talk about the PLN. This is a great secret that seems to be kept; I'm having difficulty finding any information on this whole concept. I understand that you have an agreement-in-principle with Systemhouse. I'd like to know a little bit about what that agreement is and where you think this whole process is going.
Hon. P. Ramsey: We are committed to getting PLNet in place. Currently we're fine-tuning two elements of it: the financial plan for it -- who pays what, when and how -- and the time line and implementation plan. We hope to be announcing further details in the very near future on how we're moving ahead.
If the member wishes, I would be pleased to arrange a technical briefing for him on how it is contemplated that the system will work. He may have already seen this brochure, which outlines it in general terms. We'd be glad to provide it. But I must say that this is very general information. I'd be very pleased to provide him with a technical briefing on all the details of how it works. I mean, why should I be the only one having to sit through those technical briefings?
But I want to say that there is no agreement in place with Systemhouse right now. We are working with them and with others as we fine-tune the time line and implementation plan. So we're moving forward. The focus here for me is on what the model is and at what cost that makes it work. As I say, I'd be glad to get you all the technical details.
J. Weisbeck: I would like to know who Systemhouse is. Who are they? Are they a provider or a server, or are they more a design sort of company?
Hon. P. Ramsey: They're a large company that has technical expertise in the design of these sorts of networks on a large scale. They're not a service provider in the way that B.C. Tel is; that is, they don't own lines.
Hon. P. Ramsey: No. They don't own lines. They call themselves system integrators, which is what they do. As I say, I'd be glad to get you the technical briefing that says: here's where the responsibility of somebody who's actually providing the line begins and ends; here's what an integrator does; here's what an institution does in the system; and here's how it all ties together. But I will not attempt to do that for Hansard.
J. Weisbeck: What's the time line for this? I understood the contract with Systemhouse was for one year. When did that start? When will it finish? Then what happens after that point? I guess the questions I'm asking are: number one, is it going to happen, and secondly, when? When would we expect to have some sort of an Internet system in schools, first of all?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I expect to be able to announce the schedule for the implementation of PLNet within the next month or so. I expect to be able to start hooking schools up to it this fall. So we're moving ahead on it.
I want to say a little bit about the goals that I have for this initiative. It's clear to me that if we simply allowed the marketplace to provide Internet access to the education system, we would have a huge range of opportunities to do that across the province. Frankly, if I were a principal of a school here in Victoria or in downtown Vancouver, I would have suppliers falling over themselves to compete to provide the service. If I'm running the school in Atlin, I have a very, very different
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problem. The cost of the service to me in downtown Vancouver could be one one-hundredth of the cost to me in Atlin. Well, as Minister of Education, I don't think it's fair that we disadvantage some students to that extent. Therefore we have intervened to get a provincial learning network that provides equitable access to this tool. That's the goal that I have.
I must say it's a very exciting initiative. I don't know if the member is a surfer of the Net himself. I must confess I'm more of a wader than a surfer, but I find much on there that I think is fascinating in its educational applications.
J. Weisbeck: I'm more of a lay-on-the-board type of surfer than a stand-up surfer. I'm excited about this, too. Speaking to a number of people -- the Open Learning Institute, for example -- about it not being a matter of "if" but of "when
Hon. P. Ramsey: Could I ask the member
J. Weisbeck: An intra-net or an Internet.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Very much an Internet. The goal here really is to take advantage of some of the opportunities to both expand the range of knowledge and experiences that our students can have in colleges and in the K-to-12 system by using this tool.
I'll give you one example. The recent Everest expedition had two Canadians that were third and fourth, I think -- I can't remember if they were third and fourth or fifth and sixth -- to achieve Everest. They were part of a project that actually had a web site which was available to public school students called "Mount Everest Expedition." It ran from, I think, around February right through to the summit attempt and the success last month. Students could log on and get information about the expedition's progress.
I cruised the web site myself for about an hour, fascinated. You could work on: what equipment do you need; what are the physiological challenges of high-altitude mountaineering; what's the progress of the team now; where are they? People from the base camp were actually logging on and providing real-time updates on what was happening.
I've received some reviews from teachers who used this tool in their classes in British Columbia schools who said this was marvellous. It brought together geography -- so where the heck is Everest and what's the culture there? It brought together all the challenges of mounting a team and planning, survival skills, whatever. They found a truly fascinating opportunity for their students to do this, and without the resources of the Internet, at best you'd get an after-the-fact pamphlet saying that this is what happened. It involved their students in a way that I think is unique to this medium.
That's the sort of opportunity we're seeking to provide more and more broadly and in a way that doesn't disadvantage those who live in smaller communities remote from major centres of information technology and the provision of Internet services.
J. Weisbeck: I've heard that one of the concerns is that we have the technology, we have the appliances, but do we really have the software? Do we have the courses, and how will those be developed?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Look, I'm with you. I mean, this marvellous tool -- and it is a marvellous tool
I think the answer to the question -- so who's going to provide it? -- is going to be very, very mixed. You mentioned that BCIT already has some 30 courses ready for access through the Internet. I think almost every college and university in the province now has courses that they are ready to deliver or are already delivering largely through the Internet. I know that UNBC in my riding has a variety of such courses on line. So that's one source -- the institutions themselves.
[5:00]I also think we're going to find some fascinating things coming out of the private sector. I'll give you one example of a tool that I recently saw; I was involved in promoting and launching it. It's one that was prepared under a grant from Forest Renewal B.C., and it's a career-exploration tool aimed at secondary school students to do what we were just talking about -- making sure that students are making the right career choices so that they can get into a profitable and long-lasting employment situation. It's called "Wood Link." If you have a CD-ROM and an appropriate computer, I can get you a copy. What it does is provide students with a huge opportunity to explore careers in the forest industry -- and not just tree-planting and how you run a sawmill but: so what does a professional forester do? If you're in the value-added sector, what do you do for marketing? It pulls together information on what the various educational streams are and where in the province they're available. It includes all the data for all the colleges and all the universities in B.C. on that level. It pulls together information about what the job opportunities are going to be in what sectors and what those jobs look like.
The part that I found most fascinating was a part that had real-world profiles of people that work in the forest industry. They had -- I don't remember -- a couple hundred of them. If you pulled up a particular person
The students I was with at lunch were 200 secondary school students in Prince George, who unveiled it. I said: "Oh, right; I'm going to unveil a piece of career exploration software in front of 200 secondary school kids. They're going to have me for breakfast." They loved it. They couldn't wait to get their hands on it and start clicking on new boxes and finding new options.
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In the future, we hope to be able to provide this and link it to the college and university registration system and calendars so that you can go from career search to education search to registration and pull that all together. Again, this is just one example of making the right links here and using this technology as a tool for enhancing our education system and expanding opportunities for our children. There are dozens.
This is done by a provider who is contracted out of FRBC, who was working in the forest industry, who said: "Our big problem is all the high school kids think all we have in the forest industry are loggers and sawmill runners. We can't break through and let them know what the career options actually are." So that's one example of how we'll get stuff into the pipe which is good stuff and which will advance the educational system in our province.
J. Weisbeck: My last question is: what are the projected sites? How many sites will there be throughout the province?
Hon. P. Ramsey: All 1,700 public schools, every college and university, and every community skills centre.
J. Weisbeck: Just a couple of questions on adult basic education. I guess one of the complaints of the colleges is that they get a lump sum and then have to deal with adult education, whereas K-to-12 seems to get funding for everyone enrolled. So there seems to be an unlevel playing field here. That was the complaint I got from one of the colleges, which I'll pass along. They call it a cash cow, by the way.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I hope that was the school district that was calling it a cash cow. Yes, I think there are inequities in how adult basic education is funded across the system. I've asked the ministry to work with the system, to prepare me some options for making it more equitable and uniform across the piece -- colleges and school districts. I hope to be able to move forward on a more uniform system this fall.
R. Masi: I believe we're getting close to private post-secondary institutions. I have a question on Trinity Western University in terms of the accreditation for teacher-training. It's my sense that the university meets the academic and the professional standards that are generally accepted by the province in terms of degree-granting and the instructional qualifications of professional instructors. My question is fairly straightforward: why should this institution not be permitted to proceed with offering teacher-training?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The ministry itself puts no barriers in the way of Trinity Western. As the member knows, certification of teacher-training programs lies with the College of Teachers of British Columbia. They have that authority by legislation, and it is their decision.
I think the member also knows that the denial of accreditation of the program is a matter which is currently before the courts. I would advise the member that I'm not prepared to discuss the specifics of that case.
J. Weisbeck: A particular situation has arisen in Kelowna. The concern is from the owner of a private post-secondary institution, One Stop Career Centres. I guess what happened is that the Business Training Institute was closed on June 10. As a result, there was a number of students that basically lost their courses. But now it's being licensed under a different owner using the same number.
I'd like to know if this is a normal circumstance. Can you pass this particular number off to a new individual, or do they have to go through the normal process? I understand that it takes a year to get this student service number.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I was somewhat aware of the case that the member refers to. What the post-secondary training commission has done, my staff informed me, is say to the new owners of the training institution in Kelowna: "You have until Friday" -- and I believe it's this Friday -- "to meet the following criteria, and if you do, we're prepared to reinstate your certification. At that point, the student financial assistance branch would be prepared to reinstate the student loans."
This is not usual. But we had a situation where the institution had physically closed. The registration was cancelled; therefore the student loans were also cancelled. We had a new owner who wished to acquire it and wished to acquire it in a way that didn't disrupt the education of students, if possible. I understand that the Private Post-Secondary Education Commission has set the criteria and given a time line for meeting it. If all are met, the branch of the ministry is prepared to reinstate the loans.
J. Weisbeck: I'm sorry, you said that the students, then, would be reinstated?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Uh-huh.
J. Weisbeck: Okay. Thank you.
I want to talk a little bit about
Hon. P. Ramsey: Excuse me, I've just been informed by staff that as far as we're aware, there are no students actually there anymore; they've gone elsewhere or simply walked away from that training. If that's not true and there are students that actually need to continue their training, then there's obviously something else we need to look into.
J. Weisbeck: It was my understanding that the other institutions have picked up these students, but I don't know whether they would now go back to this original institution or not. Whether or not they got those student loans applied to the new institution -- I don't know that, either. The other institutions banded together to pick up these ten students.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I think that is what has occurred. If they then did transfer back, it would be student choice and the loan would go with the student, since the school would then be reregistered.
J. Weisbeck: There have been a number of concerns about the new proposed technical university, and I'm sure you have probably seen them, as well, from the CIEA. In their newsletter they stated that: "Our analysis shows that the technical university will do little to increase post-secondary participation rates of residents in the Fraser Valley region." I'd like you to please respond to that.
Hon. P. Ramsey: If the goal was simply to increase participation rates in the Fraser Valley region, there are a variety of ways of doing that -- whether through the technical university, the college system, Fraser Valley University College or others. But we are also establishing an institution with a provincial mandate and with some clear goals to enhance
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training for emerging high-tech sectors of our economy. Even before we have passed the legislation, the president of the university is already engaged in active discussion with some major corporations about their advanced training needs and how a technical university might be part of the solution to meet those needs and do so more expeditiously than more traditional universities.
So I don't disagree with the analysis that just by itself the technical university is not the only way that one can increase participation in the lower Fraser Valley. It is surely one way of doing that, but the technical university has a far broader mandate and a far broader goal than simply increasing participation.
J. Weisbeck: I guess the concern out there is that in this time of fiscal restraint, why would we be putting money into a new institution which obviously would cost a lot more than possibly expanding current ones? I know for a fact that the technical university's first courses will be taken up by BCIT and SFU. So why are we creating a new university if those two universities can take up some of the slack in that area?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I thank the member for referring to some of the partnerships that we have told the technical university we expect them to develop, foster and act on with Simon Fraser University and BCIT. That is yet another way that it is going to be quite different from other institutions. We are also challenging a technical university to come in with a delivery of services to students at a far lower unit cost -- as much as I hate that phrase -- per student than existing universities, through a variety of means: partnerships with the private sector, through technological means of delivery rather than more conventional instruction, through partnering up with a variety of other institutions -- Simon Fraser and BCIT. This is something that is innovative.
[5:15]As the member and I were discussing at the break, I think British Columbia has really led the way in Canada in innovation of post-secondary institutions, whether it is Royal Roads and its mandate, whether it's the university colleges and the decision to have comprehensive institutions that run from welding to degree-granting or whether it's the Open Learning Agency. There is a wide range of innovations in the delivery of post-secondary education that has started in this province. I think we should take pride in them. I think the technical university is another such innovation. There are those who wish to simply replicate again what we have done elsewhere. I recognize that. It has worked. Why try something new? Well, there are some new challenges, and we think the technical university can help meet them.
J. Weisbeck: We spoke earlier about participation. Has there ever been a study on participation of regions throughout the province? I guess the point I'm getting at is: how do we place the institution? Obviously you are getting into an area right now where there is a lot of controversy about where this new university is going to go. Would the participation rates have anything to do with the decision on where this university will end up?
Hon. P. Ramsey: In answer to the first question, yes, we do have data on participation rates in various regions of the province. It's definitely true that the decision to site the technical university in the lower Fraser Valley was made because it has a lower participation rate at the university level than, say, greater Vancouver or Victoria. So that's part of the decision to site it there. If that's what the member is referring to, that's why. I'm not sure, then, whether within the region, three miles one way or five miles another way makes a lot of difference as far as addressing the need for increased opportunities for participation.
J. Weisbeck: I guess there is some concern that politics may be taking precedence over common sense about where this university ends up. Can you actually verify the location?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Let's deal with this on the straight-up. I did say at the announcement of its funding that for the next year the current site is the Cloverdale site. I also said at that same announcement that the final determination on site and construction is something that I'm asking the university itself to work on. There are, as you know, a diversity of sites that have been proposed. I know that the university itself is wrestling with this problem. Clearly the final decision has to rest on what makes sense -- first, in terms of what the programs are. Second, I would hope there would be some sense of what makes sense in terms of a transportation infrastructure and other considerations. But that process is something that the university is being challenged to do. The current plans for siting that university are the Cloverdale location.
J. Weisbeck: The same release by the CIEA has commented that Kwantlen College and the UC of the Fraser Valley could provide the service as well.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Let me go back to my first comments. If we're just looking at participation rate and number of seats, yes. If we're looking at the mandate of the technical university, no.
J. Weisbeck: I don't know if it's possible to discuss the governance of this university
J. Weisbeck: Save it for the bill? Okay.
You put out a very thick volume of course transfers, and it looks very complicated. I don't know how
Hon. P. Ramsey: I think there are two issues here that you want to try to separate. First, the grading systems are established by the institutions, and we don't see them as a major barrier to transfer among institutions. Those seem to be worked out fairly smoothly among them. So that's one issue.
The second one is the actual transfer arrangements among them. It is indeed a fat volume, because I think we have the best-articulated post-secondary system in the country -- perhaps on the continent. It does allow students to transfer pretty much across the piece from one academic program to another and get credit for the work they've done at one institution towards a degree or diploma at another. The whole goal here is not to be faced with a barrier that says:
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"Well, only the work you've actually done at this institution counts towards our degree." It's to allow you to transfer work that you've done at other institutions and receive credit for it.
I must say that in my own mind I've often wondered whether the 40,000-plus transfer arrangements that are contained in that volume are a declaration of success or an admission of failure. The work goes on for simpler ways of allowing institutions to accredit work done at another. One of those pieces of work the member might be interested in is a proposal for what's called block transfer, for having one institution accredit or give credit not for a particular course offered by another institution but for a block of work done at another institution. For example, if I began a university degree at Northwest Community College and took a year of work and then transferred to UNBC, I would receive a year's credit, and UNBC wouldn't look into the box to see what specific courses I took. Or I would begin a university degree at Kwantlen, take two years of work, transfer into Simon Fraser, and Simon Fraser would simply say: "Right, two years towards an arts degree; we're not going to look inside the box." That would simplify things a lot for students.
So this is one idea that's being explored. Even if that were in place, it clearly would not impact on the ability of an institution that receives a transfer student to require certain courses for a certain degree, but it might simplify some of the transfer arrangements. There's a discussion paper that has been put out on this issue, and I think CEISS is going to be doing some work on it this fall -- that's my CEISS, not the RCMP's CSIS.
R. Masi: I want to enter into an area that's somewhat delicate, and I'd appreciate any answer that the minister could come up with. It is related to Simon Fraser University and a harassment policy in effect there. I really don't want to get involved with the personalities or the situation that's taking place in the newspaper today, but I would like to comment just generally that the particular situation that we read about is a most unfortunate situation. My concern here, largely, is that it reflects on the university and the credibility and the general status of the university, which has come a long way since it began many years ago now, with a few problems at the time. It has grown to be a first-class university. As the minister remarked in his opening remarks, it's number one in Canada. I have a son who is graduating from there this year -- in fact, right now.
A year or two ago -- I've just forgotten when -- we had an unfortunate occurrence at the University of British Columbia as well regarding a similar situation. I believe it was a professor-student type of incident there, which I don't think was well handled at the university itself.
You know, we almost have to ask: when or where will the next one take place? I know that the minister is concerned about this. Given the jealously guarded autonomy of universities -- I really do appreciate that -- I just wonder if the ministry or the minister could have any role in guaranteeing that these incidents will be dealt with in a judicious manner, without all the concurrent publicity. Can the minister or the ministry insist upon policies that are fair to all so that we don't have this effect on our universities in British Columbia? I mean, it could happen anywhere.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I suppose it was inevitable that the question would be asked, given the attention that the case has received in the press in the last several weeks. I find the situation both very regrettable and very difficult to deal with. I continue to monitor the situation as closely as I can and, like the member opposite, remain very concerned about the potential impact on the reputation of one of Canada's finest universities, one of B.C.'s finest universities. I guess the encouraging part is that we do have Simon Fraser University engaged in active mediation process with a person that I respect greatly: Mr. Kelleher, a very highly skilled and respected mediator. I look forward to the results of that to resolve the situation.
More generally, these are very difficult questions. I believe it is incumbent on our educational institutions -- whether they're colleges, universities or public schools -- to ensure that their students have a right to study and learn and that their staff have a right to teach and work in an atmosphere that's free from harassment and discrimination. I think it's also imperative that our educational institutions have in place mechanisms for dealing fairly and equitably with incidents that transgress on that principle of no harassment.
[5:30]Clearly the circumstances that we've seen at Simon Fraser have the potential not only for damaging that institution but for raising serious questions about how educational institutions deal with harassment policies and deal with incidents of harassment. I think a need does exist to ensure that we learn from experience and move forward on it. I must say I hope we deal with it in an atmosphere that's free from some of the media heat that this particular case has generated. I guess that's a quiet way of saying I think there is opportunity for universities and educational institutions to learn from this experience. I would also hope that they wouldn't engage in sort of knee-jerk responses to this very regrettable situation at Simon Fraser.
J. Weisbeck: I guess my concern -- not about Simon Fraser necessarily, but the overall system -- is that it seems to me that the appointment of students to a judiciary body seems to be lacking. I mean, I think we've got students going into this process who probably aren't trained -- certainly aren't trained legally -- to deal with the handling of very, very complex issues. I think that sort of aspect of the whole policy should be looked at. I wonder if you'd like to comment on that.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'm not sure I agree with the member totally. I think students can exercise a high degree of common sense, and I believe that their firsthand knowledge of the environment in the university classrooms could be a valuable asset on an adjudication panel. I clearly want the rules under which that panel operates to be fair and to meet the principles of natural justice, and those are the challenges here. I must say, though, that we're getting into discussion on precisely the points that I think would be better addressed in an atmosphere that wasn't overshadowed by the specifics of this case.
J. Weisbeck: I will conclude my questions on that subject. I have one final question, and it has to do with a gentleman in Kelowna who is a property management individual. I'm going to read this letter, because it's self-explanatory.
"I am the president of the Kelowna Hotel Motel Association, and would like to discuss why universities, which are property tax-exempt and also publicly funded, are allowed to rent units out as a motel. This seems highly unfair and somewhat ironic as I, being a taxpayer, have paid to have the university built. If they're going to rent out on a daily basis and do conferences, I feel the property tax exemption should be removed to create a level playing field for the other motels."And he's saying: "Your comments would be appreciated."
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And to the minister: your comments would be appreciated.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I assume that what your correspondent is referring to is the student residences at colleges and universities that indeed run on cost recovery and very often do, at times, make rooms available for attendance at a one-, two- or three-day conference. Your correspondent is accurately describing their status. I guess my only response would be that I've stayed in a lot of dorm rooms in my time and never thought I was staying in a motel. The level of service and the level of amenities seems to me to be quite different. I know what I'm going to get in a dorm room, and I know what I'm going to get in a motel.
J. Weisbeck: I guess one concern is that they are actually advertising. Here's a copy of the brochure that they send around. They are actively pursuing the trade, so it's not just conferencing. If it was conferencing, this gentleman wouldn't have any problem whatsoever, but it's the fact that they are out there trying to lure the general public, and he just doesn't feel that's a
Hon. P. Ramsey: The tax policy, of course, is set generally for all educational institutions. The specific policy of renting out rooms lies with the individual institution. Your correspondent is a resident of the Okanagan region. This is Okanagan College?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Well, it serves his community. I would suggest he might want to take his concerns up with the board.
R. Masi: This seems to be into miscellaneous now, so I have a general question on athletic scholarships. I realize that the athletic scholarships seem to have moved from the Ministry of Education over to Small Business and Tourism, which, in my opinion, seems to be regrettable. I have strong feelings that athletic scholarships are part and parcel of the university life. I very much equate athletic excellence with academic excellence. Again, I can refer to my own family, who have done very well, thank you, on athletic scholarships and have done well academically. I see this as an integrated part and parcel of university and university life. I don't know how the minister feels about athletic scholarships. This has been sort of an on-and-off thing over the years.
At the beginning, of course, Simon Fraser came on very strong regarding the granting of athletic scholarships and was going to compete on an even basis with U.S. colleges. This has sort of tempered over the years and flattened out. Back in the eighties, past governments established a fund in the Ministry of Education for this purpose, and I find it regrettable that this has now moved out to another ministry and has been further watered down, and it almost appears to be on the brink of elimination.
I guess that's more of a statement than a question, but I would like to have the minister's opinion on this.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'm well aware of the interest in this issue. I received a lot of correspondence on it, if I remember.
Let me just say this quickly sort of as background. I do believe that athletics is an important part of what people should be engaged in throughout their lives, not just as students, and that physical activity is important for everybody. Surely some attention to that is important in our school systems, and I think celebration of excellence in that area is a part of what we want to see in our colleges and universities to provide our students the opportunity to compete within their institutions and with other institutions.
And the Chair is saying that I'd better wrap this quickly.
There was some concern that there was a total walking-away from this entire program. That is not the case now. I think the situation is stabilized. The 1997 team component is split 75 percent for teams funded by the institution and 25 percent for non-team student athletes nominated by the institution. There's a reduced amount of money but a stable amount for the coming year.
Given the sort of pressures on budgets across government, I think the reduction was appropriate. I hope we have some supports in place that will continue to support student athletes at our colleges and universities.
With that, and noting the hour, I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:40 p.m.