DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY (Hansard)
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 3, 1998
Volume 10, Number 9
[ Page 8297 ]
The House met at 2:05 p.m.
Hon. G. Clark: It is my pleasure today to introduce a group of visiting Chinese-language media people. I'd like to introduce to the House Tammy Yueng, with the Ming Pao newspaper; Peggy Cheng, with the Sing Tao newspaper; Timothy Tsim, Karen So, Mabel Wong and Luke Yue from Fairchild TV; Eric Ou-Yang from TalentVision TV; Mary Lo from Fairchild Radio; and John Leung from Mainstream Broadcasting. I'd ask all members to make these members of the media welcome.
Hon. J. Kwan: In the Speaker's gallery today we are honoured to have as our guests 20 distinguished members of the People's Republic of China State Development Planning Commission. These government officials are led by Secretary General Bai Hejin and Vice-Minister Lu Shiche, and are here to participate in a macroeconomics and management workshop at the University of Victoria faculty of business. Accompanying them are Prof. Kenneth Keng and executive program coordinator Shari Baker. Would all members of the House please join me in welcoming them.
Hon. I. Waddell: Today is my mother Isobel's eighty-fifth birthday. I think she's in the gallery, although she told me that she was going to the hairdresser's, so I'm not quite sure. Anyway, many members of the House know her. Would they join me in wishing my mother Isobel a happy eighty-fifth birthday.
I. Chong: On behalf of the official opposition, I too would like to welcome all members of the Chinese media, some of whom I have met over the last two years. I wish them a good day here and I hope to be able to visit with them again very soon in Vancouver. Would the House please make them welcome.
W. Hartley: In the gallery today we have ten young visitors and their teacher, Ms. Taylor, from Fernwood Elementary School in Bothell, Washington, and a few adults. Would the members please make them welcome.
P. Calendino: Today I have the pleasure of introducing a visitor from Pisa, Italy, which is the area where the tower is still leaning and where I go to spend some time in the summer when I am on vacation. She is here visiting with her husband, and she's enjoying the beauty and natural wonders of our province. Would the House please welcome a lawyer from Italy, Ms. Patrizia Falcone, who is sitting in the gallery. If you allow me, Madam Speaker, I'll say a couple of words in Italian; she does speak English. Chiedo alla Camera di dare un calorosissimo benvenuto alla Dottoressa Patrizia Falcone di Pisa. Please welcome her.
Hon. D. Streifel: Touring the precincts today are 40 grade 7 students from Hatzic Elementary School in my riding. They are accompanied by Mr. J. Mills and a few adults. I bid the House make them welcome.
OIL AND GAS COMMISSION ACTHon. D. Miller presented a message from his Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Oil and Gas Commission Act.
Hon. D. Miller: Hon. Speaker, I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. D. Miller: Bill 32 is one of the key instruments to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the province's regulation of the oil and gas industry. Passage of the bill is needed to establish a new single-window agency, the Oil and Gas Commission, to regulate the oil and gas industry from exploration through to reclamation. The new B.C. Oil and Gas Commission will be headquartered in Fort St. John and will be headed by a commissioner who will be delegated decision-making authority for all key permits required to undertake upstream oil- and gas-related activities. This single-window agency will provide the focus for more coordinated, responsive decision-making that is informed by a range of pertinent interests, including environmental, first nations and local residents' concerns, as well as those of the oil and gas industry and other resource sectors. The costs of the agency will be fully financed by the oil and gas industry through user fees.
Hon. Speaker, I move that the bill be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 32 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
NORTHERN DOCTOR SERVICESG. Campbell: Hon. Speaker, over the last five years, nine of the ten provinces in Canada implemented payment for on-call services for rural physicians. Three years ago this government had a Northern and Rural Health Task Force, which recommended "appropriate remuneration for on-call work and opportunities for relief from call." Can the Premier tell the people of British Columbia why the government ignored the recommendations of the Northern and Rural Health Task Force and put people in northern communities of British Columbia at risk for the last number of months?
Hon. G. Clark: This question would be better directed, of course, to the minister, who is not here at the moment. But I want to say for the record that the task force made many recommendations, the bulk of which have been implemented. I want to remind all members of the House that we have the northern and rural doctors' isolation allowance, which is the only place in Canada -- by far the largest allocation
The Speaker: First supplementary, the Leader of the Official Opposition.
[ Page 8298 ]G. Campbell: The fact of the matter is that the Northern and Rural Health Task Force recommended fees for on-call services, and they recommended relief from on-call service. This government ignored those recommendations and created a crisis for the people in the north of the province.
Ms. Dobbin's report is also very clear. The crisis that people in northern communities have faced over the last number of months is a direct result of this government's inaction. It's a direct result of this government's dismissal of the doctors' concerns. I'll quote from her report, because obviously some of the members opposite have not had a chance to read it: "With lack of response to their concerns" -- the doctors' concerns -- "the eventual withdrawal of services should not have come as a surprise to anyone."
My question, again to the Premier, is: did this government choose to let rural patients suffer? Why would this government choose to let rural patients suffer when they are now simply going to look at recommendations which are equivalent to recommendations that were made three years ago?
Hon. G. Clark: I already mentioned that we have the highest-paid doctors in Canada, that we are the only place in Canada with a northern isolation allowance, which is significant. With the highest northern allowance in Canada
The Speaker: Mr. Premier, excuse me. Hon. members, the question was listened to with some silence. I expect the same for the reply.
Hon. G. Clark: It's certainly unfair to characterize us as not being cognizant of the concerns of northern doctors, when we already have the highest-paid northern doctors in Canada.
Secondly, we tried on numerous occasions to work with the doctors to resolve this question. It was a surprise to me -- and I'll confess to this to the House right now -- that the legal contract that we negotiated with doctors in this province was broken. If a trade union had acted in that fashion, the members opposite would be howling with indignation about violating a legal contract. But acting in that fashion -- breaking a legal contract, essentially going on strike and breaking a legal contract, including the northern allowance
[2:15]The Speaker: Second supplementary, the Leader of the Official Opposition.
G. Campbell: I think the Premier has shown why there is so much difficulty in solving this problem: he doesn't understand it to begin with. The Premier's facts are wrong. You don't have to listen to the opposition; simply read the report, Mr. Premier.
The fact of the matter is that the doctors in the communities in the north were right and this government was wrong. Because this government would not pay attention to people in the north, people in the north were in jeopardy for some time.
My question to the Premier is simply this: will you apologize to the patients and the families in the north who you put at risk? Will the Premier apologize to the young pregnant woman who had to come down to Victoria to tell the Premier and the government about the problems she had or to the gentleman who had to go to Prince George and pay $6,000 so he could be at his wife's side in her dying days? Will the Premier apologize to the people of the north for the problems and the suffering that he and his government caused?
Hon. G. Clark: Hon. Speaker, the question should be: will the doctors apologize for breaking legal contracts and putting their patients at risk?
We established for the north, as well, a family practice clinic in Prince George to train northern doctors. We established a provincial locum service just in the last few years, to try to deal with doctors in the north. A doctor recruitment program by HEABC was started, again to deal with recruitment problems.
What I want to know from the leader opposite is whether he supports the Dobbin report or whether he supports Granger Avery from the B.C. Medical Association, who is recommending rejection of the Dobbin report?
S. Hawkins: The fact is that there are 86 fewer doctors in rural B.C. today than there were four years ago, and the fact is that this government ignored the concerns of rural doctors. The fact is that this government ignored the solution they had in their report, in their hands, three years ago, which recommended on-call pay. Three years ago, the Ontario government implemented -- as did four other provinces -- on-call pay.
My question is to the Premier: why did the NDP have to commission yet another report, when they had two reports with the same solutions and they could have kept hospitals open and patients safe in the last few months if they had done that? Why did they have to commission another report?
Hon. G. Clark: Hon. Speaker, I want to know why the Liberal Party is a captive of the B.C. Medical Association. Do they support
The Speaker: Order.
Hon. G. Clark:
The Speaker: Hon. members, order, please.
SKYTRAIN TECHNOLOGY AND LIGHT RAPID TRANSITG. Plant: My question is also to the Premier, but on another subject. This morning the chairman of the greater Vancouver regional district, George Puil, went ballistic when he discovered that the Premier was in Montreal
[ Page 8299 ]Interjections.
The Speaker: Hon. members.
Hon. G. Clark: I'm very much looking forward to this debate. I want to know what side the Liberal Party takes: whether they want to build this and get on with it and improve service for the people of the lower mainland, or whether they want to play politics with it and consult year in and year out. We have been very transparent with the GVRD in working to get a new arrangement for transit. I strongly support that approach. It said that the principal responsibility for the rapid transit route would lie with the provincial government, which is paying the bulk of the cost. A cost-sharing formula is yet to be negotiated.
Clearly we have been discussing it with the GVRD. The LRT project committee has discussed, as recently as a few days ago
The Speaker: Thank you.
Hon. G. Clark: That's the message I communicated to Bombardier.
The Speaker: Thank you, Mr. Premier. For his first supplementary, the member for Richmond-Steveston.
G. Plant: Well, the spectacle of this Premier standing up and accusing other people of playing politics would be laughable if it weren't such a disgrace.
According to the transit agreement that's apparently in place between the GVRD and the province, there will be an LRT line, and the cost will be split 60-40. I want to know why the Premier wouldn't even bother to consult with the GVRD before going off and making a deal which may increase the cost of the Broadway line by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hon. G. Clark: We have not negotiated a contact; we are in discussions to bring jobs to British Columbia with SkyTrain technology. I want to know whether the members opposite support SkyTrain or not. Secondly, it is clear from the current estimates that it is not necessarily more expensive to produce SkyTrain technology. Finally, hon. Speaker, we intend to honour all commitments in the regional transit authority. But I want to be clear to members of this House and to the public: we are going to expedite rapid transit in the lower mainland with or without the Liberals' support.
D. Symons: The Premier may remember -- since he was the one responsible for Transit for a number of years and in the debates that I was having with him -- some of his responses to questions I was asking on SkyTrain. For instance, on June 9, 1992, he said: "I guess as a politician one has the temptation to build something today that someone doesn't have to pay for for three or four years, on the assumption that I might not be there and whoever's there can deal with it
D. Symons: Those are the Premier's words. In spite of the fact that this NDP government doesn't have a very good track record at budget projections, let us see how much money the SkyTrain extension will cost. Will the Premier table today the SkyTrain cost-benefit analysis?
Hon. G. Clark: This Liberal opposition doesn't have a good thing to say about anything. They are negative, negative, negative. They'll blame me for everything. Next thing you know, they'll blame me for Geri leaving the Spice Girls. Actually, maybe the Leader of the Opposition could be invited to join. I even have a name for him: Old Spice.
The Speaker: Order, hon. members.
Hon. G. Clark: Hon. Speaker, I'm sorry. I digress.
The Speaker: Order, all members.
Hon. G. Clark: That member is a very knowledgable critic on the question of transit. I have a great deal of respect for him. He knows the debates that have gone on, and I know -- notwithstanding what the rest of the Liberals say -- that that member will support the decision to build SkyTrain technology to improve service on the lower mainland, particularly when it goes to Richmond. It will mean jobs in British Columbia.
The Speaker: Order, hon. members. Hon members, come to order. There's another question.
SPECIAL OFFER TO B.C. HYDRO'S PREFERRED CUSTOMERSM. de Jong: I, regrettably, am not a B.C. Hydro preferred customer. I confess that. But if you're a preferred customer, hon. Speaker, fasten your seatbelt. Tomorrow, June 4, 1998, at the Mission motor raceway, the Power Smart corporation is going to put you, free of charge, into the seat of an Indy racecar. You'll get to race, free of charge, with the likes of Ross Bentley and other motorsport notables. In the absence of the minister for motorsport, my question to the Premier is: would he please explain why B.C. Hydro is spending ratepayers' money teaching people how to drive high-performance racecars?
The Speaker: Order, hon. members.
Hon. G. Clark: Hon. Speaker, I'd be delighted to do research and get that information back to the member. But I'm
[ Page 8300 ]also delighted to rise to support B.C. Hydro and its work: amongst the lowest electricity rates in the world; amongst the highest profit for the taxpayers of British Columbia. We know that you would sell your soul, and you'd sell the birthright of British Columbia, by privatizing B.C. Hydro. But we on this side won't. It's an engine of growth.
The Speaker: Hon. Premier
Hon. G. Clark: I'm sorry.
The Speaker: Hon. members, order.
NORTHERN DEVELOPMENT ACT
[2:30]It's obvious, hon. Speaker, as I briefly alluded to yesterday, that overtaxation in the province of British Columbia has certainly hindered development, not only in the north but in the province as a whole. In fact, if we look at Vancouver and witness Finning Tractor moving almost all their operations from British Columbia to Calgary, it's obvious that something's wrong. When businesses move out of the northeast or something like that to Alberta, the government doesn't have too much concern. But obviously, when they start moving out of Vancouver
If we look at the overregulation in British Columbia -- something again that a commissioner
People are idle in the northwest. As you drive from Prince Rupert right on through the northwest, all the logging equipment is sitting there, totally idle. No one's working. Stores are closing in communities. It's all because of the overtaxation and overregulation of this socialist government.
To create a northern commissioner, to try and go out and encourage someone else to come in, is folly. It's the same as the Premier running all over North America trying to encourage aluminum smelters into the province. He probably thinks he's got six or seven of them on the hook now. Maybe one of them is going to come here. He talks about smelters; it's constant, almost every day. But, you know, the result is zero; the result today is absolutely zero. If we go and talk to people that, in fact, just made a report about the forest industry, actual job loss in the forest industry recently is 12,000 jobs.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: No it isn't.
R. Neufeld: The Minister of Forests says: "No it isn't." Well, he disputed the RCMP report on theft of logs in the province. Now he's disputing his own person, who says there's a job loss of 12,000 people. Actually, it's deplorable. You'd think that minister would be out there trying to encourage people to come to British Columbia, instead of closing plant after plant after plant after plant. It doesn't matter what part of the province you go to; you experience exactly the same thing. Until we get a government that doesn't consider profit to be a dirty word and that actually wants to encourage investment and jobs in this province, the northern commissioner isn't going to be able to do too much.
We talked about the need to cut red tape. This government talks about cutting red tape, but actually, when you ask the minister responsible, regardless of which ministry it is that has all the red tape, you can't get them to commit to what they're really going to cut. You can't get them to commit to what they're really going to take out. In fact, they'll tell you that they're not going to change any of the regulations and that they're just going to make it easier. I don't know -- it's some other kind of socialist magic that I'm not sure about, and I think most British Columbians and most investors aren't very sure about it either.
I think it would be incumbent on all members from the government side to take a trip through the northwest to get the feeling and the flavour of the people that work in the forest industry and that absolutely have no jobs. So far, this government hasn't lived up to any commitment they've made in the northwest to get those people back to work. They haven't made any commitment to those people to get them back to work.
Actually, hon. Speaker, I alluded yesterday to the fact that we have three ministers of government from the north: two from the Prince George region -- Prince George North and Prince George-Mount Robson -- and one from North Coast. We have a member for Skeena and a member for Bulkley Valley-Stikine, both on the government side. Some of those folks were elected in 1986, and some have been cabinet ministers since 1991. They were elected in 1986 and have been cabinet ministers since 1991, and in June of 1998 they're starting to talk about looking at northern development. What a legacy! The whole northwest is totally shut down, and in 1998, seven years after they became government, they say: "My goodness! We better do something."
The member for Skeena was elected in 1991. I wonder where he has been. How come he hasn't been talking about getting some kind of a commissioner or something going to try and create some investment in the north?
R. Neufeld: No, they haven't. They waited until the economy of the north was as flat as this table. Then they
[ Page 8301 ]decide: "My goodness! Maybe we'd better do something." I think it's a terrible indictment for a government to stand here and tell us today that they really care about jobs and employment in the province of British Columbia.
Other jurisdictions across Canada have ministries responsible for northern development, as I alluded to earlier. Long ago Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan looked to the northern part of their province and at how they could deal with those issues. I guess I should be thankful that in 1998 this group finally decided that they had better do something.
One of the concerns I heard raised many times about a northern commissioner is the fact that it's another political appointment. It's another appointment made by government for the convenience of government. It's another appointment to get someone a job who is politically aligned with the government.
I read a statement from the Prince Rupert Daily News by the member for Skeena: "There was a general agreement on such an agency, and even cynics were in favour of a commissioner to address northern concerns directly" -- that's not what the member said yesterday --"if the commissioner had adequate powers and was not purely a political appointment."
Well, I agree with that statement. It had better not be a political appointment. That's some of the difficulty we have. I'm afraid that when I go through the northwest and the northeast and listen to some of the names that are brought forward, it will be political. I'm sure they're dropped on a meaningful basis by members of the NDP, about who will be appointed. I'm not trying to say that the person maybe doesn't have the abilities. I don't know, because there are no criteria set up as to what this commissioner should do or should be responsible for. How do we know if the person will have the ability to do the job? So we have some concern there.
We also talked about the fact that the minister's office should be responsible for this. I commended the government for appointing a strong minister within cabinet to be Minister of Energy and Mines and Northern Development. I said that yesterday. I think that that's as far as we have to go. We on this side of the House don't think that you have to create a commission. You have to have a deputy minister that's responsible for northern affairs, and they deal directly with the minister's office on those issues. And it will work.
The reason why I say it will work is because we've witnessed some positive moves in the last few months from this government. Now, that was without a commissioner; there was no commissioner in place. Yet they made some moves in the north. If they actually mean what they say and they actually do something, it will be positive. So what would make one think, then, that you have to create another bureaucracy to look after Northern Development? It just doesn't seem to ring true.
In fact, I'm going to read right from the government's own information: "April 21, 1998: The B.C. government announced a new initiative designed to support and encourage growth in the mining industry, one of the key contributors to the northern economy." They didn't need a commissioner to do that. It magically came out of the office of the Minister of Northern Development. They could do it. They don't even have a deputy minister responsible for northern development, yet they were able to do that. In fact, the mining industry said it was one small step but that it was a step in the right direction.
"May 12, 1998: A grain bridging agreement signed by B.C. Rail and Canadian National Railways made it more efficient and cost-effective for farmers in the Peace River area to transport grain to the port of Prince Rupert for export." Well, that's a good move. If it works, it's great. We did it through the office of the Minister of Energy and Mines and Northern Development. There was no deputy minister responsible for northern development, no commissioner. But it was accomplished. I give the
I see the red lights, hon. Speaker. I am the designated speaker on Energy and Mines. I'll take a few more minutes. It won't be long and I'll be done.
The Speaker: Proceed, member.
R. Neufeld: So when we look at that and see that those things have been accomplished without a commissioner, it makes us on this side of the House wonder why we need more bureaucracy, which people will actually have to go to and convince first before that person will go and try and convince the government. Some of that just doesn't make sense to me. It just slows down the whole process, but maybe that's what this government is trying to put into place. Maybe what they're trying to do is give us the illusion that they really care about northern development and that this is just the place to kind of put the stuff and file it on a shelf at some point in time.
Another one was announced. It's amazing how these things happen without a northern commissioner. But on May 15 the minister announced that B.C. Rail will host a fall conference on northern tourism to explore opportunities for circle tours and other innovative tourism packages. That came out of the minister's office; it's a good move that I think is well accepted. So why do you need a commissioner to find out whether you need that and then to come back and convince the minister's office that it should happen?
On May 19 the government announced a plan to double B.C.'s oil and gas production capability by the year 2008. The oil and gas industry is a major employer in the northeastern part of the province. All this happened without even having a commissioner in place.
I would suggest, and the opposition would suggest, that we don't think there's a need for another bureaucracy to be set up anywhere in the province to talk about northern development and to try and promote northern development. We think the office of the minister responsible ought to be able to do those things. We on this side of the House think that maybe it shouldn't just be the minister from Prince Rupert who is working hard on these things. Maybe it should be some other ministers in cabinet who have been fairly silent and who really haven't spoken too much about northern development. In fact, I don't think they've really cared that much about northern development. Maybe some of those members of cabinet have to also get a little stronger. Maybe they have to start talking a little tougher in cabinet, and maybe the member for Skeena and the member for Bulkley Valley - Stikine have to hone their skills to somehow convince the minister responsible that northern development will actually be a good idea.
First they have to convince this government and convince themselves that they do have a problem in relation to overtaxation, in relation to overregulation, in relation to choking private enterprise, choking people who really want to get ahead and make a dollar in this province. Maybe that's the biggest impediment.
[ Page 8302 ]I know there will be some other speakers on this bill. I hope that I've sparked some conversation, for some members on the government side to get up and defend what they've done to try and encourage northern development since they were first elected in 1986, or in 1991. How many times has any one of them in government stood in this House and talked about northern development? When they had their opportunity to talk, such as during the throne speech debate, how many times did they get up and say: "We have to look seriously at what we're doing to create northern opportunities and northern development which would result in revenue for the province of British Columbia, so we can continue to enjoy the things that we enjoy today"?
I always relate that to health care, and I guess we also have not had much health care in the northwest in the last while. It is a sad thing: what we've witnessed, what we've seen this government do to this great province of ours in the seven short years that they've been in office. As I said from the start, it's a damning indictment of the government and of members of the NDP who were elected in 1986 or 1991 and just today, seven years later in 1998, have decided that they need to actually promote northern development for the betterment of the people that live in those areas.
With those few remarks, hon. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to respond to the bill and look forward to the committee stage.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I am very proud to be able to rise in debate today representing a northern British Columbia riding and to speak in favour of the Northern Development Act and the appointment of a northern development commissioner.
I was listening to the comments of the member for Peace River North earlier, and for a while there I thought he was beginning to understand the commitment that this government has to northern development -- to both the preservation and enhancement of economic opportunity in the north. He was talking about efforts to use the jobs and power accord to attract new aluminum smelting to this province. He was talking about our initiatives to support the mining industry, which my colleague the Deputy Premier announced back in April. He was talking about the grain bridging agreement between B.C. Rail and Canadian National. He was talking about the fall conference on northern tourism. He was talking about the oil and gas industry initiative announced in May to double B.C.'s oil and gas production capability by the year 2008. He might even have talked about -- I didn't hear him talk about it -- last week's announcement about a stumpage reduction for the forest industry not only in the north but also across the province. It was a reduction that, of course, went on top of the relief in costs given to industry by the code simplification, and on top of our commitment to sustainable forestry in the north and throughout British Columbia through a $517 million investment this year by Forest Renewal B.C.
It was good to hear him talking about all this, because it helps put this act and the appointment of a northern development commissioner in context. This government is looking at northern development, and looking at it in a systematic way -- sector by sector by sector -- whether it's mining or forestry or oil and gas or tourism. We have initiatives that we are moving forward on. But I was a little dismayed to hear the member opposite then go from that account of the context in which this act comes before this Legislature to a rejection of an act and a concept -- a northern development commissioner -- which is widely endorsed by industries and communities across the north as a way of getting sustained attention, at a staff level, to issues of economic development that they feel are important.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I hear the member opposite saying that I'm ill informed. Well, I do understand that my colleague the member for Skeena -- one of the chairs of the northern economic development summit that toured the north and listened to communities -- heard their views on how we move forward developing an agency for the north, heard very clearly in community after community that there was a desire for a northern agency, an on-the-ground presence centred in the north, centred in my community of Prince George, but with clear responsibilities for the entire northern half of the province. They wanted this.
As I read it, the only area where there wasn't support for this was when this member opposite opposed it in his home community.
The Speaker: I think the hon. member had a chance to make his presentation and his comments. I would suggest
Hon. P. Ramsey: I recognize that sometimes our views on a particular initiative may vary, depending on our political stripe or which side of the House we sit on. But surely I would expect that this bill and the appointment of a northern commissioner would have received the support it deserves from all sides of the House, because this is an idea that grew out of the Premier's Summit on Northern Jobs and Development last fall. It grew out of an initiative where we brought together the representatives of communities, of industries, of first nations people, of workers and of governments across the north to consider, sector by sector, what needed to be done in those sectors to stimulate economic development and, more importantly, what permanent mechanisms government should put in place to ensure that northern economic development issues got the attention that they deserve.
That summit clearly said to government: "We need a northern agency that pays that sort of sustained, long-term attention." That's what this act is all about. That's where the appointment of a northern commissioner and the establishment of an office in Prince George to look after economic development in the north will come in.
As we look at this, let's be clear what this person -- this office, this initiative -- will do. This act will establish a well-thought-out program of making sure that we reach out across the north.
I guess what I'm a little concerned about is that this member opposite, who has now risen to speak against this act -- I think he spoke against the act; it'll be interesting to see when it comes to a vote
[ Page 8303 ]whether it's forestry or mining, oil and gas, transportation or tourism, that ongoing policy work within those ministries will continue.
What we have is an opportunity, which all sides of this House should endorse, to look at coordinated economic development in the north and to establish an office that is charged with reaching out to communities and to other economic development agencies -- be they federal, municipal or first nations -- and bringing those together: a commissioner and an office that reports to a minister and through that minister to cabinet and to this Legislature. Those reporting relationships are not optional; they are specified in this legislation.
I don't want to take a lot of time here. I recognize where this act comes from. I applaud the initiative of my colleague the Deputy Premier in taking the results of the northern economic summit and making them real. This is one of the prime recommendations.
I would hope -- and I offer the invitation -- that all MLAs put aside some of the rhetoric that we've heard in this chamber around this act and join in this initiative. Successful economic development doesn't know political boundaries. The commissioner will need the support of all MLAs in northern British Columbia working together in a constructive manner, and I hope we will see that spirit as this act is passed and the office of a northern economic commissioner is established.
J. Weisgerber: It's my pleasure to rise and speak to this legislation -- the Northern Development Act -- as well. I come at this from the perspective of an independent member -- one who wants to see the commission and the commissioner succeed; one who wants to see economic development, economic activity, flourish in northern British Columbia. I come at this, in all modesty, with some experience. I come at this issue as someone who has served as a regional economic development commissioner for more than one-third of the region covered by this legislation. I come as a former minister of state responsible for development in the Northeast and Nechako regions, which cover more than two-thirds of the area over which this act intends to take jurisdiction. So I believe I come at this not only objectively but with some experience in the specific area of regional economic development in northern British Columbia. I come at this from the perspective, as I've said, of wanting to see something put in place that will work.
I believe that the commission and the commissioner can succeed if there is a strong Minister Responsible for Northern Development. I'll say now that, as the Deputy Premier, as the member for North Coast, one has to believe that the current minister fits that criterion. Other than the Premier, who would have more influence in cabinet than the current minister? Tragically, for him and others, these things tend to be fluid in our business -- minister one day, backbencher tomorrow; Minister Responsible for Northern Development today, Minister for Children and Families the next. Who knows where we'll be? Who knows where the personalities will be? So one can't simply assume that now that we have that part of the equation in place, we have no need for concern in that area.
I want to say that I believe that it's important that the minister be a minister of influence. I believe the minister is, and I don't wish him any of the bad, bad things that I suggested might happen to him. But he's been around for a while. He knows how the ball bounces.
[3:00]Secondly, we need to have a commissioner who has the authority, who has the ability, to present herself or himself in a way that is appropriate, because this job will be fraught with difficulty; it will be fraught with resistance. And the biggest resistance and the most constant resistance will come from the line ministries, will come from the mid-level bureaucracies within this government. It won't be the opposition. It won't be the mayors and the municipal governments. It won't be the regional governments that will tend to confound the commission; it will be turf wars within government. And I say that, again, from the experience of being a regional economic development commissioner and with the experience of being the minister responsible for development in the Northeast and Nechako regions, where we had three regional development officers -- three people in three development regions who had responsibilities very much in line with what this commissioner will have. They found themselves frustrated at every turn by staff within Finance, Environment, Forests, Energy and Mines -- across the board, these folks were fighting an internal bureaucratic battle.
The next thing we need -- aside from a minister who, hopefully, won't put up with a lot of that guff -- is somebody who has the presence and the experience and the ability to cut through that kind of bureaucratic interference that will, without a doubt, plague this commissioner.
I want to talk a little bit about the office and the establishment of the office. The Minister of Education, understandably, took great satisfaction in the office being established in Prince George. Those people in the northeast and, I believe, the northwest have expressed some reservations about that, understandably so. I have said that I think the office should be in Prince George, and I've pretty much taken the line of the minister in saying that I don't see a bureaucracy developing there
Having said that, it becomes imperative that we don't simply put a Prince George person in a Prince George office to consolidate this perception that this is a Prince George operation -- and I see a little smile on the face of the member for Skeena, because he knows precisely of what I speak. He knows precisely the dangers that are inherent here. He knows that he co-chaired, along with an individual who might be seen as the successor, the logical appointment, to this
Again, I believe it can. I look at the role and the experience that this government and the previous government has had with the Job Protection Commission. Here is a position that has consistently worked to the benefit of British Columbians, to the benefit of communities, to working British Columbians and to the businesses that employ them. If this commission has the ability to go and deal with issues, to cut through red tape, to make recommendations that aren't blocked by bureaucrats at every turn, then we can have some real opportunities.
[ Page 8304 ]The minister hasn't said anything and I haven't read anything that suggests that government sees a role for the community and regional economic development officers to work in conjunction with this commission. There may well be. In his closing remarks or in committee stage the minister may give me some clarification. But there are folks who have worked hard and long on these issues, and their input and cooperation is going to be important.
I wonder -- and I'll follow it up in more detail at committee stage -- about the wisdom of a five-year appointment. I wonder about the need, in this particular position, for someone to have tenure. There are jobs where political interference is a consideration and where guaranteed tenure is important to the work done: the conflict-of-interest commissioner, the freedom-of-information commissioner, the auditor general and other officers who serve this House. But for a commissioner -- someone working at the level of a deputy minister, someone who should have some incentives to perform -- to be given a five-year guaranteed term in office
We get elected for three or four or five years, but there are no guarantees that go with it. Our ability to perform and our performance are judged daily by those people who elect us. People who work in government are regularly assessed on their performance. Deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers are appointed. Deputies are tossed; deputies are paid out. Deputies who are seen not to perform don't wait five years before they are replaced.
It's conceivable that the appointment of this commissioner, the first time around, may not be ideal. Anybody who has taken part in a job interview, anybody who has been part of a hiring process, knows that you do your damnedest, you do your very best, you consider all of the applications and you make a decision. But if it goes sour, are northerners to wait five years until this can be corrected? I don't see the pressures that would require this individual to have this kind of immunity from government influence. I see this person working closely with and for the minister. The minister's staff sure don't have five-year tenure. The minister's staff know that they're there to deliver -- or at least one assumes that they are, and I think most of them are. So I have a great deal of trouble with this notion.
Were I an applicant for the job -- some suggested that might happen, and it won't -- then perhaps the five years would be rather sweet. One would say yes, indeed, five years and a good salary, a possibility of one or two reappointments, and it's off to the races. But it's not for the commissioner; it's for the community. It's who and what will best serve the community. So I'm looking forward to some discussions. The minister may well have a sound rationale for that particular decision, but at this point I can't see it.
The other question in my mind is
Again, in deference to my friend from Peace River North, I think the question, then, has to be: is that kind of broad vision best developed by elected people or by someone who is on a five-year tenure by the appointment of the minister? I tend to think that the former is probably the case. One then has to believe that this individual's responsibilities will be a briefcase full of incentives, a briefcase filled with arguments -- many of them absolutely legitimate -- around the grand opportunities that exist within British Columbia. We will then judge that individual on his ability to deliver.
I don't know. I've been there; I know how tough it is. As I watch the Premier in his casts about the globe for investors, I know that one casts many times before you get a nibble, that you get many nibbles before you get a bite and that you don't always reel them in even after they've bitten. So I don't know what we're going to expect from this individual.
J. Weisgerber: Well, no, I guess the difference would be in the analogy: you've got to put them in the live tank, sprinkle a little fish food on them, and hope they swim and grow. But, hon. members, I find myself becoming sidetracked here.
Hon. Speaker, I'm going to close with these thoughts. I want to see this succeed. I believe that the minister has already developed and demonstrated not only his interest but his ability to deliver on issues of northern development. I think that the minister has done a good job since his appointment to that position. I want to see this commission as something that enhances and strengthens his ability to deliver. I don't want to see this commission office and this commissioner become another hurdle that developers have to jump over in order to get to the people who make the decisions. Believe me, there are ample experiences and instances across Canada. This idea of northern development and northern development commissions
[3:15]The key is that these jobs have to have the ability to facilitate investment; they can't become a hurdle over which people have to jump. I'm going to work as hard as I can to try and make this a facilitative operation, not a hurdle over which people can jump. I'm going to support the legislation, but I'll tell you that I'll be up and critical without hesitation if this thing falls into the traps that I've identified. They are very real traps that exist, regardless of who the minister is and who the commissioner that's appointed is.
So with that, I look forward to committee stage and the ability to pursue some of these issues a little bit further.
H. Giesbrecht: I might say, in response to the previous speaker, that that's a challenge that I think is worthy of acceptance. Certainly none of us on this side of the House want to see this bogged down in some level of bureaucracy or not be successful. So that's a challenge that I think we should be willing to accept. I certainly appreciate his comments and his commitment to trying to make this work.
I would certainly concur with many of the comments he made around the challenges that we will face. Many of those challenges were identified by the committee when they looked at the various options that were available in the coun-
[ Page 8305 ]try and the various options that the province had tried from one year to another, and also when they considered the kind of narrowing of those options that the two co-chairs were supposed to take out to the various communities when we did our consultation. So I even find agreement on some of the specifics that he mentioned in terms of what difficulties we are likely to encounter.
The idea of an agency or an entity to promote and encourage job creation and economic development is not terribly new. It was revived out of the Premier's summit in Prince George. Prior to this, we had tried some options in B.C. -- to be fair, I guess -- with very limited success. The previous speaker mentioned the ministers of state. I was involved with that for a while. There were a lot of studies done, but when it came down to getting some sort of general vision for the specific region, there was always conflict in terms of the interests of the individual communities and so on. It was really hard to coordinate any efforts or any vision for the long-term future.
Prior to that, I had the good fortune of being involved in a northern development council at the municipal or regional district level. It was the same kind of problem. A great area of the north was represented in a small room, trying to focus in on issues that were of equal concern to that broad region. Aside from making the occasional lobby to ministers in the government, not too much happened. It died, and we are here again looking at some other option.
Some provinces have had ministers of northern development. Of course, you can hardly expect them to be critical of that particular option, so we had some difficulty in getting very good feedback in terms of the success rate of the options.
The member for Peace River North spoke very negatively about this bill, and I'd like to respond to some of those comments. First, he talked about the north and his vision for the north. He sometimes conveniently distorts the reality of the north. I'm a northerner by choice; I've been there for the past 30 years. The policies that the province adopted were always general policies for the entire province. That meant that they focused more on the economic activity in the southern urban area. If you were up in the north someplace, you might derive some kind of spinoff benefit from economic activity, but there really weren't any policies geared directly to creating a more sustainable economy for the north. It was kind of like a record player, where you put something on the edge, and if you turn the speed up high enough, something will eventually fling off, and there will be some benefit to the extremities of the province.
In the Kitimat Valley, for example, in the sixties the valley was logged very quickly. Most of the logs were barged south down the coast. The timber was high-graded, and they took all the stuff that was easily accessible and the good grade of timber. Today we are currently dealing with the challenges in the forest industry based on that. When one looks at the history of the province in terms of the economic policies that were there, they weren't exactly perfect for the north. I would suggest that for decades, there has been a lack of focus on the regions outside of the heavily settled urban areas in the south. In the past if anything happened up there, it was simply by accident.
As long as there's lots of money floating around to spread around, you don't notice the inequalities and the unfairness. Certainly for years, during those years when the province was in a boom, nobody in the north ever really thought they were getting a raw deal. Looking back on it now, in the Peace River, for example, where for 20 years they were trying to get a Fair Share deal, which has suddenly occurred
We got the usual negative, partisan rhetoric for a while, which is fair game. But rather than look at the opportunity for a non-partisan agency, a northern development commissioner, to coordinate and work with northerners to develop calm and a vision and to get some action on that, we, for some reason, have to continue that partisan rhetoric here, which I don't think provides us with much in the way of a solution.
We were accused of having our minds made up in terms of the model that we were going to propose. I would submit that the member for Peace River North had his mind made up about this particular venture long before the legislation was tabled here. When the minister went up north to announce Fair Share
I co-chaired the advisory committee to the Premier's summit, and the committee was asked at some point to make a recommendation to the Premier as to what shape the northern agency might take -- this particular entity that would champion causes of economic development in the north. There was information sent out to all of the various community groups and so on -- a large mailing list. We got feedback. The committee then considered all the options and consulted with the delegates to the Premier's summit. At one point it was decided that rather than send the two co-chairs out there into the communities, we should at least narrow the field a little -- give some thought to the various models that were there -- and then we would go out and at least focus on a particular model.
So we did that. But, again, it was done with the advisory committee, which was representative of all of the communities in the north. Every riding had somebody in there represented. We went out to 11 different communities, from the Queen Charlottes all the way up to Dawson Creek and Fort. St. John. Strangely enough, out of the 11 communities, the vast majority of the people there said that they favoured the commissioner model. It was explained a number of times that the reason the word "commissioner" was chosen is because most people were familiar with the Job Protection Commission, which was one of those lean, aggressive, active organizations that went out there and did the job. That's why the word came up.
While the job protection commissioner was always reacting to a particular crisis, this one would have to be a little bit different, in that you want the agency to be proactive. But they didn't want a bureaucracy. It was said over and over again; it was in our report. I don't think that anybody who claims that this is going to be bureaucratic is really on track; they're
[ Page 8306 ]missing the point. There is absolutely no advantage to the government or to anybody on this side of the House to have a bureaucracy there that adds to the paperwork. I didn't advocate that in my role as co-chair, and the committee didn't advocate that. They didn't recommend that. So I think that's kind of a red herring. We were asked to consult, and we did that.
I might add here that there were only two of the 11 communities where we got any sort of difference of opinion or mixed opinion in terms of the model. Like I say, one was in Terrace. I could give you some of the reasons, probably, but it would be a guess. The other one was Fort St. John, the hometown for the member for Peace River North. For whatever reason, it might be interesting to note that he was also the only MLA that participated in any of these consultation meetings that we had in the communities, outside of myself -- and I was there in my capacity as co-chair.
H. Giesbrecht: It just turns out, of course, that we were there to listen to average citizens. Fair enough -- everybody is entitled to an opinion; nobody was excluded. We took input from all of them, but it isn't fair to say that because you attend one meeting out of 11, you somehow have the pulse of all of these people that made presentations. The vast majority of people favoured the commissioner model. Yes, there were a few that didn't. There were even some specific groups that had objections about a commissioner model because they prefer to work government to government. But the fact of the matter is that anybody who says that the commissioner model was not the most favoured model is just not accurate.
The Speaker: Hon. members, one person has the floor right now, and that's the member for Skeena.
The member for Peace River North rises on what matter?
R. Neufeld: Point of order, hon. Speaker.
I would like the Minister of Energy and Mines and Northern Development to stand up and just say what he said to me across the floor. Stand up and say it into the microphone. It wasn't very nice; in fact, it was terrible. Stand up and have the -- what do you call it? -- guts to stand up and say
R. Neufeld: That is a point of order.
The Speaker: Hon. member, I regret that it is not a point of order. I would caution all members to be careful about comments made across the floor. It doesn't necessarily help debate.
H. Giesbrecht: Unfortunately, that brings me to my next point, which is that yesterday, when I was listening to the member for Peace River North, he made the comment that when I was up in Fort St. John I had somehow implied or stated that the folks in the Peace River North area -- or at least in the Fort St. John area -- were out of touch. I was somewhat distressed by that. Hon. Speaker, I want it stated for the record quite clearly that that's completely false, that no such inference or statement or anything even remotely resembling that was made.
If a reporter asked me the question as to how opinions had changed, going from one community to the other, I made a point of trying to explain the differences of opinion that we had heard, coming from the Queen Charlottes and going across the north, and that maybe opinions in Fort St. John were different. I would absolutely never have said that they were out of touch. Far be it from me to say that. In fact, I have some good friends in Fort St. John, some of whom were at the meeting, so I would hardly do that.
[3:30]The hon. member also read a letter from a person who was opposed to the commissioner model. Yes, we did get some letters, but I say again that they were in a minority position. There were a few. In fact, some people had some objections to the commissioner model, but they were always qualified. They were like: "We object to it on this basis." Then we would turn around and say: "Yes, but if we could ensure that that didn't happen, would you agree that it is a good model?" And they sometimes would agree.
So there are challenges in terms of the commissioner model -- no doubt about it. The proof, of course, will be in the pudding. The fact is that there was no predetermination that this was the model that was going to be chosen. Had we heard contrary opinions, we would be more than happy to make a recommendation to the Premier that no, we shouldn't go this route; we should go some other route. But it didn't happen, and I think that anyone on the committee and certainly anyone that attended those meetings in any of the 11 communities would be more than prepared to confirm that.
So, if anybody had their mind made up on this, it certainly wasn't us, and certainly there wasn't any indication or any sort of suggestion that we had somebody in mind. In fact, as the member for Peace River South has suggested, maybe his name was touted a few times as a possible candidate. But I don't know whether that's a job we would want to inflict on him. He's a very decent person. I say again that you can't form an opinion on what the general public in the communities advocated by going to one out of 11 consultation sessions; you just can't do it.
Let me again just briefly give some of the reasons why the commissioner model was favoured over the other models, in particular the minister-of-northern-development model, and so on. It was stated by the minister, when he made his opening remarks, that we modelled this
Job creation and economic development was to be the orientation, and clearly, if the challenge is anything, it will be to try to find somebody of the calibre of the late job protection commissioner who has the ability to do that kind of promotion work within the sector that we want development from. That is the challenge. I recognize that, and we recognize that, but that shouldn't deter us from the vision that's there. This has the possibility of actually achieving something.
Also, the idea was to make sure that the office was accessible to all, not that somebody would look at your political stripe. So I think there's an advantage in going the non-partisan-commissioner route. I think that was also considered
[ Page 8307 ]tion sessions. All of those things were what people wanted. Yes, there was a lot of concern that we maybe wouldn't be able to meet the challenges. There was even some cynicism. But Bill 27 provides for this opportunity.
We can exchange useless rhetoric in this room. We can do that until the cows come home. But it isn't going to get us what we want in the north, which is job creation and economic development that is sustainable and that doesn't give us these cycles all the time, like the forest industry has had in the past several decades -- the many decades that I'm aware of. We want that to happen. Again, we can enjoy the discussion here, but here's a chance to act.
There are some risks. The vision for the north
I'm prepared to give Bill 27 a chance. The only other option, of course, is to go back to trickle-down economics -- or, if you like the other version, trickle-north economics -- where we feed the economy of the south and hope that something happens up north that will create some stability. I'm really not prepared to do that. I would rather do something
I support Bill 27. I applaud the minister, first of all, for seeing the vision for a Premier's summit. When I went around and advanced this idea to people -- because I had heard it from him -- people said: "Yeah, that's a good idea." Lots of people went; some people were unhappy with the result. I had a lot of people tell me that it was a good exercise, and they came away quite pleased. If, out of that, we get an entity that focuses on job creation and northern development, I'll be quite happy to support it.
G. Wilson: One of the benefits of going later in the debate is that you have heard from people who have made contributions, and you are then able to not repeat some of those points that have already been made. I'm not going to repeat the points that have been made, and, hopefully, I can introduce something that has not yet been raised.
[W. Hartley in the chair.]
Before I do, I want to point out that the comments from the member for Peace River South really do need to be heeded in terms of the regionalization of this commissioner and the perception that may be developed with respect to where the office is, where the appointments are and so on. We've seen in the past where people who have come in, in a commissioner's role -- albeit with fully good intention and a desire to try and be fair in their application -- get branded, often unjustly but sometimes justly, as being a person whose first and primary consideration and priority is for one region at the expense of others.
I'm not from the north. It's interesting to note, in listening to speakers who have lined up to speak on this, that most of them are MLAs from the north. I want to offer two observations that the minister might take, by way of comment in second reading. The first is that I think there is a suspicion -- certainly from those who have talked to me about this bill -- that we are creating yet one more level of bureaucracy that will further compound or make more complex the opportunities for economic growth and development. I think the member for Peace River South alluded to that and did so effectively enough. I would say, in reading the job description of this new commissioner, that this, in many ways, is the job description of an MLA. It strikes me that much of what we're asking this new commissioner to do -- with respect to promotion of job creation or looking at ways of cutting red tape and making sure that those who have money they wish to invest have access to the appropriate levels of government -- is the role of an MLA.
What we have to do is ask ourselves why, in 1998, we need the Northern Development Act. When we start to recognize and understand the wealth generated from the north feeds the economies of the south and that much of that wealth is never returned to those who actually generate it
The second concern I have
It seems to me that as we start to look at the commissioner's role
We cannot escape the fact that as a Legislative Assembly, as citizens of British Columbia, we must now address the question of aboriginal land claims with a view to having resolution, with certainty and fairness, to those claims. That needs to be a high priority -- as high a priority as trying to establish a northern jobs commissioner, which, effectively, we're doing through this bill. No northern jobs commissioner,
[ Page 8308 ]no goodwill among all of the municipal governments, no goodwill among all of the MLAs and all of the parties, even if we were to shed our partisan jackets in an unusual display of harmony in terms of trying to advance the issues and concerns of the north, is going to be able to advance economic growth and development until this question has been resolved.
I think it's important for us to hear and to understand the concerns now expressed by people who live in north, especially in light of the Supreme Court ruling on Delgamuukw. We need to hear from this government and get direction on this issue. No northern jobs commissioner is going to solve the economic uncertainty investors will see in place until we recognize that what that ruling has done, in effect -- what I hope this government will start to recognize and what we need to start to debate -- is talk now about a new process for Crown land application and administration which will occur through some level of joint tenancy. This is an issue that I think we have to deal with.
I'm saddened to a degree in that often we in this chamber come in with a lot of good ideas and a lot of good intentions which really are only band-aids over the real concern. They are essentially a fast track, an easy route or often what becomes window dressing in terms of action that doesn't really address the heart of the real problem. So when we get to this issue of northern development, and when we talk about the concept and principles with respect to the growth of the north, it is absolutely critical that we do not do that in the absence of a recognition that we now must start to readjust our thinking with respect to the northern lands. When we do that, notwithstanding a northern jobs commissioner or anything else that we do, we must include the people of the north, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, in the development of the solutions that will provide security, provide certainty, provide opportunity for expanded investment and development and growth.
I put those comments on the table in second reading because I think that we must not lose sight of them when we are talking about the long-term economic viability of the northern parts of this province. I single it out now -- notwithstanding the fact that there are land claims that affect all of this province -- because in the settlement and in the solution of the northern land claims, the land component is far greater in its complexities and its importance than the land component will be in the settled urban areas to the south, where the matter of the financial component of compensation will become a more prominent part of the discussion.
With that, I make my contribution to Bill 27. Do I think it's going to work? I don't know. Do I think it is likely to be another level of bureaucracy? Potentially it will be. All of the concerns that were raised by the member for Peace River South need to be heeded and heeded carefully. Like the member for Peace River South, there will be no more vociferous a critic if we find out that what we have done has been simply employ another individual to set up another level of bureaucracy to put in all kinds of barriers to economic growth because those barriers meet the needs, the desires and the philosophy and direction of the government of the day.
That's my contribution to second reading of Bill 27, and I look forward to the discussion in committee.
[3:45]D. Jarvis: I wasn't going to speak to this bill, Bill 27, the Northern Development Act. But after hearing a few of the remarks, I decided to make a few notes, and to get up and give some of my opinions. Up to this point, it's been sort of a love-in with all the people from the north. Here I am, the southerner, and I hope you can understand my accent. Most of the people here have been agreeable to most things, although the minister did say a couple of things that were socially unattractive. Nevertheless, it has been somewhat of a love-in.
The purpose of this bill, as we are all probably all aware, is to promote and encourage job creation and economic development in the north. One of the main questions from this side of the House has been: is it necessary to have this position? Why can't the line ministries do the same job? There are two -- the Employment and Investment ministry and the Northern Development ministry -- and surely they should be able to handle this job.
Well, there's a lot of discussion as to that point -- whether an individual like a northern commissioner should be appointed. Then again, that brings up another question as to who's going to appoint this northern commissioner. Of course, that is the minister himself. It's always questionable whether whoever he picks as a commissioner
This role has not been defined yet. Will he follow the government's suggestions, or will he come up with his own ideas on things? How will he jump from one point to the other without making a decision or creating a bureaucracy that will naturally follow when you proceed to appoint these little commissions or offices around here?
There was always a question of development: why doesn't this government proceed with the development? Let's face it, they've been more intent, up to this point, on closing off development in the north than creating development -- there's no question. They've closed off ostensibly 4.3 million hectares up in the Muskwa-Kechika area which could be developed. Now they have to appoint a specific person to do the job of the Minister of Energy and Mines and the Northern Development ministry.
I have noted that those are some of the questions that have come across, that have been mentioned today. I understand the minister has said that they will take no responsibility from the individual line ministries, with respect to their spending allocations. We wonder, then, what the two existing ministries will do up in the north, if part of their mandate is to develop the north. There are questions that will be coming forward.
The commissioner, as I said, is going to be appointed by the minister. That is a big question. I believe that probably it should be an appointment by either a group of people or even a group of the northern MLAs -- but who knows? He himself said that he doesn't think we will end up with an individual who is probably the best from a chosen field. The minister has not defined how he's going to pick a commissioner, other than it may be just one of his apparatchik friends that is out there. Who knows
[ Page 8309 ]D. Jarvis: Mr. Speaker, we hear comments from the member for Esquimalt-Metchosin, the member for interruption, who always comes into the room and talks; as long as the Premier isn't in the room, he seems to find his voice.
Deputy Speaker: Order, member. Member, the rules of the House don't allow for you to discuss how members conduct themselves in the House. Please just stay to the topic. The member for Peace River North rises
R. Neufeld: On a point of order. This member has every right to stand here and discuss issues surrounding what people talk about in this House. I mean, every one of us do. We just heard members across the way do that. That's a normal course of events in this House.
Deputy Speaker: Members, the rules of the House are that we be relevant in debate, and comments that are made by members from their seats when they do not have the floor are not the same as comments made by members when they have the floor.
D. Jarvis: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will pick up from where I was interrupted by the member for Esquimalt-Metchosin. We were talking at that time about the commissioner and how he is being appointed.
Also, there is nothing in the bill to indicate -- to me, anyway, but maybe the minister can clarify it -- the accountability of this commissioner and who he would be reporting to.
Another point is that one of the members of the House, during his discussion -- I believe it was the minister from Prince George -- stated that we on this side of the House didn't seem to be that concerned with northern development and what an important thing northern development is. He said that his government had been holding conferences and summits around the province -- a northern summit and an interior summit -- and that there was a broad cross-section of people. It so happens that I wanted to go to these summits, yet the government refused to allow me to go. I wanted to go and sit at the mining table; I was refused.
When the government side of the House stands -- especially the Minister of Education
Going back to the same topic, I think the member for Skeena said that we had not been up there to the northern development
I don't think anyone in this House is against northern development, and most of us are in favour of this bill. There were some comments made about my colleague the member for Peace River North, criticizing his attitude as to why he was questioning this bill. Well, part of our job is to question this bill. No bill presented by this government has been perfect yet, except for one that I voted for yesterday. I can't see how anyone could say that the member for Peace River North isn't in favour of northern development. Over the years, if anyone gets on your nerves standing up in this House -- more so than any of the backbenchers on the other side, any of them from the resource areas
I was really surprised when I heard, a short while ago, that the northeast and northwest produce about 10 percent of all the production in British Columbia and that 37 percent of British Columbia's gross provincial product is produced in northern B.C. I wasn't even aware of that. I've worked in the north myself. I worked in the north prior to most of these people being born -- except probably the minister, because he's a grandfather and fairly old. He probably worked in the north prior to when I first worked there, about 42 years ago. Anyway, I was surprised to learn that. We can anticipate in the future -- if this government will get off their philosophy of non-development and get on with the development they keep talking about and never doing -- great growth and benefits coming to the north through oil and gas, mining, fisheries and tourism.
As I said, I'm not from the north, but I've worked in the north. I don't think there's any one of us that doesn't agree that development in the north is essential for growth in this province. I can only hope that the minister will pursue it to the nth degree, rather than just holding people off and keeping the dogs off the back end. Everyone in this province needs development to go on in this province, because we dearly need the revenue and jobs. So far, this government has not been able to produce them. They've talked about producing them, but they haven't produced them. We can only assume that Bill 27, the Northern Development Act, will create positive jobs -- for a change -- that it won't just be this government talking about jobs that they're going to create and never do produce.
On that premise, I thank you for the opportunity to speak.
G. Janssen: I ask leave to make an introduction, hon. Speaker.
G. Janssen: Visiting us today from Seattle Country Day School in Medina, Washington, are 50 grade 7 and 8 students. They're here visiting us to study comparative government and local history. They are accompanied by several adults and Ms. M. Lavinger, their teacher. I ask the House to make them welcome.
B. Goodacre: The chance to rise to support Bill 27, the Northern Development Act, is very much a pleasure for me. In the minutes that I have ahead of me, I'd like to address three points in particular: the geography of our area, the communities of our area and the first nations of the north.
[4:00]The geography of northern British Columbia has 7 percent of the population inhabiting close to 55 percent of the land mass of British Columbia. So I really applaud the government for taking into consideration a very special characteristic
[ Page 8310 ]of the north, in that the north has a very small number of people spread around in an area whose size is larger than most countries in the world. The idea that we would make special efforts to make it possible for the people living in this area to have more access to government is something that is long overdue and is something that we should all be very, very proud to be part of.
As well as having only 7 percent of the population, it is also notable that of that 7 percent of people, almost 90 percent are spread along Highways 16 and 97. So we've got, in reality, a dual economy in the north as well as in the greater part of this province, inasmuch as we have a large number of very small rural communities that are quite isolated from the larger populations. Something that most people don't realize is that those communities have very little opportunity to be heard by the great powers that be in the lower part of the province. This will give us the opportunity that we're looking for, to give these communities a little bit more of an opportunity to work with the rest of the province in the development of their futures.
Now, the communities of the north are quite diverse. In my riding in particular, which is the largest, of the eight northern ridings
B. Goodacre: No, no, I wouldn't go that far. The federal ridings, of course, are much larger. But it is a good-sized riding, and I certainly enjoy representing that riding.
In my riding we have communities like Atlin, whose only access to British Columbia is through a trip into the Yukon that lasts close to four hours before you just get back to the border of British Columbia. From Atlin to the nearest community, which is Good Hope Lake, it's a trip of close to eight hours. Good Hope Lake has about 90 people living in it. And that's the nature of the communities along Highway 37 and further into the reaches of the north.
In the riding of North Peace, we run into similar considerations with communities the size of Good Hope Lake and Atlin that are accessible only by plane and by dirt roads. These kinds of communities have incredible challenges. Most of these communities are first nations communities, and the economic challenges faced in these communities are large. This is one of the things that I'm certainly hoping we can look for in the work of the commissioner.
I notice in the bill itself that we've got the commissioner's role, which specifically instructs the commissioner to coordinate with the northern economic development activities of other economic development organizations, including aboriginal peoples' economic development organizations. To me that is a very signal part of this legislation, one that indicates to me that there is a tremendous interest on the part of this government in having the commissioner pay special attention to an issue raised by the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, and that is the relationship that this government and this development is going to have with the aboriginal people, considering the land claims cases before us and considering the very needs these communities have in terms of sharing in the prosperity of this country and especially of this province.
Another part of the bill that addresses these kinds of situations is section 8, where they deal with considerations
Last night we had a visit from the chairs and presidents of some small colleges. These are the colleges that represent
Let's not lose sight of the fact that we're dealing with relatively small communities, very small communities by southern standards. I live in the largest community in my riding. That's the town of Smithers, with a population of 5,600 as we speak. With communities that small, the resources that citizens themselves can generate through volunteer activity, voluntary contributions and property taxes is limited. So the need to access the revenue stream coming out of our resources becomes very important. Up to now, the way that's been dealt with, of course, has been through accessing the provincial and federal governments that collect those taxes. The main avenue that's been available to us is through our MPs and MLAs. Now, I agree that our MLAs and MPs do a wonderful job in redirecting resources back to the areas that they come from. But I think we all agree that for MLAs and MPs spread over such a wide area, the possibility of having an office like a northern commission where we can coordinate our activities and develop a more coordinated approach to redirecting moneys to the various needs that our communities have is something that we will benefit a great deal from.
I'm really happy to hear the members opposite indicate to us, despite the criticisms they bring forward, that they are supporting this bill. It would be very useful for those of us on this side to hear a little more enthusiasm from them in terms of supporting it. On that note, I would again like to thank the minister for bringing this bill before the House. I urge its speedy passage and look forward to the appointment of this commissioner, so that he can get on the with job he is being hired for.
G. Plant: I think it's not inappropriate, as someone who represents a constituency in southern British Columbia, to rise just for a minute or two to speak about this bill. As a British Columbian, I've spent lots of time in my life travelling through northern British Columbia, and since my election I've had the opportunity to travel as an elected official through northern British Columbia. Last fall I spent a week travelling through the communities within the constituency of Bulkley Valley-Stikine, the member for which has just spoken. I've tried to make a point, when I've had the opportunity to do this, of listening to northerners talk about their concerns, and they do have many concerns. Northerners feel alienated from government; they feel alienated from the institutions of government.
[ Page 8311 ]Actually, when I was a member of the Unity Panel, we met with the Prince George Chamber of Commerce. I was expecting the Prince George Chamber of Commerce to speak to us about the issues that were raised in the Calgary declaration. In fact, we heard the members of the Prince George Chamber of Commerce tell us pretty passionately about the sense of alienation they felt from political institutions of the province. Oddly enough, they felt more isolated and more alienated from the provincial government than they did from the federal government, which I found a bit odd. I suppose it may be that they think that Ottawa is so far from Prince George that it can't hurt them and that Victoria is just close enough that it can -- and it does. I think we need to do a better job in terms of responding to that sense of alienation.
Northerners also observe and know a lot about the disparity between what they see as their contribution to the economy of British Columbia and what is returned to them in services of government. That's another theme I've heard, whether I've been in Prince Rupert or Smithers or Burns Lake or Prince George or other towns in northern British Columbia. There's always the sense that they see the resources driving by and through their communities on trucks and trains, and they don't get a sense that they are receiving back from government their fair share of the services of government.
Clearly northerners also feel the pain of the current downturn in the economy -- loss of forest jobs, loss of jobs across resource sectors and loss of jobs across a whole range of aspects of the economy. I remember hearing in Prince Rupert concerns around the fact that the government was not taking steps to ensure that the ferry system came into Prince Rupert often enough in the tourist season to maximize the tourist potential that exists across the Yellowhead Highway. I know that this is an issue of concern to the Minister Responsible for Northern Development, who comes from that community. Clearly, even in the current economic climate, there are some opportunities for development and economic growth in northern British Columbia, and we need to do a better job of exploiting them.
When I think for a moment or two about why it is that northerners feel this sense of alienation; why they feel the sense of disparity between their contribution to our economy and what they receive back from it; and why northerners are concerned about the current economic downturn, the lack of economic opportunities in British Columbia, I ask myself: is the reason for all of that the fact that we have not had a northern development commissioner in British Columbia? I don't think that's the reason why all these problems exist.
Frankly, I think the reasons these problems exist are in large measure due to seven years of NDP economic policy, seven years of NDP economic mismanagement and seven years of the NDP not paying close enough attention to the concerns of northern British Columbians. That applies, I think, to northern British Columbians who live in aboriginal communities as well as the non-aboriginal communities of northern British Columbia. I know that first nations communities in northern British Columbia feel even more acutely the sense of alienation, the sense of disparity and the lack of connectedness to our economy that I have talked about already. So I think the commissioner appointed under this act will have a challenge, because I don't think it's going to be enough for this commissioner to find a few new ideas and to write reports about them and to develop marketing strategies.
[4:15]Frankly, I think this commissioner is going to have a heck of a job persuading this government to change some of its fundamental economic policies, some of the ways in which it does business and some of the ways in which it organizes itself, which are kind of central to this government's approach to the economy. I think those are the things that have to change, frankly, before we're going to maximize prosperity anywhere in British Columbia -- including, and especially the north. So the person who is going to have this job of northern development commissioner is going to have a tough job. I look forward to hearing what this commissioner does to discharge that very serious and onerous mandate.
I have to admit that back in February, I think it was, when the government reorganized itself and there was an announcement that the government was appointing a new Minister Responsible for Northern Development, my first reaction was: "Well, I guess the government has decided around the cabinet table, in the deliberations of government, that we need -- as an emissary, if you will -- a cabinet minister responsible for northern issues." I suppose I could have put my normal skepticism aside for a moment and said, "Well, there's a good step. I mean, there's the government saying: 'Let's pay special attention to northern issues. Let's have a cabinet minister who will be responsible for northern issues.' "
You know, you might have thought that the cabinet minister who is responsible for northern development would have had the responsibility of promoting and encouraging job creation and economic development in northern British Columbia. That would be a legitimate expectation for most people to have if they heard that the government had reorganized itself and created a new portfolio of a Minister Responsible for Northern Development. You might have thought that that minister would be someone who would consult with northern residents as needed, who would give advice to the government on job creation and economic development in the north, who might promote private sector investments in northern British Columbia and who might act as an advocate for northern economic development. Those would all be things that I think most British Columbians would see as the role of a Minister -- I'm sure I've got this right -- Responsible for Northern Development.
Perhaps there is something important in this bill. Perhaps the government, by bringing this bill forward, has realized that the minister or the ministry is not capable of advancing the interests of northern British Columbians. We need to have somebody else. We need to have a commissioner. I can only agree. I mean, when I look at the progress that's been made by the minister in advancing northern development over the last few months, I certainly don't see much in the way of development. I still apprehend the sense of alienation, the sense of disparity and the sense of loss of opportunity, so I have to -- and it's hard for me to do it -- congratulate the government for recognizing that this problem exists and for deciding to resolve the problem by appointing a new official. Maybe that person, when he or she has the job, will do the job of advancing the interests of northern British Columbians and encouraging job creation and economic development in northern British Columbia, because I don't see much evidence of it happening now. We're actually at the point, I think, where almost any step in the right direction is a step worth, if not applauding, at least allowing to happen.
G. Plant: I hear the Minister for Children and Families wanting desperately to participate in the debate. I'm sure that
[ Page 8312 ]if she has something constructive to say about the issue, she'll get up and participate in the debate, and I look forward to her contribution on this issue.
I look forward to hearing from the government about why we need a northern development commissioner when taxpayers already have the privilege of having a Minister Responsible for Northern Development. So for these reasons, I think there's a problem that needs to be addressed. It is currently not being addressed in the way that it ought to be. This legislation does at least create another opportunity for this problem to be addressed, and on that basis I'm happy to join with my colleagues on this side of the House in indicating that we'll support this legislation.
K. Krueger: I'm intrigued by this act and this decision on the part of the government. I'm an MLA who now represents a southern interior constituency, but I've spent a great deal of time in the north. I grew up on a homestead north of Fort St. John. I lived for six years in Fort St. John, seven in Dawson Creek, four in Smithers and three years in Prince George twice -- a total of six years. So I'm well acquainted with the north and still visit it frequently, including two weeks ago when I travelled to the minister's home constituency for the Yellowhead Highway Association conference at which he spoke.
Everyone there, I think, was disappointed that the Minister of Transportation and Highways didn't come out. There were ministers from the prairie provinces there, but not British Columbia's minister. People from the north view that failure to attend as a disappointment, because they have felt neglected for so long. Indeed, it was curious to hear the member for Skeena refer to previous Social Credit administrations as having been essentially guilty of the same sins as the NDP government in the last seven years -- of failing to address the needs of the north and failing to be aware of the issues of the north. Over those years that I grew up in the north and the many years of my adult life that I lived there, it was a booming area of British Columbia. It's incredibly rich in resources, as I think we all know, and they were being very well developed. When my father wasn't working on his farm in the summer -- when he was shut out of that by winter -- he would go and work in the oil and gas exploration industries. He went and worked as a carpenter on the development of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam.
The Socreds built dams and highways and encouraged mining exploration and development, and in general the entire north of this province was regarded as a land of opportunity. My colleagues and I have been travelling throughout the constituencies of the minister, the member for Skeena and the member for Bulkley Valley-Stikine in successive caucus tours over the last couple of years, and we hear from those constituents throughout the area that same message: people located there, believing it was a land of opportunity -- knowing it was -- with the huge hydroelectric potential being developed, the way industry was taking hold and the tremendous interest by resource companies
I think that it's a mistake for the government to spread the blame around, even in its own mind -- let alone publicly -- because the Social Credit administrations had a lot going in the north, and things have really ground to a halt over the last seven years. Northern development was just fine when I left the north in the eighties. It's a very different story now. Nobody would call them boom times anymore.
An issue that's been addressed by a number of previous speakers is the issue of why it's necessary to have a northern development commissioner when we have a Ministry of Energy and Mines and Northern Development. Indeed, we used to refer to the incumbent minister as the minister responsible for everything, because he had so many responsibilities within his portfolio. I haven't heard anyone on the government side question his credentials or ability to get the job done. It's not that anyone minds a very direct focus on northern development. That's great. That's obviously needed, because the economy's really in the doldrums throughout most of the north except for the blessing of oil and gas endowments. But there's a concern about redundancy, for one thing. We now have two very senior-level positions essentially dealing with the same job. And worse than redundancy, there's the concern about one impeding the other and, potentially, nothing getting done as a result. Those are cautions that we want to put before the minister in a respectful way. If we're going to create this position, as we obviously are -- we do intend to support the bill, and I certainly intend to support it -- then let's let the commissioner do the job, and let's not interfere with it.
There's a concern, of course, that this position will be just another bureaucracy, and that can easily happen. We see section 12 empowering the commissioner to hire other employees, specialists, consultants and so on. There is a lot of reference to writing reports and making recommendations. Of course, all of our file cabinets in this Legislature are stuffed with people's reports, and many of them don't seem to draw much subsequent action from the government -- even ones that deal with tremendously serious matters, such as those for which the Ministry for Children and Families is responsible.
So we have a minister, with all his trappings of power -- his deputy minister, his ministerial aides, his staff and tremendous resources. Now we'll have a commissioner, and he or she may be tempted to build a little empire as well. We certainly see in government that Crown corporations, agencies and ministries tend to want to grow upon themselves. There's a great temptation for management types to write reports to one another and justify more management types. Frequently they become so bound up in bureaucracy that very little gets done.
Will this government listen to the commissioner? That's a legitimate concern of northerners and a legitimate concern of ours. This government -- this minister -- didn't listen to British Columbians on the issue of gambling expansion, for example. It's gone ahead, and we're already hearing very alarming things from throughout the interior about the effect on small business and on families and individuals -- things that were predicted by the research we'd done prior to the gambling expansion. Indeed, the minister himself had spoken against gambling expansion when the Socreds were in power. But he didn't listen to his own voice, let alone the voices of others, once he was the minister making that decision.
As we travelled through the constituencies I mentioned earlier -- Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers, Hazelton, Carnaby, Burns Lake, Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake, Fort St. James -- it was sad to see it so depressed. When I lived there, the world was people's oyster. They had many opportunities, and they knew it. They knew their children could look forward to a lifetime of gainful employment and family-supporting jobs when they graduated from high school -- or even if they didn't, frankly. It was a robust area. It was a tremendously booming economy with all kinds of opportunity. It's not there now. So if this is what it takes to start turning things around, then I'm all in favour of it, because things definitely need to turn around there. They are pretty sad right now.
This government has essentially snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Even tourism, which is one of the last holdout
[ Page 8313 ]industries that have maintained some vitality in the area, has suffered because of the Alaska ferry blockade and the tremendous ill will that was demonstrated towards American citizens there and a Premier who appeared to abet and encourage those activities.
That's what people are telling us as we travel through the area: bookings are down, and people are offended by that and angry. It's no way for a government to behave when it wants to encourage tourism to an area of the interior of British Columbia. It's a very serious concern. One of my colleagues mentioned the issue of a second Prince Rupert ferry. Again, that's what people in the area tell us. They have been requesting and advocating that for years. Every second day the motels, hotels and restaurants up and down Highway 16 are vacant because they are built to accommodate traffic, of course, and tourism. They get it when the ferry unloads, as the traffic makes its way to them, but every second day it's not there. Why is it so difficult to deliver a service like that -- one that is booked so tremendously and that people look forward so much to using? Why haven't we got a second Prince Rupert ferry scheduled? Well, maybe we will. Maybe the commissioner will make that one of his first recommendations. I hope so; I'd like to see it happen.
T. Stevenson: Spend, spend, spend.
K. Krueger: We hear the member for Vancouver-Burrard saying: "Spend, spend, spend." There we go; we have these Vancouver people presuming to interfere even when we're talking about the potential tasks this commissioner will turn his mind to. So it's no wonder that people are a little apprehensive about his prospects for success when we have that sort of rude behaviour from somebody
Our critic for Health
K. Krueger: Hon. Speaker, looking at the rude behaviour of that member, I'll sit down for a moment if you'd like to correct him.
Thank you, hon. Speaker.
The member for Okanagan West spoke earlier today of the fact that there are 86 fewer doctors in the north than there were four years ago. Again, that's a result of neglect by this NDP government, and it's surely something that the commissioner might also want to turn his mind to.
We've heard the Forests minister speak with pride recently of what he considers to be the reduction in regulation with regard to changes to the Forest Practices Code. But we have to ask him: who wrote that Forest Practices Code? Who was it that came out with those thousands of pages of code, which he talked about having to take a chainsaw to? He still hasn't reduced it to anywhere near a manageable level. It was this government. So it's kind of a paper tiger when the government says that it's making progress and it's only partially reducing some of the machinery it built itself, which has been attacking the economy of northern B.C.
It's the same issue on stumpage. The stumpage system is too inflexible. It takes too long to follow the market. People are charged too much in stumpage, and that has had a terrible effect on our forest industry. The forest industry throughout the interior and in the north told us for years that this was going to happen. They said: "We're getting the highest prices we've ever seen for our products, but we're barely making any money. The reason we aren't is that we've got this tremendous overregulation and overtaxation. We need relief from it. Unless we get it, our mills will be the first to go down when prices drop." Sure enough, they have.
Members such as the member for Vancouver-Burrard then say: "Well, that's because of the Asian flu -- the effect of the economies in Asia." Of course it isn't that. The industry was geared to deal with market cycles. This has been the culmination of years of overregulation and overtaxation by this government. When a market blip occurs, the industry has to shut down.
This government has also substantially ended mining exploration throughout the interior and the north. Again, the industry told us for years that this was happening. Recently some efforts have been made to try and turn that around, but it's a mistake for this government to pat itself on the back or thump its chest and say: "Look what we're getting done for northerners and for the interior." It's the same people who hurt that area in the first place and who drove the economy to where it is now.
Who was it that burned the unsecured creditors throughout that Hazelton-Smithers-Terrace area in the Skeena Cellulose debacle? Who was it that engineered a situation that the court had to reverse, where the government of B.C. presumed to declare itself an unsecured creditor to the point that it could outvote those poor people who had been telling us since the beginning of 1997 that they were facing bankruptcy because of the actions of Repap B.C., followed by the actions of this government? Who has it been that drove the economy of the north into the dust? It has been the New Democratic Party, and the government that has been in place since 1991.
Who was it that brought the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks to the point where, by its own internal records, its policies have cost thousands of jobs in B.C. and over a billion dollars a year in economic activity? It was this NDP government. Is it doing anything about that problem? We don't see it. People everywhere in the north and throughout the interior are affected by that. This government and those ministries are so tied up in themselves and in their bureaucracy that they can't let anything positive happen.
The Premier himself rejected a call centre in the interior that would have employed 600 people, by frivolously saying: "We don't want to deal with big banks." Six hundred jobs went to the Maritimes as a result. We hope that this government has learned from its mistakes.
In 1998 it's commonly accepted that the best management practice is to allow people to do their jobs. The people on the ground actually tasked with getting something done are probably the best ones to decide how to do it. There should be minimal interference, if any, from senior levels.
We hope that when the commissioner recommends things to the minister, the minister and his cabinet will not cave in to special interests, as we're told happens repeatedly at the land resource management planning tables. Representa-
[ Page 8314 ]tives of the mining industry tell us that if they make the mistake of saying at one of those tables that an area is of interest to them, at the very next meeting some special interest group will want to designate that exact area as a protected area, and they often have their way. Hopefully, when the commissioner tries to work against that happening, the minister and the government will listen.
Is this act about doing the right thing? Or is it about appearing to do the right thing for the north? We hope it's the former. British Columbia can't afford any more of this: appearing to do the right thing, repeatedly setting up new commissions, new agencies, new Crown corporations, installing new bureaucracies that only make things worse and tie things up. This little act, as brief as it is, is full of the words "reports" and "recommendations." There we go again: it takes a long time to write reports. Frequently nobody seems to read them. Frequently nobody seems to act on them. Let's allow this person to do the job, whoever is appointed. Let's hope the government has changed its ways and learned from its mistakes.
The member for Peace River South referred to a fish analogy: you have to cast a lot of times before you get a nibble sometimes; and when you get a nibble, you don't always get a bite; and when you get a bite, you don't always reel it in. He was talking about investors and investment opportunities. Too many times when this government has finally reeled one in, it has bonked it on the head with overregulation and overtaxation and not allowed that economic opportunity to come to fruition.
Again, we hope that this government is learning. There were indications in the Premier's so-called consultations before this session of the Legislature began that he was listening to the business people and the pastors he was consulting with. He was saying the right things: that he had to reduce regulation and reduce taxation. But we've since seen one example after another, including new legislation, that the government hasn't learned how to do that -- if indeed it was sincere about doing it. The Workers Compensation Amendment Act is a classic illustration. It imposes more regulation on business instead of taking regulation away. We've got to get serious about those things if we intend to turn these problems around.
We surely hope that the government pays attention to this commissioner when he or she is hired and gives serious consideration to this point: the north really doesn't need more government. It doesn't need more commissioners. It doesn't necessarily even need a minister. It needs more autonomy. People who live in the north and throughout the interior ought to have a whole lot more power and genuine decision-making ability with regard to how things are done in their area. They shouldn't have to see their resource dollars trucked away, as one of the members put it earlier, and continually see it all vanish down to the black hole in the south on trucks and trains and have to come begging, cap in hand, for any little program. They shouldn't have to camp out in a hospital bed on the lawn of the legislature, for Pete's sake, to try and get some attention by government to the fact that the emergency rooms are all closed up there.
I was driving Highway 16 two weeks ago, and there were signs saying, "Don't have an accident because there isn't an emergency department for another 250 kilometres," and that was the truth.
K. Krueger: Once again the Minister for Children and Families is harping about the doctors being on strike. Well, the doctors, of course, were responding to a situation they found themselves in because of the inaction of government. The government did the opposite action in Surrey: it did pay doctors to be on call and did compensate them for doing those very things that have exhausted the doctors up north and throughout the interior.
It would be excellent to see this government indulge in less horn-blowing, less heckling -- such as the Minister for Children and Families is always indulging in -- less grandstanding, less patting itself on the back and more listening and actually allowing people in the north, in the interior and indeed throughout British Columbia to have more control over their own lives. We should leave those resources in the interior, as the B.C. Liberal Community Charter sets out, and allow local people to make decisions about how they're best spent. They shouldn't have to come begging to Victoria for anything. There's a wealth of resources still coming out of the interior. The problem is they can't get any of it back. They need more autonomy.
In part 5 of this act -- I expect we'll deal with this in committee -- it refers to the commissioner being able to advise the minister in an independent way. We hope that's genuine. We hope it's true that the government is going to allow some independence -- not the kind of independence they think about when they think of the Agricultural Land Commission and the shameful way that the commissioner was abused by the Minister of Agriculture recently in the Six Mile process, not the kind of independence the B.C. Transit head got when he was hired to clean up the problems at B.C. Transit and was then fired when he started to do it. We also don't want the kind of independence that Mr. Laxton exhibited at B.C. Hydro. We certainly don't want that sort of thing happening in the north. We want the people of the north and of the interior to have a strong say in how their resources are administered and how this commissioner does his job. And we see that the act sets out consultations and so on. We trust those will be genuine. We'll be watching, of course, to make sure that that's true.
I'm concerned that the government has reserved for itself the ability to choose this commissioner through the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council. Why not choose the commissioner through a group of MLAs? Why not the MLAs who represent the north, for example? There's nothing novel about that concept. We choose other commissioners by committees of the Legislature. Why not include the MLAs who were elected by the people of that area to represent them? Why shut them out?
Even the fact of the act stipulating that Prince George must be the location of the commissioner's office will cause concerns throughout the north, because people who live in the north -- in Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers, Houston, Hazelton, Vanderhoof, all such places -- don't really regard Prince George as "the north." In fact, Prince George doesn't regard itself as "the north"; it refers to itself as the central interior. So one has to question how Prince George was chosen to be the home of the northern development commissioner. And that'll be a question that people throughout those communities will be asking.
It'll be incumbent upon the minister -- and I honestly hope he's able to do it -- to demonstrate that this act has been presented in good faith, that this position is being created in good faith, that the minister intends to listen to the commissioner and allow him to do his job and not override him for partisan political purposes, as the Premier has so frequently done in the past, and indeed to hold the Premier back from
[ Page 8315 ]indulging in those kinds of activities. It only makes people cynical and frustrated and wastes their time, and it grinds the economy down badly -- as it already has been ground down.
There is a sense on this side of the House that there is a risk of redundancy here -- or, as I said, worse than redundancy -- a sense of setting a commissioner up for frustration and interference. He seems to have the same job as one would expect the Minister Responsible for Northern Development has. But I for one am willing to suspend disbelief, to support, in good faith, this bill and trust that the government is going to do the right thing, that it's genuinely, in its own mind, taking a new step and that it's going to allow this process to work and let this person, this commissioner, do her or his job. I'm going to support the bill. But please let the person do the job and don't frustrate everyone by ignoring the commissioner's recommendations and the decisions that the people of the north and of the interior advocate that that commissioner makes. Please don't indulge in political stunts with this. It's far too important. The needs out there are far too genuine and far too pressing, and we hope for good results.
Deputy Speaker: I recognize the Minister of Energy and Mines and Northern Development to close the debate.
Hon. D. Miller: I want to try to very briefly touch on some of the points raised by members in debate, because I think these are important questions.
I just want to draw the member's attention, before I do that, to a very positive story in today's press indicating that UNBC, the University of Northern British Columbia which is not
There were a number of topics
Hon. D. Miller: If the members opposite think that they're immune, they should examine themselves. There generally is a sense amongst the populace of alienation from politicians and politics. I think that's a fair statement in Canada today. I would say
[4:45]What I think is a potentially huge divisive issue for the Liberal caucus, obviously, is now
Hon. D. Miller: And there is no question, Mr. Speaker, that
Deputy Speaker: Order, members. I'm sure the minister is about to get back to Bill 27.
Hon. D. Miller: Mr. Speaker, I can't help but conclude that I've touched a nerve.
Hon. D. Miller: That's true; I do. As well, I want to say that it's always been my political view that part of our responsibility as politicians is actually, in a very serious way, to try to unite people, because I know from my own experience that it is very, very easy to divide people. You don't have to be smart. It is very easy to divide people. Sometimes we see some pretty bad things happen. I think northerners
I think it's unfortunate that the member for Kamloops-North Thompson made that rather foolish statement that Prince George people don't view themselves as northerners. It displays, in my view, a lack of understanding. Also, in saying that because the commissioner's office is located in Prince George
Before I get into that, I want to just briefly relate a story. The members opposite referred to the northern doctors' dispute. I want to relate a story, and I guess I would ask everybody to examine their own conscience with respect to the incident I'm about to describe and tell me who they'd side with. This is the unfortunate story related to me by the mayor of Burns Lake about a woman in the advanced stages of pregnancy who is about to experience, as it was related to me, a very difficult and perhaps dangerous birth -- dangerous with respect to both the mother's health and the child's health -- and the doctors in Burns Lake would not treat that woman. They put her in an ambulance and sent her down the highway to Prince George. And the members opposite are defending that kind of behaviour? Shame! Absolute shame!
Are you telling me -- any member of this House -- that if you were a medical doctor faced with that set of circumstances, you would have said: "I'm sorry. I'm a doctor, but I'm not going to help you. I'm putting you in an ambulance, and
[ Page 8316 ]I'm shipping you down the road a couple of hundred miles"? To any member who would take that position, I say shame on that member.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I talked about consistency. If we want to talk about Skeena Cellulose, perhaps the old Socreds over there might ask themselves who sold this enterprise, which was owned by the public of B.C. Who sold it to Mr. Petty and let him run it into the ground, to the point where people's lives and people's jobs and communities were threatened? Who did that?
Where were the travelling Liberals? The Terrace Standard newspaper, June 3, says, "The Travelling Liberals Arrive in Terrace" -- the member for Peace River North and the member for Kamloops-North Thompson. During that interview, the member for Peace River North admits he knows nothing about northwestern B.C. He's just trying to get acquainted. He says about the message he heard in Terrace: "The message I am hearing loud and clear is to get things stabilized." He wants to find ways of ensuring that the jobs left intact by the Skeena Cellulose crisis remain here for the future.
And his leader
They also say: "Why do we need a commissioner?" Now, I understand, they're voting for the bill. One of their members had the courage to actually say they're voting for this bill. But while they're in Terrace, what do they say? They decry the northern commissioner; they say there's no need. The member for Kamloops-North Thompson says: "Why do we need a whole commission?" And what do I get in my office? A letter from the member for Peace River North, recommending that one of his constituents gets the job. I tell you, Mr. Speaker, I cannot figure these people out.
Deputy Speaker: Members, order, order.
Hon. D. Miller: I cannot figure these people out.
Deputy Speaker: Members, please. Take your seats please, members.
Take your seat, member.
R. Neufeld: I've got a point of order.
Deputy Speaker: Well, I just want to say something first, before your point of order. The Chair is having great difficulty hearing this debate. Members on both sides are making a lot of noise. If your point of order is about something that was said in that mêlée, I would suggest it's not in order, because I didn't hear it.
Member for Peace River North, on a point of order?
R. Neufeld: Yes. On a point of order, I would ask the minister to read into the record my covering letter to him from a resident who lives in Peace River North, who put in an application for the job.
Deputy Speaker: Member, take your seat, please.
R. Neufeld: Read it into the record. I challenge the minister to read it into the record.
Deputy Speaker: Order, member. You may wish to review points of order. Then perhaps in the future you may wish to make one.
I'd like to continue debate, hopefully in a moderate manner, members. I recognize the Minister Responsible for Northern Development.
Hon. D. Miller: Well, I'd like to read some things into the record, Mr. Speaker. I was very happy -- as I know all members from the Peace River region were, and I'm going to quote some of them -- when we announced the Fair Share deal and the oil and gas initiative. I also note
I note that when the Fair Share deal was announced, the member for Peace River North wrote a column, and he congratulated everyone -- he even congratulated the government -- for the Fair Share announcement. Not to leave anybody out, he also congratulated himself. He said in his column: "
The member for Peace River North -- at least, Mr. Speaker, he didn't write a letter to the editor -- complains about the buildup of red tape. We agree and we're trying to cut it. I introduced a bill today, the Oil and Gas Commission Act, which will go a long way in dealing with that question. Despite the attempt by the members of the opposition to say that it's all this government's fault, look what Mr. Fred Jarvis, the mayor of the municipality of Taylor, said when that question was put to him. He said: "The NDP can't be entirely blamed for B.C.'s bloated bureaucratic structure. Red tape has been building up gradually over many, many years." It's not just this administration. He says: "Streamlining the application process could have happened in the 1980s, when there was a different government in power." He went on to say: "It was [the Premier's] government that took the initiative to cut the red tape. It had to happen
I appreciate the remarks the member for Peace River South made in this chamber in terms of his willingness. And I must say that I was a bit disappointed. I think on three separate occasions I have publicly offered a bipartisan approach to these questions. Quite frankly, I found the tone -- and if I could speak directly to one member's speech, that of the member for Peace River North -- one that is not particularly helpful with respect to these issues. The member for Peace River South noted that the increased highway spending in the Peace River region was very, very positive and said: "In my years as MLA, I think they have never spent more than $1 million in every given year on gravelling."
We can see that it's not just a question of narrowly saying that everything that was wrong somehow happened in the last eight years, surely. The mayor of Fort St. John says, with
[ Page 8317 ]respect to the government and Fair Share: "It's what their party stands for and what the government says it stands for. Hats off to the people of B.C. and the Premier." Very, very positive. Again, in the Peace River Block News, May 1, rural area D director Albert Erb said he was just delighted with the progress Victoria has made in recognizing northern needs. "I really think we have a government that should be applauded," he said, adding that he doesn't always agree with the NDP ideology.
We've had people in the north talk about the commission. Mayor Blair Lekstrom, who represents this community well, clearly lobbied to get it in Dawson Creek but accepted the fact that perhaps it won't go to Dawson Creek, it will be in Prince George. " 'Certainly, I would prefer Dawson Creek, but I'm not going to now slam the commissioner because he's not here. I'm going to work with him and see if it can benefit us here in Dawson Creek. Whatever they do, I'm going to give them credit for at least setting this up," said the mayor of Dawson Creek. Does he represent the body of constituents in the north? I'd say he does. And Hans Wagner, Project North, said in an interview on May 26 on PGTV: "I think an effective office could do a lot to bring the northern perspective together and, in turn, bring it to bear effectively at the cabinet level."
[5:00]There's a body of support for the approach we're taking in northern B.C. Members talk about
When I say that, the answer is not so much a failure on the part of any individual MLA. It's the point I'm trying to make with respect to how we approach the broad question of northern development. The area, like many regions of the province, has its own divisiveness. People have not been looking at the broader picture. The people in the Peace River and the agricultural sector -- and I'm not faulting them; I'm trying to relate what the problem is -- have not felt the sense of being connected to the northern port. There has not been any kind of broad-based strategy, as I said in my opening remarks on the bill, for trying to look at the north from 30,000 feet as opposed to being on the ground. Where are the broad-based strategies that you need?
I referred to the B.C. Rail and CN agreements. There's a heck of a lot more work to do, but thankfully we now have a working group with the government of Alberta. We set that up. Why wasn't it set up before? Why was there no impetus prior to us taking up this issue and setting it up? They've been growing grain in the Peace River
We've done the oil and gas initiative. We're looking at the agricultural sector and the potential for agribusiness in the Dawson Creek area. We've done the Highways announcement. We're cutting red tape. We did an agreement with Alcan in terms of trying to construct a new smelter, and we've got other potentials for new smelters in the north. We've done the mining agreement and the highways agreement, and I've announced a tourism conference for northern B.C. this fall.
There are any number of broad strategic initiatives that have to be put in place. Once they're in place -- and here's the point -- you need an organization that's going to work with other northern organizations to keep the pressure on, to keep the spotlight on, to keep the focus on these kinds of broad-based initiatives. The member for Peace River South asked about working with other organizations -- precisely.
There are a variety of organizations in northern B.C. I spoke to the Northwest Communities Coalition conference. They said: "What's our role?" I said: "It's doing what you're doing." What's the commissioner's role? It's to speak to them, to coordinate those kinds of efforts, to work with economic development officers, to work with all of these broad-based groups and, yes, to work with aboriginal communities that are interested in economic development and job creation in their communities. And having a very, very small staff; having a commissioner whose mandate is to work with all northerners, to travel across the north, to put pressure on these kinds of questions; having some independence from government, not just reporting to government
An Hon. Member: Will he?
Hon. D. Miller: Yes, he will. The act -- and we'll get into debate on the sections of the act
Hon. D. Miller: You know, it's easy to lapse into politics, and it's easy to be cynical. It's a heck of a lot harder to try to sometimes put a little bit of politics aside and think of the greater good. We're doing things in northern B.C. We're moving aggressively on a strategy of development in northern B.C., and I say once again that I'm prepared to work on a bipartisan basis. But if it's necessary to have political fights
I'm sure that while the members will support this bill, I know by the tone of some of their comments that they were going to run around northern B.C. and other parts of B.C. and try to undermine what we're trying to achieve here. My only message to them is that if they do not want to play a positive role, then I think northerners will deliver a message to them the next time we go to the polls.
I look forward to committee stage and the speedy passage of this bill, so we can get on with these initiatives and get on with the job at hand. Lots of work has been done; there's a lot more work that has to be done yet.
With that, I move second reading.
Deputy Speaker: Just before I put the question, the member for Delta South rises on what matter?
F. Gingell: I seek leave to make an introduction.
F. Gingell: On behalf of the member for Okanagan-Penticton, I would like to welcome seven grade 7 students from Holy Cross Elementary School in Penticton. I ask all members of the House to join me in making them welcome.
Deputy Speaker: On the motion for second reading, members.
[ Page 8318 ]Motion approved.
Bill 27, Northern Development Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. D. Miller: I call committee stage on Bill 21.
ASSESSMENT AMENDMENT ACT, 1998The House in committee on Bill 21; W. Hartley in the chair.
On section 1.
L. Reid: I will simply ask the minister a series of questions this afternoon. Can she enlighten us on the necessity for the name change and comment on the new definition for "file"? I believe it is an addition to this act.
Hon. J. Kwan: Before I begin, I would just like to introduce two of my staff who are with me here today. To my right is Deidre Wilson and to my left is Brian Walisser, who have been working at the staff level, by and large, in bringing Bill 21 together, which we will debate today.
On the issues around the definitions, "property assessment review panel" is now being used to replace the phrase "court of revision." Primarily, the change of the name is to better reflect the lay nature of this first level of appeal, to make the system more user-friendly and to make it perhaps less intimidating for the appellant. A court of revision sometimes comes with the imagery of a court that could potentially intimidate the community as a whole. That's the change with respect to that first definition.
The other definition is with respect to the Property Assessment Appeal Board replacing the Assessment Appeal Board. Once again, it's really to reduce the confusion with other appeal bodies and to strengthen the public understanding of the board's independence from the Assessment Authority.
The new definition added to this act is the term "file." It's a new definition that really customizes the definition of the word "deliver," based on the Interpretation Act. Again, it's a lay way of identifying an item, which will hopefully make the public at large who are going through the various stages of the appeal process more comfortable with these kinds of terms.
L. Reid: In that these changes are anticipated, has the ministry committed to ensuring that this information is translated into a variety of languages, so that the transition is smoother for individuals who would be securing this level of appeal?
Hon. J. Kwan: The appeal board, of course, is an independent body from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. We're not in a position to tell them what to do or what not to do. However, historically they have translated into different languages the various procedures or documents within their jurisdiction. It is my understanding that the appeal board is looking into doing some translation work in this matter.
L. Reid: I'm intrigued by the minister's comment that the ministry is in no position to tell them what to do and what not to do. That's exactly what you're doing with this legislation. You are legislating practice for the Assessment Appeal Board in British Columbia. Indeed, if it's possible for this minister to legislate actions, certainly it's possible for translations to be made available to individuals who would not have access to this information unless it were in their first language, typically.
If the minister's first comments were indeed straightforward about making the system more user-friendly and about establishing a comfort zone, surely she recognizes that language is a huge part of that comfort zone. I would appreciate a response that's perhaps a little more forthright. I do appreciate that the minister has the ability to legislate anything she wishes to transpire with this agency.
Hon. J. Kwan: When the member opposite references what the Ministry of Municipal Affairs directive may or may not be
Having said that, clearly the issue of language is an important one. For myself, having come from a community where my first language is in fact Cantonese and understanding that the community oftentimes is faced with difficulties because of language barriers
[5:15]L. Reid: Am I to understand from the minister's comments that the policy and regulations which flow from this act will not be issues this minister has anything to do with? I would suggest otherwise. I believe that the powers inherent in policy and regulation could absolutely define translation as being a requirement. I would ask the minister to confirm or deny.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
Hon. J. Kwan: Once again for the member opposite, to clarify in terms of roles within government and within the ministry in the areas of regulation and of legislation, clearly as legislators we have a role to play in bringing in regulation and legislation. But with respect to the administration of the regulation and the legislation, that falls within the purview of the board in this instance. Once again, the ministry does not get involved in telling the board how to administer the various regulations or legislation that it has in place, in that sense.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
L. Reid: My understanding is that these are changes to section number references only. If the minister would kindly confirm.
Hon. J. Kwan: Yes.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
[ Page 8319 ]L. Reid: Hon. Chair, I'll take your guidance on this, but I have a number of questions regarding the timing of this information that will flow. I believe it's certainly carried. As we continue the discussion, I might put my thoughts on the record, and the minister could respond. Certainly some of the information
The Chair: Fine, member.
L. Reid: The House will note that the Chair said: "Fine."
A number of discussions around the timing of the assessment calendar have been held, I know, with the minister and certainly with myself as critic, in terms of my tours around the province. The issue always is the timeliness of information, when municipalities can
The ability to know the exact amount of that sum of money determines their basic life and livelihood as a municipality, the types of projects they can undertake, etc. So there has been a lot of discussion around when that information might be the most useful to municipalities.
That is certainly the discussion I wish to engage the minister in this afternoon, perhaps in terms of discussions that have been undertaken by the ministry -- certainly by the Assessment Authority -- as to the parameters, if you will: the earliest time that this information may be available, how quickly it makes itself available to municipalities and whether or not there's any likelihood that that time frame will be moved upwards or changed in any way. If the minister could give me a sense of where the discussion currently sits, that would assist me in terms of my pleasure with this section.
Hon. J. Kwan: There is a series of dates, for the member's information. December 31 is the date when the preliminary assessment roll notification is
Accordingly, I'm advised by staff that seven or eight years ago, in the 1990 period, the calendar for the assessment cycle was changed. At this time there has not been significant discussion with respect to changing these calendar dates, nor have we had complaints from municipal governments with respect to these dates.
L. Reid: I apologize. I'm not sure if I heard the minister's last statement. Has she received complaints or has she not received complaints? Okay, the minister confirms that she has not received complaints.
I've had a number of individuals approach me during my attendance at the regional UBCM meetings regarding whether or not
My question to the minister is -- in that the staff, I am certain, are much more experienced in this regard than I -- could that time frame be met? Is there something magical about May 15? Is it possible for that information to be available two weeks earlier?
Hon. J. Kwan: Just to clarify, the May 15 date is the deadline when the municipal budget and tax rate are put in place for local government, in terms of their bylaws. But the period in which local governments can work towards working out their budgets and consulting with the community with respect to the budget really ranges from March 31 to May 15, because March 31 is the date on which they actually get the authenticated tax roll. So then they would actually have the numbers and the information before them as they embark on their budgeting process. That's the period in which they can do that. Really, by May 15 they should have had that work completed and be in a position to adopt their budget and the bylaws.
As well, I don't know if the member has heard from some members within the UBCM who have some concerns around these dates. But we have not heard any complaints formally through the UBCM in that way, nor is it -- to my understanding -- UBCM policy with respect to these calendar dates. If indeed UBCM, as a body of representatives of local governments, raises this issue, we can certainly have some discussions around these calendar dates. To that end, as yet UBCM has not adopted that as its policy, nor have they raised that issue in our joint council meetings or through the official body of the UBCM.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's indulgence on this question, but it is my understanding that the minister said earlier that the authentication of the roll was in fact March 31 -- correct? So on March 31, barring a budget cut, they will have some knowledge of the dollars, the revenue that will flow to each individual municipality. That's how I'm reading this. What I'm hearing the minister touch on is looking at the date of May 15. I believe the minister said that was the deadline for municipal budgets to begin the process.
Hon. J. Kwan: May 15 is the date on which the municipal budget and the tax rate bylaw are to be adopted at the municipal level. So the period in which local councils have to work and finalize their budgets really ranges from March 31 to May 15.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's comments earlier when she said that perhaps UBCM as a formal entity has not broached the subject. However, I do know that the minister is responsible for all the municipalities. Certainly if those issues come forward from a single municipality, I would trust that they would receive some attention. I'm not convinced that the minister's only response is or should be to the UBCM as an entity -- not to take anything away from their ability to advocate very effectively on behalf of their membership. Is that also the minister's understanding?
Hon. J. Kwan: Clearly I have an open-door policy, in many ways, to talk with various local representatives with respect to their concerns. But on an issue where it really impacts not just one local community but rather all of the
[ Page 8320 ]communities throughout British Columbia, it is important when those issues get raised that we utilize the UBCM forum, where all bodies of local government representatives are gathered together, for us to discuss and engage in looking at changes that would impact not just one local government but everybody on the whole. So that is, generally speaking, the mechanism that I use in engaging with local government representatives.
L. Reid: If I might take a moment to concur with the minister, indeed they do perform a very fine function on behalf of municipalities in this province. Certainly I think the lessons I learned during my attendance at the regional meetings will stand me in good stead as we continue this discussion. I would like to extend a welcome to the staff too, because I know that they have been very helpful to me in terms of my tutelage as Municipal Affairs critic. So I thank you both.
[5:30]In terms of the authentication, the assessment roll and all of that, I believe the minister stated earlier that these dates are set, that they are unlikely to change and that there has been no rationale brought forward that would allow it. The question I pose is whether it would allow, based on the ability to generate that information in a timely fashion
Hon. J. Kwan: Just so we're clear on where the dates come from and to further clarify for the member, the May 15 date is actually not a date that's specified within the Assessment Act, but rather it is a date that is specified in the Municipal Act.
I'm a little confused. Earlier I thought I heard the member opposite wanting the date to be extended to give more time as opposed to giving less time in terms of moving the May 15 date to the May 1 date. In any event, once again, if any municipality would want to see the calendar changed, perhaps I can offer a suggestion. Those members can bring it to the UBCM executive, and perhaps a motion can be brought forward at the next UBCM for the larger body of municipal government representatives to have discussion on this issue. I would also be happy to sit down with them and explore these items.
As well, for the member's information, the May 15 date is a deadline. It's really only a deadline that we have identified for a municipality to have the option of deciding earlier if they wish. So if they want to move forward from the May 15 date and bring in their bylaws and have their budget ready to go on May 1, they have the option to do that.
L. Reid: I have just one or two more table-setting questions around the timing. Municipalities have indicated to me some displeasure regarding budget cuts. They've learned -- whether it's a conditional grant or an unconditional grant -- that there's been a reduction. What's the amount of advance notice that they might receive? Surely they don't hear it on March 31, when the budget is brought into the Legislature.
Hon. J. Kwan: The issue around local government financing stability through the grant system with respect to their budget dates and relating to the provincial government's budget date does not necessarily fall under the Assessment Act, but rather it is an overall financing issue. I would be happy to discuss this further with the member outside of this arena. Just for the member's information, during the estimates -- two weeks ago, I think it was -- we talked a little bit about that. Part of it is to work with the UBCM in coming up with a new local financing mechanism that will deal with some of these issues.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's desire for a different funding mechanism. The minister will recall that I did concur. I think it's time that this information was more readily available to bring some stability and some certainty to financing in local municipalities. I appreciate the minister's comment that she doesn't see that this is directly tied. However, many of the municipalities have said to me that it's the other half of the picture -- that the property tax is revenue, and the conditional grant or unconditional grant is also revenue. For them to make decisions, they need to know both sides of the picture and hopefully at the same time.
I appreciate the minister's comment, but my question was particularly referencing the time line in which they would be notified of a budget cut or a budget reduction under the current scheme. I also appreciate the minister's comment that a future mechanism may come to pass. But what currently happens today?
Hon. J. Kwan: The issue around financing authorities as they relate to local governments is not an issue that falls under the Assessment Act. That really is a matter that we're trying to work through with the UBCM to come up with an alternative mechanism to provide that kind of stability. We can canvass that further in estimates or perhaps outside of the House. There is significant work that the ministry has done with the UBCM. In fact, at the last joint council meeting, the president of the UBCM, Steve Wallace, and I actually signed a subagreement with respect to the outlying principles and guidelines with which we will work towards bringing in, hopefully, a resolution of that matter.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's comments; however, she will know that I am not asking about future policy. I appreciate the reference to Steve Wallace, the president of UBCM, and the fact that a agreement for the future has been reached. I need to know the answer to this question today: what is the time line in terms of municipalities receiving information about budget cuts or increases from this government?
Hon. J. Kwan: This year the grant time line was announced sometime in early February.
L. Reid: Thank you very much. I appreciate the minister's response.
In terms of my ongoing education, it's important to concur with what the minister said earlier about stability and a comfort zone for municipalities. If any future agreement can offer greater comfort than currently exists, I would be pleased to discuss it with the minister in some detail.
In terms of the assessment roll, the authenticated roll and the amendment to the assessment roll, that information -- I believe from the minister's earlier comment -- is delivered within a six- or eight-week time span. The actual work of the Assessment Authority is basically completed by March 31. Would that be a factual statement?
Hon. J. Kwan: December 31 is the date on which the Assessment Authority provides the preliminary assessment roll to the municipalities.
[ Page 8321 ]Sections 3 to 7 inclusive approved.
On section 8.
L. Reid: I'm looking here at the assessment roll currently available for inspection. My questions pertain to the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy issues that we touched on somewhat in a briefing we had earlier on.
Hon. J. Kwan: I'm sorry -- what section is the member on?
L. Reid: I believe we are on
The Chair: Section 8, member.
Hon. J. Kwan: Hon. Chair, I'm just trying to get clarification in terms of what section we're on. I thought we were on section 8, on "Return of information," and I'm not quite sure what the member is referencing. Is she talking about section 3, section 8, "Assessment roll available for inspection?" Is that the section she's talking about now? If I could get some clarification, please.
L. Reid: My apologies, hon. Chair. Assessment roll available for inspection -- section 8.
Hon. J. Kwan: The assessment roll available for inspection is actually under section 3. Section 8 is about return of information.
The Chair: Member, would you like to go back to section 3, section 8 for that purpose?
On section 3, section 8.
L. Reid: I thank the hon. Chair again.
The questions I raised around freedom of information and protection of privacy are significant issues. Certainly a number of the individuals who have posed questions to me -- and I think the minister will be sensitive around this issue -- have been women. The information they believe is currently publicly available has caused them great concern. A lot of the issues have tended to be around violence-against-women issues and around very troubling marital situations.
They have, to the best of their ability, attempted to rebuild their lives and to put some things in place that make good sense for them. And then, to their horror in lots of cases, they discover that where they currently reside is a matter of public record and is easily accessible. Two of the issues in fact are from women who live on Vancouver Island who have indicated to me that that information was available on the Internet. They were able to access that, and the individuals in their lives who were causing them distress were able to access that information.
I know that this is a general question, but my concern will carry forward to a number of sections on this very question: whether or not the ability for these individuals to make application, I believe, for that information is not carried by name; whether or not that process is foolproof, frankly. The women who have come to me are looking for some guarantees -- as best as this government can guarantee -- that that information, once they have taken the appropriate steps in the process, will indeed return that level of comfort and security to them.
I appreciate that this might not be the appropriate place to have this discussion, but it's one I want to put on the record early on in the debate. I know that David Flaherty, the information and privacy commissioner, has made some recommendations as to how best to proceed. My questions as we proceed this afternoon will be particularly around, first off, acceptance of those recommendations, and whether or not the Assessment Authority will be able to guarantee women an increased level of security as a result of those recommendations. I thank the minister for her indulgence.
Hon. J. Kwan: The issue that I think the member has identified falls under section 12, section 68 of the act. I could respond to that question now, or we could wait until we go to section 12. I actually have a letter here from the information and privacy commissioner addressing the various issues I think the member is concerned about and the safeguards we have put in place precisely to deal with those things. So does the member want to wait until section 12, section 68, and we can deal with it?
L. Reid: If the minister would be so indulgent, I would appreciate it now, because then I can send it on to the individuals who have raised the questions.
[5:45]Hon. J. Kwan: For the member's information, the issue around protecting the community as a whole, especially as it relates to women who are faced with violent situations, is something that we have considered as we dealt with this bill. To that end, we have consulted with the information and privacy commissioner, who has written back to me with respect to our changes to the assessment piece. I'd like to read into the record for the member some components of the letter. I will also make available a copy of the letter for the member's information as well.
First of all, I will quote from the information and privacy commissioner:
"The first recommendation was that the assessment roll should not be searchable by the name of the property owner but only by property identifiers. The distinction is subtle, but critical. If the system were not searchable by name, it could not be used, for example, to run the names of all women working at a particular transition home, the name of an arresting police officer, a high-profile politician or a doctor who performs abortions, to determine where they lived. However, if you are appealing your property assessment and wish to compare the value of a home five doors down, the ownership information would be available, but only if you knew the address of the property.So that's one recommendation that we have adopted with respect to protecting individuals in the community so that their names cannot be searched by their names but rather by the known address. You have to know where a person is in order to find out where a person is. And that's one safeguard that we have put in place, as recommended by the information and privacy commissioner.
"I understand that it is the plan of Municipal Affairs, through these amendments, to render the assessment roll searchable by address only."
[ Page 8322 ]The second recommendation from the privacy commissioner:
"Our second recommendation was that assessment roll users should be clearly informed of the legitimate purposes for which property registries may be inspected, including prohibitions and limitations on unrelated uses, such as the compilation of mailing lists. The proposed amendment, specifically section 69, addresses this issue."So in the new section 69 we have put in a safeguard relating to this second recommendation from the privacy commissioner.
The third recommendation. Again I quote from the letter:
"Our third recommendation was that the practice of selling the assessment roll with the names intact should cease. This is achieved by section 68 of the proposed amendments."So there will be no authority to sell the assessment roll, therefore making the names available to the public. That third recommendation has also been adopted in this amendment.
The last recommendation from the privacy commissioner is this:
"Finally we recommend that where an individual has reasonable grounds to believe that disclosure of their personal information would jeopardize their safety, or that of their family, their personal information could be suppressed. Section 68 of the proposed amendments gives B.C. Assessment the legislative authority to do so."As a final safeguard, in other words, if anybody wishes to have their name or their personal information removed, all they have to do is to make that request, and it will be removed accordingly.
L. Reid: I thank the minister most sincerely for that. Given the vagaries of this House, I do not know when we would have got to that section, and certainly that information was much sought after. The only question I will ask until that section
[W. Hartley in the chair.]
L. Reid: To a different hon. Chair: for my clarification, we are on section 3 -- correct?
The Chair: Yes, we're on section 3, section 8.
Section 3, section 8 approved.
The Chair: We now go to section 8; sections 4 through 7 were passed already.
On section 8.
L. Reid: Certainly, during debate commentary, if you will -- during the briefing -- much of what is to follow was indicated to be cross-reference changes. I would simply ask the minister to confirm.
Hon. J. Kwan: I am at a loss as to the member's question and what she is referencing. If the member could please clarify.
L. Reid: Fair comment. Perhaps my comment is more consistent with consideration of the next section.
Section 8 approved.
L. Reid: Noting the hour, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
The committee, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. J. Kwan moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:53 p.m.
The House in Committee of Supply A; E. Walsh in the chair.
The committee met at 2:33 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF SMALL BUSINESS,
TOURISM AND CULTURE
Hon. I. Waddell: While I'm on my feet, I'd like to make available on the record these papers and hand them to my friend. This is the St. Ann's Academy archaeological impact assessment, and I said I would have that available. I think it was for the member for Oak Bay-Gordon Head. Perhaps that could be given to her through the member for Okanagan-Penticton. I also have some material on the interpretation of the Heritage Conservation Act, mailings to municipalities and a list of the municipalities to which it was mailed and a copy of the letter.
While I'm still on my feet, I'd like to correct the record. Yesterday there were some questions with respect to grants by constituency, as I recall -- I haven't read the Blues, but I recall that. I believe I indicated that no, I don't do things by constituency, and I don't consider things as done that way. Apparently things are done that way, and they do have a list of constituencies for grants and so on. I think that has been done in the past, but I didn't know about it. So I just want to correct the record. What I really meant to say is that a grant should be considered generally -- not earmarked for constituencies and so on -- as to the need. We do work with all MLA offices on grants per constituency, and so on, and on letting MLAs know about things.
R. Thorpe: The first thing I'd like to do
[ Page 8323 ]eighty-fifth birthday. We in the opposition wish her continued good health and happiness. May she have a great evening with family and friends.
With respect to the information we've received
As I remember, yesterday we were talking about film. As I looked through the Blues last night and this morning
Hon. I. Waddell: Perhaps I should be more specific about my answers yesterday. Really, I was referring to the Ellis Foster report -- what they said about past growth and what they expected future growth to be. I was quoting the Ellis Foster report. I have just sent out for a copy of that report, and I'll get the member a copy of it.
R. Thorpe: Since the minister was referring to the Ellis Foster report, then let me ask the question again: does the ministry and/or the British Columbia Film Commission have a strategic plan? What is the strategic vision of that plan, as we move forward?
Hon. I. Waddell: The strategic objectives are to enhance B.C.'s status within the global communications industry as a preferred location for film and television production. In order to do that, for the coming year we propose to promote B.C. as a preferred location at national and international events, to implement a community relations strategy that serves to manage locations in a manner mutually beneficial to the public-private interest and the production industry and, thirdly, to promote regional growth in the film and television sector.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister advise us whether, in those strategic goals, we actually have stated goals as part of this plan -- measurable goals so that we're going to be able to measure to what degree we achieve or exceed? Do we have quantifiable, measurable goals?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is yes.
R. Thorpe: How often will
Hon. I. Waddell: The B.C. Film Commission and the ministry, of course. We have quarterly sessions to make sure that we're in line with our goals.
R. Thorpe: First of all, I would very much appreciate getting a copy of that plan, if possible. From the way the minister's been cooperative before, I'm sure we'll be able to get that.
Will it also be possible, since quarterly reports are going to be prepared so that we can measure performance
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer to the first question is yes, I'll get him a copy of the objectives, work plan and some of the details of the performance measures on film. But the answer to the second part is no.
R. Thorpe: That's rather interesting. Here we have an industry that we're so excited about, yet we don't want to share the successes with the official opposition in a timely way. So we will pursue that matter in another very much costlier way for the ministry; we will pursue that, if that's what the minister is asking us to do.
Could the minister advise us today: how much did the ad in the Vancouver paper featuring the Premier on location cost?
Hon. I. Waddell: Apropos of the member's remarks, I'm not trying to hide anything from the member. I just see that as more of an internal planning matter in the department, not necessarily written down -- not formally. You know, you're adding red tape if you keep
As for the ad, I don't know what the costs were. I didn't pay the costs of the ad.
R. Thorpe: Who did pay for the ad? I thought it was promoting the British Columbia film industry. I thought that's what it was doing. Could the minister let us know whose area of responsibility that falls under and what the cost was?
Hon. I. Waddell: To answer the question, I didn't think we paid for the ad. However, I'd better check that out; I'll check it out and find out if we did. And if we did, I'll tell the hon. member what it cost.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the quarterly reporting
I thought the minister confirmed that there were going to be formal quarterly reviews against the annual business plan. Could the minister confirm: are there going to be formal quarterly reviews against the annual business plan?
Hon. I. Waddell: No. I didn't want to mislead the member. I'm not talking about a formal look at the business plan. The executive of the department meets regularly, and we have a look at them, especially on a quarterly basis. That's what it's about. I don't want to make it into a formal process. The member may suggest that it be in a formal process. I'll listen to
[ Page 8324 ]his suggestion, but right now I'm not persuaded that it should be. I have a copy of the Ellis Foster report for the member, and I'll make it available for him.
R. Thorpe: I thought we'd move through this fairly quickly today, but some of the answers I'm getting are troubling me very much. Here we are, trying to build a $1 billion industry. We have an organization that's spending close to $1 million direct, I believe -- some $890,000. We have support staff in the ministry; we have an annual business plan. And the minister is telling me that we do not have a quarterly formal review on how this business is being run and how we are achieving against a $1 billion objective. I just need some clarification on that because that's very puzzling.
[2:45]Hon. I. Waddell: I think I answered the member's question.
R. Thorpe: Well, if your answer is that you're not doing it on a formal basis, then I want to tell you that you don't know how to run a multimillion-dollar organization in an efficient way.
With respect to some other comments you made yesterday on the strategic development of the film industry, could you clarify a point on whether we're measuring the success of this industry just in dollars and cents? Or are we going to measure ourselves in a market-share achievement against other jurisdictions in Canada and North America?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is that we measure it in every way possible: type of productions, volume of productions, market share vis-à-vis the other provinces and other countries.
R. Thorpe: Then maybe the minister can clarify this, because we haven't received the report yet. Within the annual business plan, then, we will see a segmentation breakdown of the various market-share objectives by the various types of productions, whether they be television, made in B.C. or movie of the-week. We'll see all of the detail that builds its way up to the $1 billion industry.
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, I'll give him the business plan. It will be available shortly, and the member can look at it.
R. Thorpe: I guess from that we conclude that the minister doesn't know the answer to that question, which again is rather shocking when we're talking about building a $1 billion industry.
Yesterday we talked about decision time modules for various producers being broken down. We couldn't get a clear answer to the question, whether the subject was movie of the week, B.C. features or television productions. Could the minister advise this House or the staff: what are the lead times required for those three various segments in making production location decisions?
Hon. I. Waddell: I can't give the member a specific answer. There is a lot of grey area in this. It depends on the budget of the film -- high or low -- and on the nature of the production and so on. You can't say that it takes three weeks or three months for a movie of the week -- for planning and so on. They're different. It depends on the money. Some are shorter; it's shorter for movies of the week than it is for feature films.
R. Thorpe: I'm well aware of the fact that it's shorter for movies of the week than it is for feature films, but I thought it might be important for the minister responsible to see whether in fact they had some firm information with respect to the lead times for the decision-making that's required. Let's not lose sight of what we're trying to do here. We're trying to achieve a $1 billion industry. Now
The Chair: Minister, we have a speaker already on the floor. Were you wishing to raise a point of order?
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, I just feel
The Chair: Minister, that wasn't a point of order. I'll recognize the member.
R. Thorpe: I didn't think that was a point of order, but I think it was a point of trying to provide answers to questions. I will take the minister up on that. Let's go through some other questions here. I'm sure Mr. Mitchell would be interested in Hansard. He can read it, and then he can prepare the answers to the questions. We don't have to have a meeting so that he can go back and get the answers to the questions.
The stating of a $1 billion industry is more of an objective than it is a strategic vision. What things are we doing to ensure that the tax credits that are being offered to the industry, both local and foreign
Hon. I. Waddell: As I said yesterday, we have great natural advantages for film. The advantages are that we're in the same time zone as Los Angeles and, second, that we have a skilled labour force with relative labour peace in the film industry. Third, we have great locations. Fourth, we have a good climate -- good weather. So we've got a lot going for us. Fifth -- I forgot another one that, of course, I'll claim credit for -- there's the low Canadian dollar. That is a huge advantage.
We've got all those natural advantages. The Film Commission basically looks at providing locations. I invite the hon. member to see Mr. Mitchell right where they work, to see the digital library they're putting together and to talk to some of their locations people. It's a small, lean and mean outfit that gets out there and promotes locations all across the province with Hollywood producers who are coming in.
The other area that we're specifically working on is locations. I would like to see more studios. I said at the announcement two days ago on the "Viper" set in Vancouver that we want the private sector to take up the possibility of building more studios. I would also like to see the studios get outside of Vancouver and the lower mainland, and to include Victoria and places like Kamloops and so on, where I think there is real
[ Page 8325 ]potential. The industry is almost at capacity, and they need more structure. I was very pleased to be with Mel Swope, the vice-president of MGM, when he announced in Vancouver that MGM would continue their lease on the Bridge Studios up to the year 2005.
It's coming; it's moving; it's a good industry. We're proud of the work that is being done there. It has enormous potential for job creation -- for skilled jobs for British Columbians, especially young people.
R. Thorpe: The minister is probably aware, through staff, that I did in fact visit Bridge Studios. That visit was organized through his office. I enjoyed that tour. The minister may or may not be aware of the fact that in talking with the executive group at Bridge, I was made aware that there were significant capacity constraints. I then took it upon myself, through the Okanagan Film Commission, to provide some documentation to the president of that organization, Mr. Buckley, for them to possibly consider Winfield, where structures in fact exist. I don't know what has happened with that, but it's not only the government that is working and trying to help the industry.
Also, just a small digression. If the House rises this summer
Yesterday you made some comments that suggested you were relying on the Ellis Foster report, and I think you confirmed that again today. B.C. Film's strategic plan
Hon. I. Waddell: I might say that that is a very appropriate role for the opposition critic, and I wish him success in the new role he'll be performing this summer.
It's a one-year plan.
R. Thorpe: I'm glad the minister recognizes that it is important to help young people who are starting out in British Columbia. We'll disregard the cynicism that he put into that. We'll try to stay focused because, as I said earlier in these debates and in the middle of these debates and as I'll say again today: I'm going to travel the high road, hon. Chair. But I do think it's important to help young people; perhaps the minister doesn't. He'll be able to comment on that later, I'm sure.
I understand -- and I asked this question yesterday
Hon. I. Waddell: Which agreement are we talking about?
R. Thorpe: Two days ago the minister made an announcement in Vancouver with respect to a tax credit for foreign-controlled films, which became effective June 1. The minister answered no when I asked this question yesterday. Will there be any retroactivity provisions in that agreement? I thought that yesterday the minister wasn't sure. He said no, but then he wasn't sure, so my question is: did he check, with respect to the retroactivity provisions?
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes, I did, and there is no retroactivity. It was June 1.
R. Thorpe: I can't remember if the minister responsible for film was in Los Angeles with the Premier for the meetings that took place there, but I'm led to believe that that subject was discussed at some of the meetings. In fact, some of the producers or studios were of the understanding that retroactivity would take place in British Columbia, similar to what happened in Ontario when they had discussions with the U.S. producers and studios -- and the same with the Canadian. Maybe the minister can advise us if in fact he was, as the minister responsible for film, at those meetings. If he was, can he recollect that discussion taking place?
Hon. I. Waddell: As much as I wanted to be, I was not down in Los Angeles; I was here in the House.
R. Thorpe: So the real minister responsible for film is the Premier, and that minister is not the gofer -- he's the gaffer.
I am led to believe that some of the studios are -- there are words that I cannot use in this meeting room -- a little bit disenchanted with these actions and the lack of provisions for retroactivity. I ask the minister to please meet with the Premier on this issue. If we are in fact cooperatively trying to build an industry here, let us not start out with yet another sour note. Never mind that it's taken us so long to react to the competitive situation; please let us not poison people with the illusion that they are going to get something
[3:00]Hon. I. Waddell: I can tell the hon. member that I wasn't in Los Angeles, but I was at subsequent meetings. I was briefed on what went on and had subsequent meetings with the Premier, with the industry and with workers in the industry. These matters were all discussed. There were a lot of questions put to the Premier in Los Angeles. Of course, they wanted everything. Maybe a 50 percent tax credit would have been better, or maybe 80 percent. They asked for a lot of things. This is a very generous program: 11 percent. Given our comparative advantages
R. Thorpe: It is not an issue of generosity; that's not the point at all. I was trying to do the minister and the Premier -- and, hopefully, the folks in British Columbia -- a favour by saying that I know that some of the people in Los Angeles were under the illusion that certain things were going to be discussed. All I'm suggesting
With respect to the Ellis Foster report, I believe there were four parts to that study. Can the minister advise the cost of those studies, please?
[ Page 8326 ]Hon. I. Waddell: I'll have to get that figure. I was asked this question at the press conference on April 1 in the studios in North Vancouver. I believe I got the information and answered it. I just can't remember, but it wasn't a lot of money.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister advise when those studies were completed?
Hon. I. Waddell: If you're referring to the Ellis Foster study, it was dated April 1, 1998.
R. Thorpe: April 1, 1998. That's interesting. Maybe the minister wants to take a few moments to consult with staff, because I have a different date than that. I just wonder: is that one report? Is that the summary report? Or are those the three or four reports that led up to it?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm not sure what reports the hon. member is referring to. Perhaps he could phrase the question that way, if he wanted to. I'm informed that there were some background reports given that led up to the tax credit matter. Then there's this report that I received, which was put into my hands, on or about that day.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister advise how many reports were done by Ellis Foster that led up to the summary report that was completed?
Hon. I. Waddell: This was the last report, and there were two previous reports leading up to it, I think.
R. Thorpe: I stand to be corrected, but I would suggest that you might want to check your files or have staff check the files. I'm led to believe that there were at least three reports leading up to this. When we're asking for the cost, I don't want the cost of just the summary report; I want the cost of the reports that were done last year. I think they might have been dated around April 18, 1997. Can we have a commitment that we're going to go back and look and confirm how many reports there were and what the cost of those reports were in total? I think it might be four reports in total.
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is yes.
R. Thorpe: When we have that information, I would like the minister to properly review it with staff. One of the things we've talked so much about here is where we can save money and how we can reject money, because we don't have enough to do all the things we want to do. I believe it was only on Monday that the minister quoted figures from this report by Coopers and Lybrand, which was rather interesting. They highlighted a number of things. This report was dated February 1998. This was a public document, available for free. I'm just wondering why we would incur an expense to the taxpayer when professional industry documents are available.
Hon. I. Waddell: We've done a number of
R. Thorpe: I'm sure the minister is aware that Coopers and Lybrand is a leading international accounting and consulting organization, "one of the world's leading professional service organizations." If the minister has some time a little bit later, perhaps he could read on page 1
"Coopers and Lybrand is one of the world's leading professional service organizations. Our media and service entertainment group services a significant number of film companies across Canada as well as foreign producers doing business in Canada. This is an independent, high-scope survey undertaken in response to the B.C. film industry's serious concerns over certain aspects of the proposed Film Incentive B.C. program and the recent introduction of incentives elsewhere in Canada, principally in Ontario."I'm sure the minister wasn't alluding that this would be a biased document. This is a public document. Obviously the minister had some knowledge of this document and confidence in it, because he quoted this document on Monday during his announcement in Vancouver. So again I ask the question: why are we spending taxpayers' dollars for studies, when studies are available free in the public domain?
Hon. I. Waddell: Because it's a momentously big decision. It costs a lot of money; it's a huge industry. It's important to get it right.
R. Thorpe: Before I turn the questioning over to my colleague from Oak Bay-Gordon Head
Hon. I. Waddell: We acted quickly, decisively and smartly. We did the domestic industry first, on April 1, to encourage domestic production. Then we tackled foreign tax credit, after a great deal of thought -- actually, by the head of the government looking at the situation in Los Angeles. So I think this is the way to go. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
R. Thorpe: But once again this government took unnecessary time. Who knows what opportunities we lost? We don't know that; we'll never know that. But I would
Let us be clear here. We have in British Columbia -- not through this government -- acted in a proactive way. This government has acted in a reactive way, so that it can get on the same footing as other jurisdictions in Canada.
I'll turn it over to my colleague from Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
I. Chong: I would like to proceed with my line of questioning. First of all, I'll go back to a year ago, when a film industry advisory committee was initiated or commissioned. At that time, as the minister may be aware, I had concerns that it was void of a greater Victoria voice, which I was pleased to see subsequently come on. The word I was hearing was that the film industry was basically being almost saturated in greater Vancouver and that the next place of opportunity was here on the Island and then the interior. So it was important that an Island voice be appointed. The film commissioner for Victoria was appointed -- Kate Peterson. I'm sure the minister has met her and is aware that she has very capable credentials.
[ Page 8327 ]My question to the minister is regarding the film advisory committee. Has there been any change to that this year? Have there been any changes in terms of membership -- additions or deletions? Can he just bring me up to date on where we are with that board and how long they will remain in place?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'd tell the hon. member for Oak Bay-Gordon Head that I met Kate Peterson the other day at the film announcement. She is a very capable woman indeed. We did consult over the film planning policy leading up to these announcements. We consulted with the group that the member raised, and I'm not aware of any changes on that. I'm 90 percent sure that there are no changes, but I'll just check on that.
I. Chong: As I say, I have not recently been in touch with the Greater Victoria Film Council, so I'm not aware of any changes in the composition. I suppose that if there was any less opportunity for the Victoria voice to be heard, then they certainly would have contacted me. I've not heard that, so I imagine that little has changed. I was curious as to the composition in terms of other representatives from the lower mainland -- whether that had changed and whether we brought in more people from the interior, because that was the next area to move. I'll let the minister check into that. If he has any further information to provide today or tomorrow, then I would ask him to do so.
I would like to move into the area of the tax credits -- the 11 percent refundable tax credit to be applied on qualifying labour expenditures. Can the minister advise us of the amount that has been budgeted for the tax credit in 1998-99, given that it's effective on June 1, 1998?
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't have those figures at the tip of my fingers. In any case, they're not in my budget; they're in the budget of the Minister of Finance. I'll alert the Minister of Finance. I don't know if you've done the estimates of the Minister of Finance, but you could ask her those questions.
[3:15]I. Chong: I was aware that they would be in the Ministry of Finance, but I thought it would save her some time if I asked this minister if he was aware. But that's fine. I will look at that.
Can the minister advise, though
Hon. I. Waddell: We're going to review this item very carefully each year with Treasury Board.
I. Chong: Therefore I can assume that there is no assurance that it could go beyond 1998-99.
I'll leave that area for a moment and ask about the B.C. Film Commission. I notice in the estimates book that there has been a minor increase in terms of the budget, a $4,000 increase. But given the amount of activity that has occurred in the film industry in the past year, would we not expect that there would be a greater recovery and that there would in fact be a lower requirement to fund the Film Commission? It was $893,000 last year and $897,000 this year. I would have expected, because of all the activity and the recoveries that would be coming in, that the budget would in fact be less.
Hon. I. Waddell: I thought of the same question, actually.
Hon. I. Waddell: Just watch me -- if I did.
The problem is -- and I can tell the hon. member -- that it's money well spent. It's a $630 million industry, with 300 percent growth over ten years. So it's worth it. The money is spent for scouting and bringing in locations, and there doesn't seem to be any way to charge a fee for that. We can look at that. Remember, it's a highly competitive industry. There are 200 film commissions in North America, so we have to be careful. But if the member has any suggestions based
R. Thorpe: Actually, that's all of our questions on the film area, and I think we were going to move to small business. Is that correct? Are you going to reposition anybody?
The Chair: We'll take a two-minute recess.
The committee recessed from 3:19 p.m. to 3:21 p.m.
[E. Walsh in the chair.]
R. Thorpe: Could the minister advise how many FTEs in the ministry actually work on small business issues?
Hon. I. Waddell: I love these figures, because I'd like to meet the "point" people. It's 24.5.
R. Thorpe: Perhaps that's the point guard. Do these 24.5 FTEs include co-ops?
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes.
R. Thorpe: Not government agents.
Is there a breakdown within these 24.5 on the number of FTEs who work on small business issues and on cooperative issues? And are there any other issues that these 24.5 work on? Could we get a little breakdown on the 24.5?
Hon. I. Waddell: There's 1.5 in co-ops, and that would make -- by my math -- 23 in small business.
R. Thorpe: Can we just confirm
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes.
R. Thorpe: Could we very quickly have a breakdown on that $4.35 million, on the areas of activity, please?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'll give the member the basic breakdown. There may be a little additional administration, when you get on to that. Access to information and small business services is $542,000. That's up from $397,000 last year. Canada-B.C. Business Service Centre, $695,000. That's up
[ Page 8328 ]from $632,000 last year. Cooperative development, $249,000. That's down from last year. One-stop business registration, $170,000 -- slightly down from last year. Youth business and training, $1,562,000. That's slightly up from last year -- more than slightly up. Visions for the Future aboriginal youth program is a new program, and it's $701,000. That was not in the budget last year.
R. Thorpe: I was going to ask comparable numbers. The minister was cooperating there, and then he dropped a few, not knowing I was going to ask the next question. What was the co-op program for last year, and what was youth basic training for last year?
Hon. I. Waddell: The co-op development last year was $442,000 and this year is projected at $249,000. One-stop business registration was $210,000, and this year is $170,000. Youth business and training, $1,214,00; this year, $1,562,000. And, of course, the Visions for the Future aboriginal youth program was zero last year and $701,000 this year.
R. Thorpe: Yeah, those pretty much add up. I have just a couple of points. In the cooperative program, what's the reason for the shift in emphasis?
Hon. I. Waddell: The reason why the cooperative figures are down is that there was a comprehensive legislation review last year. There were new publications done last year and put together, and there were new programs, the PIC program, so there were heavy startup costs. Now that's stabilized. This does not represent any less of a commitment to cooperatives on behalf of the government; it simply reflects those costs last year: startup costs and these programs.
R. Thorpe: Is the youth basic training program the You BET program?
Hon. I. Waddell: You bet!
R. Thorpe: I'm not going to ask any questions on that area right now. I'm going to save that for the very, very end, because I want to make sure that I spend enough time on youth at the very end.
I'm just wondering, if we look at these programs, where is the budget -- or is there a budget? Some of the 23 FTEs focus in on issues related to the small business of the day or into the future. What area would that fall under in this budget?
Hon. I. Waddell: This would fall under what I referred to as "access to information and small business services," the $542,000. It's part of that. There will be six employees that will be doing analyses and so on -- updating publications, web site resources. There may be some small business analysts in corporate services as well.
R. Thorpe: This minister has said publicly many times that he's an advocate for small business and for tourism and for culture. I'm just wondering where the FTEs are. Is it these six FTEs that are looking at the issues of the day and formulating and understanding the situations in the marketplace -- the complexities, etc? Are these the six, or are there some other individuals somewhere in the ministry that are dealing with issues, current and future, for small business?
[3:30]Hon. I. Waddell: This is the concentration within the ministry. There are not a lot of people. I'm sure it's not our intention to set up a big bureaucracy here. That's not what small business wants. There are other
R. Thorpe: Of course, I'm sure that Hansard can't record this, because only I could see the minister's tongue in his cheek when he made that comment about this member advocating for more government. In fact, most people in Victoria and in a good part of British Columbia know that I actually advocate for less government. He's right that small business does not want bureaucracy, but it's government bureaucracy they want taken out of small business. My question is -- and maybe the minister has answered it
Hon. I. Waddell: I've almost forgotten the question. There are six people in the ministry who are there to work with other ministries. When issues in other ministries come up, like the land use policy in Ministry of Environment, they're in there to advocate for the interests of small business. I'm sure the hon. member wouldn't want to hear my speech on what we've already done for the tourism industry. Just wind me up and I'll keep going. But I think, in one of these rare moments of humility, I'll not proceed on that. But that's what they're there for: to work with the other ministries but to advocate for small business.
R. Thorpe: What is the strategic vision for small business in British Columbia that these six people are going to champion?
Hon. I. Waddell: The general principle -- and the hon. member has visited some of our small business outlets, and so on
R. Thorpe: Could the minister expand upon the financial management aspect of the ministry, please, with respect to his answer on the vision?
Hon. I. Waddell: If you go to the Canada-B.C. Business Service Centre -- I don't know if you've been there
The Chair: Through the Chair, please.
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't know if the hon. member has copies of that or has seen that or has worked through it, but that's an example of helping with financial management.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the marketing assistance or vision for small business, could the minister please expand upon that?
[ Page 8329 ]Hon. I. Waddell: Some examples are the interactive business planner, the publications you'll see at the Canada-B.C Business Service Centre. There's an export library there and an export centre there that we're working to get on line.
R. Thorpe: What would the minister feel are the five key issues facing small business today in British Columbia -- and not only today but the issues that are going to impact on how they can survive and grow.
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm just trying to get the five issues that came out of the consultation. As the member knows, my predecessor and myself have had extensive consultations with small business, and we've come up with some priorities that small business had. I'll try to get them; I think I've got them at the top here. Yeah, the five were: red tape, access to information, fees, licences and taxes, training, and access to capital.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister advise why that consultation process was not as open as one would have anticipated the process being to ensure that a wide cross-section of people could participate in it?
Hon. I. Waddell: You can't invite everybody to everything, you know. When we brought people in
R. Thorpe: Can the minister
Hon. I. Waddell: I can't answer that, because I wasn't there. As the member knows, I try to give as much information as possible to the opposition, having been in the opposition myself at one time, albeit in a different forum. But I appreciate getting the information, and I will make available as much as I can to the hon. member and his colleagues.
R. Thorpe: If such consultations take place in the future, do I interpret the minister's comments that, because he believes he wants meaningful and timely consultation, we will in fact be advised in advance? We may perhaps even be invited so that we too can help build solutions to the issues that are facing small business.
Hon. I. Waddell: I certainly will consider what the member is saying.
R. Thorpe: But definitely not giving a yes.
Can the minister advise: of the six staff that work on behalf of small business issues, how often do they meet with other key ministries? Are these six officials assigned certain ministries or certain files or issues to monitor?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm advised that on an ongoing basis, they meet with staff of other ministries as issues arise. And yes, some staff carry certain issues which they have dealt with in the past, perhaps, so they can keep developing some expertise with those issues.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister advise, then, if a specific staff member is assigned a file with respect to the Ministry of Labour?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm told that the director of the branch handles that and has one of the analysts work with them on that as issues arise.
R. Thorpe: Could the minister also advise if a staff member is assigned to a file on WCB and how that impacts on small business?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm advised that this is part of the labour file.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister advise if someone handles a taxation file on behalf of the ministry?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is yes.
R. Thorpe: Since the minister did not mention the director, I assume it's not the director.
With respect to the broad subject called red tape, can the minister advise us as who within the ministry is responsible on a day-to-day basis for the subject of red tape?
Hon. I. Waddell: I can tell the hon. member that I've instructed that everyone in the ministry be aware of our battle against red tape. It starts in the ministry, and it goes right up to the working group that we have -- the Minister of Finance and myself -- with small business. We've already met, and we're meeting again with all the major small business organizations in the province. There's also a deputy ministers' red tape committee.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister advise if there is someone within the ministry -- other than everybody -- who is in charge? Is there one person assigned the responsibility with regard to red tape and how it impacts on small businesses throughout British Columbia? Yes or no?
Hon. I. Waddell: I tried to explain that there is a deputy ministers' red tape committee that the deputy is on. Then it goes to the director, and the director is in charge of the people who work in the department, with respect to the red tape issue. So it permeates right down through this huge group of six people.
[3:45]R. Thorpe: I am not sure if I am not explaining myself properly, or what. But we'll just try once again, because I'm just that kind of guy. Who, on a day-to-day basis, is the key contact person in the ministry responsible for small business, the person that interfaces and champions on behalf small business in British Columbia? I happen to know, hon. Chair, that the deputy minister would be heavily involved, but I know that the deputy minister has other responsibilities. I happen to know that the minister advocates cutting red tape, but I know that's not what he does each and every day. I just want to know who -- day in, day out. If there's no one, that's
[ Page 8330 ]fine. Let's just say there's no one. But is there someone who champions, day to day, against red tape in the small business branch?
Hon. I. Waddell: Other than the minister, who eats red tape for breakfast, there is the director of small business in the branch, who has the prime responsibility.
R. Thorpe: Thank you. Now that we have a director responsible for red tape and labour, I'm just wondering what actions small business is saying to the director have to take place with respect to labour issues and WCB issues in British Columbia today?
Hon. I. Waddell: That's a pretty broad question. They have a lot of submissions that I can outline for you. But I think you would be better to ask, perhaps, Suromitra Sanatani and some of the people in the small business organizations that can tell the member directly, rather than having it parroted through me.
R. Thorpe: I know what many of the small business groups are saying the problems are. I too, being a small business person, have experienced those. What I want to know is: which issues that these groups have brought forward is the director championing, through the big government bureaucracy, to try to get some action on?
Hon. I. Waddell: Of course, the ministry is championing them all. But if the hon. member looks at the small business consultations report for 1997-98 that my predecessor did -- which I've had a chance to read; I don't know if he's had a chance to read it, and I would recommend it -- at page 3 in the executive summary, it says that within the five areas of greatest concern "greatest concern was expressed around decreasing red tape and increasing access to information. To decrease red tape, small business said government should (1) simplify forms, processes and access to ministries, (2) simplify regulations and their use, (3) offer more high-tech-options for doing business with government." That's what we're trying to implement.
R. Thorpe: With respect to labour, what are the issues -- I think that's the kind of a question I asked before -- that the director is championing on behalf of labour, WCB and the many small business organizations? How are we moving those through, or are we moving those through?
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, there are a lot of issues. I'm a little uncomfortable with that question: what issues is the director championing? I'm the minister, and I instruct them. Perhaps you could ask me what issues I'm reflecting there. I can answer that, I can tell you.
What small business talks about is the Employment Standards Act, flexibility of hours, minimum wage, WCB and liquor licensing. They talk about other ones, as well, but those are ones that I hear from small business.
R. Thorpe: Then perhaps the minister would like to share his views on the concerns that small business has and that tourism operators have with respect to employment standards and flexibility. What position does the minister advocate, because I believe that this is the minister that advocates for small business and tourism? What positions is he advocating with respect to flexibility with employment standards?
Hon. I. Waddell: I think this would be a long debate. We've already had the debate in the House and various places on various matters. I could go on forever on my views on different things; whether it would be relevant, I don't know. But I've got to deal with my estimates. If the member wishes to ask me a question with respect specifically to the estimates, I'll answer.
On what small business is advocating, I can only repeat that you can talk to small business and ask them directly, as I have. Or you can look at this 1997-98 small business consultation report, which lays out in some detail the concerns that small business has in these different areas.
P. Reitsma: To the minister, I'll be about five or ten minutes in a preamble. I am in small business myself. I also had to lay off
Hon. I. Waddell: Just on a point of order
The Chair: Do you rise on a point of order, minister?
Hon. I. Waddell: Yeah. With respect to a five- or ten-minutes preamble, I'm prepared to answer questions. I would ask the member to put his questions to me. I don't think we're here for five- or ten-minute speeches. We've tried not to do that.
The Chair: On the point of order, the member does have up to 15 minutes to speak on his question during the debate. I recognize the member.
P. Reitsma: Thank you, hon. Chair. I probably misspoke myself; I'm only going to be about five or ten minutes, actually; it's not a preamble. I do wish to recognize, of course, that I have 15 minutes. A member has 15 minutes before a question is posed. Probably the minister has 15 minutes to reply to that, too. But I'm just going to be about five or ten minutes, that's all.
Yeah, I'm in small business myself. In fact, particularly with the downturn in the forest industry, amongst other things
One of the main reasons for the difficulties in business is indeed the red tape. It is never-ending. Either it's in triplicate or it's more regulations. When you look at WCB, they have 1,500 pages of new rules and regulations. When you see the debate on Bill 14 -- plus the Employment Standards Act, I suppose, in terms of the health and safety, whereby small businesses under ten, 20 or more are required to provide more standards, which really is the process and more red tape
Rather than the minister advocating for less red tape and standing up for business, I'm afraid, in all genuineness -- while you two chastise, necessarily -- that we don't see that. Being a small business myself, you see businesses hurting, businesses that cannot attract the investment, that cannot attract people to their businesses, whether it's rental or strata title. Of course there is a lack of confidence in the business community as a whole. I don't say that simply to chastise. But it's a genuine feeling of small business, which creates, I think, 80-85 percent of all the jobs. It is jittery.
[ Page 8331 ]I am not a big union proponent, nor am I a big business proponent. To me the smallness is where the beauty is; bigger is not necessarily better. As a side comment, when you see huge banks amalgamating and huge businesses taking over one another, the monopolistic attitude will be absolutely strangling. When you see, as an example, huge shopping centres that take over and make it so incredibly difficult for the small businesses, whereby often the retail price in huge shopping centres is less than the wholesale price that a small business can buy a particular commodity for, it is extremely difficult.
Now, on this particular small business consultation report, in the executive summary, indeed there are five things that were identified: red tape; access to information; fees, licences and taxes; better training; and access to capital. I'm quoting from the Courier-Islander up north, Campbell River, January 20: "Small Business Hurt by High Taxes, Minimum Wage, Owners Tell the Government."
I would like to ask the minister: could he give an example of where red tape has been cut and where additional red tape has been implemented?
Hon. I. Waddell: Let me respond to the member in a kind of general way first. In terms of laying off people in fisheries and in tourism, I can see from the members from the Island, from the new Minister of Fisheries, on the Premier's face when he talks about this, from people who have been there and lived there, like the member has, how it seems to be affecting these people and how concerned they are. And we really have a crisis in the fishery -- and not, I hope, in the tourism area. I'm trying to take steps to prevent that. So I understand what the member is saying there.
With respect to red tape, the member says he's in small business himself. I was in small business myself too, with a small one-member law practice for the last three years. I have to fill in the PST every month. Even when I didn't have PST -- I didn't have any money to send -- I still had to put "nil" on it. If I forgot to do that, I got a letter reminding me. I'd get angry seeing that. I said: "I don't have any money to give in this month. I'll put in the thing in next month. Why do I have to do it every month?" There's an example of bad red tape. Why can't we do it every three months or two months? Why can't I have some exemption and do it every six months? So I understand what he's saying there.
I'm going to do something about this. I'm on the red tape committee. We're meeting with the Minister of Finance. I've asked people to be specific. I was specific right there. I want specific concerns. What is it? Is it a licence that you have to renew every six months? Well, we'll make it two years if we can. I want them to be specific.
With respect to "bigger is better" -- the banks -- I'm going to get specific and do a report on that from British Columbia. I'm going to have an announcement to make about that in a week or so.
I'm going to have another announcement to make in a week or so with respect to red tape and legislation. I am committed to this. With respect to what the department has done, I'm looking and trying to figure out one example of reducing it. I have to tell the hon. member that I can't get that kind of specific, but what I can do is in kind of a general way. It's basically technology. What the one-stop business registration does is eliminate going to a whole bunch of different places. It eliminates going to different governments and different levels of government. It reduces red tape through the use of technology to assist you in formulating the business and then to assist you in carrying on the business. That's probably the most that we have done at the moment. I expect that we will do a lot more when we get the report of the task force on red tape.
P. Reitsma: I would like the minister, if at all possible, to try and put himself in the shoes of some of the desperate small business people. When I talk to them, they say, with tears literally coming out of their eyes: "Paul, we can't make it. We are cashing in our RRSPs to keep the business floating. We've been working two or three years, and all we've done is support B.C. Hydro and the telephone company and pay the PST and the GST. We have no staff that we can pay." Many people are more than desperate: they don't know how to hold on. There's a lot of pride. They cash in their RRSPs and some of their savings, work long, long hours seven days a week and take no holidays for a couple of years. There's nothing wrong with that. The general feeling is of an unfriendly climate, not a business climate. They talk about red tape: there's another form to be filled in, there's another tax to be paid, there's another fee to be paid and there's another licence they're going to collect. It doesn't seem to end.
In terms of access to information -- I think I talked about it last week, actually -- certainly I think that cyberspace, the Internet, the web sites are important. To the minister -- and I appreciate that the minister's predecessor, of course, did the report. But what concrete steps -- not verbal steps but concrete steps -- will the ministry and the minister be taking in terms of access to information? What can be improved?
[4:00]Hon. I. Waddell: I can tell the member that the main objective is to work on the web site of the Canada business information centre, because it gets hundreds of thousands of hits
Hon. I. Waddell: Sorry. Last year it got 1,067,000 hits. It handled 183,398 inquiries. We'd like to improve the web site so it can be used even more.
P. Reitsma: Before I go to "fees, licences and taxes," how important are the input from and the views and recommendations of the business community? How important does the minister feel that is? What's the minister's criteria for implementing the input from and the views and recommendations of the business community?
Hon. I. Waddell: To answer the member's question, very important. We are listening to the business community, especially the small business community, because they're the people that create jobs. If you can put more money in their pockets, they will spend it here in British Columbia and they will create jobs. This is done. I don't know what the hon. member is
The other area is legislation: to pick up, via legislation, what we've heard. The other area is practice in making our
[ Page 8332 ]Canada-B.C. Business Service Centre better. Other areas include going to bat for small business. For example, the cabinet gave me the authority to do a report on the bank mergers.
P. Reitsma: When I talk to the fast-food industry, whether it's DQ or McDonald's or A&W or Burger King or even the Coombs market in my area, the feeling of many of the small business operators is that we shouldn't be entering the race for the highest minimum wage, but we should be entering the race for B.C. to have the lowest unemployment rate. They're concerned, by the way
Fees, licences and taxes. Could the minister advise me which ones have been eliminated and if others have been added? In terms of better training, sometimes it baffles me when you go into a store
Hon. I. Waddell: With respect to licences, the fees
A Voice: Reversed.
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, it was reversed, but that was a reduction. We heard small business and the tourism operators, and I'm very pleased that we were able to deliver that for them. They're very happy about that. Also, angling fees, I believe, have been reduced.
I'm not sure about all the different fees that are there, but there has been a freeze on a number of things that are important to small business. There's a freeze on Hydro rates; there's a freeze on a number of items -- a freeze on taxes, virtually. Taxes have been reduced for small business, and 40,000 small businesses will benefit. The corporation capital tax limits have gone from $1.5 million up to $2.5 million. That means 10,000 small businesses can benefit. That means 90 percent of the small businesses in B.C. will pay no corporate capital tax. The taxes for small business have gone down about 11 percent in two years. I think that it's pretty significant. I could go on, but I thought we were going to do about ten minutes. I'd be pleased to go on and give some further good news, if the member would like to hear it.
P. Reitsma: My last point is not really a question. Let me assure the minister that it's because of the massive outcry against the angling fees increases. There was a massive outcry from the whole hospitality industry about the signage, which the Minister of Tourism last year really didn't want to get involved in. It was only because of that outcry that the reversal has taken place, because no consultation took place. I certainly hope that this minister will take the lead role and communicate with his fellow opposition MLAs about any of those programs, fee hikes, or any legislation or changes that really affect my industry, which is small business and the hospitality industry, so that at least they get a fair shake and a fair amount of time to anticipate them.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister advise us as to what his advisory group within the Ministry of Small Business has told him on small businesses' concerns about current labour laws in British Columbia? Can the minister comment on that?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is that we met with small business, and they reflect what small business is telling us, telling me. That's no secret; they say it every day in the paper.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister advise us as to the position he has advocated with his government with respect to these issues on behalf of those folks?
Hon. I. Waddell: Small business wants less red tape. It has some proposals for changing the Employment Standards Act in order to have more flexible hours. It has proposed some changes in the minimum wage -- for example, to have a starting wage. I could go on and debate that, but I'm not quite sure that that's an item in my estimates.
R. Thorpe: Well, we do have resources dedicated, because we confirmed earlier that we have somebody assigned to do that within the ministry on behalf of small business. That's what you told us. So I would think it is within the realm of the estimates, because there are dollars attached to it, and that's exactly what we're here talking about.
What I'd like to know is: with respect to legislation that is currently being discussed in the House, did the small business unit pull together a document with respect to Bill 14, and did the minister then take those recommendations forward, whatever they may have been, on behalf of small business?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is yes, we've done analysis.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister share the key findings of that analysis with us?
Hon. I. Waddell: My briefing notes basically inform me about the act: it reflects the recommendations of the report from the Royal Commission on Workers Compensation. It cites to me some areas that the business community would have concern about and basically analyses somewhat the pros and cons of various issues in the legislation.
R. Thorpe: Since the minister has continuously stated in a number of public forums that he's an advocate for small business, tourism and culture, could the minister advise why he did not carry those concerns on Bill 14 into the Legislature during the debate?
The Chair: Hon. minister, legislation that has been previously debated is not to be debated during these estimates. So if you'd like to rephrase your question or take a different line of questioning
R. Thorpe: Can the minister advise this House -- and, in fact, small businesses -- why he has not advocated stopping additional regulations from being brought forward to strangle small business at a time when his government is publicly saying that they want to cut red tape? Why are you saying one thing and doing another thing?
Hon. I. Waddell: I have brought forward the concerns of small business on issues with respect to workers compensation and made those arguments with officials.
[ Page 8333 ]R. Thorpe: So then I guess it's fair to say he lost the debate, but perhaps that's to be expected with this government.
With respect to the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture and the Ministry of Labour, can the minister advise what steps have been taken to improve the cooperation between the two ministries?
[4:15]Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is that ministry staff are in contact with the Ministry of Labour on an ongoing basis to make sure that the interests of small business are considered.
R. Thorpe: Would the minister agree or disagree with the document produced within the ministry dated January 23, 1998, that clearly states that there was -- and is -- a need for improvement in cooperation between the two ministries? Has that situation changed in the last five months?
Hon. I. Waddell: I can say to the hon. member that the nature of government is that sometimes ministries don't talk to each other, and you've got to get
R. Thorpe: It's obvious with this government.
Hon. I. Waddell: No, in any
The Chair: Order, members.
Hon. I. Waddell: In any government. If the hon. member ever gets a chance to go into government, he'll see that. That's part of our system of government; that's part of being human beings in government. There are different departments that have different turfs and so on. The challenge is to work with the other departments and to get results.
I'm very pleased at the results that small businesses have been getting. As a matter of fact
R. Thorpe: I guess when you don't know the answer, it's really good to stand up and espouse optimism, because you hope that will drive people away. What I would like to know is what specific actions have been taken from January 23, 1998, to June 3, 1998, to improve communications and the working between the Ministry of Small Business and the Ministry of Labour as outlined in the ministry's own document?
Hon. I. Waddell: The department, I am informed, has set up formal briefings for the Department of Labour to be part of some of the issues that concern us when we're dealing with our policy items. There's an ongoing discussion, and better discussion, through our deputy minister with that department, as with other departments -- for example, Environment.
R. Thorpe: What are the
Hon. I. Waddell: Cooperation with whom? Which department was that?
R. Thorpe: We're still talking about the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Small Business and Tourism.
Hon. I. Waddell: The hours of work in the high-tech area, and employment standards there.
R. Thorpe: The hours of work and the employment standards. Do both of those pertain to high-tech only, or are we looking at other industries? Or did you just couple those in error?
Hon. I. Waddell: The two areas are the hours of work in the high-tech area -- there's been a committee struck -- and the second one is WCB.
R. Thorpe: So at the present time, then, is there any work being done with respect to hours of work in small business and/or in the tourism sector, or are those lower down on the list of priorities?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is that right now we're concentrating on the high-tech, because we have good representation on that particular committee that's dealing with that. We think that's an important area.
R. Thorpe: So those issues with respect to Small Business and Tourism
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't know about shortage of resources. The member asked me the priority, and I gave him the priority.
R. Thorpe: Where does the flexibility of hours of work with respect to the tourism industry and the small business sector fall on the list of priorities within this group that's managing these issues?
Hon. I. Waddell: I've been dealing with that myself, I can tell the hon. member, with my meetings with COTA, the Council of Tourism Associations. That's one of the items that was on their list that we worked through. We had about a ten-point list that we worked through. We managed to make progress in about six or seven of those matters. There are other matters that we're continuing to work on, and this is one of them.
R. Thorpe: Realizing that the minister has many issues to deal with, and an increasing number of issues, which will obviously divert his time from other issues -- unless he's going to work longer hours; perhaps he's already working long hours -- when can small business and tourism operators expect to have some action or know what the government's position is with respect to flexibility on hours of work? If it's never, or if it's not this year, then just tell them.
Hon. I. Waddell: I would suggest that the hon. member put that to the Minister of Labour, who enacts these changes. I have been meeting with COTA, and with small business generally, taking and putting forward their positions. I don't make those final decisions.
[ Page 8334 ]R. Thorpe: Have the minister and the ministry then concluded their position with respect to these issues for small business and tourism? Have you finalized your positions that you are now taking forward in this new spirit of cooperation between the ministry and the Ministry of Labour?
Hon. I. Waddell: I can only repeat that our job, as I see it, is to reflect the interests of small business and to take their positions forward. The Minister of Labour has different interests that he has to balance; that's only one of them. He's got a lot of things to look at. I take the positions there in a forceful way. For example, I took the position of the back-country leases to the Minister of Environment, and we made progress. I took the issue of road signs to the Minister of Highways; we made progress. I took the issue of taxation to the Minister of Finance; we made progress. You know, we're making progress here. I took the matter of aviation fuel costs to the Minister of Finance, and we made progress: we got a reduction.
The Chair: Order, members.
Hon. I. Waddell: That's a COTA issue, and we got a reduction. We're making progress. I will continue to fight and advocate for small business.
R. Thorpe: I noticed how strongly you said the word "fight."
Can the minister tell us
Hon. I. Waddell: I'll say it again: we are taking forward the views of business and trying to reflect them as best we can.
R. Thorpe: I guess we can only conclude that that isn't a really strong yes, because if it was a really strong yes, I would think the minister would want to get up and be proud that it's a strong yes. But he doesn't want to do that, and we've given him several opportunities.
With respect to access to capital for small business, can the minister advise us how much funding is available to small business through equity programs -- just in the broadest sense? I don't want to get into the details of the operation of equity funds.
I ask leave to make an introduction.
[R. Kasper in the chair.]
R. Thorpe: It is with great pleasure that I welcome seven grade 7 students from Holy Cross school in Penticton, in my riding. Also travelling with the students
Hon. I. Waddell: Let me, as Minister of Small Business, Tourism and Culture, also welcome the students from the hometown of my critic, who is asking me the questions today. I'm very pleased that they can be here. I've spent some very memorable times in Penticton -- sometimes waterskiing, sometimes not. I'm very pleased that the students have taken a little time to come into our committee meeting today.
R. Thorpe: I would like to take a minute -- break a little bit of protocol here, just to let the students know what we are engaged in here. We are engaged in a process called estimates, which is part of the annual legislative process, where the minister has to bring his budget forward to get it endorsed by the House. As the critic for the official opposition, I am entitled to ask very deep, thought-provoking, intelligent questions, which the minister will answer. So that is the process we're involved in here, and we will conduct ourselves accordingly. I trust you will enjoy your visit. I know you're probably going down to my office later, so go down to my office and enjoy yourselves.
I guess I'd better ask a question now. No, we've got a question on venture capital haven't we?
Hon. I. Waddell: Here are the three programs. The question is with respect to the capital that is available for small business. Recall that I said earlier, in response to a question from another member, that the ministry basically is a ministry for providing information and helping small business. Secondly, it's small business that does most of the work. Of course, small business has a need for information, which we're providing. The government needs to give them information but at the same time get out of their hair -- so cut a lot of red tape and unnecessary fees and so on -- let them go about doing their business. Thirdly, small business needs capital. It needs money to invest and buy things.
There are three funds that are administered by this department. There are many funds, of course -- you can go to a bank and borrow money, you can go through different federal government programs to borrow money. Within this branch, you have the Working Opportunity Fund, the employee share ownership program and the equity capital program. In the estimates for my budget, the cost for the Working Opportunity Fund is $192,000; for the employee share ownership program, $474,000; and for the equity capital program, $502,000. There are 14 FTEs working in this area.
Perhaps I could give you the amount of money by program rather than by total; it's easier. The Working Opportunity Fund, raise it up to $40 million; the employee share ownership program, raise it up to $5 million; and the equity capital program, to $21 million.
[4:30]R. Thorpe: Is it the equity capital program that has had a reduction in tax credits from this government?
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes.
R. Thorpe: Could the minister advise how much that tax credit was cut -- and to what?
Hon. I. Waddell: It used to be $12 million; it's now $6.5 million.
R. Thorpe: A cut of almost 50 percent.
Given the fact that one of the recommendations that the government's hanging its hat on is access to capital, could the
[ Page 8335 ]government explain how it rationalizes cutting access to capital by 50 percent but at the same time touting that it's increasing access to capital?
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't think I was touting access to capital. I just said that it's a requirement of business. There are priorities. Every day the opposition stands up and says: "Balance the budget." It also says, reflecting the public: "We need more schools. What about money for those northern doctors? What about money for this or that? What about this program you've cut?" So there's a need for money. So the government had to make cuts, and they had to put money into education and health and spend in other areas to create jobs. Personally, I would like to see that we get some more money, and I'm going to work for that in the future. But I inherited this one, and I'm going to work hard to try to get more money for business.
R. Thorpe: It's interesting that we would
Hon. I. Waddell: It's not at the expense of small business. I already outlined to the hon. member -- in response to a previous hon. member -- all the good things that the government has done for small business in the last three months, and there was a long list.
The government had to face some choices in the budget. We've debated this in the debate on the Small Business Venture Capital Act. I ask the member to read my speech on that; you'll see it outlined. The argument outlined in the speech is that the government gave a tax cut to small business. It lowered the aviation tax on small business; it lowered the level of the corporate capital tax. The tax cuts have to be paid for in certain other ways, so we made other cuts in government, and this happens to be one of them.
Also, one should remember that in that bill -- the Small Business Venture Capital Act -- where this was included, we tried to offset the reductions from this fund being lowered and the pot being smaller, as the hon. member will recall, by spreading it out amongst more companies and having different qualifications for that. You'll see that in the debate. I think that was helpful to small business.
R. Thorpe: Of course we could have left it where it was. We could have lowered the threshold, and then we would have been able to look after that many more. Remember that 80 percent of the new jobs are coming from small business; they're not coming from big businesses.
The minister raises an interesting point. They talk about tax cuts, but let's be clear. For small business there are no tax cuts in the year 1998. There are none -- zero. There are no tax cuts this year.
The minister actually set me up for my next question, but I didn't know how I was going to get a nice setup. Can the minister tell us -- because earlier he talked about competitiveness in film
Hon. I. Waddell: With respect, this is a debatable matter. We already debated this in the corporate venture capital act. We've gone over this. The member might want to look at the previous budgets which reduced small business taxes and then kicked in in a year and then kicked in the next year. He might want to have a look at that. If he wants to ask me a specific question on my estimates, I'll answer him; but I don't want to get into a debate right now on taxes vis-à-vis Alberta and British Columbia.
R. Thorpe: I thought the minister did want to talk about it, because he's the one that brought it up.
Can the minister tell us, then: in the small business sector, is competitiveness analysis for small businesses prepared within the ministry on a regular basis? And what items does the minister and ministry include in those regular competitiveness analysis updates?
Hon. I. Waddell: We have statistics but not ongoing analysis.
R. Thorpe: I find that absolutely shocking. Small business operators throughout British Columbia
Hon. I. Waddell: I answered this question before by outlining the nature of the ministry and what the ministry was doing.
I wonder if we could have about a three-minute adjournment.
The Chair: Is that agreeable to the members? Great. We'll take a five-minute recess.
The committee recessed from 4:41 p.m. to 4:49 p.m.
[R. Kasper in the chair.]
R. Thorpe: Thank you very much for the understanding when the students were here. They appreciate that. We don't get that many down from the Okanagan. It's too bad the new exhibit at the museum wasn't open; we could have gotten them over there.
I just want to finish this part, and then we can move on to another area. I'm almost lost for words that the small business branch does not maintain, assemble or complete competitiveness analyses. I just wonder how we can really move forward on issues when we're not doing those fundamentals. I would just like the minister's comments on that, and then we'll move on to another area.
[ Page 8336 ]Hon. I. Waddell: Well, of course, I can tell the member that a lot of that work is done by the Ministries of Finance and Employment and Investment. But if the member wants to advocate a ministry with more people, more funds and more bureaucracy, that's his vision. My vision of the ministry is an advocacy ministry that cuts in there with other ministries and advocates for small business and gets some results. It's lean and mean. That's my view of the ministry. It's much like the way growing small businesses in high-tech operate: they're fast and they're flexible.
R. Thorpe: I don't know if this is the fifteenth or sixteenth time that the minister has tried to put words in my mouth. Perhaps I should have been keeping a record. The minister knows very well that that's not the position I'm advocating. I'm for less government, but I'm for a government that's focused; I'm for a government that understands. I want a government that understands that you have to do your homework. You don't put the roof on the house first; you build the foundation. This clearly demonstrates to me that
That finishes the small business portion. I think we were going to move on to tourism policy.
The Chair: The member for Okanagan-Penticton continues.
R. Thorpe: I am wondering if we could just start out with a couple of basic questions with respect to tourism policy. Could the minister advise how many FTEs work in the area of tourism policy within the ministry, please?
Hon. I. Waddell: There are 19.
R. Thorpe: I'm wondering if we could have a little breakdown on that. Maybe there are different areas that they work in.
Hon. I. Waddell: I can tell the hon. member that there are 12.5 FTEs in tourism policy, 5.5 FTEs in corporate policy and planning and one executive director.
R. Thorpe: I note that we have the director here with us today. I hope she had a wonderful time driving back and checking out some of the tourism in the interior of British Columbia.
With respect to the 5.5 in corporate planning, is that just overall ministry activity, or does that relate directly to tourism?
Hon. I. Waddell: That relates to legislation and strategic planning generally.
R. Thorpe: So the 12.5, then, pertains directly to tourism policy and planning?
Hon. I. Waddell: The majority of that's in land use.
R. Thorpe: How many people of the 12.5 pertain to land use?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer to that is seven.
R. Thorpe: When you say land use
Hon. I. Waddell: They're participating in three LRMPs right now -- central coast, Okanagan-Shuswap and Sea to Sky; they're delivering some resource inventory and support for 12 other LRMPs; they're working with COTA and other agencies to define a detailed tourism inventory; there's some tourism input into the treaty negotiations and tourism input into environmental assessment processes; and they're linked to resource development in other areas of the province and of the government.
R. Thorpe: Is it out of this area
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is that we haven't finalized the numbers yet, but the majority would come from this area.
R. Thorpe: Is eight the target number? That's a number I've heard on the street -- that eight people out of 27, or whatever it is, have been allocated to this area. Is there any number whatsoever that this ministry has committed to that exercise?
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't know what streets the member frequents; maybe I'd better walk those streets too, so I can hear some of those numbers. But I'm told that there's been no final commitment to any figure.
R. Thorpe: When would the ministry expect to finalize the complement of staff that the ministry is going to allocate to this function?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is possibly next week -- as soon as we can.
R. Thorpe: I thought maybe the plans were a little bit more advanced.
The 5.5 employees: what is their primary role with respect to tourism in British Columbia?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm informed that it's the general group that supports strategic planning and legislation.
[5:00]R. Thorpe: No, it's the other 5.5. There were 5.5 in corporate policy; then there were 12.5 in tourism planning; then we took seven and we put them over in land use. If we take seven from 12.5, we have 5.5 again. Those are the 5.5 that
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm told that they work on things like fisheries issues, back-country lease issues
[ Page 8337 ]area that I'm happy to say the government was able to make an announcement about last week in Kamloops. They work on cross-policy initiatives with different departments, legislation
R. Thorpe: I just want a little clarification. This isn't part of a ministerial correspondence unit.
Hon. I. Waddell: Just to answer that question, the answer is no. It's Tourism.
R. Thorpe: I just want to talk about the 5.5. Perhaps some of the seven flow back and forth depending on the issue, but how does this group interface with Tourism B.C.?
Hon. I. Waddell: This is a huge industry -- an $8.5 billion industry now. Some of the issues are very complex. Basically, Tourism B.C. does marketing and information. We're doing policy, with some reference to land use. For example, today the director met with Mr. Chan from Tourism B.C. on the sport fishing issue. We are trying to work with a number of people, including the federal government, to try to get some money to market -- to get the information out -- the idea that B.C. is still open for fishing in spite of the coho ban. But we need to work on that because we help the ministry with some of the information on land use, where lodges are, what's happening and that kind of strategic backup.
R. Thorpe: So just picking up on part of that answer -- the interface on the sport fishing issue -- would the ministry, through the staff here, then have an integral part in the discussions on the commitment for the additional $3 million that was announced in advertising through Tourism B.C.?
Hon. I. Waddell: Tourism B.C. would take the lead on the advertising, but there may be some relationship to the government's strategy on coho preservation. That's where the department will be involved: in policy work.
R. Thorpe: So in this area, then, it would appear that this part of the ministry
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is yes.
R. Thorpe: What are the top three or four ministries that they would be interfacing with on a very regular basis?
Hon. I. Waddell: There are a number. I'm not sure you could put the top three
R. Thorpe: When we go through the list of tourism issues -- whether it be marketing, land use, fees and taxes on Crown leases, job creation and labour or infrastructure -- would this be the group that on a day-to-day basis would carry the ball for the minister and the ministry?
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes, they would support our work in this area.
R. Thorpe: Could the minister advise of the progress to date on the requests from COTA for increased marketing support? I guess that interface would be through the Ministry of Finance. Could the minister advise of the progress on that policy issue?
Hon. I. Waddell: I wonder if the hon. member could clarify that.
R. Thorpe: I'm sure the minister has a copy of the COTA documents that come out on a fairly regular basis. They highlight a number of key issues. I want to get a sense of this, because we've confirmed that this is the group in the ministry that works on these key issues. I just want to get a sense of whether some of these are moving forward. In fact, what point are we at with the marketing issue and the land use issue? The commercial back-country policy announcement was made the other day. That's the starting point. There's an awful lot of work to be done. Fees, taxes and Crown leases -- where are we with those? There's infrastructure. Then, of course, this sector of industry also has those labour concerns.
Hon. I. Waddell: There are a whole bunch of areas here. I'll just pick out one. You asked about COTA. Here's a letter that the president of COTA, Pat Corbett, wrote to me on April 23, 1998:
"Dear Minister Waddell:I'm very proud of that letter. Those are the kinds of issues that we're working on with the Council of Tourism Associations of B.C.
"It is with great pleasure that I am writing at this time to express COTA's appreciation of your recent efforts to bring about the cancellation of the highway signs program. As you are aware, the fees associated with this particular program reflect the larger issues of the burden of fees to tourism overall. This move goes far as a tangible signal of government's commitment to assisting them in succeeding in their business endeavours in the province.
"We look forward to continuing to work with you in partnership in ensuring a thriving tourism industry in the province. You have truly earned your title as tourism advocate.
Pat Corbett, President"
R. Thorpe: It looks like we're back into letter-reading again. Yes, the road sign issue was reversed. It was a stupid idea in the beginning. If the government had listened to its front-line workers in the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture, in the Ministry of Transportation and Highways and a whole bunch of other ministries, they would have known that. They would never have had to reverse it. We would never have wasted hours and hours and months and months of time.
Now, the question is not what you did last week or last year. The question is about the issues that have to be resolved now. Let us start with one. Let us start with the Council of Tourism Associations; the back-country group; the hotel association; B.C. motels, campgrounds, resorts; and freshwater fishing resorts. So many different tourism groups are saying: "We need no changes to the Labour Code." Is it this group of your ministry that would be dealing with those associations and working on this issue on behalf of those groups?
Hon. I. Waddell: We don't have things in boxes in the ministry. These people would work
[ Page 8338 ]use planning people, but they may work on it from the tourism point of view. This is a very small ministry, so sometimes you have to get people working on different issues as they arise. The answer is: they could.
R. Thorpe: "They could" would suggest that they're not. If they were, you would have said yes.
I don't want to put words in the minister's mouth, so perhaps the minister could check with staff. Is this issue currently being worked on by the policy group within the tourism branch of the ministry?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm not trying to be difficult; I'm trying to give the member the most honest answer I can. As I understand it, the small business aspect
This is complicated a little further. The minister especially has been involved in some of these issues in dealing, with the Premier and some high-level civil servants, with COTA in a 30-day period of trying to deal with some problems. We have dealt with some. We've actually got results and dealt with some of their concerns. Others of their concerns are ongoing concerns. One of their concerns, no doubt, is labour, which is, quite frankly, always an ongoing concern.
R. Thorpe: We sure heard a lot of words there, but I don't think we got an answer. We're just going to conclude that that's not being addressed right now, and we'll move on if that's what the minister wants to do.
What work is being done by the ministry with respect to the impact of Crown leases on tourism operators in British Columbia today?
Hon. I. Waddell: Can I just clarify that? Is that the cost of Crown leases or Crown leases generally?
R. Thorpe: The primary concern of tourism operators in British Columbia is the tremendous cost increase in operation on Crown lease property -- in fact, increases of up to eight times since 1992.
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is that we've been working for months on this issue and advocating on behalf of tourism and getting some results, the results being a new back-country lease policy. There are some immediate problems, as the member raised -- some continuing problems. One is in the cost of Crown leases for certain areas -- fishing camps, particularly in the Thompson-Okanagan area. Part of the reason that those fees have gone up, as I understand it, is that the highway went through there -- the Coquihalla and other growth -- and land values have gone up. The Minister of Environment, at the press conference last week in Kamloops, which the hon. member attended
[5:15]R. Thorpe: Do I conclude from that
Hon. I. Waddell: I advocated the tourism industry position.
R. Thorpe: So the minister is advocating on behalf of these operators. I think this is important. I think the minister should be very proud if this is the position: that he not only advocates for the freezing of the rates at 3.5 percent of the assessed value
Hon. I. Waddell: What I advocated for was some stability in pricing in the area. First of all, you could have a whole bunch of increases all over the province to reflect the increase. We opened up Crown lands last week. We could have increased prices; we didn't. I've advocated that we have a stable price regime. There are some problems. I talked to Mrs. Miller on television -- Sandra Miller, I believe it is -- up near Kamloops. Her lease has gone up quite a bit, and those folks are hurting. It's tough. I've asked the other ministry, MELP, to have a look at those matters. Those are the kinds of issues we're dealing with -- that I'm dealing with specifically.
R. Thorpe: I wish the minister success in those challenges.
When would the minister expect to get an answer from Environment, Lands and Parks on that issue?
Hon. I. Waddell: The member would have to ask the Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks during her estimates.
R. Thorpe: When the minister is pushing forward issues on behalf of people and on behalf of organizations, he is not saying: "I'd like to hear this by June 30, November 15 or April 30 of next year." The minister did not advocate the importance of a time line on this issue. Is that what the minister's saying?
Hon. I. Waddell: What I'm saying is that I don't know what the time line is and that you can ask the minister. As I said throughout the estimates, I always like things to happen yesterday. Sometimes in government they don't, but I'd like to see matters resolved as soon as possible.
R. Thorpe: I have just one more question on this issue. Is someone within the ministry, within the policy group, contacting Environment, Lands and Parks on a regular basis to keep updated on this particular issue?
Hon. I. Waddell: On a regular basis.
R. Thorpe: As opposed to an irregular basis.
With respect to land use, the minister has advocated on behalf of COTA with respect to the commercial back-country recreation policy. The minister wasn't able to confirm earlier the resources that are moving from his ministry to this. Is it the intention that those will in fact be current staff, or will you just be funding additional staff to do that workload? Have you made that decision yet?
Hon. I. Waddell: I can tell the hon. member that our intention is to reassign staff to help MELP deal with the backlog in back-country leasing applications. The Council of Tourism Associations has told us that this is their number one priority.
[ Page 8339 ]R. Thorpe: So is the Ministry of Small Business and Tourism championing this project? Or is that now being handed to MELP to manage the tremendous backlog in applications on a day-to-day basis?
Hon. I. Waddell: MELP is the lead ministry because that's the law; they're responsible for it. But we have advocated, and we're still in there
While I'm on my feet, I hope the member will come to the Sumo Basho on Friday to welcome these people from Japan, so that we can show off B.C. to Japan.
R. Thorpe: Slightly off topic, I did receive the invitations. I've respectfully declined because it's very important for me to be back in my riding on the weekends. I don't know what time on Friday I'll get home to my constituency.
R. Thorpe: The minister says it's Friday morning. Of course. I have no idea what the event is, because this is the first time I've heard about the Friday morning event. But if the minister would advise me of the details, I'd be pleased to help him promote tourism in British Columbia -- as we do every day.
Could the minister advise if anyone in the policy group is working on what some people in the private sector deem to be an inequity with respect to campgrounds and subsidization of parks in British Columbia?
Hon. I. Waddell: I can say to the member that I'm really pleased that he would consider coming to the Sumo Basho on Friday morning. Knowing his background in pugilistic endeavours, I'm hoping to see him there.
To answer his question, I would say we are working on the campsites, because COTA raised the issue of the inequalities between private and public sector camps and so on.
R. Thorpe: When may we expect a position that the minister is going to take forward and advocate on behalf of these private small business operators who have their capital at risk? When could we expect the minister to take a position -- or declare a position? Whether he takes it forward or not is another issue. When could we know about this advocacy for tourism and small business operators with respect to private capital risk versus government subsidization?
Hon. I. Waddell: As I understand it, COTA is concerned with the inability of the private sector to compete with the low-cost government sites. We have taken their position and informed MELP about it. There are new campgrounds being created, and we want them to look at the placement of those campgrounds so that they don't intrude into the private sector, which has some campgrounds in the area -- so that we're not competing against them at a low cost.
There's one thing you can do. I don't know if the member wants to advocate this, but the other thing is that we could increase campground fees in the public domain, which would make the private sector more competitive. I don't know if the member is advocating that.
R. Thorpe: I really am going to have to get this member some books. Every time there's an issue, he wants to either raise fees or talk about raising taxes or spending more. I thought, when I read his dissertation -- the study he's going to do on banks -- that he's against bigness. That's when it pertains to banks, but it's all right if it's his government.
No, I'm not for increasing; I'm for doing a lot more with a lot less. I happen to believe in the private sector. I believe that they can compete very effectively and do a heck of a job for us. All they want to do is play on a level playing field. There are lots of ways; you don't have to increase campgrounds to lower operators' costs. You can get the same money in their pockets a different way. Maybe the minister should think about that instead of always spend, tax, raise prices, etc.
One of the small issues that I think came up with some campground operators -- I don't know if it's the position of the association -- is that often provincial parks are booked like that. One of the ideas that somebody put forward was, through the reservation system at Super, Natural
Hon. I. Waddell: Those are interesting comments. We'll take them under advisement. We don't know right now. We'll get back to that.
R. Thorpe: This is something that one can pursue very aggressively; this is not a brainbuster. You don't have to be the executive director of NASA to put this in place. It might even be a gesture of good will. If we do consider it feasible, let us not get tied up and say: "Now we've got to negotiate for the commission we're going to charge the private campgrounds." Why don't we do something in a spirit of good will and try to help out these folks this year? I would ask that the minister seriously consider that as we move forward.
What work has the policy group of the ministry done with respect to the impact of increased ferry fees on tourism on Vancouver Island?
Hon. I. Waddell: Tourism B.C. was involved in helping with the industry's report on this. As you know, the industry came out with a report. They've had meetings with B.C. Ferries and the chair of Tourism B.C. to talk about this. The corporate branch is reviewing that private sector report.
[E. Walsh in the chair.]
R. Thorpe: Can we expect some kind of an answer shortly -- a policy decision, a policy directive, an action plan -- related to that concern?
[ Page 8340 ]Hon. I. Waddell: I think I can tell the member this. I too am concerned about the rates. If you look at the declining ridership, or whatever you call it, I'm not happy with that. So it has to be pursued. But it's up to B.C. Ferries, essentially; I mean, they set the rates. We will take forward the brief of the tourism people and their concerns -- and the Island businesses which have expressed their concerns to me.
R. Thorpe: I realize that Environment is the lead on the commercial back-country policy, but can the minister advise -- because I know he has an interest in it, and I know he'll be monitoring the progress or lack of progress with respect to clearing up the backlog -- if he is in receipt of a business plan or an action plan to clear up this backlog at this point in time? Or is that still being developed?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm informed that it's being finalized by MELP.
R. Thorpe: I would think that once it's finalized by MELP, a copy would obviously flow down to your branch. Would the minister commit to providing me with a copy of that action business plan with respect to clearing this backlog, so that these folks can get on with investing and creating jobs in British Columbia?
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, if I can, I will. It is not my report, though; it's the report of the Minister of Environment.
R. Thorpe: I get a sense that the ministry and the minister had a major role in bringing this announcement forward. Hopefully, we can start to see some action shortly.
When they were looking at the degree of backlog
Hon. I. Waddell: We're not aware of any discussions on this.
R. Thorpe: I think that's just about all my questions on tourism policy. I've got several questions on TBC. From previous discussions that the minister and I had, I don't know if he wants to get into TBC now.
Hon. I. Waddell: If I might say, I've got Mr. Harris here from TBC. I don't know how long that would take. I'm a little concerned because he's working on this fisheries matter, and that's why he's been away. I don't know how long -- I don't want to restrict the member -- he intends to be on that.
R. Thorpe: It will be more than ten minutes.
The Chair: Through the Chair.
A Voice: Well, we could start.
R. Thorpe: Just give me a few minutes to change gears.
The Chair: Do you want to take a couple of minutes?
R. Thorpe: I think the last time we were in discussion, we had some concerns about and we had an update on the sport fishing situation. Given some press reports today and given that Mr. Harris is here today -- and I appreciate him taking the time to be here
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't think you can make any conclusions as of yet. It's not finished.
R. Thorpe: Is the minister saying, then, that the reports in the press are inaccurate -- that $3 million has not been set aside to advertise and promote this issue?
Hon. I. Waddell: The press reports are inaccurate. All the stakeholders are there, including the federal government, to decide what is actually needed.
R. Thorpe: When can tourism operators in British Columbia, especially in the sport fishing industry
Hon. I. Waddell: Part of the problem is knowing exactly what the federal government's fishery management plan is. Once that's known, they'll know exactly the kind of dollars that need to be committed. I agree that time is of the essence here, but we have to get it right. That's why we're balancing that.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister confirm through his officials that the press reports are more accurate with respect to a finalization of known positions within the next two weeks?
Hon. I. Waddell: We're hoping so.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the strategic business plan for Tourism B.C., is that a one-year or multi-year plan?
Hon. I. Waddell: One year.
R. Thorpe: Given that the base funding is now known, is it the intent of Tourism B.C. to move from a year-to-year planning cycle to a multi-year planning cycle?
[ Page 8341 ]Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is yes.
R. Thorpe: And how many years? What kind of affair
Hon. I. Waddell: That hasn't been determined.
R. Thorpe: When do we anticipate that it will be decided?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm told it will be as soon as possible. We're trying to give the member as much as we can. I'll let him go ahead.
R. Thorpe: Where I'm trying to get to -- and I'm now there -- is the difficulty
When do you think we will have an answer? Hopefully it's not: "As soon as possible." We're running a fairly significant operation here, so hopefully we'll have an idea. When do you think we will have an answer so that regions and local tourism can have some answers to these kinds of questions? I remember one lady from Hope talking very much about this.
Hon. I. Waddell: Tourism B.C.'s budget now depends upon industry performance and the competitive situation. It's very flexible, and they have to move. So they're not able to make firm, long-term commitments. I wrote to Tourism B.C., and I suggested that one of my priorities is to start marketing the regions. As a follow-up to that, if the member is indicating that he'd like to see more help for the regions or more regional planning, I totally agree.
Having said that, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:45 p.m.
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