1998/99 Legislative Session: 3rd Session, 36th Parliament
MONDAY, JUNE 7, 1999
Volume 15, Number 20
[ Page 13265 ]
The House met at 2:07 p.m.
G. Campbell: Today we have with us in the gallery three very special people: Dr. and Mrs. Kalman Joseph Roller and Mr. Geza Benko. Dr. Roller has just received an honorary doctorate of science from the University of British Columbia in recognition of his outstanding achievements as a scientist and as an educator, both here in British Columbia and at the Sopron forestry school in his home country of Hungary.
Dr. Roller came to British Columbia in 1957, fleeing the tyranny and turmoil of the Hungarian revolution, bringing with him almost 200 of his faculty, students and their family members. He came to the only country that would accept his entire faculty; he came to Canada. These students were allowed to complete their studies in their own mother tongue within the faculty of forestry at UBC. Dr. Roller continued on as the dean of the Sopron division of forestry within UBC's forestry faculty.
I should say, hon. Speaker, that Dr. Roller also brought along four excellent sons, two of whom played soccer with me on a regular basis and seemed to kick the ball past me more than I kicked it past them. I also want to say that it's great to see that Dr. Roller has been honoured for his perseverance, for his integrity and for his exceptional contribution to British Columbia, to Canada and to Hungary. I hope we'll make him welcome.
W. Hartley: Today we have a group of young visitors, some 30 grade 6 students, and ten adults and their teacher, Ms. Wilson. They're from Crystal Springs Elementary School, Bothell, Washington. Would members please welcome them.
J. Wilson: On Saturday I attended the funeral services of William Speare. Mr. Speare was the MLA for the Cariboo from 1957 until 1966. I would ask the Speaker to send condolences to his family on behalf of all members.
The Speaker: As the Speaker I will be happy to do that on behalf of all members of the assembly. Thank you very much, member, for bringing that to our attention.
GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO PRIVATE SECTOR ECONOMIC ADVICEG. Campbell: Seven months ago the Premier announced his so-called economic A team. Then, last November, the business community across B.C. came together to prepare a blueprint for economic recovery. Today the business summit, representing 45 business groups and 95 percent of all private sector workers in British Columbia, graded the work of this government. The so-called A team got a whole bunch of Fs: an F in fiscal policy, an F in employment policy, an F in land use issues. It turns out that this is another NDP broken promise. This is no A team; this is the F troop.
My question is to the Minister of Finance. Won't she admit that her government is bankrupt of ideas and that she doesn't have a clue about how to reverse all the damage that the NDP has done to B.C.'s families?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There are different ways to stimulate the economy; there's no question about that. There is disagreement
The Speaker: Members, members.
Hon. J. MacPhail:
The Speaker: Order!
Hon. J. MacPhail:
The Speaker: Members
Hon. J. MacPhail: We could have a disagreement around that, and clearly we do, but it is absolutely true that the business summit would have us cut the health care budget by 5 percent; it says that right in the report. Secondly, it would have us increase tuition fees and spend less on education and training. Those are but two disagreements. They're honest disagreements. We are doing everything possible to stimulate the economy and still protect those values that are held just as highly by British Columbians.
The Speaker: First supplementary, Leader of the Official Opposition.
G. Campbell: It is staggering to hear a Minister of Finance say that this government is supposedly doing everything possible when our economy is in recession, when thousands of people are out of work, when 95 percent of the private sector employers in this province have said: "You are failing, you are failing. You are failing the families of British Columbia." Everybody in British Columbia wants an excellent education system and a health care system they can depend on. But most people understand that the only way to protect education and health care is through a strong private sector economy.
Just six months ago this Minister of Finance said that the business summit had come up with some constructive suggestions. Why does she always ignore the constructive suggestions of those who can make our economy work and fail the families of British Columbia instead?
Hon. J. MacPhail: What is very clear today is that this Liberal opposition supports massive -- over $1.5 billion -- tax
[ Page 13266 ]cuts for corporations and the rich at the expense of health care and education. That's exactly the difference between the way we are choosing to assist the economy and what the business summit is asking for; that is the single most important difference. That opposition would cut taxes for the rich and large corporations by $1.5 billion, and they would have to cut health care and education spending in order to do it.
We disagree with that. There are other ways. There have been other ways that we've invested in the economy, with great success. The member for Peace River North over there would have to agree that what we've done with targeted tax cuts for the oil and gas industry is working. Those members from Richmond
The Speaker: Finish up, minister. Finish up, please.
Hon. J. MacPhail:
The Speaker: Second supplementary, Leader of the Official Opposition.
G. Campbell: It's interesting that the minister stands up and says that targeted tax cuts work. You know what? Tax cuts for the families of British Columbia will work too. This government's jobs and timber accord is a failure. This government's fast ferry fiasco -- and mismanagement of B.C. Ferries -- has been a failure. This government's budget, year after year after year, has been a failure. Its economic record is a failure.
My question to the Minister of Finance is: why does this government continue to ignore any positive suggestions from the private sector -- who can get the economy moving, who can support public education and health care -- and carry on this road to ruin that they've laid out over the last decade?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There is actually much that we do agree on with the business summit, and there's much that we've delivered on. Unfortunately, they forgot to report on that, and I feel badly about that. The small business tax rate in British Columbia is now the lowest west of Ontario
I guarantee you that if this Leader of the Opposition were elected this year or next
The Speaker: Order, members. Come to order.
Hon. J. MacPhail:
The Speaker: Thank you, minister.
Hon. J. MacPhail: That's why it's important to keep this government in office.
The Speaker: Order, members.
C. Clark: The Minister of Finance comes up with B.C. Liberal budget numbers the same way she comes up with her own budget numbers. She just makes it up. She invents it out of nowhere -- right? That's how she writes budgets. It was the business summit that said that you had to cut taxes, you had to fix the Labour Code, and you had to get to work balancing the budget. It was this Finance minister who said that they were constructive suggestions
The Speaker: Order, members.
The Speaker: Member
C. Clark: Why is it that this Finance minister said she was going to do something about what the business summit said, when in fact she never, ever had any intention of acting on any of their recommendations?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes, we will protect labour standards where it makes sense for working people in this province. Yes, we will protect environmental standards and make sure our land use policy meets the needs of everyone in this province. And yes, we will
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. J. MacPhail:
The Speaker: Order, order!
Hon. J. MacPhail: And while doing
The Speaker: Members, come to order.
Hon. J. MacPhail:
[ Page 13267 ]time there comes a call for some way of damaging B.C.'s reputation, damaging B.C.'s economic prospects by denying people the real truth about what a good place B.C. is to invest in
The Speaker: Thank you, minister.
Hon. J. MacPhail:
The Speaker: Minister, thank you.
Hon. J. MacPhail: We're not going to do that. We're going to work in cooperation
The Speaker: Time, minister.
Hon. J. MacPhail:
The Speaker: First supplementary, the member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain.
C. Clark: Well, let's talk about telling the truth. Let's talk about telling the truth about the budgets. Let's talk about telling people the truth about what real tax rates are. Let's talk about telling the truth about the fact that we're in recession and thousands of working British Columbia families are hurting because of what this government has done. Let's talk about that.
Let's talk about the B.C. Business Summit, which says that real after-tax income in British Columbia is down. Let's talk about the fact that the Finance minister stands up and says, "Things are getting better," when real working families have less money to put toward their mortgage and less money to put food on the table for their kids -- much less think about taking their kids on a vacation or something next year. How can the Finance minister stand up and credibly try and argue that things are getting better in British Columbia when working families are really doing far, far worse?
Hon. J. MacPhail: We're actually very clear on our agenda. I think it is time for the Liberals to come clean on their agenda.
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes, it's true: they do support the business agenda. That's true. They do support the business summit. They do support a billion and a half dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest in this province and for the large corporations. They do support cutting health care
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. J. MacPhail:
We reject that as a business strategy. We have cut taxes for middle- and low-income families. We brought in B.C. Benefits -- the family bonus -- for all low-income people in this province. There's not one helpful suggestion from the opposition. We have changed things. We've reduced ICBC rates. We've reduced B.C. Hydro rates. And still we're not giving enough away to the wealthiest of this province -- which is the Liberal agenda.
The Speaker: Thank you, minister.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I will continue, as will our entire caucus continue, to work with the business agenda, but there are many others that have strongly held views
The Speaker: Minister, finish up.
Hon. J. MacPhail:
GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC POLICIES AND YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENTB. Penner: Well, here's a helpful suggestion: cut taxes and balance the budget or, if you can't do that, call an election.
The business summit report says
The Speaker: Order, members.
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. J. MacPhail: We are investing $34 million in youth employment this year. There are 11,000 more young people working this year than last year.
It's interesting to note in the business summit -- which they hold, I guess, as the Bible now
We have expanded the opportunities for people to attend university in this province. Ten years ago we had the second-lowest participation rate, and now we have the second-highest participation rate. We used to have the second-highest rates of tuition a decade ago; now we have the second-lowest rates of tuition in this province.
[ Page 13268 ]There is a real commitment -- through the minimum wage, through training opportunities, through our expanded access to education -- where we're working to give young people the best opportunity possible. It isn't this side of the House that's bankrupt of ideas; it's whatever comes out the morning of the day that is clearly a business agenda for the wealthiest that that opposition sees
The Speaker: Members, the bell ends question period. I think there is a ministerial report.
I. Chong: I also have a petition -- 33 signatures from citizens of Victoria. The petitioners are opposed to the scheduled gypsy moth aerial spraying program and, specifically, the use of Foray 48B in urban areas. I would also like to mention that this petition of 33 signatures is signed by more than 25 University of Victoria scientists.
I have had the opportunity to review the Blues of second reading debate on Bill 58 during last Thursday afternoon's sitting. The debate generated considerable heat and emotion with, at times, unparliamentary language from both sides of the House. The exchanges included personal attacks by both sides of the House, culminating in inappropriate remarks on a ruling of the Chair by the member for Kamloops-North Thompson with respect to relevance in debate.
The standing orders and the practice of this House are clear that no debate should be permitted on any decisions of the Chair, nor adverse comments thereon. The House must be protected from reflections on the Chair. It is the Speaker's duty to maintain an orderly conduct of debate and to intervene when necessary. The Chair cannot allow unparliamentary language and behaviour, as was witnessed last Thursday, from either side of the House. I ask all members, from both sides of the House, to refrain from using personal allusions and to use restraint in characterizing the nature and actions of the members of this House.
PENSION BENEFITS STANDARDS AMENDMENT ACT, 1999
(second reading continued)
Last year, in a very large step well ahead of anyone else in this country, this government extended pension plans for same-sex couples to the public sector, including teachers, public service workers, college instructors and all municipal workers. This was the first of its kind in this country, and obviously a historic move. This year, again, it's clearly another historic move as the government now extends rights to more than a thousand private pension plans.
We're going to do this once again this year, despite the Liberal opposition. Once again the opposition has chosen to try to derail legislation which will advance full equality for gays and lesbians. Once again the opposition has shown its colours. It purports to be a friend of the gay and lesbian community, yet continually fights any progressive legislation that's brought forward. The official opposition always seems to find any means possible to fight the legislation that's been brought forward which advances equality for gays and lesbians. This time there's a new twist -- by not even dealing directly with the same-sex benefits that are mentioned in the plan. Not one opposition speaker so far has even mentioned it. They have gone out of their way to avoid, out of their way to even mention same-sex. It's as if they can't even say the words. This time they're trying to make a mountain out of a molehill in some other section of the legislation and, at the same time, trying to find some smokescreen to hide the advances in this bill that will be made for the gay and lesbian community.
What hypocrisy -- what complete hypocrisy! It's fooling no one. It's not fooling me; it's not fooling the government caucus. It's certainly not fooling the gay and lesbian community, and it's not fooling the public. This ruse is as plain as plain can be. Like the opposition that has been thrown up to the bills in the past two years by this opposition Liberal Party, gays and lesbians and the community won't forget this newest move -- but I'll return to that later, for I want to return to the importance of this legislation for the gay and lesbian community.
This is, as I've already said, another historic piece of legislation in the long, long march to full equality for gays and lesbians. Hon. Speaker, since the NDP was elected in British Columbia, things have turned about completely in society for gays and lesbians, as they are now recognized as full members of society. But to remind you and others of the history -- because now we almost take it for granted -- prior to the NDP forming government, the Liberal predecessors, the Social
[ Page 13269 ]Credit Party, were actively hostile to the gay and lesbian community. There was no legislation protecting -- or certainly not enhancing -- the lives of gays and lesbians. It was impossible for gays or lesbians to get in to see a cabinet minister or even an MLA about these issues.
But all that changed when the NDP came to power. Finally a government that listened to the gay and lesbian community. Finally a government that respected the gay and lesbian community. Finally a government that gave hope to the gay and lesbian community. Finally a government that was willing to act and bring about progressive legislation in conjunction with the gay and lesbian community, a government that was willing to bring in legislation recognizing the need to both protect and bring about full equality for gays and lesbians.
So legislation was enacted by the NDP government to bring sexual orientation into the Human Rights Code. This was a historic move. What a huge step that was at that time, after so many years of being excluded -- and not just excluded but actively excluded by the predecessors of this opposition party, the Social Credit Party. After so much struggle and rejection by the so-called free enterprise or capitalistic party, we had, for the first time, legislation that brought gays and lesbians into the mainstream, that brought some protection to gay and lesbian people, and then legislation that allowed the adoption of children by gays and lesbians -- another milestone, a huge milestone. Again, it was only because of an NDP elected government. It was certainly not because of what the predecessors to this opposition did, the Social Credit Party, and it was certainly not brought about by this opposition party.
Then legislation prohibiting the promotion of hatred towards gay and lesbians was enacted -- again, legislation only made possible because of this NDP government. This was followed in 1997 by another historic piece of legislation, the changing of the definition of the word "spouse" to include gays and lesbians -- another huge milestone. British Columbia was the first province in Canada to do so, and once again, the so-called free enterprise party -- now the Liberal Party -- as usual, as always, as far back as gays and lesbians can remember in B.C., rose up in opposition to the legislation.
The Liberal opposition this time fought with all they had to block change or amend the legislation. They put up speaker after speaker to try to kill the legislation, which was so important to the gay and lesbian community, and which has subsequently been verified by the Supreme Court. And why? Why, we asked ourselves, would they fight so hard against full equality for gays and lesbians? Why would they fight so hard against this legislation? Well, they have a bunch of MLAs who will do anything to ensure that gays and lesbians never have equality in this society. There's a handful of them -- about ten -- and they will do anything to make sure that legislation is not enacted. They somehow see gays and lesbians as lesser or immoral or unnatural or whatever it is their belief system has them
Those days are over, here in this Legislature; those days, I believe, are over in the rest of society. But they keep trying to influence that opposition party. They obviously have considerable sway in the Liberal opposition party, which is evident from the opposition that they've brought forth against every bill. They've managed to move this opposition to continually speak out in opposition to every piece of progressive legislation, even though those nine or ten will never stand up and speak their opinions on the matter. They hide, weave and dodge, but they won't get up and state their opinion. They skulk in the background; they sneak around and try to get support in their own caucus to vote against this. It was the same thing last year, and we're seeing the same thing again this year.
After changing the definition of spouse two years ago, the government brought in legislation last year, as I said, that would allow pensions in the public sector plans for the spouses of gays and lesbians. This included municipal workers and college teachers. This was a huge step, and it's made a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of gays and lesbians and has brought equality for gays and lesbians much closer. Last year this was opposed by the very same group within that caucus. What a surprise that they would once again influence that caucus to come out in opposition. Why would they oppose this again, even after the term "spouse" had been changed the year before? Well, of course, it's the same reason. It's the same bunch within the caucus that are influencing the caucus, that won't let go and that insist that at least the Liberal opposition make some fight against full equality for gays and lesbians.
This time, though, something different is happening. They've decided to take a different tact. Not only have they decided to avoid it, but they're not even going to mention it. Let me remind you what tactic they used last year. Last year they decided to bring in some heavy outside guns. They happened to read in the newspaper of one particular highly placed Roman Catholic individual who was opposed. They decided they liked what he had to say, so they quoted him extensively. All of a sudden this individual, who has obviously made himself an antagonist in the gay and lesbian community, became the Liberal wise man, the one they're going to quote as an authority on gay and lesbian issues.
Now, they don't seem to care about any other religious leaders. No one else was ever quoted. No other bishop was quoted, no rabbis were quoted, no other priests were mentioned. Just this one individual was quoted over and over last year, as being the ultimate wise person on this legislation. They backed him entirely, and they used his rationale for opposing this legislation. I just want to quote a little from a letter that was sent to all the MLAs -- the rationale that was used and was backed by the opposition party -- to give you some sense of the kind of views that come out of this rump group within the Liberal opposition party for being opposed to equal rights for gays and lesbians. It stated:
"The proposed legislation" -- that is, to include gays and lesbians, same-sex partners, in the public pension funds -- "follows up on the B.C. policy allowing same-sex couples to adopt children and on the legislation which changed the legal definition of spouse by enlarging it to include same-sex partners. Both the adoption policy and the redefinition of the legal meaning of spouse are regrettable developments and will in the long term be detrimental to our society."I've yet to hear one Liberal member stand up and tell us why changing the definition of spouse will be detrimental to our society or why allowing gays and lesbians to adopt will be detrimental to our society.
[ Page 13270 ]The second point that's made -- "The proposed legislation further undermines the concept of marriage
The letter goes on to say: "By nature, marriage is a union between man and woman for the purpose of their mutual enrichment and support and for the procreation of children." One could certainly argue that those are the necessary components of a marriage. But there are many couples who do not have children, and I would dare say that their marriage is just as rich as those with children.
"A stable union or a bond between two people of the same sex, whether sexually active or not, does not constitute a marriage-like relationship by any stretch of the imagination," so it's stated. According to who? I would dearly love to have the Liberal opposition get up and say a little bit about how they would agree or disagree with that particularly statement. "Biologically," says the writer, "such couples are simply not equipped to be husband and wife." I hate to say that same-sex couples are not trying to be husband and wife. However, it will be interesting, if the Liberals ever decide to discuss the issue of spouse in this bill, to hear them defend that.
The letter goes on to say: "The proposed legislation will also further undermine the concept of family." Whose concept of family? How does this undermine the concept of family -- changing the definition of spouse? I wish the opposition would give us the wisdom they have to let us know indeed how we're undermining the concept of family. "This too is detrimental to the good of society," says the writer.
"It is a commonly acknowledged fact that children growing up in one-parent families are at a serious disadvantage in their psychological and social development." Boy, that's a real slap in the head to single-parent families. I might add that there are many single-parent families in this province.
Hon. D. Lovick: What about all those nuclear families that are abusive?
T. Stevenson: Abusive nuclear families -- that's another interesting concept that's not actually dealt with here.
Hon. D. Lovick: Really?
T. Stevenson: No.
"Will not the same be true," the letter goes on to say, "perhaps even more so, for children growing up with two 'parents' of the same sex?" All of a sudden, two parents of the same sex will have children who are even more psychologically damaged and will have a disadvantage far beyond heterosexual couples. This seems to be a bizarre argument and, frankly, an insult to many gay and lesbian couples who, of course, have children.
I'll skip over this because it's all in this kind of vein, and I so far haven't heard too much from the Liberal opposition as to how they feel and why they feel this person is their wise guru to quote continually when they are trying to block the legislation that we brought in last year.
"How will the government verify if the same-sex couples who apply for pension benefits" -- these are now, this year, in the private pension -- "are actually sexually active?"
An Hon. Member: What does that have to do with anything?
T. Stevenson: Well, you evidently have to be sexually active to get a pension, according to the opposition. I don't know how the opposition is going to verify this, but I guess some kind of an electronic eavesdropping device, listening.
Then we're asked: "What kind of stability will be required before a same-sex couple can apply for pension benefits?" Let me assure the writer and the opposition that it will be the very same as for heterosexual couples -- common law, two years. That seems to be fairly straightforward. That's what this particular Catholic individual has stated in a letter, and this is what was quoted so extensively. He's the individual who was used as the wise person for blocking the legislation or attempting to block the legislation. But they seem to have completely overlooked another bishop -- this time in the Anglican Church -- who is also very highly placed. Here's what this individual, this particular bishop, said:
"I wantI suppose those are the ones that we just heard.
. . .to express my support for your government's commitment to the equality of homosexual rights in British Columbia. You have no doubt heard from some people in the religious community expounding rather extremist homophobic views on this topic."
"I would like you to know that there are a great many members of my church who support your efforts to end discrimination against same-sex couples. Governments have a responsibility to protect the rights of all citizens, and I applaud your willingness to do so on behalf of homosexual people in our province.Now he's getting right into the heart of the matter -- this particular bishop.
"There is an argument being made by opponents of equality that the establishment of rights for homosexuals will weaken and destroy the family."
"This is, in my view, a fallacy. Homosexuality is not a lifestyle but a fixed orientation, and cannot be transmitted like an infection. It is time that we recognized the legitimate desires of same-sex partners for the same rights in law as those enjoyed by heterosexual partners. Such a move could only strengthen families by enhancing the values of fidelity and permanence."
Well, this is a very different point of view from the one that the opposition used to hammer the government last year in regard to this legislation. Here's a man who says that such a move -- i.e., changing the definition of spouse -- could only strengthen families by enhancing the values of fidelity and permanence. Amazing -- the very different positions that these two bishops have taken.
Then, of course -- juxtaposed to the opposition position on changing the definition of spouse and moving toward full equality -- there is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has been very clear in a number of judgments, which I think the opposition has also decided to overlook and only to use the words of one senior Roman Catholic. Around the definition of spouse, Justice Cory of the Supreme Court has said:
"The definition of 'spouse' as someone of the opposite sex reinforces the stereotype that homosexuals cannot and do not form lasting, caring, mutually supportive relationships with economic interdependence in the same manner as heterosexual couples. The appellants' relationship vividly demonstrates the error of that approach. The discriminatory impacts cannot be deemed to be trivial when the legislation [that we currently have] reinforces prejudicial attitudes based on such faulty stereotypes."I think that that's a very important piece to remember. We do deal, and have been dealing, with faulty stereotypes. These
[ Page 13271 ]have been used to reinforce and to buttress those arguments that there should be no changes in law -- certainly not around the definition of spouse -- so that pension plans can be made possible and available to same-sex couples.
As we move to Bill 58 now, again we have the opposition in a completely different way deciding they're going to fight against same-sex pensions. Oh yes, they'll have a huge smokescreen -- they'll talk about something completely different -- but they won't deal with what's really happening for them: that is, a split in their caucus once again on same-sex issues. I hope that this time the opposition caucus might sit back and realize that their record has been a sorry one and that they'll change and vote in favour of it.
G. Plant: I'm pleased to have the opportunity to rise and speak to Bill 58. Bill 58 is, I suppose, a form of omnibus act. It has a variety of sections that do a variety of things in the area of private sector pension benefits, and it also, in its consequential amendments, changes some of the public sector pension plans.
One of the challenges with an omnibus bill -- a sort of miscellaneous collection of amendment bills -- is to see whether there is any coherent principle that is underlying the bill as a whole, because of course in second reading debate, we are primarily concerned with the principle of the bill. There are some provisions in this bill that are not terribly offensive to my sense of how the administration of pensions in the private sector needs to be updated on an ongoing basis and made more efficient and effective. But for my money, when you distil the 75 provisions of this bill to their essence, there is one provision in this bill that I think is the equivalent of the poison pill which the NDP so successfully manage to introduce into almost every one of their initiatives. It's hard to recall a miscellaneous statutes amendment act that didn't have something in it that was dressed up as an innocuous housekeeping change, but that in fact turned out to be a very significant and usually very dangerous or offensive change to the law.
This bill is a lot like those miscellaneous statutes amendment acts, because buried in the plethora, if I can use that word, of changes is one provision -- section 48 -- which I think is particularly offensive. My colleague the opposition Labour critic spoke, when this bill was last being debated in second reading, on the reasons why section 48, properly analyzed, is an attack on workers; it's an attack on pensioners. It's an attack on competitiveness. It's a provision which supports, I think, an unreasonable restraint on trade. It's a provision that says to pensioners who thought they were investing in a pension -- who thought it was their money that was being invested by the pension plan, who thought it was their money that was being taken from their paycheques in a way that was going to ensure that it would be returned to them at a later date in their lives -- that actually it isn't really their money, because if they have the effrontery or the gall to wish to continue to work in related employment after they have taken their pension entitlement, this bill will give the managers of pension plans the right to suspend their benefits. That, presumably, is the intention behind the regulation-making powers that are conferred upon the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council by section 48.
It would be difficult for me to improve on the critique that my colleague the member for Kamloops-North Thompson launched last Thursday on section 48. But let me say this: section 48 is, all by itself, a reason to vote against this bill; it is, actually, the reason why I will vote against this bill. Section 48 at the very least seems to me to be a mistake, in that it appears to have been put here without the complete and proper consultation with all sectors in the pension industry that should have properly been consulted when these kinds of changes were being made. Really, at the very least it seems to me wrong for the government to force this change through in this way, under those circumstances.
But if it is going to be put to us, if we as a Legislative Assembly are to be called upon to express our opinion on Bill 58 by voting over the course of the next day or so, then I will vote against Bill 58, as I believe the other members of my caucus will, because of section 48. Section 48 is an attack on workers and pensioners. It is an unprecedented attack. It would, I am told, mark British Columbia as the only jurisdiction in Canada to give pension fund managers, by statute and by regulation, the authority to suspend benefits for someone who has worked throughout their career to earn those very benefits. I'm happy to join with my colleagues in voting against Bill 58.
I do, however, want to point out that this bill also contains some changes to the definition of "spouse." I acknowledge that the member for Vancouver-Burrard was speaking about those changes. I did not hear all of his remarks, but I think that his remarks, if I can judge by the part I did hear, were probably generally consistent with the remarks that he has made about similar legislative changes in the past. That is, for the most part, the member doesn't attempt to explain or understand, in any detailed way, what the amendments will actually do; rather, the member focuses on larger issues of principle around discrimination and equality -- and those are good points to make.
I note that during the course of his remarks, the member for Vancouver-Burrard spent most of his time dealing with a portion of, if you will, the public debate that took place last year, when the government amended the public sector pension plans by changing the definition of spouse in those four or five statutes that regulated the public sector pension plans. And, hon. Speaker, you will recall that last year we changed the definition of spouse in those statutes in a way that expanded the definition of spouse to include partners in same-sex relationships.
I found it interesting that the member for Vancouver-Burrard spoke at such length about last year's debate, because interestingly enough
That's not unusual to people who follow this NDP government. Twelve months is an interminably long time for this government to attempt to foresee or plan for the future in any way. It doesn't surprise me that the amendments that the government made to the five public sector pension plans last
[ Page 13272 ]summer are being amended here. But it does surprise me that the government -- at least, so far in this debate -- has not taken the time to point out to British Columbians that the things it did last year that it thought were the right things to do are in fact being changed. No doubt, if this party is still in government next year -- and who knows, we may still be in the same legislative session as we are now, and as we were last year -- the government will come and introduce yet more changes to the definition of spouse. But we'll have to wait for that.
This definition that's now put forward does, as the member for Vancouver-Burrard pointed out, extend the definition of spouse for the purpose of private sector pension benefits to persons who are living in a marriage-like relationship with another person for a two-year period immediately preceding the relevant time, even if those persons are of the same sex.
This amendment continues a pattern which the government began in 1997, when it first amended the Family Relations Act to extend portions of that act to encompass same-sex relationships. Then last year the government made the changes that I've talked about to the public sector pensions, and now this year the government is making changes to the Pension Benefits Standards Act, which is the act that regulates private sector pensions. One might ask: where's the Wills Variation Act in this?
My view is that the argument that the member for Vancouver-Burrard made about equality rights in relation to the definition of spouse would apply with equal force to a statute like the Wills Variation Act. In fact, my guess is that that argument would apply with considerable force to a number of statutes in British Columbia.
In fact, I would suggest that a principled approach to the issue -- I know it's not something that we've come to expect from this government, but let's use the words, just because they're good to put on the floor here -- of equality for gays and lesbians would in fact argue in favour of a government taking an omnibus approach to these issues rather than dealing with them as they do, in this sort of haphazard, topsy-turvy way of one statute every session or every summer -- one bill at a time.
Actually, hon. Speaker, you'll be interested to know that the B.C. Law Institute, which is the thing that the government created after it starved the Law Reform Commission to death
It's interesting that neither the minister, in his introductory remarks, nor the member for Vancouver-Burrard -- at least so far as I heard him -- expressed any support for that approach. Apparently they're quite happy to deal with this issue in a sort of haphazard, topsy-turvy, piecemeal kind of way. That, I think, is indicative of what amounts, really, to an entire absence of principle in terms of the way the government is dealing with this.
Oddly enough, the omnibus-bill approach is also the approach recommended by the B.C. Human Rights Commission in a letter to the Attorney General, dated May 20, 1999, in which the chief commissioner of the Human Rights Commission urges the government to amend all of the necessary legislation to ensure that the laws of British Columbia do not violate the Charter guarantees of equality. But I suggest that it is unfortunate that that recommendation has not been discussed in the remarks from the government side to date. So we are here dealing with one bill, one set of amendments and, frankly, the usual pathetic lack of explanation from the government about what the implications of this change might be.
The truth is that the expansion of the definition of spouse engages consideration of two kinds of issues: one is the issue of discrimination in the existing law, and the other is the question of how to fix that discrimination. On the first issue -- the issue of discrimination, the issue of equality -- we do have a very recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. It conclusively states -- at least in the context of the Ontario Family Law Act and, I think, for reasons that apply here as well -- that the creation of a set of rights and responsibilities that is available for common-law spouses of different sex but not available for common-law spouses of the same sex is discriminatory. It's a violation of the equality rights under the Charter.
I think that the general tenor of the arguments at the Supreme Court of Canada in the M. v. H. case apply with great force here, and they should cause all of us to look at, among other things, the Pension Benefits Standards Act and say: "Yes, that act is discriminatory." There needs to be a way of ensuring that pension benefits and standards are provided that do not violate the Charter guarantee of equality.
That's the first half. The first half is the discrimination point. The second half of the issue is the remedy. How is it that the government should fix the problem? How is it that the Ontario Legislature, for example, in the M. v. H. case, should change the laws of Ontario to comply with the Charter guarantees? Well, in fact, the Supreme Court of Canada doesn't give an answer to that question. The Supreme Court of Canada does not, for example, say that the only solution to the equality issue is to do what the B.C. government -- the NDP -- propose doing here. In fact, as I read the judgment, the Supreme Court of Canada makes it very clear that we have to avoid discrimination, that we have to uphold equality for all Canadians, including gays and lesbians in relationships that engender considerations of dependency and responsibility. We have to uphold equality for those persons under the law.
But there is more than one way of achieving that equality. There is more than one legislative technique that could achieve equality, and that's the issue of remedy. Now, the Ontario government is going to have to look at how it proposes to change the Ontario Family Law Act to comply with the requirements of the Supreme Court of Canada decision. The British Columbia government may well be doing the same thing in terms of all of the statutes of British Columbia that have issues in them that engage this question. But here we have one solution -- it is the government's solution -- and it is to bring partners in same-gender relationships under an expanded definition of spouse.
We've been here before. We were here in 1997 with Bill 31, the Family Relations Amendment Act, and Bill 32, the Family Maintenance Enforcement Amendment Act. We were here again last summer when the government amended the five public sector pension plans. On each of those occasions I
[ Page 13273 ]spoke about the opposition's perspective on those issues. I spoke about the fact that there are people in our caucus, as there are many British Columbians, who feel that there is something to be attached to the idea of spouse, something important to be attached to the idea of marriage that needs to respected at the same time and to the same extent, if possible, that we respect and uphold the Charter requirements of equality, fairness and dignity for all.
In an attempt to accommodate that diversity of interests, we have devised an amendment to create a term. The term is "domestic partner." It was a term that we introduced onto the order paper when Bill 31 and Bill 32 came forward in 1997; it was a term we again introduced last summer in the context of the public sector pension acts; and it's a term that we will introduce again in the course of the debate at committee stage on Bill 58, the Pension Benefits Standards Amendment Act, 1999.
It is, if you will -- using the two-part analysis that I suggested earlier -- our remedy. It's a different remedy to deal with the problem of discrimination. Interestingly enough, it's pretty close to the approach that the B.C. Law Institute suggests ought to be taken. The B.C. Law Institute has a recommendation that says that the government should introduce a domestic partner act. I don't claim that our amendment will technically be completely consistent with what the B.C. Law Institute wants to do, but it's interesting to note that the B.C. Law Institute finds that there is something in the idea of domestic partnership which commends itself to a consideration of these issues. The B.C. Law Institute was, in fact, responding to a request from the government that they look at these issues, and that was the recommendation that the B.C. Law Institute made in its report to the government.
I want to say one thing about some of the comments that the member for Vancouver-Burrard made and that I did manage to catch when I was here earlier. He was reading from something and talked about the idea of sexual activity. When he was doing that, I think his intention was to make some kind of a sick joke about the approach being taken by the opposition here: who would -- and how would one test -- the question of whether people are sexually active?
It was at that moment that I realized that the member for Vancouver-Burrard, who certainly has the best of intentions in wanting to advance the cause of equality, really doesn't understand the issue and certainly doesn't have the least understanding of what it is that we have sought to do with our amendment. The amendment that we introduced last year does not impose a requirement of sexual activity into the idea of domestic partnership. Oddly enough, it is, in fact, the government's proposed change in the definition of spouse which, in my view, imposes that requirement. That may be a detail that is beyond the purview of most people's interests in this, but since it was a point that seemed to strike the member for Vancouver-Burrard as being a subject of some interest, I personally found it somewhat surprising that he didn't realize that it is his bill and his amendment that introduce that question, not our amendment. Really, what our amendment does is the very thing that the Supreme Court of Canada saw as being at the heart of the Ontario Family Law Act that it had before: that is, protecting the idea of economic interdependence that arises in close personal relationships and recognizing that when people enter into close personal relationships that create that circumstance of interdependence, it is right, fair, reasonable and proper for the law to impose obligations on the people in those relationships -- the obligations of the partners in such relationships to each other. One person can't leave the relationship and leave behind someone who is incapable of supporting themselves because they have no workplace skills and who will, as a virtual certainty, unless the law steps in, end up on the public rolls as a recipient of welfare.
I think all of us in this House want to encourage responsibility. We want to encourage partners in what I might call economically interdependent relationships to honour the obligations that are created by those relationships. We want to do that, not just because it's good to have people keep their promises and honour the responsibilities they assume but also because it makes good public policy to create circumstances which encourage people to solve their problems with private means, rather than to force citizens onto the welfare rolls.
Now, that is something that lies behind what the government is doing here with its changes to the definition of spouse in Bill 58. It's also something that is entirely consistent with the idea of domestic partnership that we will be introducing when we come to committee stage debate on Bill 58. I expect that we will be giving the government an opportunity to look at that definition and to consider whether it, too, would recognize that circumstances of economic dependency and interdependency exist in relationships that aren't just marriages, that aren't just common-law, different-sex spousal relationships and that aren't same-gender relationships but in fact include a range of relationships. In my view, it's a good thing for the law to look at the extent to which it can protect the expectations, the reliance and the dependency in all those relationship and not just to expand the protection of pension legislation to partners in same-gender, homosexual relationships.
I believe today -- as I believed when this issue first came before us in a different form in Bills 31 and 32 -- that the questions around the meaning of marriage and what it means to be a spouse are legitimate questions of conscience. They are appropriate questions for Members of the Legislative Assembly to examine as questions of conscience. Accordingly, when we come to committee stage debate on Bill 58 and to the definition of spouse in section 1 -- which is where the definition issue arises -- I expect that members of the caucus of which I'm a member will exercise their right to vote freely as to their conscience.
All members of the caucus of which I am a member believe that the proper, the fairest, the most equitable and the broadest-based resolution to the issues presented by the definition of spouse in this bill is to use the tool of domestic partnership. We are all of one mind on that. I suspect that the government will not support that approach, and we'll deal with that as the issue arises in committee stage debate. But I want members of the government to know that while the issue of the definition of spouse is here, it's here the same way it was last year. It can be dealt with now, from our perspective, in the same way as we dealt with it last year.
But the real heart of this bill, the real issue in this bill, the real reason to vote against Bill 58, has nothing to do with the definition of spouse in section 1. It has nothing to do with the issues that the member for Vancouver-Burrard and I have just canvassed. It has everything to do with the assault on workers' rights, the assault on pensioners' rights, the assault on the rights of senior citizens of British Columbia represented by section 48 of this bill.
[ Page 13274 ]Section 48 is the poisonous pill at the heart of Bill 58. It is, all by itself, a reason to vote against this government's attempt to amend pension standards legislation. It is the sneaking knife that twists in the back of anyone who ever thinks that this government has workers' rights at stake. This bill is all about protecting and honouring the favours that this government owes to the senior folks in the construction trades unions. That is what this bill is about, and it deserves to be opposed on behalf of all workers, all pensioners, all British Columbians. That's why I will vote against Bill 58.
B. Penner: Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this debate on the principles behind Bill 58. I was troubled by the opening remarks of the Minister of Labour when he introduced second reading debate last Thursday, because I found that his remarks about the description of the importance of some of the provisions of this bill appeared to be deceptively obscure. Similarly, the press release issued by the Minister of Labour on June 2 -- which was incorrect in stating that debate had started on that day, when in fact it had not -- did not mention until the very last paragraph on the second page the true importance of this bill. That has to do with allowing trade unions to suspend the early retirement benefits of people who are collecting from so-called multi-employer pension plans. That is a subject which will be of grave concern to workers and retired workers throughout British Columbia as they become aware of what's in this dangerous piece of legislation.
We were privy, however, to one moment of candour, however fleeting, from the Minister of Labour. During a response from the opposition critic for Labour, the Minister of Labour shouted out -- and we all heard it -- that the reason that people who are retired want to work to supplement their pension income is because they are "greedy." He repeated that several times, saying that the reason people want to work to make a bit of extra money -- whether it's to look after their families, to save up for a vacation or to put their students through school -- is because they're greedy. Well, I don't believe that there's anything wrong with somebody wanting to work. I also don't believe that there's anything wrong with somebody wanting to work harder and trying to get ahead.
I do have to thank the Minister of Labour for one thing. In his remarks last Thursday -- in that brief, fleeting moment of candour -- he reminded me of why I got involved in public life: it was this government's negative view towards people who were successful that told me that we need a change in the province of British Columbia.
If we think back to what the current Premier and then Minister of Finance did in terms of raising people's property taxes -- effectively trying to tax them out of their homes in Vancouver -- that showed what this government's view was towards people who had worked hard all their lives to save up for retirement. We saw that five or six years ago.
We had a person hired by this government -- Maureen Maloney -- who wrote a policy paper advocating that people should pay a tax on their wealth. What does that mean? Well, it would've meant -- and this is what she advocated -- that tax collectors would be given authority, without warrant, to enter people's homes and search them to see if they had properly disclosed, on their annual financial disclosure form, the value of their personal assets -- things like a stereo system, cars, perhaps even the clothing in their closet and the shoes tucked under their bed. That told me, five or six years ago, what the true outlook of this government was in terms of British Columbians who want to work to get ahead. Rather than encourage people who are successful and celebrate their success and help others reach that same level of success, this government saw fit to punish people and adopt policies to restrict the ability of people to succeed.
That's completely wrongheaded, and I therefore am not surprised that British Columbia is the only province in Canada that's in a recession. We have the worst economic conditions of any province in Canada. That's probably why today the B.C. Business Summit issued a report card that is a damning indictment of this government's economic failures. They got Fs across the board on their report card. Pardon me; they got a couple of Ds and one C minus. The rest were Fs: an F in fiscal policy, because of their billion-dollar deficits; an F in labour and employment policy, because unemployment keeps going up; an F in land use issues; and an F in education, training and human resources.
The minister's comment last week that people who work are greedy shows that this government just doesn't get it. We need more people working in British Columbia, not fewer. We need more people succeeding in British Columbia, not fewer. We should encourage success, reward success and celebrate success, rather than not only turning our back on it but doing everything we can to actively undermine it, restrict it, punish it, tax it and drive it out of the province.
Bill 58 is clearly an open-faced attack on pensioners in British Columbia. In section
Certainly there hasn't been much happening in terms of this government's legislative agenda in the last few months. He'd be right, if that's what he was saying, because there was very little of significance happening in the last couple of weeks in this Legislature. The government promised an economic strategy to bring us out of our recession; we haven't seen it. They said we had to cut off Nisga'a debate, using unheard of parliamentary procedures to prevent opposition members not only from speaking on the bill and asking questions on behalf of their constituents but from actually voting on individual sections of the bill. They brought in that kind of draconian, anti-democratic measure because, they said, they had important government business to get on with.
What have we seen since then? The Range Amendment Act, and an act to allow medals to be awarded to firemen -- truly a worthy cause but hardly something that seems pressing and substantial enough to justify terminating the democratic business of this Legislature as it related to the groundbreaking Nisga'a treaty.
In his remarks the Minister of Labour made no mention of the power being given in this bill to unions to suspend pension benefits. One wonders: how will those seeking to terminate those benefits know that someone is working? Will
[ Page 13275 ]they have to hire snoops -- private detectives -- to follow pensioners around in their day-to-day lives and activities to see if they are working part-time or helping their neighbour build a fireplace in their house or doing a little bit of landscaping work? What measures will this government and the Minister of Labour take to see if people are working -- those greedy people, to use the term applied by the Minister of Labour?
I've got a suggestion for the Minister of Labour. We found out a couple of weeks ago that ICBC and the integrated traffic camera unit had gone ahead and bought ten more photo radar vans, which the Attorney General says he didn't want and didn't know about. We had the government commit to acquiring ten more photo radar vans when the government says they didn't want them -- which, of course, begs the question: who's in charge of the government? Now that we as taxpayers are stuck with them, it's costing us $50,000 a year to pay the leases for those ten vans that we apparently don't want, according to the government, perhaps the Minister of Labour is thinking about putting those photo radar units to work, photographing workers or retired pensioners to see if they're out working and trying to get ahead. Perhaps that's one way they will snoop, to see if pensioners are working to supplement their incomes.
It's really true that with this government, Big Brother is watching you. Last week I was reminded of that when I went back to Chilliwack to speak to the Big Brothers annual recognition dinner. I have to tell you, though, that the intentions of that group are much more benign and benevolent than those of the government across the way, which is a malevolent Big Brother that's watching you. If they catch you, they're going to revoke the pension benefits that people have worked for, contributed to and earned.
Pension benefits are not a privilege; they're not a wage that can be clawed back. They are a benefit that has been earned by the employee as part of their employment. They're as much part
This is the thin edge of the wedge. They're saying: "Well, don't worry about it. It only applies to a certain class of pensioners this time, and we promise not to go and attack other pensioners. It's just this one group of pensioners who happen to collect so-called multi-employer pensions -- people who've worked for different employers over the course of their work history." Well, that's cold comfort, because there's a principle at stake here. Is a person's pension his or her own to do with as they see fit, or does it belong to the government or the big union bosses in British Columbia? I know what I think. Those pensions have been earned by the pensioner through the course of their employment, and they should not be taken away, even if they do choose to work a little bit to get ahead or to help their kids get through college or university.
We heard today that unemployment for B.C.'s young people is up. There are 6,000 fewer jobs for B.C. students this year than there were a year ago. If you read the statistics from the labour force survey released last Friday, only one-third of B.C. students have landed a summer job this year. That means two-thirds of students don't have a job. Now, this government might not care. Maybe they're not interested, or perhaps they don't understand what it means to have to get a job to pay for your tuition.
I still remember having to work in the summer to pay for school. I was fortunate. I was able to get a couple of different jobs. Sometimes I had to work three or four part-time jobs over the course of a summer to save up enough money so that I could go to school. But this year in British Columbia we see that students are having a tougher time than ever, and it's a direct result of this government's attack on people who are trying to succeed -- through their high taxes, excessive regulation and increasing debt that's driving businesses out of the province. When businesses leave the province, so do the jobs.
Frankly, a number of young people are having to leave the province too. We know that the member for Abbotsford raised the issue some weeks ago of a young person in his riding who had to go to Edmonton. He sent out at least dozens, if not hundreds, of résumés here in British Columbia. He wanted to stay here where his family is and where he went to school. B.C. taxpayers paid him to get an education at BCIT, but there were no jobs for him in British Columbia, so he had to go to Edmonton. What a shame.
I have friends that I've known since high school and before who have had to leave British Columbia to go to Alberta to find employment. It's not fiction. The government seems to think that these people don't exist. Well, I challenge you to pick up the phone and talk to them. I received an e-mail today from a gentleman in Edmonton who happened to come across my Internet web site and who said: "Good luck fighting the NDP." But he says, quite frankly, that it's too late for him. He's already left. He's in Alberta, and he says: "Maybe you can make things better in a few years, and I'll consider coming back to B.C." In the meantime this person has pulled up stakes and left. I've never met this person before, but I will phone him today, after receiving his e-mail, to talk to him. I think it's a shame that people in British Columbia feel forced to leave the province of their birth in order to look after their families, but that's what's happening.
This government pretends to be a government that cares about workers, and yet here in Bill 58 we see provisions that are clearly anti-worker in their result.
B. Penner: I hear the Minister of Highways becoming somewhat interested in this debate. I think that's a good thing, because the more he learns about the dangerous provisions in Bill 58, the better the chances are that he'll oppose it, if he's doing what's right for his constituents.
Is the minister aware, with respect to the clarification of minimum vesting requirements, that Bill 58, if passed, disentitles many past, current and future employees of Highway Constructors Ltd. from the pension benefits that may otherwise have vested to their credit under several construction industry pension plans? That's what experts in the pension field are telling us. Now, pensions are a very complicated issue, so I don't assume that the Minister of Highways would know anything about that. That's okay, but he should take the
[ Page 13276 ]time to consult with the experts in the field before running off at the mouth about the impact of this bill on people who are working to improve
The Speaker: Careful, members.
Some comments have already been made about the process: that there was no exposure draft of this bill given to the insurance industry and the pension industry in Canada. That's wrong. That goes against the established practice across Canada with respect to pension bills. That's because pensions, as I've already stated, are incredibly complex. They take time to consider. The pension industry should be given time to consider Bill 58 and give the government constructive feedback.
Rather, this government prefers to drown out and ignore any constructive criticism. They just carry on. Is it any wonder that they're at 18 percent in the polls today, given their proclivity to ignore the public's views? Unbelievable. Is it any wonder that they got a failing report card today from the B.C. Business Summit? Is it any wonder that businesses are leaving British Columbia? Is it any wonder that 16,000 British Columbians voted with their feet last year and moved to Alberta -- 16,000 in one year -- trying to find a better life and a better opportunity, trying to find a job? Is that too much to ask for?
It shouldn't be. Under a B.C. Liberal government, we're going to start bringing those people back. Those moving vans are going to start coming the other way. We're going to be loading people up in Calgary, loading people up in Edmonton, loading people up in Saskatoon, loading people up in Toronto and London, Ontario, and bringing them back home, where they belong. We're going to bring those British Columbians back. We're going to do that with the best economy in Canada, rather than the worst, which the NDP's brought us. The record speaks for itself, and it's a dismal, damning failure -- the worst economy in Canada. Shame!
There are some more specific elements of this bill that I think are worthy of consideration. Since I always like to be as specific as possible, let me refer to section 5 of Bill 58, the Pension Benefits Standards Amendment Act. This section, if approved by the Legislature, would limit access to agreements relating to the investment of pension funds. How can that possibly benefit workers -- preventing them from having access to the agreements that their pension funds are signing on their behalf? It's anti-worker. Why shouldn't a worker be able to go and get a copy of the agreement affecting his or her pension fund?
There's no answer from the government on that, because there is none. It's anti-worker. Read your own bill -- Bill 58, section 5. There aren't too many pages in it; I think they can turn that many pages, hon. Speaker. Take a look at. It removes the right of access to investment agreements for workers. I hope somebody from the government side can explain to us how that can possibly be of any benefit to anyone, including workers. I think that more accountability -- more openness -- is actually a good thing, even for those who are in charge of the pension funds. More accountability is good. The pressure of public scrutiny is a good thing. This government, however, does not like public scrutiny, and perhaps that's why they're shielding the pension fund managers from that type of scrutiny.
There's another provision that caught my attention and that gives me some concern. That's section 37 of the bill. Let me read section 37(2): "Subsection (1) does not entitle a person affected by the partial termination of the plan to share in any surplus assets on the partial termination, but the plan may provide for such an entitlement."
Well, that sounds like a lot of legal gobbledegook, and it is. The bottom line is that it results in more uncertainty and will result in more litigation. Rather than requiring people to go to the courts to sort out whether or not they are entitled to some of their contributions or the surplus assets in a pension fund, the government should allow for an arbitration process so we're not clogging up the court system with these types of matters.
If the government had really thought about this bill -- had taken the time to consult with the industry -- it would have heard constructive suggestions like that. It's not too late. Here we are in second reading; we're about to go into committee stage, and I hope the government doesn't just tune us out when we provide constructive suggestions about how to make this bill better.
This bill is not perfect. We have known over the past couple of weeks that this government has not been perfect in its drafting of legislation, because one day we get a bill about the Budget Measures Implementation Act, and a couple of days later we get an amendment to that very bill -- a tacit acknowledgment by the government that they failed to properly draft the previous bill. We know that they make mistakes, and we hope that they will listen to constructive suggestions being put forward.
Hon. H. Lali: There's nothing constructive coming from you.
B. Penner: The hon. Highways minister seems to have a hard time hearing, because I've just made some constructive suggestions. Perhaps I'll have to send him a Hansard transcript.
Why not allow workers to get access to pension investment agreements and see what the pension fund managers are doing with their money? The Minister of Highways seems to think that pensioners and workers don't have the right. That's shameful. I think workers do have a right to know what's happening to their pension funds. Why doesn't the hon. Highways minister go and speak to his caucus colleagues and see if they can somehow amend this so that all workers can have access to the pension investment agreements and find out what's happening with their pension funds?
I want to say a little bit more about section 37, because it creates uncertainty and will force recourse to the courts for people to clear up their entitlement to possible surpluses in pension funds. Not only does that happen because of section 37, but I've been told by experts in the pension field that as a result of section 37, certain pension members may be inap-
[ Page 13277 ]propriately disentitled to a share in surplus assets. So we see the NDP bringing in a bill that may deprive pensioners of access to pension surpluses that they would otherwise be entitled to. By no stretch of any imagination can this be called a worker-friendly bill.
There is another example I wish to refer to, and that's section 43. Section 43 requires workers to personally notify the employer if they want to take some of their money out of the pension fund. Again, I don't claim to be an expert in the field of pensions, but I've been told that in many cases employers frown on employees taking their money out of the pension fund. They're afraid that that's going to destabilize the fund, and employers don't look too kindly on that.
Yet what is the government doing in this bill? They're requiring workers to go to the employer and personally notify them about their intention to withdraw their contributions. I submit that that will subject those workers to possible retribution from unfriendly employers. This is an NDP government doing that -- making workers vulnerable to possible retribution. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, because what this government says and what they do are almost always two different things. But one would wish that once in a while they would actually stand up for the principles that they claim to support.
I want to dwell in a bit more depth on the problem here in section 43, because it provides new criteria under which employers might access pension surpluses. Pension surplus withdrawals have been perhaps the thorniest and most contentious issue for the pension industry during the past 15 years or so. Intense pressure can be and has been brought to bear upon plan members to approve a surplus withdrawal proposal. If an employee withholds consent they may fear reprisal by the employer.
This section requires employees to notify the employer of their consent or lack thereof. It would be far more preferable, from a labour relations standpoint, for employees to notify an independent third party -- perhaps the superintendent of pensions -- on a basis that is blind to the employer so that the employee doesn't have to make the application directly to the employer but, rather, through an independent third party. Again, I think this is an example where an exposure draft of this bill, Bill 58, would have been useful to the government. It would have helped the government.
Sometimes you think that this NDP government is intent on shooting itself in the foot. It's almost like they go out of their way to create more problems for themselves. Why not slow down the process and send this bill to the appropriate experts in the field, as is done everywhere else in Canada? Every other province in Canada sends pension amendment statutes to the pension industry for comment. Bring back those comments and fix up the bill -- because what you've just done in section 43 is make workers more vulnerable.
An Hon. Member: How?
B. Penner: You've done it, and I've just described it. I guess I'll have to repeat it. Listen carefully; listen very carefully. I know that some of these words are a little big for you, but I'll try my best.
Pension surplus withdrawals have been the thorniest and most contentious issue for the pension industry during the past 15 years or so. Listen up: intense pressure can be and has been brought to bear upon plan members to approve a surplus withdrawal proposal. If an employee -- that's a worker -- withholds consent, they may fear reprisal by the employer -- that's the boss. You guys pretend to be on the side of the workers, but in section 43 you're just making them more vulnerable to reprisal from their employer.
The Speaker: Through the Chair, hon. member.
B. Penner: Hon. Speaker, I'd encourage members of the government to actually read their own legislation. Take a look at section 43. You've got it under your desk right here. All the members have the bill available to them, but I doubt if they're reading it. Make the effort. Blow some dust off of your bill binder and pull out Bill 58. After all, that's what we're here debating. Take a look at section 43, and you'll see that what I'm saying is correct. I challenge you to do that, if you dare -- through you, hon. Speaker.
Then, of course, we get to the issue
An Hon. Member: It doesn't do that at all.
B. Penner: Take a look at section 48, and you'll see that it's in there. For the record, I'll read section 48 because I think that's an appropriate thing to do -- to get that on the record.
Section 48 adds a provision to empower the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council -- that's the NDP cabinet -- to make regulations allowing a pension plan to suspend benefits received by a pensioner who took an early retirement pension and is subsequently re-employed in the same trade or industry with an employer, doing the same line of work.
I'd like to refer to the debate from last Thursday, because we had an NDP member, the member for Burnaby-Edmonds -- who claims to be well versed in matters relating to union pension plans -- talk about this. Let's take a look at what he says the intention of the bill is. He says that they're "correcting an abuse that's taking place with pensions by early retirement." They're going to get rid of a "subsidy" so that people can't go back to work. And I quote: "A lot of people retire and then start up a little business of their own. I know lots of them are doing it. I know lots of people that are retired, and they're doing all kinds of things. Hon. Speaker, you can do all kinds of things. All you can't do here is go back to work doing the same work that you earned your pension at -- the same trade, the same craft, or whatever you want to call it." So if you have a bricklayer who earned a pension as a bricklayer and gets hired by his neighbour to build a fireplace, that's in the same line of work. Why should that pensioner have his benefits terminated by this NDP government, when the NDP government doesn't live by those same standards?
The Speaker: Members, come to order. The member for Chilliwack has the floor, and as you can see, his time is running out in any event.
[ Page 13278 ]Interjections.
The Speaker: Members, come to order so that we can hear the member who was recognized and has the floor.
B. Penner: That's what the NDP's own backbencher from Burnaby-Edmonds had to say about the bill. He said that it'll prevent you from going back to work in the same trade that you did before.
I have to think that that raises a double standard, because we have a Minister of Small Business and Tourism who is collecting an MP's pension after 14 years of service in the House of Commons -- and that's his right; he's earned the pension -- yet he's back here in the same line of work -- which is representing the public; he's an elected official -- and he's collecting a salary. By the NDP's own logic, those benefits should be terminated. It's the same line of work, yet under the NDP's bill, Bill 58, they will terminate the pension benefits of people who are in a trade and are going back to work in that same area of work. That is a double standard.
[W. Hartley in the chair.]
I encourage you to read section 48. You've got Bill 58 under your desks, hon. members. Take a look at Bill 58, section 48, or any of the other sections that I mentioned, like section 5, section 37, section 43, and see how they are not only antidemocratic, they're anti-worker. You'll find out why the B.C. Liberals are standing against this bill: because we're on the side of workers; we're on the side of creating a better economy; we're on the side of pensioners who want to provide for their retirement and look after their families at the same time. In no way can I support this bill.
J. Cashore: It certainly has been interesting for me, over many years, to observe what happens from the inside when you're involved in politics with the two solitudes -- opposition and government -- and the statements that we hear each other make from time to time. There's no question, as we stand up and present the issues that we believe in and want to carry forward, that we present them in what we believe puts them in a good light. And very often the opposition, in analyzing it, tries to do the opposite. But listening to the member who just spoke and listening to the members of the opposition who have spoken on this bill, this is spin-doctoring taken to an extreme, the likes of which I don't think I've seen in 13 and a half years.
It's fascinating to think that the member for Kamloops-North Thompson has said that this bill strips pensioners of their right to earn money after retirement or to set up their own business. That is absolutely wrong. That statement is incorrect; it is not true. That statement totally misrepresents what is in this bill. Yet they believe, if they say it over and over and over again, that the truth of the matter doesn't really matter and that what does matter is what they can convince people out there it says, when it doesn't say that at all. That's what they think.
The fact is that this will not affect those who go to work in other industries or occupations. This will not affect those who are managers or who start their own business. This will not become effective until a minimum-earning threshold is met. They have said, through the member for Kamloops-North Thompson, that 1,000 pension plans will be affected. This is not true, hon. Speaker. That is not a true statement. As a matter of fact, of the 1,000 plans registered in British Columbia, only 33 of those plans are multi-employer plans.
The member for Chilliwack should be ashamed of himself for standing up in this House and supporting the fact that that statement has been made, when he keeps saying: "Read it." Read it, hon. member. It does not say that; that is not true. The hon. member for Chilliwack, who at one point in his career wanted to be my ministerial assistant when I became the Minister of Environment, is saying, "Read the bill," yet he stands there, and he's quite happy to have the misinterpretation of what's in that bill go forward. Why is he doing that? He is doing it because he wants the public to believe the misinterpretation that he's placing on that bill. That's why he's doing it. For that hon. member for Chilliwack that is going over the line. It's going over the line with regard to his role in the official opposition to appropriately present a critique. Give a critique, hon. member, but do not misrepresent what it says in here. I repeat: of the 1,000 plans registered in B.C. -- there are 1,000 plans registered in B.C. -- it is wrong to say, in your official documents and your press releases, that it affects 1,000 plans. That is not correct, and it is not right to say that. You should not say that, hon. member. I'm glad, knowing this now, that you never did become my ministerial assistant.
One of the things that I think was extremely unfortunate about the comments of the member for Kamloops-North Thompson was that he referred to the superintendent of pensions. He misrepresented the role of the superintendent of pensions in going to court. He said that the superintendent went to court to argue against this clause. That is not true. It is not true. The superintendent is charged with upholding the law as it is written. The superintendent told the court that this is common practice. So again, there was a misrepresentation in what they said.
Why does the opposition want to wrap themselves in a process that makes it more difficult for new workers to enter the workplace? Why do they want to do that? They're trying to say that they're standing up for workers. That's balderdash. Why cast the bill in a false representation? Why say that it says what it does not say, and why say that it does what it does not do? Why do that? That's not your role as the official opposition. Your role is to provide an effective critique, but not to misrepresent what is in the bill. Why attempt to create fear, loathing and panic where that is totally inappropriate? Why preach that the sky is falling?
What most annoys me, of anything in the comments of the member for Kamloops-North Thompson, is that he stood in this House last Thursday afternoon and misrepresented me and imputed motives to the fact that I left cabinet. In doing so, I think he does something that belittles what goes on in this House. If he wants to know my reasons for leaving cabinet, I'm available to talk to him. He could call me on the phone. We could sit down and have a chat. But to seek to impute motives to me and then wrap that into his rhetoric, I think, is really unfortunate and unnecessary. It's not true and it's not appreciated.
G. Abbott: It's a pleasure to rise and join in the debate in this House on Bill 58, the Pension Benefits Standards Amendment Act, 1999. I know there's been a good deal of heat in the debate around Bill 58. I hope I can add a little bit of light, as well, to what has been discussed here.
[ Page 13279 ]This is a substantial bill. It includes some 75 sections over 22 pages. It may well be -- and I'm no expert on pensions -- that some of the provisions in this bill are actually benign, beneficial. But as we have found, regrettably, in too much other NDP legislation, there is contained in these 22 pages, in these 75 sections, a classic NDP poison pill.
G. Abbott: I'll direct the member for Skeena directly to the section of concern, and that's section 48. We've had a little back-and-forth in the House here about what this bill does or does not do. But it's clear enough what section 48 does. I'll quote first of all from the legal text. Then I'll quote from the interpretation, which is provided on the opposite page, to explain it.
This is subsection 48(c) on subsection 74(2)(g)(ii): "
An Hon. Member: Cabinet has nothing to do with it.
G. Abbott: The hon. member says it has nothing to do with cabinet. Well, I'll direct the member to page 16, which is the explanatory note. If the member goes to section 48(c), the explanatory note says: "
Now, hopefully, that clarifies the point the member opposite raised about what it's got to do with cabinet. It's got everything to do with cabinet. It says right in the explanatory note that this would "empower the Lieutenant Governor in Council to make regulations that allow a pension plan to suspend benefits
An Hon. Member: A pension plan to suspend benefits, not cabinet.
G. Abbott: Correct. It empowers the cabinet "to make regulations that allow a pension plan to suspend benefits" to a beneficiary; so that's clear enough. We've resolved one thing: in fact, this bill, if passed, will confer a very considerable power on the cabinet in relation to pension benefits in this province. I think that's an important starting point here.
When we think about what's going on here -- a bill that empowers cabinet to allow the suspension of pension benefits to someone who has taken early retirement and then has the audacity to go back and want to work with a different employer, perhaps, but in the same area of work -- what would be the principle there? What would be the principle that underpins or underlies section 48? This is a substantial change in the way in which pension benefits are being conducted in this province.
Evidently, the principle is that it is a bad and greedy thing to take an early retirement pension and then start working again; that seems to me to be the principle here.
G. Abbott: I think the member for Skeena is agreeing with me. I think he is finally agreeing with me. I knew I would get through to him, as I always do in my remarks, but I didn't expect it this early, frankly. I'm delighted that the member for Skeena is coming around so quickly to an understanding of this debate.
An Hon. Member: He's actually applauding you right now.
G. Abbott: I thought I heard applause coming from over there.
In fact, when the Minister of Labour was discussing this bill, I understand that he used the term "greedy" in relation to undertaking this activity.
G. Abbott: No, apparently he did. Apparently it's in Hansard, so I guess we can all go back and look at that. I find that I don't have enough empty time in my day to actually go back and do that, but I gather that it was the comment: that it was a greedy thing to go back and work after taking an early retirement pension. Now we know -- at least, according to NDP logic -- that this is a bad thing, because this bill provides the cabinet with the power to suspend pension benefits where this supposed transgression occurs.
How and why would this become a bad thing? We know that it's a fine and indeed legal thing to take early retirement. Hopefully, we don't have any dispute in the House on that point. If people want to work hard, earn a pension and then take that pension early -- for whatever reason they feel is appropriate -- hopefully, we can all agree that there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's a very fine and good thing to do, presumably.
G. Abbott: The member for Skeena agrees again.
H. Giesbrecht: What is retirement?
G. Abbott: What is retirement? It's a very good question and one, I'm sure, which you'll amuse the House and inform the House
An Hon. Member: Lead by example.
G. Abbott: Yes, lead by example.
Deputy Speaker: Through the Chair, members.
G. Abbott: So we know that it's a fine and legal thing to take early retirement.
This is a critical point, and I know the member for Skeena will want to hear this one. An early retirement pension is not a
[ Page 13280 ]gift. It's not a gift that the government or a union or a society provides to the beneficiary. An early retirement is something that people work for and that they pay for. I heard in the earlier discussion the suggestion by the last speaker -- I believe it was the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville -- who said: "Well, it's not a thousand pension plans that are going to be affected here. It's only going to be 33." Frankly, if it were only one, it would be one pension plan too many; 33 is 33 too many, as far as I'm concerned, because the principle here is flawed.
We also know, in addition to knowing that early retirement is a fine and legal thing, that working is a fine and legal thing. We know that under the leadership of the current NDP administration, being able to work is becoming a more and more difficult thing to do in this province. That's for sure. It's increasingly challenging to find work in this province under the leadership of the NDP. However, work is a fine and legal thing. Yet somehow the combination of work and early retirement justifies, under Bill 58, empowering the cabinet with the authority to suspend the pension rights of anyone who has the audacity to want to supplement their retirement benefits with employment.
Hon. D. Lovick: Wrong.
G. Abbott: That's exactly what it says. The Minister of Labour disagrees. But again, we talked about this at the outset. How else can we read section 48? It adds a provision to empower the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council -- i.e., cabinet -- to make regulations that allow a pension plan to suspend benefits received by a pensioner.
G. Abbott: That's not correct. That's exactly what it means. If that doesn't mean that they have the power, then you're obviously reading less into it than what is there.
Obviously, to provide government with the power to step in and suspend earned pension rights -- which, in my estimation, is a vital element of personal property rights
Could such a power be justified? Well, obviously this NDP government says yes. "Yeah, it's justified," they say. They claim -- and I think I've heard this not directly but indirectly from a number of members opposite -- that somehow this incursion into the realm of earned pension rights is justified. I certainly can't agree, and I know that none of my colleagues on this side of the House can agree. Clearly section 48 of Bill 58 is arbitrary social engineering of the worse kind. That's clearly what this is.
Hon. D. Lovick: Social engineering?
G. Abbott: The whining and complaining of the Minster of Labour doesn't make it any better. Clearly this is a very arbitrary, very onerous provision, which I'm surprised that any government would ever consider, never mind a government that likes to proclaim on a regular basis its concern with worker rights. This clearly is moving in the opposite direction. This provision, this section 48, is government deciding when someone should work, and it's government deciding where someone should work. I don't think it's an appropriate role of government to make that decision.
Hon. D. Lovick: It's enabling legislation, George -- enabling.
G. Abbott: Exactly. The minister says that this is enabling legislation. That's exactly why we should be concerned, because it opens the door, I think, for some horrendous actions by government in the future. I think it's dead wrong, what's being done here.
This legislation, and particularly section 48, also leaves open the possibility of the worst sort of Big Brother mentality, entirely in conflict with the principles of a free and democratic society. What is Bill 58, and especially section 48, going to mean to Joe Citizen? Well, I guess that if you're Joe Citizen and you are enrolled in one of the 33 pension plans which the government identified earlier
Now, would it be bad? Would it be hostile to the interests of society for Joe to accept that work? Here, I guess, we're going to have a difference of opinion across the floor, because the government clearly says: "Yeah, it's bad." They must say that. They've got to mean that, because that's what section 48 is all about: that it would be bad for Joe, after accepting that early retirement, to go back and take on part-time or full-time employment in a related area.
An Hon. Member: And work for half the wage because he's getting a pension.
G. Abbott: The member says: "Yeah, it would be bad, because he's going to be taking half the wage." I guess that would be a matter of personal choice for Joe. Now should he
G. Abbott: Obviously, where we're going here is the suggestion by the other side that everybody should make the same money set by the government. Again, the members opposite are never happy when people exercise personal choice. The folks across the floor here are only happy when something is centralized and bureaucratized, tightly controlled and tightly regulated. People exercising free choice is not something that fits well into their view of the world.
Would it be bad if Joe accepts that work? The NDP says yes. If Bill 58 passes -- and presumably it will; presumably the government is going to be exercising its legislative majority here again to pass this unfortunate provision -- and if Joe takes on the work and is apprehended by the pension police, he's going to see his pension benefits suspended for what might be termed his anti-proletarian activities in taking on this additional work.
[ Page 13281 ]Hon. D. Lovick: His anti-pension-fund activities.
G. Abbott: His anti-pension-fund activities
Hon. D. Lovick: No, no. By going to work while receiving the pension.
G. Abbott: Yes, exactly.
Hon. D. Lovick: Read it.
G. Abbott: I've read it. We know exactly what it says, and no amount of
Deputy Speaker: Members, members -- through the Chair, please.
G. Abbott: All of this material in section 48 is the worst sort of socialistic intervention in the social and economic life of this province.
Some would say: "We should be used to it. We've been seeing this kind of thing from this NDP government for the past eight years; we ought to be used to it." But that doesn't make it right. Whether you've endured an injustice for a year or a hundred years, it doesn't make it right. No amount of experience with bad legislation from this government is going to make this particular provision any more palatable. What's contained here is simply not right; in fact, it's entirely wrong in motivation and direction.
There is -- and I did hear this stated explicitly by one of the members opposite among the last couple of speakers -- a premise which underlines the thinking behind section 48, which, I guess, underlies much of the NDP's socialist thought around employment and the economy, and that is the premise here. The generally unstated -- but occasionally stated -- premise which underlies section 48 and which underlies much of what the NDP does is that there is a fixed and finite economic pie. That is the founding premise here.
Further, I think the belief here is that when someone works, they diminish that pie rather than add to it, so if someone's working, they're taking away something from the economic pie rather than adding to it. It's similar in many respects to the thinking of the Luddites back in England centuries ago and the notion that if we could smash the machines, we could preserve jobs -- that machines were something that rather than create employment, destroy employment. I think the NDP are neo-Luddites, are modern-day Luddites
An Hon. Member: Neo-socialist Luddites.
And they're wrong. This bill is wrong, and it's part of the thinking that has taken this province from being number one in new economic development to number ten. This bill, Bill 58, is an assault on workers' rights, it's an assault on pension rights, and it's an assault on democratic rights. It's all of those things. This bill richly deserves to be defeated. We certainly are going to do our best to see this bill defeated -- in particular this section 48 -- because it is wrong for all of the reasons that have been outlined. Just like the government that fostered section 48 and brought it forward for our consideration in Bill 58, it deserves defeat, and so does the NDP government that sponsored it.
R. Neufeld: I rise to speak, as my colleagues have, in opposition to Bill 58 for many of the same reasons that have been brought forward by preceding speakers. I want to commend the member for Richmond-Steveston for his thoughtful remarks about section 1, which clearly lay out, I think in very plain language, where the B.C. Liberal Party stands. So I want to thank him for doing that.
Bill 58 is an attack on pensioners; it's an attack on workers. It's an attack on people who have contributed to a pension plan, for however long in their life, and who wish to take a benefit from that pension plan and who possibly are thinking about having to go back into the workforce to supplement their income -- or for many other reasons. Lord knows, when people retire in this province, the way the NDP have increased costs of living here
But it seems as though the NDP takes exception to those issues and to people who want to do those kinds of things. I know there are constituents who reside in the constituency of Peace River North, which I represent, who actually are on pension but do not have enough money to live comfortably or even to be able to put groceries on the table. They find themselves out working again. Heaven knows, the cost of living has increased a huge amount over the last number of years -- and specifically in the last decade -- by leaps and bounds.
There is absolutely no place that this government, in the last eight years that they have been in power, hasn't snuck into and somehow opened a door to be able to bring forward some piece of legislation, some piece of regulation allowing agencies and government to increase fees. Heaven knows, there isn't a fee in this province that hasn't been increased I don't know how many times. And there are a host of new ones -- some that one would never in their wildest dreams ever dream that a government would decide to sneak in and
[ Page 13282 ]to take some more hard-earned money from those people out in the workforce and those that are trying to live on their pensions.
As I said, Bill 58 is a complete attack on workers and pensioners. It makes one wonder, when you think back to not so long ago -- but a long time ago in some people's minds -- to the last election, when we had the NDP government running on the slogan: "We're on your side." I remember seeing that constantly on the TV or in documents that were distributed around the province. The NDP were saying: "We're on your side."
R. Neufeld: I guess people didn't realize -- as my colleague says -- that they really meant that they wanted to be in both of your pockets instead of just the one, as they were prior to 1996, and that they wanted to get into every part of your life. Every place they thought they could weasel in and weasel some money out, they've done it. They've accomplished it. And now, of all things, of all the weasel-minded things to do, we have them attacking people that take a pension.
Can you believe it, hon. Speaker? All they want to do is take a pension and then supplement it so they can buy a bit of milk and some bread at the end of the day. And what do we have? We have a socialist government that wants to come in and to now be able to say: "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. We were on your side. No longer are we on your side. You've paid into that pension for the better part of your life, but you're not going to get one lousy part of it." I just wonder how the Minister of Labour would feel if government all of a sudden decided to jerk his pension. Can you imagine? I would imagine that the Minister of Labour is registered in a number of pensions -- one in this Legislative Assembly, and one in the teachers pension fund, I would assume.
R. Neufeld: College instructors -- right.
If government were to come in and say, "We're going to just pluck that one out of there," I could just imagine the furore that would arise from that minister. Well, how about the poor pensioners out there that want to supplement their income? All of a sudden, it's fine for Big Brother to come in and say: "I'm sorry. You're working in the same line of work that you worked in before. We don't think it's fair that you should have your 20 bucks a month" -- or whatever it happens to be -- "so we're going to take that away from you. You can't have it." This is a government that says: "We're on your side."
R. Neufeld: It just amazes me when I stand up or when anyone stands up in this House and dares to disagree with the socialists. They just get so exercised about it, because they always think they're right. It doesn't matter whether it was the Nisga'a agreement
I can tell you, hon. Speaker, that I don't understand some of the socialist leanings that come from the government side of the House, and I have no intention of ever trying to understand them. I'm not built that way. I believe in free enterprise. I believe in people being able to go out and do things, being able to go out and
Some sections of Bill 58 are fine. It's typical of the NDP to bring forward a bill which has some good sections -- some sections that are needed to update
R. Neufeld: You know, the Minister of Labour can wrap this up when I'm all done. I mean, he'll have the choice to stand up and wrap up the debate on this bill.
Deputy Speaker: Members, the member has the floor.
R. Neufeld: Hon. Speaker, it's just amazing. Like I say, when you disagree with a socialist, they go berserk on you. They just think: "No one understands. Only I understand, and only I know." That's not entirely true. In fact, if you go to pension industry experts, they refer to this legislative move as draconian and appalling. That's how they look at it. I mean, you can take the politics out of it and say, "Well, okay, the member for Peace River North doesn't understand," but neither do a whole bunch of people that work in the pension industry.
So it's interesting to note that again we have the Minister of Labour over there trying to convince me that this is a good piece of legislation. Well, I'm trying to tell him that maybe just a few sections should be changed. You would think they could be -- how shall I say it? -- accepting enough, accommodating enough, to say: "Well, you know, the B.C. Liberals have accepted the whole bill pretty well carte blanche. They've accepted almost every portion of it, but there's one lousy section that seems to get in the way. Maybe they've got a point. Maybe they have an issue, and maybe we should listen to that." But not a socialist -- it's all or nothing: "No one else knows; only I know."
The bill gives the NDP cabinet authority to suspend pension benefits of pensioners caught working in an occupation from which they are pensioned. That is the crux of why we're opposed to this bill. I don't think that anyone should have that authority, much less a socialist. That's just plain wrong.
This whole business about Bill 58, we understand, has not even been put forward to the government's own test of the business lens. They haven't even taken it
[ Page 13283 ]business lens. Well, by their own admittance, it hasn't passed the business lens. Should I be surprised? I guess I shouldn't be surprised, because how many times has this government sat across the way and told us they would do something and did exactly the opposite? So it shouldn't surprise anyone on this side of the House that they wouldn't apply their own rules that they said they would apply to all legislation prior to it coming to the House. This is a government that said that they were going to reduce the paper burden in British Columbia, yet we continue to see bill after bill come before this House that will actually increase the paperwork and the difficulty that business or pension people have to deal with.
There is another step that I am told is historically taken by any government before they make changes to pension plans, and that is that they take those anticipated changes out to the industry, they take it out to people that deal with these issues on a daily basis -- actuaries, all those kinds of people -- and they put it forward to them, something in the form of a White Paper, so people can actually see what they're doing. This was not done by this government. They didn't put out a White Paper. They didn't ask for input from anyone else other than themselves and a few they hold near and dear to themselves. They just wrote up the legislation and said: "This is the rule of law."
I understand that no other jurisdiction in Canada has this kind of authority to do the things that this government wants to do with this bill. You would think, if you were going to bring forward something in that broad a change to pensions, that you would first say: "We had better make sure we get this right. We had better put it out there to the industry, so we can get some good input. Possibly they might not agree with the White Paper we put out, and then at least we'll get the reasons from them about why they think it's not the right thing to do. Then we can actually come forward to this House with something that all parties could support."
Wouldn't that be a novel idea for this group? Wouldn't that be something new? Wouldn't it be a good try, to use other people that maybe think differently than you but have some good ideas? That doesn't mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that they would have to put it out to the official opposition. I'm not asking for that. I'm saying that you put it out in the form of a White Paper. You take this bill, this legislation, much like it is, and you put it out for comment.
Why would something like this have to be done so secretively? Why would it have to be done in -- I don't know; where was it done? -- some room in this building before it hits the light of day? Why wouldn't a dramatic change like this deserve someone else from somewhere, maybe not even from within British Columbia but from across Canada. I'm sure there are all kinds of people -- and there are -- that are very wise in the ways of what we should be doing with our pensions. Why not take it out there to those experts, those people who have spent their whole lives dealing with pensions, and find out whether this kind of section, section 48, is in fact acceptable to the general public -- to Joe and Josephine General Public? To the Minister of Health, would that be so wrong -- rather than to just sit here in the Legislature, have a table and have some of the NDP members, who have a strong union background, start telling us how pensions should be run? I don't think that gives them any more right than I have to say this is right.
I'm not an actuary; I'm not familiar with pensions. I want a pension someday. I'm no different than anyone else in this room. I'm human. I want to be able to provide for myself and my family at some point in time, and I want to do that with the understanding that I'm not going to have Big Brother all of a sudden someday say: "But sir, you can't have it. We're going to take it away from you." That is so wrong. It's no wonder that we have some seniors, pensioners, people who have taken early retirement, that are nervous -- and rightfully so.
R. Neufeld: The member across the way says that I'm making them nervous because I'm letting them know what the heck's in the bill. Isn't that neat? So if the people didn't know that this section, where the government has the authority to jerk their pension, was in the bill, they wouldn't be nervous. That's right, they wouldn't be -- because they wouldn't know until it took place. That is wrong. That is a socialist movement that's wrong, that shouldn't happen in this country of ours.
It's absolutely unbelievable that that member over there would say that I'm making people scared because I'm letting them know what's in a piece of their legislation. It's absolutely disgusting that a government would bring forward a bill like this, with that kind of section, and then heckle me about the fact that I'm getting people scared because I'm letting them know what's really in the bill. If they didn't know what was in the bill, it wouldn't bother them.
That's why I'm here. That's why I'm part of the official opposition: to make sure that people know, that people understand that there's something wrong.
R. Neufeld: He says that I'm a Reformer, not a Liberal. You know what? I don't care. You get a pension whether you're a socialist, or I get a pension whether I'm a free-enterpriser. It doesn't matter. We're all humans. It's got nothing to do with it. What it has a lot to do with is that
As I said, the government has failed to follow any rule of thumb in trying to get exposure to this bill and this section. I think that is wrong, but it very much shows what this NDP government is all about and always has been all about, and that's to write things into page 16 of the nice little Pension Benefits Standards Amendment Act. We get tons of them through this House -- amendments upon amendments upon amendments to their own amendments. They want to slip something in there so no one knows it's there.
I'm going to move a motion that the motion for second reading of Bill 58, Pension Benefits Standards Amendment Act, 1999, be amended by deleting the word "now" and substituting therefor the words "six months hence."
[ Page 13284 ]Deputy Speaker: The member tables a motion.
On the amendment.
R. Neufeld: This motion will actually take the bill
When the NDP, who are now in power, were in opposition, they'd bring forward a private member's bill every year. Every year the now Minister of Labour
I think that what we have to do is take Bill 58 out to the province of British Columbia -- take it out there. Take it to Fort St. John. Take it to Prince Rupert. Let's take it to Prince Rupert and ask the people there: "Do you believe that your MLA, who is in cabinet -- the Deputy Premier -- should be able to have the right to say, 'No, I'm sorry; you can't have that pension, sir'?" I'll bet you that the people in Prince Rupert would run him out of town so fast it would make your head spin.
Or maybe we should take it to Nanaimo. Maybe we should go to one of those great, democratic open meetings that they have in Nanaimo, which Nanaimo has become so famous for -- the ones where you can bring people in and have some free speech and put forward what you really think about Bill 58. Then, instead of having the minister sitting on the floor directing traffic, maybe you could have the minister on the podium explaining: "This is why
G. Plant: With a big sign saying "Pensions Are Us."
R. Neufeld: Yeah, exactly. Pensions are us. The member says he could be there with a big sign saying "Pensions Are Us," and, "I have the authority to jerk your pension if we put this bill through, and here are the reasons why in a nutshell. Here are three reasons why I think we should be able to pull your pensions."
I don't know whether the Minister of Labour would live through that one. As I understand it, some of the democratic meetings in Nanaimo get a little bit rough. There might be a different group of people there that might not agree with the minister. And that's pretty general -- being able to take it around the province. But I think that what has to happen is that this bill should go out to actuaries, to people that actually work with pensions on a consistent basis all the time, and have their input -- put forward why they think this should be in or why they think it should not be in. I probably think very much like many of the people in the province -- that that's a right government shouldn't have. I don't think there is any need for it. There is no need for government to have that kind of power. It's just intruding into our lives more and more all the time.
I hope, with the motion I introduced, that this government will actually see its way clear to put forward a White Paper -- to actually go out to the province, go out to people and ask them: "Do you really agree with section 48 that's in Bill 58? Should we leave it there?"
I am hopeful that this government has finally seen its way clear to even listen a little bit to the people across the province. I don't think it's an important matter of life and death that this section has to go through; they can even take that one section all on its own, take it out to the people of British Columbia and ask them whether they think that's a good deal for them. It would be a simple procedure -- a quick procedure, I would say -- and it would actually provide some good feedback to government: "Yes, we should put it in," or "No, we shouldn't."
With that I will take my seat and listen to all the others who will, I am sure, say that we should move this bill across the province and around the industry to the people that deal with these kind of things, to get their input for a change. It would be a novel, brand-new idea for this government, something they've never done before. But you never know; they could try this. It's something new
R. Neufeld: Yeah. I'm always hopeful. I'm always thinking that, boy, some day they will see the light and yes, we will do that. So with those remarks, hon. Speaker, I thank you very much.
H. Giesbrecht: I guess I get to prove the previous speaker incorrect in terms of my support for his hoist motion. I didn't think he was probably referring to this side of the House when he said that, but probably to himself.
When I looked at the front page of the Vancouver Sun today there was a headline at the bottom of the page that said that a certain barnyard product is responsible for the fog on hot days in the Fraser Valley. I would submit that the member for Peace River North and the one who spoke previous to that, the member for Shuswap, have created a fog here all their own, using similar methods.
[ Page 13285 ]When I saw the press release put out by the opposition on Friday, I found it almost unbelievable in terms of its inaccuracies. For example, in the opposition press release, which I assume they had one of their communications staff write up
The first one, of course, is that this somehow strips pensioners of their right to earn money after retirement or to set up their own business. Nothing could be more wrong than that. It's totally incorrect. One hesitates to use the other word that describes the kind of information that's contained in that press release. The facts are that this will not affect those who go back to work in other industries, in other occupations -- they're quite free to do so -- and this will not affect those who start their own businesses. For example, if a retired carpenter, someone who took early retirement, decided to build himself or herself a house, that's perfectly legitimate, and that's not affected by this. If somebody decides to be a volunteer, that's not affected. And this will not become effective until there's a minimum earning threshold that's met. So it's wrong to say that somehow this strips pensioners of their right to earn money after retirement. And specifically, it's wrong to say they can't set up their own business.
The press release also said, quite clearly, that there were 1,000 pension plans that would be affected, and that's completely incorrect. This only applies to multi-employer plans, which are 33 of the 1,000, and then only applies if the board of trustees of the plan agree. So they have to agree to it, then. On just those two points, they're so grossly inaccurate in terms of their interpretation that you have to take everything they say with a grain of salt.
It says here in the press release that the NDP is revoking the benefits of British Columbians who have worked decades to earn them. Well, as I recall, most people that retire are employees who opt for either an early retirement plan, which then has some kind of subsidy to make up or to pay the difference between when they can officially retire
So all of a sudden, we have the Liberals over there saying: "No, that's not what pension plans are for. You ought to be able to double-dip somehow. If somebody retires on full pension, then they should be able to go back to work in the same job." I haven't run into anybody that thinks that's fair -- especially when there's a whole lot of people trying to come up in the workforce who are unable to do so because the jobs aren't there. These people are still working
An Hon. Member: Why aren't the jobs there?
H. Giesbrecht: Why aren't the jobs there? The jobs are there, but according to those folks over there, we have a whole lot of people doing double duty. They're getting a pension, plus working and sometimes working for less to undercut the workers that are still left.
They also said in this press release here
H. Giesbrecht: Hon. Speaker, the member for Richmond-Steveston, I think, should maybe heckle less and listen more, because he has two ears and only one mouth.
The superintendent of pensions went to court to argue against this. What nonsense! He didn't argue against it. The superintendent is charged with upholding the law as it is written, and he said this was common practice. The superintendent told the court that this is common practice. Furthermore, we also have the superintendent of pensions and the Pension Benefits Standards Advisory Council -- which includes both pension managers and members -- unanimously supporting the amendments as essential to the ongoing viability of a number of plans. Where does the opposition get this stuff from? Why would they deliberately peddle such misinformation to the general public? But it's all here.
A person taking retirement -- and sometimes they take early retirement -- and then going back to the same job and collecting their pension at the same time, to supplement their pension
Then they make the decision to retire, and then the opposition thinks that they should legitimately, and with our blessing, be able to come back into the workforce, take the pension as well as the wages and undercut those that are left there. I think that should be limited, and especially when you are allowing the board of trustees of the pension to make the decision in terms of how they're going to do that. And whether or not they're going to do that, there is nothing in this bill that forces the kind of initiatives that the Liberals claim it does.
The other side of this coin, of course, is that -- and this is a known fact -- there's an awful lot of people that take early retirement and then go back to work. But, you see, because they already have a subsidized wage, in a sense, they don't have to work for the same amount. So they're out there undercutting their other colleagues that are still left. They'll work for less. In some cases it's been known that some of these employers are hiring half their labour force from people who are on early retirement or on pension. Maybe that is what the issue is really about for the Liberals -- because they've been told by their buddy Phil Hochstein that this is unacceptable. Anything that prevents the non-union sector from having a leg up or an edge in terms of the workforce out there is a good thing. That's what maybe is at work here.
I didn't want to go on too long, because we're into a six-month hoist motion, which obviously I oppose. But I just want to point out to the members opposite that at the end of the day, most people out there have enough sense to read a bill,
[ Page 13286 ]and the press release like the one that was out on Friday is going to be seen for exactly what it is -- which is a whole lot of fog from that stuff that creates the fog in the Fraser Valley on a hot day.
M. Coell: I'd like to speak in favour of the amendment. I think that a number of speakers have said that whenever changes to pension plans or statutes take effect, governments have a White Paper, and they send it out to the industry, to professionals and, more importantly, to those it affects. I think that in this instance, that's something that would be well-advised for the government.
I think that for me
I would say to the government and to some people who know the inner workings of unions better than I that maybe if the government wanted to accomplish this, it should be accomplished between union management and union members. They should have that discussion, and that should be part of the overall contract for individual unions. That makes sense to me. If people voted on that and 51 percent of the union membership supported that, I'd say that would be a good thing for them.
But for government, in an act and in a section like 48, to take that responsibility for a union -- or for management, for that matter
This is very interventionist. It bodes very badly for the future of pension plans in this province. I think that the government has given people a reason to go to Alberta for work quite a few times in the last three years that I've been here. But this now gives someone the ability to say: "I'm going to take early retirement and go work in Alberta. I can keep my pension and do the job that I'm trained for and like doing." I think that sends a message to the workforce. It sends a message to people who are thinking of taking an early pension. We can't afford to lose good tradespeople in this province. We can't afford to have them go to Alberta and Saskatchewan, and this is another reason to do that.
I think, too, that hoisting this motion for six months allows the people who are affected by this to look at it. I believe that if it is, as the government members would say, a good piece of legislation, then it will stand the test of time. It will stand the test of the union membership looking closely at it and seeing whether they agree or disagree and also of the professionals within the pension area having a look at it and giving the government some direction -- true consultation, not anything other than listening to those people who are affected.
What we've been dealing with in the last four or five hours has been very quick and, I would say, very useful, but it certainly hasn't been consultative with the citizens of British Columbia. I think that what we're hoping to do with this hoist motion is to get that out there in front of people. If we don't spend the six months and review this section of the legislation, the government is opening up a Pandora's box for pension plans. I know that one member said that there are only 33 pension plans affected by this. Well, that's only because the legislation didn't have one more sentence in it to say that it affects all pension plans.
What I'm trying to say to the government members is that in doing this, every person who's paying into a pension now realizes that government can mess with it and change it. If government doesn't want you to do anything other than retire and take your pension, they can force you not to work again. Sure, the members might say: "Well, they can force you not to work at the job that you were doing before." But for this side of the House, that's individual freedom. If you want to go back and work in the trade that you're trained for, that you like and that you spent your life doing, you should be allowed to do that. You should be allowed to take your early pension under the agreement that you have with your employer and your union.
The member before me said that you shouldn't be allowed to work at the job that you were working at before, and I think to myself: what nonsense. You should be allowed to work at any job that you can get in this province. You should be encouraged to work. People should be encouraged to do what they like to do, not to have to do something else because government told them: "You can't work in the job that you're trained to do, because you're taking an early pension."
Early pension benefits are a right that has been bargained for by unions in this province over about a 20-year period. They've been won and lost in many agreements, and now, for whatever reason -- and I hope the reason isn't that there just aren't enough jobs around for everyone to work
This is a defeatist bill and section. You're saying that there aren't enough jobs to go around. "The economy's not good, so you can't work." What a defeatist attitude, in one of the greatest provinces in this country! We should be going out and making sure there are lots of jobs and lots of employment. If someone takes early retirement, there are still jobs there for the young people coming up. If that person wants to go back to work, they can.
I have some real problems with section 48. I think it would be healthy for this section to be hoisted for six months. It would be healthy for those who are affected to be able to comment on it and to comment with their unions and their
[ Page 13287 ]employers. That would be a healthy dialogue. I would encourage members on the government side of the House to take this opportunity to hoist this section for six months. I think that if it's good, it'll stand the test of time; if it's not, we'll see some amendments to it. I thank you for the opportunity to comment.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
Amendment negatived on the following division:
|YEAS -- 27|
|J. Reid||Barisoff||van Dongen|
|NAYS -- 37|
On the main motion.
I. Chong: I am pleased to rise today to offer some brief comments on second reading of Bill 58, the Pension Benefits Standards Amendment Act, 1999. I would like to begin by first saying that certainly there are some very supportable amendments proposed by this bill. The difficulty is, as always, that this bill includes a significant amendment and proposal to the Pension Benefits Standards Act that is so wrong and so poorly thought out that it renders the bill insupportable.
I'm disappointed that the hoist motion that was proposed by my colleague the member for Peace River North was not able to proceed. That would have allowed, I believe, sufficient time for those who would be affected by this to really thoroughly canvass this proposal and the amendments that would affect their pensions. They could offer their thoughts on how we could better change this bill.
I am disappointed that the hoist motion did not go through. The section that is causing such great difficulty -- and I know it has been mentioned already by my colleagues on this side of the House -- is section 48 of Bill 58. Section 48 amends section 74(2) of the act, and the proposed amendment is very significant. It is important that I, on behalf of the constituents that I represent, add my voice of opposition to that section. Those who are listening to this debate now and those who would prefer to read the Hansard later
I. Chong: I hear members opposite saying that it's not true, but in essence, it is true. Look at section 48(c). I'll read it into the record. Section 48(c) says: "
The Speaker: Members, members. The member for Oak Bay-Gordon Head has the floor. Other members have already spoken.
I. Chong: I would implore the members to pay attention as well. They're suggesting that we read the section, and when I read it out verbatim, they seem to misinterpret it. They suggest that we're misinterpreting. That reason alone made the hoist motion that much more important and valid, because that would have allowed all those who have questions on this very significant and substantial section to add their concerns and address the issues that are important and relevant to their pension benefits.
I am very disappointed when I hear members opposite saying that they're offering to assist us. Well, why don't they offer to allow this: a thorough canvassing by the pensioners who will be affected? What is so wrong with that? That I do not understand.
Also, I heard members speak -- particularly the former Minister of Labour, who spoke for only a very brief time earlier -- about the particular case for which section 48 seems to have evolved. That is the case in the Supreme Court of British Columbia -- docket A973193, for anyone who is interested -- which involved the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 280. It states here that in the case at that time, on February 13, 1998, there was an affidavit by the superintendent of pensions, who indicated that there are no jurisdictions in Canada that allow pension plans to suspend the pensions of members who go to work for employers not participating in the pension plan. The superintendent of pensions made that fact very
[ Page 13288 ]clear, and unfortunately, because it goes against what this government would like to see happen, they are now changing the legislation to allow this to occur.
It's very disappointing that time and time again what happens is that there will be a Supreme Court ruling
The Speaker: The Minister of the Crown is not to speak from his seat. The member has the
The Speaker: Minister, the member has been recognized and has the floor.
I. Chong: What I was going to say is that it is disappointing that time and time again we see that the Supreme Court rules in favour of the average worker or the average complainant and against the government, and then government sees fit to come forward in the following months or the following year to impose legislation that clearly goes against workers and employees and the average citizen. That, too, is extremely disappointing.
I have tried to spend as much time as possible reviewing this, and I know members opposite will think that we haven't. I have pulled the Pension Benefits Standards Act from 1996. I have looked back to 1992 and '91, when there were changes made, to try to get a flavour of why we have moved in this direction. I cannot see any clear reason why we're moving this way, other than the fact that this government wants direct control over those pensioners who would choose to have early retirement benefits.
I would have thought that early retirement was for the benefit of those employees or workers who belonged to a pension plan -- deemed to be a right they had, that they could early retire. Yes, it was considered a subsidy, perhaps, by some of them, but nonetheless it is a benefit -- an early retirement benefit. If they choose to have an early retirement benefit, that should be theirs. That should be their right, and that should be their decision to make -- for whatever reason they have to make it.
What was disappointing for me to hear last week was when the Minister of Labour, in a way of heckling our member on this side of the House
There can always be other circumstances. There are family reasons that are personal reasons -- maybe even medical reasons or health reasons -- why someone who chose an early retirement may have to return to the workforce, and the only vocation that they do know is the skills that they had at their time of early retirement. When someone at 55 or even 60 chooses to early retire and needs to return to the workforce for whatever reason
I. Chong: I hear the member for Skeena saying that no one's questioning it. But they are questioning it, because when someone retires early and returns to the same vocation with a company that was not a participant in the plan which they were once a part of, they're going to have their pension plan benefit suspended. That makes no sense.
What I see from this government is that they want to create jobs. Yes, we all want to see more jobs created. They've tried the jobs and timber accord and a labour accord, and nothing seems to have worked, because this government doesn't realize it can't create jobs. We need a business and economic environment that is friendly enough for others to create jobs. If that were to occur, we wouldn't have to, in order to create jobs, go after pensioners who have retired early. That is what I hear coming from the other side of the House: that in order to create jobs, you have people taking early retirement options so that they can move in other, young people to take those jobs which are now vacated.
But that isn't what this government should be doing to create jobs. That is what this government thinks it should be doing, but it is clearly wrong. Pension benefits and pension rights, once exercised by a pensioner, should remain. To go back in to suspend those pension benefits is wrong, and that's why I cannot support Bill 58 as it stands.
I know that there are some that would wonder why it is that a government would be so insistent upon suspending pension benefits. I have to ask that same question. Why is it particularly geared toward those who are under a multi-employer plan that was provided in a trade or industry? Why has this not covered all pension plans as such -- for example, the private sector pension plans? Why is it specifically geared toward this? Or perhaps the private sector pension plans are going to be affected in follow-up legislation.
I. Chong: If that's what the minister is saying, then I'm glad to hear him say that, for clarity. Then is he suggesting that the early retirement options that are offered to people who are working in the health services industry, such as nurses or teachers
On the one hand, he says it doesn't affect public sector pension plans, and then he says it does.
I. Chong: It's interesting to hear the member opposite speak, because I specifically mentioned that it apparently
[ Page 13289 ]affects at this time only multi-employer plans but that I'm surprised it doesn't affect public sector plans. Then the minister says it will affect public sector plans. So clearly there's confusion on the other side. That confusion demands that we ensure that this section is fully understood not only by the public but by the members opposite as well, because there seems to be some confusion over there.
I want to go back to why some people need to exercise their early retirement options and then return to the workforce. I want to dispel what the Minister of Labour said last week about the fact that some people would do this for greed. I would just like to offer a few examples, because I have known people who have had to take early retirement options for personal financial circumstances. Then, after two or three years, those situations change again, and sometimes more drastically, where there is financial dependency on them by their family -- and sometimes even for their own physical health and well-being. Being at home has actually caused some physical ailments, and going back out into the workforce is in fact sometimes the best therapy the worker can achieve.
An Hon. Member: The same job?
I. Chong: Sometimes yes, unfortunately, because the person retired at 55, and now they're 58. They only know one trade, and they were always happy in one trade. So they go and work part-time for a neighbour who happens to be employed in the same industry, who does not belong to, or is not a participant in, the plan. Why is it that we have to make a judgment as to why this person should remain retired and why that person should not be entitled to work? Why is it that we should make that decision?
I. Chong: I'm glad to hear members opposite say it's an individual choice, because that is exactly what it is: an individual choice that we should not interfere with. Some people may return to the workforce after they've taken their early retirement option. It's not necessarily because they want to return to the workforce; they may have to return to the workforce. You really don't know those circumstances; I have seen those circumstances. I have seen people who have even received their early CPP benefits and who, at 66, have returned to work because personal circumstances have required that they return to work.
Again, it's not up to us to decide. It's not up to the pension plan administrator to decide why someone needs to go back to work. It's sometimes difficult enough to explain to their own family members why they returned to work after they've exercised their early retirement options. Yet this government would expect that that person, that individual, must somehow explain to the pension plan administrators why they need to return to work and that they need to have their pension plan benefits continue rather than be suspended. I don't find that at all equitable. I don't find it at all a democratic society when we end up with pension plan administrators deciding how people should live their retirement years -- semi- or fully, I might add.
I do have to lay some blame -- much blame -- on this government, because I believe the reason for section 48 is an ailing economy. It is because we have rampant job losses and we have people who are, in some circumstances, forced to make decisions that affect their well-being and their survival. And we have a government that is intent on creating -- no matter how few -- some new jobs, and this is the only way they can do it, as I stated earlier. That is not the way jobs need to be created.
Those who have to make their decisions to retire early sometimes do so with a financial planner. They sit down and have a total review of their personal circumstances -- their assets and their liabilities, of which their pensions are a part. They take a look at their family situation, their spouse, their children, their aging parents even. All those factors sometimes become part of the decision as to whether someone retires early. But within a number of years, those circumstances can change for the better or for the worse. If they change for the better, then fine; that person can remain fully pensioned in their early retirement. But if those factors should change radically for the worse, then that person could not necessarily return to the workforce on a full-time basis, where they can work full-time and contribute back to the pension. They depend upon the pension benefits they're receiving as a result of early retirement. They depend upon further financial supplements that they may need to pay for the services required for their aging parents -- which we all know we're all having to face.
So I am concerned. I am concerned that when a employee, a worker, decides that it becomes necessary to access their early retirement option due to their personal circumstances, this NDP government would profess to know better, and that those individuals don't have the right to make those choices. We are talking about workers; we are talking about employees; we are talking about individuals -- those workers and employees that this government has said time and time again they are trying to protect. But I do not see that section 48 of Bill 58 provides that protection in any way, shape or form. It may protect a small group, an incoming group of new workers. But it's not protecting those who have left the full-time worker status.
I'm also concerned that this government says that it's attempting to reduce regulation and red tape, and in so doing has adopted a business lens initiative -- but somehow has forgot to apply that business lens approach to Bill 58.
In addition, when a bill of this nature -- having such wide-reaching effects on pensioners -- is introduced, you would have expected that there would have been the benefit of an exposure draft or a White Paper to the pension industry. In essence, you would have expected full and complete consultation, but that didn't happen. Again, you have to wonder why. I would have to suspect that it is because the benefit of a White Paper to the pension industry would have exposed the shortcomings of section 48 and that the NDP government didn't want that. They didn't want to have to remove that section. They didn't want to not please their trade union friends without benefiting the employees of the trade union.
I have spoken this weekend to employees of various building trades unions -- carpenters, electricians -- because in this community I know many people who are members of the union plans. When I asked them what they thought of this section, their first reaction was: "Well, why would they do that? Why would someone decide, if I had to take my early retirement, that I couldn't do work part-time if I needed to?
[ Page 13290 ]Why do I have to explain that to anyone?" These are people who are members of pension plans here in Victoria, of a multi-employer plan that is administered through the union centre -- which is no longer the union centre, as we all know, and which unfortunately has been lost to the private sector.
I showed this section to some of these people, and they clearly didn't understand it. So you would think this government that has such close ties to these union plans and union members would take this to all those building trades that were previously at the union centre -- I don't know where they are now
Hon. Speaker, it begs the question as to why this government is hiding this legislation from their union members. I do appreciate, though, having received a briefing from the ministry staff on this. It did indicate to us that that is what was happening. There was not necessarily a general understanding that this was a good move. Just for the Minister of Labour's benefit, when we spoke to those who gave us this briefing, they tried to clarify as best as possible what was occurring in this piece of legislation, but they didn't suggest that this was a good move. They did advise that this was the only jurisdiction in Canada that was doing this. Certainly I do appreciate that it is not the staff's obligation to do that; they merely point out, for clearer definition, what is happening.
You know, it is a shame that the Minister of Labour is not listening to members on this side of the House, and our efforts to try to protect those workers' and employers' rights. Because if he were listening, he would have allowed the hoist motion to proceed. If he is clearly listening, then I would hope that in his closing remarks on second reading he will clarify and state for the record what it does and doesn't include. Perhaps he can tell it in much greater length, rather than come back with rhetorical remarks on what members on this side of the House
I would certainly question it again in committee stage, but he needs to clarify very specifically what it means when someone restarts work or service in British Columbia in a trade or industry with an employer who is not a participant in the plan. We did raise the issue of those who return to work in a self-employment situation, and the Minister of Labour said that doesn't apply. But there are various forms of so-called self-employment these days. You could be employed by your family members who have a corporation. You can be employed by good friends or neighbours who have a corporation, who essentially want you to work for them. That, in its own way, is a form of self-employment, because you're looking to determine what hours you want to keep. Those who work for someone who is a friend or a neighbour who has a corporation and who is an employer but is not a participant in the plan
I would just like to sum up by saying that, obviously, I don't support Bill 58 as it stands -- with section 48. The offer for the Minister of Labour to explain it is certainly welcomed, but he needs also to hear members on this side of the House. If we propose amendments to better this or we suggest that this requires a further, more thorough review
I don't understand why we need to rush this through as a result of a court case last year, other than the fact that there must be some other agenda that requires this to come forward at this time. This is the first jurisdiction in Canada that will have legislation such as this. You have to ask why British Columbia has to do this at this time. If it is to create so-called jobs, we've seen the dismal failure in the past, and I cannot suggest that they would be successful in creating those much-needed jobs as a result of amendment to Bill 58.
With that I would close my remarks and move adjournment of debate -- noting the time.
Committee A, having reported resolutions, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. D. Lovick: Hon. Speaker, I would move that the House at its rising stand recessed until 6:35 p.m. and sit thereafter until adjournment.
The House recessed from 5:57 p.m. to 6:36 p.m.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. D. Lovick: In the small House, I call Committee of Supply to debate the estimates of the Ministry for Children and Families. In this House, I call continued second reading debate, on Bill 58.
PENSION BENEFITS STANDARDS AMENDMENT ACT, 1999
An Hon. Member: What a shock, eh?
S. Hawkins: Yeah, what a shock.
The poison pill in this bill is section 48. I'm really disappointed that the hoist motion for this bill failed, because I think the member that introduced the hoist motion had a good point. If this government is so confident about the changes that it proposes to make in this section, then they should put it out to the public and out to consultation. It should pass the smell test -- you know, does this section stink? Well, I can tell
[ Page 13291 ]you that most of the opposition members on this side would say yes. All the opposition members, I believe, on this side would say yes.
The section is particularly significant because section 48 allows cabinet the power to suspend pension benefits of a worker who takes early retirement and then takes another job. When I read that, I have to think: what could possibly be the public policy behind that section? Why would the government allow cabinet to have those kinds of powers? I understand that we're the only jurisdiction in Canada that allows those kinds of suspension powers. So what could possibly be the public policy behind that section?
Could it be that early retirement is bad -- you know, that taking a job after early retirement is bad? I don't think so. I think a lot of people, for whatever reason, take early retirement and find that perhaps they have to supplement their income a little bit. They've worked 25 to 30 years in one job, and perhaps after retirement they find that the money just doesn't stretch as far as they thought it would and feel that they need to supplement their income.
I don't think it's the government's right to do this. I don't think government has the right to be in the early retiree's face to suspend those rights. Early retirement is legal. It is a choice that seniors make after they've worked 25 or 30 years, paying pension benefits into a plan. I think -- and I think the members on the opposition side feel -- it is the right of those who choose to do so. Those who choose to retire early should be able to collect their pension benefits. For goodness' sake, they paid into those benefit plans for 25 or 30 years. They have earned the right to take early retirement.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
You know, this section essentially is an attack on workers. I find it almost hypocritical coming from a government that says it speaks for the union movement, for the trade union worker. That they, of all people, would enact a section like this in this amendment bill is absolutely ludicrous. It's an attack on seniors; it's an attack on workers; it's an attack on early retirees.
I can tell you that most people who are at that age, when they're deciding whether they're going to take early retirement or not, don't think the government should be deciding who should work and who shouldn't. That should be left up to the marketplace.
I have to think what Bill 58 would mean to constituents of mine. I have a lot of seniors, a lot of early retirees, in my riding. For that ordinary worker who's put in his 25 or 30 years
Well, I don't think it's the government's right to say: "Now we're going to suspend your benefits." Maybe that person, for health reasons or whatever reason, found themselves in difficulty and needed to take that job to supplement their income. Government shouldn't be Big Brother and shouldn't be in that early retiree's face, and that is what this government is doing.
The only reason I could think of
I don't think government should be telling people who has the right to work and who doesn't, and where they should be working and where they shouldn't. I think that's wrong, and this section essentially does that. It says to a person who has put in 25 or 30 years: "You do not have the right, after early retirement, to supplement your income." And that is wrong. That is an attack by government on the worker -- on the union tradesperson who's put in years and years of service and has decided to take the option of early retirement. Then, perhaps in a year or two, he decides to open a small business and use some of the skills that he or she had acquired over the period of 20 or 30 years. The government is saying: "No, you can't do that; that's not your right. If you do that, we're going to suspend your pension benefits." And you know what? We can do that, because we've now given cabinet the power to do that.
In the famous words of the Forests minister, this government thinks and knows that because it has the power, it can do whatever it wants. Famous words -- famous last words, I should say -- of the Forests minister
For a government that purports to represent the worker, purports to be friends with the union movement
Deputy Speaker: The minister closes debate.
Hon. D. Lovick: Mr. Speaker, I'm struggling a little bit with precisely what approach I ought to take in closing debate on second reading of this particular bill. I say that largely
[ Page 13292 ]because I am still, frankly, reeling a little bit from the shock of discovering the level of opposition and the level of emotion and intensity expressed by my friends across the way.
I want, on the one hand, to understand those concerns and to make sure that I respond in fairness and with some generosity of spirit to those concerns. But by the same token, I must acknowledge that I am amazed, frankly. After listening to the debate, I have difficulty appreciating, shall I say, the sincerity of the comments made.
Let me very briefly explain what this bill is about and why those concerns on my part. Let me start by simply telling everybody who may be watching, including my friends across the way, that this bill consists of some 75 sections. The preponderant majority, like 73 of those sections, have to do with streamlining and improving the way we carry out the administration of pensions in this province. They're not contentious, they're not controversial, and they're not difficult. Indeed, that is why the superintendent of pensions and the panel charged with looking at pensions in this province said: "We recommend this. There was no dissenting opinion; we achieved consensus on all parts of this bill."
There are two parts of the bill that are arguably contentious. One is the matter of same-sex couples and the fact that what we say in this bill is that in private sector pensions, just as in public sector pensions, one's sexual preference or gender orientation should have nothing to do with whether one does or does not have the opportunity to take the full benefit of a pension.
That, I thought, was contentious. I thought that would be problematic, given that in the last two measures we introduced in this chamber dealing with same-sex benefits, a rump group on the other side spoke against it. Six or seven members on the other side voted against it. I thought that was indeed the most contentious part of the bill. Accordingly, what I did in my brief, brief second reading speech was simply outline, largely in terms of making lists: here is what the bill does. I thought that was really the only contentious issue.
Accordingly, I broke the bill into particular categories. I said: "This is what the bill does." Part of the process of making lists was to talk about the measure that has been the subject of debate for the last significant number of hours -- namely, section 48. I would point out that it is one very small section of this bill.
I would argue, moreover
Hon. D. Lovick: Mr. Speaker, I hope I don't have to fight to be heard in this chamber. I know the member hasn't been in the chamber for a few hours. I hope he has indeed paid attention to what we're doing here.
Hon. D. Lovick: Mr. Speaker, I am quite prepared to deal with the member opposite in my own wise, but I would rather not have to do that. I would rather explain what the bill is about and why we are doing what we are. And if that member wants to
Deputy Speaker: I call the House to order. I wish to remind members that you've all had your opportunity to speak, and it is now the minister's turn to wrap this up, please.
Hon. D. Lovick: Mr. Speaker, as I said, as far as I could understand, the only contentious section of the bill has to do with same-sex couples. Demonstrably, I am wrong. I acknowledge that, because clearly members on the other side said: "No, no, that's not the issue." At least to judge by their comments, it's not the issue. Virtually none of them have spoken about that part of the bill. Rather, it's about section 48. Accordingly, I will devote most of my remarks to section 48, and I will endeavour to
Deputy Speaker: Members, please. I remind you that you've had your opportunity to speak. This is the minister's time to wrap this up.
Hon. D. Lovick:
Deputy Speaker: Members, please -- a reminder.
Hon. D. Lovick:
Deputy Speaker: Member, please, a reminder once again.
Hon. D. Lovick:
I must get that out of my system before I try to respond in broader and more generous terms to members opposite who may simply not understand what the bill is. They have obviously had to defer to the member for Kamloops-North
[ Page 13293 ]Thompson, who ought to know better than to have said what he did. The member, for example, says that this bill -- this measure, section 48 more particularly -- strips pensioners' rights to earn money after retirement or set up their own business. That is false. The member knew it was false, because he was told, that in a briefing on May 17
To my mind, that is simply outrageous. That is beneath contempt. By all means, disagree with us, members. By all means, say: "We don't like what you're doing." But don't deliberately, consciously, misrepresent the facts of the matter. That's what the press release did. It's absolutely clear, and alas, it may be a pattern that we have seen in this House.
For the record, let me be very clear. This act will not affect those who go to work in other industries or occupations. This will not affect those who are managers or who start their own businesses.
Deputy Speaker: Member for Kamloops-North Thompson, please, a reminder once again. It is the minister's opportunity to wind this up. You've had your opportunity already.
Hon. D. Lovick: The second point I would make to demonstrate that what I refer to -- and I can only say this with absolute sincerity, because it is the truth -- was deliberate misrepresentation of what the bill actually is and does, is the statement that "1,000 pension plans will be affected." They were told, Mr. Speaker, that that is not true. They were told that a maximum of 33 plans would be affected; more likely 16 would be affected. They were told that by the superintendent of pensions. But they walk in this House and deliberately try to generate fear and hysteria and panic about all the poor seniors and the poor pensioners of the province who are threatened by this terrible draconian measure. That, again, is a horrible, horrible abuse of what this Legislature is supposed to be.
We are not allowed to say that people are lying in this House, you know, and there's a reason for that. The reason for that is because we're all supposed to be honourable people, and we don't stand in this House and say that which we know is not true. But alas, what we have here is a deliberate statement issued in a press release that clearly points out a number of things about this bill that are simply not true. Worse, the member who issued the press release knows, because he was briefed on the subject. I find that offensive in the extreme. Indeed, I find it despicable, and I don't mind saying that here, Mr. Speaker.
To get the record straight again, let us make clear that instead of, as the member says, 1,000 pension plans being affected, this amendment -- section 48 of the bill -- applies only to multi-employer plans. Of the 1,000 plans registered in B.C., only 33 are multi-employer plans; 16 of those are trade union plans. This change will affect
Deputy Speaker: Members, once again, please
Hon. D. Lovick:
Here's another example. I won't belabour the point, but I want to get this on the record and get my indignation out of my system. Here's the other point made by the members opposite -- that the superintendent of pensions went to argue against this measure. That is absolute, arrant, utter and complete nonsense. That's not true, and the member knew that too. He was told that too, but still had the gall to stand in this House and say what was not true -- and, worse, to then issue a press release saying what was not true.
Now, do you wonder why people wonder about the integrity of politicians? Do you wonder why, when somebody -- not in the heat of the moment but deliberately, conscientiously, consciously -- sits down and fabricates a story that is simply not true. That is why I am indignant -- why my colleagues and I are indignant. For the record again, the superintendent is charged with upholding the law as it is written. The matter that was brought to her attention was that particular pension plans and their trustees were saying: "We want to change things, and we're going to do it. And we're going to push
The superintendent also made very clear a couple of other points that the members again choose to ignore. Myopic? Selective? I don't know. The superintendent told the court that this idea of suspending members from multi-employer plans, who took early retirement and then went to work for somebody else doing the same business that was competing against those companies that were paying into the plan
Deputy Speaker: Member for Kamloops-North Thompson, this is about the third time. Possibly we could just tone it down so that the minister could finish.
Hon. D. Lovick: Alas, Mr. Speaker, I don't want to pick on the member from Kamloops; he does that by himself very well. But I would point out that I think he has probably dined not wisely but too well.
The point I am making is that the superintendent is charged with upholding the law as it is written.
Hon. D. Lovick: When there was evidence -- exactly. The members says that's what she did. She did, but don't anybody for a moment misconstrue that legitimate carrying out of her statutory duties with supporting a particular point of view. The same superintendent said that she would support the practice of people opting out -- of suspending members, in fact -- if the legislation were changed, if we had done what was recognized by many to be absolutely necessary. So to
[ Page 13294 ]suggest that the superintendent of pensions somehow spoke against what this legislation proposes is, again, not true. It is, again, absolutely ludicrous. Again, it is -- if I may use the term, and I will -- simply dishonest. That's my point.
It's well and good to disagree with us. It's well and good to say you don't think we're doing the right thing, to say: "Ah, you're favouring your friends." Say all of those things you want, by all means. But don't, for God's sake, stand here in the Legislature and say things that you know absolutely are not true, but nevertheless state them and nevertheless issue them in the press release. That's what they did. Let the record judge them for doing that. It was outrageous.
I have now vented my spleen, to coin a phrase. Let me, if I might, deal with some of the more specific points they make in the brief time that I have available before closing this debate -- just to clarify. Indeed, I've had the invitation from certain members opposite, like the member for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, wondering why we're doing this and saying: "Why do you have to do this? Aren't you taking away rights?" Those are perfectly legitimate questions, and they deserve real and sincere answers. I will therefore lower the temperature in my response to them. I won't lower the temperature, however, when I deal with the critic on this particular file who, as I say, I think has behaved in a way that, quite frankly, does no credit to this chamber.
What we need to recognize very clearly is that when we talk about section 48 of this bill, just as I said when I talked about Bill 26 and the construction industry, we are dealing with a very small subset. We're not talking about all retirees; we're not talking about all pension recipients. We're talking about a small group of people. We're talking about multi-employer plans; more particularly we're talking here about the construction industry. Those are the 16 plans. Why is it that the trustees of those particular plans say: "We want the legal right to suspend certain people from receiving the benefit of plans"?
An Hon. Member: Why?
Hon. D. Lovick: Well, exactly. The member asks why, and that's what I'm about to explain. Let me see if I can do this. I do this, accepting the proposition that the member opposite may be sincere; and if she is -- great. Therefore she'll appreciate the answer.
Here's how it works. If you are receiving a pension from a multi-employer plan in the construction industry, you are a unionized company or a union member. Nobody else has pensions -- only union companies. Union companies pay a certain amount per hour from the hours a member works towards a pension. Generally speaking -- there may be some exceptions -- the construction industry multi-employer plans are not paid for by the members, except through -- call it -- deferred wages. Rather, it's funded entirely by the company and what the company pays. Are you with me so far? I think you are. Okay.
What occurs is that certain individuals in that
Hon. D. Lovick: Mr. Speaker, how sad that the member who just arrived decides to trivialize things when I'm trying to explain, in answer to the real questions about what's going on. If he would simply take a Valium or otherwise relax for a moment, then I could probably answer the question for those who are serious about the answer, as opposed to that rather silly and supercilious approach we just heard. In any event, the point I'm making
Deputy Speaker: Members, if you could, let the minister come to a close.
Hon. D. Lovick: What occurs is this: individuals who belong to, are contributing to and have contributed to a pension plan, a multi-employer plan, through unionized companies, because as skilled construction trades workers that's what they are affiliated with
But if you go somewhere else, what you're doing in effect and in fact is subsidizing another employer, because you're earning a pension which enables another employer to pay you significantly less. Here's what occurs: if in fact a worker can go to work because he's earning $20,00 to $30,000 or whatever per year and can afford to take less money, then the company that hires those workers who are being subsidized by the pension plan can charge significantly
Deputy Speaker: Members
Hon. D. Lovick: Bear with me, please, members.
Deputy Speaker: Excuse me, members. If we could let the minister
Hon. D. Lovick: If you want to know the rationale, listen to the rationale.
Deputy Speaker: Minister, just one moment, please.
Members, if we could
Hon. D. Lovick: What will happen then, Mr. Speaker, is that those workers who have in fact, as I say, taken early retirement and come back to work in the same trade for a competitor effectively make it possible for the competitor to undercut significantly -- and here's the point -- the only companies that pay into the pension fund.
Guess what happens. If indeed what occurs is that members who are working for another contractor and not paying into a pension fund take the work away from the unionized
[ Page 13295 ]company, nobody will pay into the pension fund. The pension fund will be in jeopardy and will be threatened. That's the reason why this particular amendment is presented: to protect the integrity of the pension fund.
Now, the member quite legitimately may say he doesn't believe that, he doesn't accept that, and he's voting against it regardless. That's fine; that's his right. But I want to just remind him of this, because I don't know if he's ever worked on a construction site. I haven't, either. I know a little bit about it, but I can't claim long experience. But I do know that the amount of money the workers receive -- the wages they get and the fact that they have a pension -- is brought to them courtesy of the union. Without that union, they would never have the benefit of that pension plan. I also know that those who take early retirement and are depleting the resources of that pension fund, if the pension fund
Hon. D. Lovick: No, it's not entirely. Here's the point -- and I recognize pretty clearly what the strategy is. They would rather that I don't complete the sentences, because then they obviously have a better case.
The point I am making is that if indeed the pension fund is not being rejuvenated and replenished, guess what happens: those who are now working and paying into the fund will never be able to collect the benefits. That's the point. That's why we are doing this: to protect the integrity of a particular pension fund.
Members opposite may want to disagree; that's fine. We can have that debate when we get into committee stage and they ask all their questions. We can do that, but let's understand that we are not talking about pensions in general; we're not talking about all retired persons. We're talking about the construction industry; we're talking about multi-employer plans. Ultimately, we're talking about protecting the integrity of a pension plan. Those workers who have had the benefit of good wages and a pension plan negotiated by the union would -- I think most of them would -- recognize: "Wait a minute. We should not, in our own self-interest, jeopardize the total plan simply so we can look out for ourselves." That, I think, is what it's about.
Members opposite are going to argue that it's about individual rights or it's about property rights, or whatever. What I am saying is that this very small subset of the pension universe is telling us: "We are worried about the integrity and the likelihood of being able to continue our pension plans if we don't have the power to suspend those members who go and work for our competitors, who, effectively, are challenging and threatening our plan." That's the rationale, and frankly, I think it's absolutely defensible.
I would also just make the point ever so briefly that this is, as I say, a voluntary matter. It is not a matter of anybody forcing people to do the plan. Trustees, management and union have every opportunity to in fact sit down and say whether they want to invoke this particular measure. This is an enabling measure in legislation. Nobody is imposing it on anybody; rather, they can invoke it, if they so wish. And, Mr. Speaker
Hon. D. Lovick: I'm going to give them a chance to perhaps get it out of their system.
Deputy Speaker: Members, come to order, please. Will the House come to order, please.
Deputy Speaker: Members, please let the minister wrap this up.
Hon. D. Lovick: Mr. Speaker, how are we doing for time? I gather that I'm just about out.
Deputy Speaker: Members, please
Hon. D. Lovick: I just heard a comment -- one of the few coherent ones that came from across the way in the last 15 minutes. It was: "Why didn't I say all this in second reading?" If the member had been here, he would have heard my opening comment. My opening comment was made with absolute, complete sincerity -- namely, I did not believe that the bill was in any wise contentious, save and except for the same-sex benefits portion. I am sorry that I misread my audience -- I misread the Legislature, as it were.
Having said that, and after having listened at great length to the members opposite, I am more than
Deputy Speaker: Members, please
Hon. D. Lovick:
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, minister.
Hon. D. Lovick: I move second reading of Bill 58.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
Second reading of Bill 58 approved on the following division:
|YEAS -- 36|
[ Page 13296 ]
|NAYS -- 28|
|van Dongen||Barisoff||J. Reid|
Hon. J. MacPhail: Hon. Speaker, I call Committee of the Whole to debate Bill 70.
AGRICULTURAL LAND COMMISSION AMENDMENT ACT, 1999
B. Goodacre: Hon. Chair, I ask leave to make an introduction.
B. Goodacre: In the gallery today we have two visitors: Deanna Tan, the coordinator of the Vancouver Food Policy Organization; and Cathleen Kneen, who's with the food security organization in British Columbia. I ask the House to please make them welcome.
On section 4 (continued).
B. Barisoff: The new subsection (5) of section 43 requires at least one public hearing to be held in each of the following regions of B.C.: Vancouver Island, lower mainland, Okanagan, interior, Kootenays and northern British Columbia. Part of the B.C. Liberals 1996 election platform was to allow communities a greater role in decision-making processes of this province, specifically by introducing a community charter. This charter would give local governments more authority, autonomy and control over issues affecting their communities. Is this list comprehensive enough to represent 150 municipalities and 30 regional districts in B.C.? And does it adequately represent all of B.C.?
Hon. C. Evans: I tell you what, hon. Chair. If the hon. member across the way wants to amend this to make it so you have to hold a hearing in 150 municipalities to ever invoke the provincial interest, I might just accept the amendment.
B. Barisoff: I think the essence of the point was to make sure that we have fair representation throughout the entire province. That's where we were going with this.
What will happen if the results of the public hearings in some of the regions differ greatly from the public hearing results in other regions?
Hon. C. Evans: It's the expectation of Moura Quayle that that might very well happen and that in fact the variance is important, which is why she wanted to have six hearings instead of one or two. The hon. member's question: what would happen
B. Barisoff: How will the regional priority be decided? Or will that be completely up to the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council?
Hon. C. Evans: I don't think there is a regional priority. It is in fact the intention of all of the amendments to the act to make it so the provincial interest requires a provincial advantage -- a provincial advantage, not a municipal or a regional advantage.
B. Barisoff: What happens when one community or region is greatly affected by the outcome?
Hon. C. Evans: We addressed that in the hon. member's previous questions. It is my expectation that there will be differences, given the different ways that we live and the different economies in the region. It is up to the commissioner to take the various points of view of the various hearings and to determine recommendations as to the provincial interest.
B. Barisoff: Will some regions get more public hearings based on population?
Hon. C. Evans: No.
Section 4 approved.
On section 5.
B. Barisoff: Sorry, hon. Chair. Could we move back to that last section?
The Chair: On agreement, back to section 4.
On section 4.
B. Barisoff: The newly created subsection (1) of section 43.1 says: "On conclusion of the public hearing under section 43, the board must submit to the Lieutenant Governor in Council (a) a written report
[ Page 13297 ]Hon. C. Evans: I understand the hon. member's meaning in English and common sense, but the intent of the words "the public hearing" is that the entire process constitutes the public hearing, and each of the regions is a subset or subhearing of the whole.
B. Barisoff: What will this written report include, besides the board's recommendations and the summary of evidence received and the submissions made?
Hon. C. Evans: The hon. member is correct that the gist of the report, the main body of the report, would be a summary of evidence and recommendations. However, you'll notice that the commission will have terms of reference. Those words are used in several places throughout the act. It is possible that the terms of reference would ask for additional information besides a summary of evidence and recommendations. So anything else that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council might put under the terms of reference would be included in the report.
B. Barisoff: What is the deadline for the completion and submission of the board's written report and summary?
Hon. C. Evans: That would depend upon the terms of reference.
B. Barisoff: Section 43.1(3) reads:
"(3) In making its recommendations referred to in subsection (2), the board must give weight to the following values in descending order of priority:Section 44(1.1) says that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council must give weight to the same values in the same order of priority. Should the economic considerations be heaped into the lowest level of priority with cultural and social values?
"(a) agricultural values, including the preservation of agricultural land and promotion of agricultural purposes;
"(b) environmental and heritage values, but only if
(i) those values cannot be replaced or relocated to land other than agricultural land, or"(c) economic, cultural and social values."
(ii) giving weight to those values results in no net loss to agricultural capabilities of the area;
Hon. C. Evans: Yes, I think they should be there. In fact, I'm pretty sure that everybody in this House knew that that's where the economic values were last week when we had a division and the bill passed second reading unanimously. The reason I say that is because the Six Mile debate generated huge public discussion and interest in this question. Moura Quayle's report was widely circulated, and I'm sure every hon. member knew that this was her recommendation. The hon. member opposite and myself and a bunch of others of us spoke on this very subject over the past few days. So yes, I think economic, cultural and social values as item (c) are precisely where they belong, and I also think everybody else in this room thinks so.
B. Barisoff: How exactly will these values be weighted? For example, if the agricultural impact of a decision would be moderate and the economic impact would be great, how will the decision be reached? And shouldn't these weighting systems be clarified somehow?
Hon. C. Evans: Well, my guess is that it will be reached by people in the various regions differently, according to where they live. It will be reached by the commissioner who writes his report according to the terms of reference and the nature of the law. It will be reached by the Agricultural Land Commission in their report according to their mandate, which is the protection of agricultural land. And then it'll be determined, or considered, by cabinet in keeping with the law. So various people may see it differently, but there is a priority: agriculture at the top; environmental and heritage values only if the defence of agriculture can be met; and lastly, economic, cultural and social values -- answering once and for all the question: "What is the function of the agricultural land reserve?" It's zoning for the work of agriculture, and we will remove it from that function only if agriculture is made whole somewhere else.
B. Barisoff: Subsection (5) of section 43.1 says: "The commission may submit to the Lieutenant Governor in Council written comments on the report
Hon. C. Evans: If I understand the hon. member's question correctly, it will be answered in the amendments under the next section, where precisely the kind of timetable the hon. member is talking about is actually referred to. How about if we wait until the next section for his question? If he doesn't find it answered, I'll give leave to go back.
Section 5 approved.
On section 6.
J. van Dongen: The issue of values in this section is really the same as under one of the previous sections. I want to ask the minister if he could just clarify for us the meaning of "heritage values" versus "cultural values." I think the question is: do heritage values possibly involve native land claims or native values? If it doesn't mean that, what does it mean -- versus cultural values?
Hon. C. Evans: Dean Quayle did not define heritage values, any more than she defined environmental values or agricultural values. As the hon. member knows, many things are called agriculture which some people argue are not. Activities that have taken place on a cement slab -- some people argue whether or not that's agriculture. Dean Quayle did not attempt to make any of those kinds of definitions, and I do not wish, in my comments here today, to limit or define what the word will mean in future interpretations. To me, it means the heritage values of any culture -- first nations or early settlers or what have you -- that society may wish to enhance or protect. I am not sure how the word might be used in future, and I think the common interpretation over time will provide a definition for all of these words.
[ Page 13298 ]
J. van Dongen: I know that the wording is taken directly from Moura Quayle. I suppose, on the one hand, that may provide some comfort. But I think it probably would have been useful to have some definition around those words that's a little bit clearer than what we've got at this point. I'm not going to belabour it, but I think it might be helpful to give some further thought to that issue.
B. Barisoff: Going back to that, under section 43.1(6), the board must publish its report within ten days of submitting the report -- the question that I just asked. I'm just wondering whether the minister can elaborate on the fact that there should be a longer waiting period of at least 30 days. He said that it answers that, but I don't really see where it answers that question there.
Hon. C. Evans: The sequence is somewhat odd, but I think we're getting at where the hon. member wants to go. Subsection (4) says: "The board must provide a copy of its report to the commission at the same time that the report is submitted to the Lieutenant Governor in Council
B. Barisoff: Is there any kind of guarantee that the commission's report would be public? As the other member was indicating, maybe they'll publish in the B.C. Gazette or something. But will the commission's findings also be public?
Hon. C. Evans: There is no requirement in the act that the Agricultural Land Commission's comments be made public. Given that the commissioner charged with considering the provincial interest -- their report will be made public
B. Barisoff: Referring back to where we were looking at "open and accountable," would it not be in the best interests of all? When we're dealing with the issue of open and accountable and we look at instances like Six Mile Ranch or whatever -- we want to make sure that everybody believes that the process is fair; there's the old saying that you must not only be fair but appear to be fair -- would it not be incumbent upon us or the minister to make sure that the commission's findings are also made public, so that when people are looking at it, we feel that we do have an open and accountable process?
Hon. C. Evans: Right in the beginning -- section 42(3) -- the Agricultural Land Commission makes a report to the commissioner charged with consideration of the provincial interest, and that report becomes part of the public information that the commissioner gives to everybody. So the position of the Agricultural Land Commission on the removal is public. However, at the end of the act, what we're talking about is giving the Agricultural Land Commission an opportunity to simply advise cabinet about anything that's come up in the process of the public hearings which they feel they have a need to advise cabinet about with some information that they have. So their general position on the withdrawal is as public as need be. However, they have a sort of fail-safe opportunity at the end of the process to comment on the correctness of anything that may have come out in the public record during the process of holding the hearings.
B. Barisoff: I guess that would be our concern -- the fact that we understand that the initial report is made public. Then I just refer back again to the open and accountable part. If there are other things that have come up during the public meetings, I think it would be only fair that whatever submissions the ALC was making to cabinet, those actual submissions would be public. So everybody could see from whatever they had picked up, that they can say: "Yeah, we've looked at this and we've looked at this. And out of all these public hearings, we see some things that maybe should be changed." But from what I can gather, that input at that later time will not be public; it will be just in the privacy of the cabinet.
I guess what I'm concerned about is that that would leave somebody to say in the end: "If there was a change of heart by the ALC, why haven't we seen what's exactly happening here?" You know, they might say, and the minister at the time or whoever it might be might say: "Well, the recommendations that we got were
Hon. C. Evans: I understand the hon. member's question. However, I don't think that the concern is a serious one, and here's
If some of those comments were not agreed to, for example, by the Land Commission
B. Barisoff: Would the minister then be comfortable with making the statement that he would leave it up to the Agricultural Land Commission to make that decision on whether they felt it was important to make this information public or not? And if they thought it would impact, or if they thought, from their perspective, that they should make this public, would the minister go along with that idea?
[ Page 13299 ]Hon. C. Evans: That's a very good question. Absolutely. If the hon. member's concern is that somehow cabinet might restrict the Land Commission's capacity to tell the world what's on their mind, I see nothing in the legislation nor in the intent of the legislation nor in what Moura Quayle said that would muzzle the Land Commission in this process. This simply gives them the opportunities to submit information in confidence. But if the Land Commission wishes to submit their information by publishing it on the Net, it's okay with me, and it is allowed by these changes.
B. Barisoff: That really basically does cover that issue, because if the ALC did feel it important, just on a public interest basis, that they wanted to see that opened up, for whatever reason
Section 6 approved.
On section 7.
J. van Dongen: Just a couple of questions on issues that were raised in the January 27, 1999, press release, one being the announcement that there would be a new commissioner of lands that would be appointed. This position, I think, was recommended by Moura Quayle to provide a professional that would assist people seeking agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, to assist them in identifying land for those uses outside the agricultural land reserve. I'm wondering if the minister is still intending to go ahead with that announcement, and if so, would it be outside this legislation?
Hon. C. Evans: If this legislation passes, Hon. Chair, it's my intention, in the fullness of time -- and I mean when there is budgetary provision and stuff -- to proceed with the next step, which I consider to be the commissioner of lands.
J. van Dongen: Would that be done, then, by a cabinet decision -- by regulation -- to appoint such a person? Or would they simply be a member of the Agricultural Land Commission staff component?
Hon. C. Evans: It was my intention that they would be a staff member of the Ministry of Agriculture.
J. van Dongen: My second question relates to the announcement of the same date that the administrative functions and the commissions of the Agricultural Land Commission and the Forest Land Commission would be combined, ostensibly to promote integrated resource planning. I wonder if the minister could tell us if he still intends to combine those two commissions.
Hon. C. Evans: I'm not sure, hon. Chair, what you're supposed to say in answer to these questions about legislation that's not into the House yet. It is not dealt with under this bill, and I would be pleased, in the appropriate place, to discuss what I think the next steps are.
Section 7 approved.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Hon. Chair, I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Bill 70, Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act, 1999, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I call second reading of Bill 57.
RANGE AMENDMENT ACT, 1999
Bill 57 amends the Range Act to streamline operations and provide more flexibility for government and for farmers and ranchers in order to ensure forage that is available for use can be used in an appropriate manner. Bill 57 streamlines operations and provides flexibility in a number of ways. First, the bill moves decision-making from regional managers to district managers. This will mean that decisions are made at the local level, closer to the people that they affect. As a result, decision-making can be more responsive and efficient, saving time and money for both government and ranchers.
Second, the bill expands the opportunities to directly award agreements in appropriate circumstances -- for example, direct awards will be allowed for smaller volumes and where the agreement is needed for operations under an existing Land Act agreement. The direct award provisions will allow for a more streamlined, less costly process to gain access to forage in situations where there is little question over who should gain that access.
Third, the bill enables grazing and hay-cutting licence holders to apply to replace their licence in the last year of its term. Currently the act allows licence holders to apply for a replacement in the eighth and ninth years of the licence term but not in its last. Providing this opportunity will increase operational flexibility for licence holders.
Fourth, Bill 57 provides for a new type of agreement called a temporary hay-cutting permit that will be used to increase efficiencies around hay allocation. These permits are for a term of up to one year and will be used to take advantage of short-term opportunities to harvest hay. They can also be used to increase operational flexibility for grazing licence and permit holders by allowing them to switch uses temporarily to haying on their grazing areas.
[ Page 13300 ]Fifth, the bill will allow the district manager to increase the amount of forage that agreement holders can use in a year by up to 10 percent if favourable growing conditions exist. This new power provides an efficient means to allow Range Act agreement holders to take advantage of favourable growing conditions.
Bill 57 also contains a number of other provisions which will ensure that forage that is available for use can be used in an appropriate manner. The bill contains a requirement for grazing licence and permit holders to report when their use under the licence or permit falls below 90 percent. This will ensure that government is aware of when forage is available due to non-use and will allow temporary permits to be issued to use this forage while the existing holder is unable to take advantage of it.
Another provision will allow agreements to be awarded, subject to conditions. This will allow awards to be made in situations where a precondition is needed before forage can be used. For example, a fence may need to be built to control livestock movements on the new area. In addition, this provision allows the district manager to go to the next-best applicant if the first successful applicant is unable to follow through on a required condition. This will avoid the time and cost associated with readvertising the agreement. This new provision will enable the ministry to better protect the environment and the rights of existing users and will improve the award process in those cases when the first successful applicant is unable to follow through.
The last amendment I wish to discuss updates the transfer and provisions of the act to allow transfers to be approved after they occur and to impose conditions on those transfers. Currently the Range Act requires prior written consent to every transfer. If a person transfers without this prior consent, the only alternative is to cancel the agreement or ignore the omission and allow the transfer. The transfer amendments of this bill will provide an alternative to cancellation while also allowing environmental issues and management issues to be addressed through the conditions placed on the transfer.
The streamlining provisions of the bill will reduce the cost of doing business for the ranching industry and foster a stronger and more competitive sector in the province.
G. Abbott: It's a pleasure to rise briefly and just make a couple of comments with respect to Bill 57, Range Amendment Act, 1999. I don't think we need to spend a long time on this. We will have a couple of questions at committee stage with respect to some of the details of the Range Amendment Act.
Some would describe the changes contained in the Range Amendment Act as housekeeping; I don't think that's entirely accurate. I think there are some useful, commonsense changes designed to streamline the Range Act that are going to be put into effect here. The minister has described -- in sufficient detail, I think -- the various ways in which the Range Act should be streamlined and improved as a consequence of this bill. I'll just mention a couple as typical: in section 2, the addition of a reference to temporary hay-cutting permits and, in section 3, deleting references to a regional manager and leaving references to a district manager, in order to make more efficient use of staff time. Those are two typical examples of the changes that are being initiated by this bill.
The stakeholders that I have talked to are certainly supportive of the changes contained here. They are commonsense changes and can be endorsed for that reason. I understand the principal stakeholder organization here -- the B.C. Cattlemen's Association -- I understand to be supportive of the bill, which I think is an important issue as well. These are, I think, important changes for the cattlemen particularly or for those range users that take advantage of the use of the Crown range -- certainly important steps for them.
In relation to the overall forest policy framework in the province of British Columbia, these are modest steps in the right direction. Certainly the flexibility contained in the provisions here is welcome, and I'll add, just because the minister managed to slip it into his press release on the streamlining of the Range Act
J. Wilson: As a person that has used range and hay-cutting permits, I would have to say that this bill is a step in the right direction. Anything that will speed up the applicant process or make it easier to go out and apply for forage in one form or another is most welcome in the ranching industry.
There are a couple of things in this bill that I would possibly have to question, but at this time I don't think I will. But I would like to note them. One thing here is that I've noticed that if the applicant does not fill the permit or takes out a non-use, I presume that they will still be billed for the full number of AUMs that are on that tenure -- whether it be AUMs or tonnage that you may harvest off a cutting licence or a permit. And should the ministry decide to allot a percentage of that grazing licence or permit or cutting licence or permit to another user in that year, I don't see any mention that the existing permit holder would be exempt from paying the tonnage or the AUMs that the other person would use. I would assume that the way this government operates, the new applicant would be charged, plus the existing holder of the permit. So they would collect the double fees in any case.
This is something that probably should be looked at. The way it has been designed in the last few years, that's how it operates when you let part of your range go or part of your cutting permit go or it goes to another user for that year on a temporary permit. That amount should actually be taken off your bill at the end of the year.
In section 21(b)
[ Page 13301 ]lot of leeway and discretionary powers when it comes to dealing with people who may be competing out there for the forage that exists.
With that, I would have to support this bill, because I do believe it will streamline, in many cases, the permit process. I can attest to the fact that it has been rather onerous and frustrating for many, many years for people to actually get permits on time. Weather patterns will change, and you suddenly find that you need a hay licence or a hay permit for that year, and you know the forage is there. But by the time you go through the paperwork, that year's gone by, and you're looking at the next year. So with that, I wish to close.
The Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, I recognize the Minister of Forests to close debate.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: I thank the members opposite for their comments and support of the bill. I move that Bill 57 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House.
The Speaker: Minister, we need to do second reading first. The minister has moved the motion. I'll put the question.
Bill 57, Range Amendment Act, 1999, 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. Zirnhelt: Hon. Speaker, I call second reading of Bill 68.
FOREST AMENDMENT ACT, 1999
Bill 68 introduces amendments to the Forest Act to improve efficiency for both government and the forest sector, to repeal obsolete provisions and to correct minor typographical errors. The amendments presented by Bill 68 are in part due to the establishment of the Business Task Force by my colleague the Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations. The task force was established with a view to reducing the cost of doing business in British Columbia.
In its first report the Business Task Force indicated its support for an ongoing, streamlined process for dealing with housekeeping or efficiency amendments that have no policy nor fiscal impacts. This bill results from that process.
The addition of section 29.1 allows the regional manager to consolidate two or more timber licences into one, provided that the holder of the licence agrees. This change will allow a reduction of the paper burden associated with the administration of multiple timber licences when that is unnecessary or undesirable.
The amendment to section 48(1) adds a new type of free use permit. The free use permit covers such things as firewood for domestic use or by school boards for school purposes and scientific investigations and agricultural purposes. The amendment will allow free use permits to be issued for Christmas trees for personal use. Currently there is no ability for the Forest Service to allow this use of Crown timber, and yet requests are frequently made by members of the public for Christmas trees.
Section 54 of the act already provides the Minister of Forests with the ability to delegate the consent to transfer certain types of licences to regional district managers. Conditions may now be attached by regional district managers to those consents, and the amendments make it clear that a person who is a subject of the consent must comply with the conditions.
The amendments add timber sale licences with an allowable annual cut of 10,000 cubic metres or less as one of the agreements for which a consent to transfer may be delegated by the Minister of Forests to regional and district managers. A regional or district manager with delegated powers to consent to transfer may also cancel an agreement for failure by the licensee to obtain that consent. The changes also specify that delegation does not need to be specific to a particular agreement. This will result in greater efficiency and faster service for licensees in the listed categories who wish to transfer their licences.
We're making changes to the requirement that a separate timber mark must be issued to a landowner for every parcel of private land, even when the parcel is being cleared or is on the same right-of-way. New provisions will maintain the ability of a private land owner to apply for a timber mark and will add the ability of an agent of the government or a private utility company to obtain one that covers several parcels of land when that is appropriate. Private land owners will still receive the protection they now have when multiple timber marks are issued for the same piece of work. The registrar of timber marks will continue to require the written consent of the landowner and will determine whether a valid right-of-way registration has been filed in the land title office.
In suitable circumstances this change will allow real streamlining of the issuance of timber marks to utility companies and Crown agents. District managers are being given the authority to cancel or suspend the operation of scale sites if there's been a failure to comply with requirements for salvaging, transportation and marking of timber; scaling; or payments owed to the government. Because the district manager will also have the authority to give the holder of a scale-site authorization an opportunity to be heard before cancellation or suspension of the authorization, these matters can be dealt with more quickly than is now the case. Affected scale-site authorization holders will receive better and faster service in the resolution of contraventions that can lead to a suspension or cancellation.
Deletions of Crown land from a licence or reductions in the allowable land or cut of a licence can occur for several purposes. These include the need for access to Crown timber; highway, pipeline or power transmission; water storage; or other purposes not related to timber production. In these cases the act currently contemplates that any amendments required to a Forest Act agreement due to deletions or reductions be evidenced by a written agreement signed by both the government and the agreement holder. Provisions in this bill eliminate that extra step and replace it with a requirement that the district manager must serve notice of the amendment on the agreement holder. The notice served by the district manager is in addition to the original notice from the minister or regional manager.
[ Page 13302 ]Annual rent for timber sale licences with an allowable annual cut of 10,000 cubic metres or less will no longer be charged or collected. The administration costs of collecting the rents on those small licences exceed the amount collected. Efficiency for government will also benefit these small licence holders with moderate savings.
Regulatory authority is being added to allow the establishment and amendment of forest region boundaries by reference to maps that are stored by electronic means. Public access to information about the regions will be improved, as will the ease of their establishment and amendment.
Bill 68 repeals several obsolete provisions and provisions that have never been used. Section 134, which requires that the regional manager be notified of expansion or construction of a mill so that the Minister of Forests may require a mill licence to be obtained, is being repealed. This section has not been used more than once or twice and is not necessary.
Section 8(5)(c) and the reference to it in section 10(2) have not been used since their enactment in 1992, and they will never be used. Section 8(5)(c) allows the chief forester to specify a portion of the allowable annual cut that is attributed to gains in timber production on Crown land that result from silviculture treatments funded by either the federal government, the provincial government or both.
Obsolete provisions in the Supplement to the Forest Act are also being repealed. For example, a provision in the Supplement that is being repealed is one requiring dealers in timber on which stumpage or royalty has not been paid to open an account with the government and to provide security.
All of these changes will make reference to the Forest Act easier for readers. These amendments will assist in our ongoing efforts to streamline processes and increase operational efficiency wherever possible.
Hon. C. Evans: Bill 68 also includes several changes proposed for woodlot licences. The maximum terms for woodlot licences as well as the replacement terms for woodlot licences are being lengthened. The term of woodlot licences is being lengthened from 15 years to 20 years. The replacement term for these licences is lengthened from five years to ten years.
Minor woodlot boundary changes will now be able to be made by regional or district managers, with the consent of the licence holder, anytime instead of only at the replacement of the woodlot licence. This is necessary not only because of the length of the woodlot licence replacement term but also to allow for minor corrections and adjustments. Regulations will dictate how and in what circumstances the regional district managers can make these boundary adjustments. The regulations will be developed in consultation with the woodlot sector.
Certain provisions are added to better provide for transition from the current woodlot licence and replacement terms to new ones. These changes will mean less administration and greater efficiency for both the Forest Service and the woodlot licensees without any compromise of forest practices.
G. Abbott: I would like to make just a few brief comments with respect to Bill 68, the Forest Amendment Act, 1999. Again, I think what we find in Bill 68 are some useful, important and commonsense changes to the Forest Act which, hopefully, are small steps, at least, towards reform of the forest policy framework in British Columbia.
There are just a few of the provisions that I want to speak to particularly. The ministers have adequately covered off the provisions in here, but I do want to highlight a couple of them which I think are particularly important -- for example, the provision which will allow consolidation of two or more timber licences under some circumstances. This should be a good streamlining provision. It does increase flexibility, and I think that's important. We will have some questions in committee with respect to how this provision will operate, but I think it is a step in the right direction. We will pursue that more in committee.
A second area -- and I think this is really the most important area of this bill -- is around the provisions which apply to woodlots. I certainly am supportive of changing or, I should say, increasing the maximum term of a woodlot from 15 to 20 years. I think that is something which enhances the security of tenure holders who have woodlots in this province.
It also should assist in a reduction in paperwork, which has been a fairly common complaint among woodlot holders. With the five-year turnaround in plans and the 15-year turnaround in licences, they were spending too much time on paperwork and not enough in the field doing the work that they got the woodlot to pursue in the first place.
Just a third note, and this is consistent with the changes we discussed in the Range Act amendments in the previous bill: the provisions of Bill 68 allow delegation of specified areas of authority from the minister to regional managers and district managers. Again, I think this is the kind of change which -- while, I guess, is housekeeping in many respects -- is useful, in that it should produce quicker turnaround times on paperwork. That is something which I think will be generally welcomed by all the stakeholders in the forest industry. We need more flexibility to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. Hopefully, these are the first of many more steps towards improving and reforming the forest policy framework in British Columbia.
That's all the comments I have. I don't believe that any of my colleagues have questions with respect to this.
An Hon. Member: No.
G. Abbott: Okay.
The Speaker: For closing remarks, I recognize the Minister of Forests.
Hon. D. Zirnhelt: Hon. Speaker, I thank the member for his comments. I'd like to move second reading.
Bill 68, Forest Amendment Act, 1999, 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. Lovick: Hon. Speaker, I call Bill 63
The Speaker: Second reading.
Hon. D. Lovick:
[ Page 13303 ]
WILDLIFE AMENDMENT ACT, 1999
This bill contains a broad array of changes designed to strengthen the enforcement of the Wildlife Act. This bill dramatically toughens and diversifies penalties against those who take part in poaching and other illegal activities related to provincial wildlife. The current penalty provisions in the Wildlife Act were developed a number of years ago. Since that time many factors have increased the complexity of administering and enforcing the act. These include the effect of inflation on the severity of fines, the increasing range of issues subject to the act and increases in commercially motivated crimes.
Experience has shown that the vague wording of some provisions has made it difficult for the act to successfully prosecute some offences. These amendments to the Wildlife Act will clarify these provisions and reorganize as well as increase the magnitude and range of penalties a court may apply with respect to offences under the act. For example, people trafficking in grizzly bear parts or engaging in grizzly bear poaching will now face a maximum $100,000 fine for a first offence. Previously these individuals faced only a maximum $25,000 fine. In fact, we are raising the maximum fines across the board, largely in response to public concern that our current penalty regime does not adequately penalize those who break the law.
Specifically, the amendment creates three tiers of infractions and fine ranges, and classifies offences depending on their seriousness. Tier 1 is reserved for the most grievous offences under the Wildlife Act. These offences have the potential to seriously impact public safety or resource management and are particularly offensive to society -- for example, offences related to the illegal commercial trade in wildlife or wildlife parts. Tier 2 offences are serious offences which would have an impact on wildlife resources or which reflect serious unethical practices -- for example, offences related to illegal hunting or trapping. Finally, tier 3 is a general category for the majority of offences under the Wildlife Act.
The amendments to the Wildlife Act will also provide courts with the ability to use what we call creative sentencing. Creative sentencing can include a variety of measures, including a requirement for community service, the payment of funds to cover the cost of remedial or preventative action, the posting of bonds to ensure compliance, and the payment of money into a special trust fund such as the grizzly bear trust fund. The amendment also enables courts to order payment of additional penalties to offset any actual or estimated profit made by trafficking in wildlife or wildlife meat.
Also included with this bill are amendments which address a very important issue which has been extensively in the news media over the past year, and that is the conflict between humans and bears. Every year in British Columbia an average of 1,000 so-called problem bears have to be killed by conservation officers. Last year 1,700 bears had to be killed. The human cost of these interactions is also high. In British Columbia, ten people have been by killed and 71 people injured by bears between the years 1985 and 1998. Approximately 30 percent of these incidents are directly attributable to bears that have been attracted to garbage and other non-natural food sources.
Public information programs continue to provide the public with the facts about how to avoid unwanted attraction by dangerous wildlife, but regrettably, these programs have not achieved the level of success we had hoped for. Increasingly, the public and local governments have asked the ministry to set up regulatory activities in this area to help resolve these conflicts. Today's media coverage about bear-human conflict in the greater Victoria area is an exact example of the kind of situation we are trying to resolve through this act.
Amendments to the Wildlife Act will create legislative tools to deal with these issues. New provisions will make it an offence for a person to feed dangerous wildlife or purposely leave food, food waste or other substances on the premises with the intention of attracting dangerous wildlife. Dangerous wildlife are defined as bears, cougars, coyotes and wolves.
The amendment also empowers conservation officers, in very carefully limited circumstances, to write a dangerous wildlife protection order requiring the removal or containment of compost, food, food waste or domestic garbage. These orders will help eliminate attractants of dangerous wildlife. Individuals who fail to comply with an order will face a penalty.
Through these amendments we will be able to reduce the number of dangerous wildlife and human interactions. As well, we will be able to limit the number of bears and other dangerous wildlife which have to be killed each year because they become dependent on human garbage or other attractants.
Other amendments included in this bill are required to update the act and allow government to keep pace with both administrative and conservation goals. These particular amendments include provisions which will allow government to retain jurisdiction over commercial licence holders whose licences expire before a disciplinary hearing can be held. It will streamline the process for appointing deputy conservation officers. It will allow certificate evidence obtained from labs in the United States to be used in court prosecutions and prevent out-of-province individuals from claiming reduced resident fees for hunting and angling licences, and allow the habitat conservation trust fund to acquire and dispose of water rights for conservation purposes.
Hon. Speaker, this bill will help us to maintain and increase compliance, enforcement and the cost-effectiveness of conservation management programs. This bill reflects government's commitment to enhanced environmental administration, management and protection.
M. Coell: As the minister said, this bill has basically three components, the first being increased penalties for Wildlife Act violations. The one that I wish to spend some time on is the offence of poaching. For me, the fines aren't high enough, although I realize that they are now in line with the federal guidelines on federal land. The problem here is that it's always after the fact. The animal has been disposed of or shot, and the person is caught in the act. I think that what we need is more enforcement, so we catch poachers long before they
[ Page 13304 ]have taken the life of an animal. I will have some further questions for the minister during committee stage of this bill.
The other section that I have some real problems with -- and I know other members of the opposition caucus do -- is the section giving conservation officers the right to issue orders demanding that property owners address the problem of careless storage, food waste and compost. That in itself isn't bad, but what it does is it gives them the power to enter your property -- your private dwellings -- and search. I don't think that the conservation officer needs the level of ability to do basically what police officers have to do with a search warrant. They would not have to have a search warrant or a warrant of any kind to go onto your property and search your residence. I think that's a major flaw with this bill.
One that we want to spend some time on, again in committee stage, deals with the deputy conservation officer's role and who can be appointed -- whether it could be police officers; whether the act now would give all police officers in the province the role of a deputy CO. That is an area that I have some concern about.
The other area that the minister commented on is the housekeeping issues. I think there are some positive issues that are dealt with; the housekeeping we don't have a problem with.
The monetary fines, as I mentioned, are in line. I personally think that they're not high enough and that we need to do more with creatively finding ways to deal with habitual poachers. I don't see that covered in this act.
The lack of consultation with the community -- with affected groups throughout B.C. -- is significant here. One of the things that I found surprising was the number of groups that said that they hadn't realized these changes were coming forward. They would have liked some time to comment on them. I do acknowledge that some of this is housekeeping and possibly wouldn't need that. But I think that the changes to the conservation officer's authority should have been considered by the guide-outfitters and by the environmental groups as well. I think that they may have had some input that would have been beneficial.
I know that there are a number of other speakers who wish to identify some of the rural concerns with regard to this act. Overall, I'm disappointed that I'm not able to support it, because I think there are some things in it that are helpful. But the overriding changes to the authority given to government employees and
J. Wilson: Bill 63 has several sections in it that give me some concern. One of the first things that I looked at was section 4(4), which deals with wildlife management areas. They have changed it somewhat. In some wildlife management areas, there are existing interests and existing uses out there. Generally speaking, they are arrived at through a consensus of agreement between ministries to allow people to go in and do whatever activity they want on the land base, as long as it's not detrimental to the wildlife. Under this amendment to this act, that right will now lie fully with the regional manager, and you must have the written permission of the regional manager. It says very clearly: "Despite any other enactment
There are a lot of housekeeping issues in this bill. Some of them are fine; there's no problem with them. But some of the penalties here, to my mind, may be a little bit excessive when you compare them to other criminal acts that go on out there and the way they're handled. I think there are some things here that could be a bit of a problem. As my colleague has mentioned, it probably would have been a much better solution to have put this bill out for a bit more review by the public before it was brought to the House.
One of the things that I do have a concern with -- and, I think, rightly so
If the ministry was concerned about bears and nothing but that, I could see that. I can see where you don't want a lot of stuff around to attract bears, but what this does
The number of attacks we've had by coyotes on people
That brings us back to the problem we're faced with. And they've got cougars
Let's look at some of these attractants we've got. We're going to turn our conservation officers into compost cops. To
[ Page 13305 ]me, that's sort of a waste of their ability. Look at it this way. We come to Thanksgiving dinner, and we have a beautiful dinner. We can take the leftovers of the turkey and throw them in the garbage can out in front of the house, and we're perfectly legal. But don't, whatever you do, throw the remains of the squash in the compost heap, because it could be an attractant to a bear. What ever happened to common sense? You can't see the compost heap, but you can sure see the garbage can -- but that's legal. Where's the bear going to go, or where's the coyote going to go, to find what's left of your turkey? He's not going to go into the back yard; he's going to go to your garbage can sitting on the street corner. That's where the bear will go.
If you happen to have a fruit tree in your back yard, that's a good bear attractant -- especially an apple tree. How many people around this province have got a fruit tree? A big wind comes up, and a few apples hit the ground. The conservation officer can now tell you to go pick those apples up, because that's a bear attractant. Now, I don't think a lot of people will be real happy about that. They can't pick them up and throw them in their compost heap; they've got to put them in a garbage bag and pack them off to the landfill. Whatever happened to common sense? It's gone.
What happens to the person that wants to keep a beehive in their back yard? I might add that if you're in an agricultural business, you're exempt in this bill. But there are thousands of little property owners out there who are not in any agricultural business. They grow a garden for their own use, and they may want to keep a beehive in their back yard, but that might become illegal. You might get written up on that one. You might not even be able to plant any corn in your garden. That's another good attractant.
You know, if you're in the business of farming, that's fine. But suppose you have a kennel, suppose you're raising dogs. You may have to be told: "No, you'd better put your source of dog food in a very secure place, because that could be an attractant for coyotes or bears." Well, I have yet to see a bear or a coyote that would walk into a dog kennel. Turn a few of them loose, and they would probably run them right out of the country. But anyway, it might draw them close enough that a neighbour will see them.
So, if it's good for one
We've got some other critters running around out there that can get really nasty. Have you ever encountered a badger? Man, oh man, they'll rip you apart. You'd better run. Why aren't they on this list? That's what I'd like to know. So I think this is a red herring. That's all it is. All this bill is for is to label a coyote a killer so that this government can become more and more invasive in every aspect of your life. They're even going to go through your compost heap and pick it apart, and that's what this is all about. If this government has got any common sense, they will pull that section out of this bill immediately.
The Speaker: I recognize for closing remarks, the Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks.
Hon. C. McGregor: I must thank the member opposite for a very entertaining second reading presentation. Many of his positions we will examine in greater detail in committee stage. But first let me make clear that the critic, when he spoke, made reference to COs having the ability to enter private premises, and that is not specifically permitted under the act. Section 89 makes clear that a conservation officer may not enter a person's personal residence in order to look for attractants or to investigate a matter related to dangerous wildlife.
I would also like to address the issues related to the range of fines and additional fines. The member talked about the need for having greater fines available, and there are provisions in the act, including section 84(3), where we can talk about the ability of the courts to impose additional fines on the basis of profit-making on poaching activity. I agree with the member's comments about the need to have a very strong fine structure.
On the question of conservation officers being able to exercise rights that are too broad, I would note that there are really three conditions a conservation officer must make prior to entering premises, and we will discuss them at some detail. I think it's important for the public to understand that certain conditions must be met prior to
I think I'm going to have to leave the member's comments related to compost, care of garbage and dog food to committee stage, but frankly his comments were quite ridiculous. All of us can use common sense about the management of these issues, and we should. In fact, that's part of the reason why this bill is being introduced.
With that, I move that the bill be referred to Committee of the Whole House
The Speaker: Minister, you need to need to move second reading first.
Hon. C. McGregor: I move second reading.
Second reading of Bill 63 approved on division.
Bill 63, Wildlife Amendment Act, 1999, 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. J. MacPhail: I call second reading of Bill 64, and I would move the bill be read a second time now.
[ Page 13306 ]
SECURITIES AMENDMENT ACT, 1999
First, the amendments would confirm the jurisdiction of the commission to decide questions of law. The commission has faced delays in proceedings when people subject to a hearing have gone to court to raise legal challenges. This amendment is intended to reduce the opportunity for interruption of commission proceedings and to clarify for the court that it can safely decline and leave to the commission the determination of charter challenges or other legal questions.
Second, the amendments expand the existing prohibitions on fraud and market manipulation to cover securities of an issuer that is not a reporting issuer and that does not trade on an exchange in British Columbia.
Third, the amendments expand the offence provisions so that any material faults or misleading statement or omission -- not just one that affects the market price or the value of securities -- is a contravention of and therefore an offence under the Securities Act. This amendment would bring the legislation in B.C. more closely in line with the legislation in Ontario and would enhance investor protection in British Columbia.
Fourth, the amendments would permit the Securities Commissions to apply for certain court orders that would allow aggrieved investors to recoup losses suffered as a result of others' noncompliance with the securities legislation. This amendment would harmonize B.C.'s legislation with the existing or proposed legislation in other major Canadian jurisdictions and would enhance investor protection here in British Columbia.
Fifth -- lastly -- the amendments would clarify that a director, an officer, employee or agent who authorizes, permits or acquiesces in a company's or other entity's contravention of securities legislation is subject to the administrative sanctions imposed by the commission, as well as quasi-criminal offences under the act.
The bill also contains a number of streamlining amendments that will clarify certain statutory provisions and harmonize other provisions of the Securities Act with legislation in other Canadian jurisdictions. This bill enhances the commission's power to protect investors and streamlines the regulatory framework. Improved investor protection and the reduction of the regulatory burden through streamlining will result in more efficient and effective regulation of the securities industry, and it will ultimately contribute to a better environment for investment and economic development in the province.
G. Farrell-Collins: I think the minister's comments accurately reflect the contents of the bill. That's all I have to say in second reading.
The Speaker: For closing remarks, the Minister of Finance moves second reading. Would the minister like to move second reading?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I did move
Bill 64, Securities Amendment Act, 1999, 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. J. MacPhail: I call second reading of Bill 67.
STRATA PROPERTY AMENDMENT ACT, 1999
This bill amends the Strata Property Act which was passed in July 1998. The Strata Property Act will replace the existing Condominium Act as the legislation that governs how strata properties in British Columbia are created, owned and operated. It is expected that the new act, which has been favourably received as a more comprehensive code for strata property development and governance, will be brought into force this year.
These amendments are the result of further input received during the introduction of the Strata Property Act. The primary purpose of the amendments is to correct technical and drafting errors in the new act. For example, a default mechanism has been instituted to allow a general meeting to proceed even if the quorum is not obtained, in order to avoid the continual deferral of meetings due to a lack of quorum. The amendments will also ensure greater certainty and will increase flexibility and facilitate compliance.
To further the plain-language objective of the Strata Property Act, this amending bill also narrows the scope and application of certain provisions and clarifies the intent of others. This bill will also allow greater ease of compliance with the act. For example, the amendments extend certain time frames to provide more realistic time periods for certain obligations to be met, such as the deadline by which a strata corporation must hold its annual general meeting. That will allow a strata corporation to obtain audited financial statements.
The amendments also provide greater flexibility for strata corporations by removing the prohibition against strata corporations obtaining errors and omissions insurance for the bad-faith conduct of council members. And consistent with the plain-language objective of the Strata Property Act, a number of provisions have been reworded to provide consistency and to clarify intent, so that the act may be used as a complete guide to strata property governance.
Hon. Speaker, condominiums are an important and viable form of property ownership in the province, and there are significant expectations within the strata community for the implementation of the Strata Property Act. These amendments are essential to facilitate the effective governance of the strata property system and will enable the new act to be brought into force.
R. Coleman: Unfortunately, this Bill 67 actually amends Bill 47. We were here about a year ago discussing the benefits of this bill to the industry and to the owners of condominiums in the province because of its plain-language rewrite. It's been in process since 1990. We had a discussion about it last year, and we thought that there would be some difficulties with the
[ Page 13307 ]bill when we did it in committee -- and that there was no time. There was no point in going through it section by section. We knew that until we actually implemented something that had been outstanding for 22 years, we would never find out whether this bill actually worked within the industry and that we would be finding some problems and some amendments necessary.
Well, we've only had 20 pieces of legislation since this bill was enacted in the same session of the Legislature a year ago, and we're back here with amendments. I hope that we can do these amendments. I hope these amendments are the last amendments, so we can actually implement the act, get the plain-language rewrite into the industry and see if it works.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I look forward to committee debate, and I would move second reading.
Bill 67, Strata Property Amendment Act, 1999, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Committee A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. J. MacPhail moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 9:01 p.m.
The committee met at 2:35 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF SMALL BUSINESS, TOURISM AND CULTURE
Hon. I. Waddell: I have with me my new assistant deputy minister on the business side, Ardath Paxton Mann, and Rhonda Hunter from the ministry, and of course Lyn Tait, the deputy minister. I'm surrounded by strong and creative women.
R. Thorpe: It's always nice when the minister can recognize that he's surrounded by creative, competent staff.
We want to move through this reasonably quickly and concisely. What were the three top issues identified at the economic summit in Kamloops last May with respect to small business? And what action have you taken on those three issues from Kamloops last May?
Hon. I. Waddell: I was there, and my department may have a different view and may have written it down differently, but what I recall is that the first one was the J licence. In that area there are a lot of
R. Thorpe: I'm sure that when we get into the liquor distribution side, we can talk a little bit about the liquor regulations that are proposed and that the government has announced. Of course, we can't talk about policy or legislation in here. But it is very, very interesting to me -- and I'll just comment on that before I switch gears -- that on February 16, 1995, this same government made almost the same announcement with respect to J licences. So four years go by, and we announce the same thing. But we'll get into that a little bit later.
One of the things I recall
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is that we listened to their suggestions. We asked that they be concrete. We also said to the business people that there are areas that we can move on together -- like red tape, like these licences, like taxes, and so on -- but that there are some areas where we can't move. One of the areas is
R. Thorpe: It always seems that that's the minister's fallback position -- always go back to minimum wage when we don't have an answer to the real question. So let me ask the question again. At the Kamloops summit, the ski industry specifically said: "We need flexibility with respect to employment standards." They made no reference to minimum wage -- no reference. They believe in paying for their employees, whatever the market tells them they have to pay. I would like to know -- on behalf of, as an example, the ski industry of British Columbia -- what flexibility and what studies and analysis and action is this government taking with respect to putting flexibility into employment standards -- for example, for the skiing industry?
Hon. I. Waddell: We're looking at a couple of areas that they are asking about. Specifically, what they want in labour standards is to reduce the four-hour minimum pay per shift. We're looking at that, but there would need to be special circumstances with respect to any changes there. The other area was minimum wage requirements for commissioned employees. We're looking at that -- but again, there would have to be special circumstances. We have changed the labour
[ Page 13308 ]standards somewhat for the high-tech sector, which operates differently in the kind of culture of work in the new economy. We have made changes there.
R. Thorpe: Since I have asked that question of the minister twice -- what they plan to do or what they're studying to do with respect to the ski industry -- and we haven't had an answer, I can only assume, unless the minister tells me something different, that they're prepared to do nothing.
What did the small business and tourism segment in Cariboo North tell the minister and the government with respect to tourism for the Barkerville gold rush trail and for fishing lodges and resorts? What is the action plan, and what is the time line?
Hon. I. Waddell: At the Cariboo Premier's summit there were some very interesting suggestions made about the possibility of gateway communities. A gateway community is a gateway to a park or to a surrounding area of ecotourism, where all the services will be provided in that community. That community, in a sense, would be beefed up, and that would free it up to be the service centre of the whole new ecotourism as we open up the commercial leases in government lands. That was the suggestion at the summit, and we're looking at it seriously, for example, for the town of Wells.
J. Reid: In your 1999-2000 business plan, it states that 82 percent of small businesses in B.C. are in fact microbusinesses with fewer than five employees. I'd like to ask what specific actions you're taking in the area of employment standards and the WCB to ensure that these small businesses -- and these are really small businesses -- are not bogged down in red tape.
Hon. I. Waddell: I brought the microbusinesses together with the Labour officials who control
Also, I might add that we incorporated, for the first time, a representative of microbusiness on the Business Task Force which meets regularly and is in charge of reducing red tape -- that's the government and business working together. There have been some useful suggestions from the woman who is representing microbusiness on that task force. She's very active on it, and she has brought up some issues like the minimum pay per shift and so on.
So we can work new labour standards into this kind of new economy. I don't know if we've got any concrete results in that area. I don't think we have yet; I hope we'll get some soon.
J. Reid: With the follow-up
The Chair: Through the Chair.
J. Reid: Would the minister be looking at including more people in this consultative process? In proposing any changes, what method and manner would the minister see that take?
Hon. I. Waddell: The Business Task Force is looking at new members in its priorities for next year. Barbara Mowat has articulately represented small business -- or microbusiness, if you want to call it that -- on the task force and has made a number of useful suggestions. They particularly welcome the small business tax cut, which was welcomed by members of the task force and indeed came out of some of the suggestions of the task force.
J. Reid: With businesses, a lot of the complaints with government are not just the taxes or the fees or even the regulations. It's the amount of time spent dealing with government. Has the Ministry of Small Business done any studies to actually look at the time spent, where businesses have to interact with government -- whether it be attending meetings, filling out forms, talking on the phone for clarification, etc.?
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't believe we've done any specific studies, but we're aware of the time that's needed. That's why we've made it easier for small businesses to register with government. Right now a small business operator can go to one of 42 one-stop registration centres. One opened in Saanich just the other day. In 20 minutes they can sign up with the federal and provincial governments -- all their taxes, all their forms. In 20 seconds they can be on line and learn how to put together a business plan. If they're in an export business, in two minutes we can tell them where the markets are.
In the other parts of dealing with government, as you know, we brought in the Business Paper Reduction Act, where we made 19 changes in 11 acts of the Legislature that affected small business. The next step is to get the municipalities being as efficient as the federal and provincial governments are in reducing red tape for small business. These are significant steps.
J. Reid: It is very disappointing to hear that this area that costs small business a huge amount of dollars isn't being looked at seriously. To start up a business and to register is one thing. Once that process is over and done, it's years of dealing with government regulation and very time-consuming activities.
With the number of meetings that small businesses are expected to attend, and certainly in the desire to have consultation, small businesses react that for the time put in, that result hasn't come back. Has there been any calculation by this ministry as to the number of meetings a small business person will attend over the course of a year in all areas of government, the number of people attending, the hours that they've attended and the cost back to those small businesses -- not the cost, the losses to those businesses for the time put in?
Hon. I. Waddell: The hon. member will be aware that there are all kinds of different small businesses, and it varies. So we don't have that study.
C. Hansen: I want to ask the minister about a very specific industry -- very specific small businesses -- and that's our pharmacists in the province. I think my colleague was talking about a timely consultation process. You know, I think that some small businesses may tolerate the long-drawn-out consultations if they get a sense that they're being listened to.
[ Page 13309 ]But in the case of the new pharmacy participation agreement that has been imposed on pharmacists around the province -- or is being imposed on pharmacies -- that consultation process was obviously meaningless, because nobody was listening, in the end. The new agreement that is being forced on them does not reflect the consultations. In many cases, it's going to wind up with pharmacies being forced out of business as a direct result of the terms of this new agreement. I'm wondering if the minister could tell us what role his ministry is taking to ensure that some of these small businesses are not threatened to the point of being put out of business as a result of a government action.
Hon. I. Waddell: To answer the hon. member's question -- and it's a good one, because it shows a little bit of the process -- this agreement, of course, is between the Ministry of Health and pharmacists. Now, I don't know why the Ministry of Health would want certain aspects of the agreement -- perhaps, and most likely, to save the public treasury money and to put some efficiencies in the health system -- which are good goals.
I've been approached -- my department's been approached -- by some small businesses, small pharmacists, with some concerns. I'm taking up those concerns now with the Ministry of Health and reminding the Ministry of Health that we're now to look at agreements and regulation through a business lens, which the government has adopted as a result of the task force meetings. That is, if you do an agreement, or if you do an action or regulation, how will that affect small business in the real world of working? So we're taking that up right now, and the hon. member will be the first to learn any report we get from that.
C. Hansen: If I can paraphrase the minister's comments, he was saying that he's encouraging the Ministry of Health and reminding them that there is a business lens. Is there a business lens or not that this particular new agreement would be subject to?
Hon. I. Waddell: There is a business lens that we are applying to all new regulations and all agreements in government. It sometimes takes a little while for that to trickle down into all elements of government, but we have said, as a result of the last report of the Business Task Force, that we would look at all regulation, run it through the business lens. When I'm in cabinet, and there's any regulation or any act comes up, I point out: "Have you looked at it through the business lens? What will that mean for costs for people? What will that mean for them continuing in business? What will that mean for the red tape?" -- and so on. That's what we mean by the business lens.
C. Hansen: I have in my hand the original pharmacy participation agreement, which has been in effect for in excess of 20 years. It's one page; it's quite simple. I think that most people will recognize that there is a need for some change to this agreement. It was designed for another era, basically. It was designed for an era when Pharmacare was basically there to provide for medications for welfare recipients at the time. That was what it was designed for.
So I think everybody recognized that this would have to be revised, but I think the sense was that it would be revised in a collaborative manner, in a way that
Eight days from today, this is the agreement that gets put in place. Now, the pharmacies, basically, on average, depend
If you go and talk to the Ministry of Health, they're going to tell you that about half the pharmacies have already signed the new agreement. The ones that have signed are the big chains. The big chains like the Overwaiteas, the Save-On-Foods, the Safeways
So on the one hand, they're told that they're going to have absolutely no agreement. I'm wondering if the minister will undertake to go to the Ministry of Health
As I understand it, that would be quite a simple process. You could wind up with some time for the small business owners to be involved in a meaningful way in a process that at least is going to allow them to stay in business. Otherwise, I think we're going to see some real problems develop, particularly in the small rural communities where there is one pharmacy in town. If that pharmacy either signs this thing and goes out of business or they refuse to be part of Pharmacare, it is basically going to deprive a huge section of our population of an essential part of health services in those communities. I'm just wondering if the minister would undertake to make that appeal to the Minister of Health.
Hon. I. Waddell: I will undertake to take the hon. member's comments to the Ministry of Health and to ask for the delay. I understand that there may in fact be a delay in implementing it. I'm tempted to say that I'll try for a delay, but I think there is a delay. That gives us time to have a further look at it and take the hon. member's comments and make sure that the little guy doesn't get hurt by this.
R. Thorpe: I had the opportunity this weekend to talk to a pharmacist in a small community in my riding -- Summerland. They are panic-stricken about this. I'm always reminded of the minister's comments of February 25, 1998, about being an advocate for tourism and small business. I think this is now the time that the minister has to stand up; we have to be counted -- not only to get the delay
[ Page 13310 ]ment from this minister to ensure that this new process is going to be put through the business lens, which his
Hon. I. Waddell: Other than the last comment about the shattered credibility of government -- because I think small business is doing well and is the engine of economic growth in this province -- the answer is yes.
J. Reid: With the ministry's position as an advocate for small business
"I think you need to realize that small business owners are facing extremely difficult situationsWhat's been happening is that when these businesses are facing extreme problems in their industry and they turn to the Ministry of Small Business as an advocate, there is no place or program or opportunity for them to feel that they're going to get help or be led through a constructive process. Will the minister share with us what these businesses should be doing in interacting with the ministry to see some results?
. . . .Our message of encouraging an economic climate which allows small business to thrive has not been heard by your government . . . .
"There are policies and practices that your government could undertake that would make a huge difference to small business. I urge you to begin listening and consulting in a meaningful way with small business representatives."
Hon. I. Waddell: The ministry is in constant consultation with small businesses. We try to put them onto the right places and sources. They're asking for sources for money; they're asking when they're in difficulty. I've had tourism businesses in a real crisis situation. I've put them onto the job protection commissioner, who's come up with some ideas for them. But the hon. member has to understand that we have a private enterprise system. Some small businesses will go bankrupt; some will have difficulty; some will flourish.
I'll give you an example. I just dealt last week with some small businesses that service the film industry -- they can't get enough employees; they're growing like mad -- versus
L. Stephens: I have a few questions that I would like to ask the minister. First, I want to make a little comment, though. It seems to me that when we're talking about small businesses and big businesses, the government doesn't hesitate to bail out some of the big businesses, and the small businesses around the province are indeed struggling. I want to tell the minister that in my region, the Fraser Valley, there was a summit held in February of this year. Members of the chamber and local businesses, both large and small, attended that summit.
They included representatives from Chilliwack, Maple Ridge, Mission, Port Moody, Langley, North Langley, Surrey, White Rock -- all of those local chambers and their members. One of the issues that came through -- or the issue that came through -- loud and clear for businesses in British Columbia is the fact that competitiveness is the key. I think if the minister has been talking with small business people -- and with big business people, for that matter -- he's probably very well aware of that. If you can't compete, you can't stay in business.
The other thing that came through loud and clear in this particular summit, as well, is that the policies of this government have made that competitiveness very, very difficult. That competitiveness in productivity with the neighbouring jurisdictions, Alberta and Washington State, is in skill-based workers, in taxation, in international markets and in the government's policies and programs
I just want to read a little bit from their report on the Fraser Valley specifically, which is what this summit was all about -- talking about the needs of the Fraser Valley.
"As of December 1997 there were over 7,600 business firms registered in the Fraser Valley, and more than 6,700 of these employed fewer than 20 people. There were over 1,000 businesses each in the agriculture, construction and retail industries. Other major players included business services, health, and accommodation, food and beverage. Tourism has shown particularly strong growth, with room revenue in 1997 at $23.1 million, up nearly $1.4 million over the year before.There are a number of competitive disadvantages in the Fraser Valley, and the challenge is in agriculture, tourism, forestry and infrastructure, which includes transportation. I've taken the opportunity to speak with the Minister of Transportation about this -- and also the Minister of Labour, as far as the ICBC initiatives that impact the transportation area. Aboriginal land claims and economic development opportunities were the other two issues that were identified as competitive disadvantages.
"There have been some alarming trends recently in the valley. The forest industry, which represented nearly half of the manufacturing in the region in 1995, has been in steady decline. Building permits have decreased substantially, down nearly 20 percent over the first quarter of this year -- a worry when construction was the largest employer in 1997. The rate of consumer and business bankruptcies grew by more than double between 1994 and 1997. The result is that the percentage of population in the Fraser Valley dependent upon the social safety net has begun to increase again, and was up to 12.6 percent in March of 1998, after reaching a low of 10.4 percent in June of 1997. This is substantially higher than the provincial rate. The rate is particularly high for the 19-to-24 age group at 16.9 percent" in our region.
What the participants identified in the economic development sessions was the need for an overall economic development plan -- a regional plan. Does the minister have a plan on a regional basis for the various regions of the province? I believe there are eight. Does the minister have regional economic development plans? In this particular case, I'm asking about the Fraser Valley.
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is no; we have regional tourism plans but not regional business plans. However, I
[ Page 13311 ]might say that I'm listening carefully to what the member has said. We are acting on a number of those fronts, including aboriginal claims -- settling aboriginal claims. We've settled the first one with the modern treaty process, and subsequent ones will be settled.
The notion that it's government's policies that are holding things back is a myth. Things are not being held back. You're living in one of the areas that's going to have one of the biggest developments in North America. We're going through a period in which the forest industry's down, but tourism is coming up and film is moving out to the valley. Danny Virtue's ranch out there is a result of government policies. Tourism is a result of government policies. Small business is a result of government policies of business tax breaks -- it's the best in Canada except for Newfoundland -- and other government policies. We're listening.
It's coming. I don't know if you've looked around recently, but things are starting to come back. In my own area of Vancouver, I can't believe the number of cranes and the construction that I see around town. Vancouver's starting to boom again, and it's going to move out to your area, where you will have the fastest-growing small business development in Canada.
L. Stephens: The valley is going to become a very dynamic economic development area, which is precisely why businesses there have identified the need for a plan. Every business operator knows that you have to have a plan if you want to be successful; every business operator knows that. So it's astounding that this Minister of Small Business doesn't have one -- doesn't seem to understand the necessity for it.
We have transportation issues. We have to move goods and people. We have taxation issues that all small businesses around the province are struggling with. The negativity to big business that this government seems to hold is another problem that's been identified.
Could the minister talk about how his government and he in particular are going to overcome these perceptions that are out there? We won't argue at this moment whether I believe they're a reality or not. There are many people who do believe that it's a reality. Let's just talk about the perceptions that people have -- that in fact the taxation policies, the small business policies and the regulation and red tape policies of this government are not penalizing either big business or small business.
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, I won't get into a debate with the hon. member; these are estimates. I have a plan; it's pretty obvious. It's a plan to cut taxes for small business. It's a plan to reach youth with the YouBET program so the youth can be more entrepreneurial. It's a plan to reach aboriginal youth in particular with the Visions for the Future program. It's a plan to cut red tape with the one-stop business registration, working in conjunction with the federal government. It's a plan to work ahead with business numbers. We've introduced a business plan which the hon. member can read and which her colleagues have been quoting from. I think you'll see where we want to go in this plan.
L. Stephens: The plans that the minister likes to talk about are those around the film industry, which is hot at the moment. As everyone knows, these kinds of industries wax and wane. What the minister has to realize is that there are other business enterprises in the province that need some attention as well.
When we talk about red tape, on which the minister said he has a Business Task Force put together
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, I should tell the member that we do evaluations all the time. I'm always open to any changes that may be made to advocate for small business or to open up any avenues they need.
May I suggest to the hon. member, gently, that she have a look at the red-tape reduction in a rational way. The act has made 19 changes in acts of this Legislature on 11 matters affecting small business. It means, for example, that you can file electronically. Last year you had to file with paper. That's a fairly big change. Perhaps I could say to the hon. member, gently, that there have been some changes.
With reference to the plan, I suggest that she look at page 6 of our business plan. She'll see the small business development branch, where there are six points listed.
L. Stephens: Well, perhaps the minister hasn't been reading his mail or answering his phones or talking to the people in the offices or talking to business people. I'm sure they're all telling him the same thing, and we hear it day after day after day: it's not happening. I would suggest to the minister, gently, that he should in fact get out in the communities more and talk to some of these small business people about what they're having to endure.
Ad nauseam, we hear about the taxes and about regulation and red tape. Those are the two. Perhaps the minister could talk to his colleagues, particularly the Minister of Environment, if we want to talk a little further about the regulation and red tape that are strangling businesses. It's not just his ministry; it's all the ministries of government. To be fair, it's also true of some of the municipal governments. Some of the municipal governments are better than others, but many of them have come up with plans and processes to put in place that will in fact help people do business better and have more of a customer focus. So I would like to suggest to the minister that he look at some of those municipalities and perhaps take some pointers from some of these other governments that have been able to regulate in a much more efficient and effective way.
R. Thorpe: Could the minister advise what key analysis in the spectrum of items that people put under the competitiveness heading
[ Page 13312 ]Hon. I. Waddell: Just in reply, the word "competitiveness" can mean a number of matters. What we're looking at are regulatory impediments, taxation, public infrastructure, low-priced inputs, availability of skilled labour, wage rates and corporate culture.
R. Thorpe: What is the schedule for having those various analyses completed?
Hon. I. Waddell: Ongoing throughout the year.
R. Thorpe: In the spirit of follow-up that's developed in the first day of estimates, would it be possible to get a schedule of those various analyses and studies that are going to be undertaken -- the expected time line, when they're going to be completed? Would that be possible for us to receive that?
Hon. I. Waddell: I would be happy to provide the studies to the member when they become available.
R. Thorpe: So, hon. Chair, do I take it, then, that that is a no with respect to the request? I'd just like to clarify if the answer to my question is a no, that you will not provide us with a schedule of the competitiveness spectrum analyses that you're going to do -- whichever ones you listed off -- and when you anticipate having those completed. Is that a no to that question -- you will not supply us that information?
Hon. I. Waddell: A lot of these matters are ongoing matters, and they're being
R. Thorpe: I didn't realize that my question was that complicated. So let me restate it. A number of members on this side -- and, I'm sure, if the minister checked with some members of his caucus -- the big concern with small business
I thought I heard the minister say a list. I understand that things are ongoing. But if we have a business plan, I'm sure we have assigned responsibilities; I'm sure we have target dates for completing those analyses and studies. What I'm asking for is: will the minister supply to us a list of those analyses and studies that they plan to undertake during this fiscal year with respect to the spectrum of competitiveness? Will they let us know who's responsible and the date they're going to be completed -- simply a yes or a no, hon. Chair.
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes.
R. Thorpe: When I look at the small business development branch, you state in your business plan: "Reduce government red tape by continuing with measures to reduce the regulatory burden of small businesses
Hon. I. Waddell: The way we're trying to reduce red tape for small businesses -- a number of ways
R. Thorpe: What human resources do you have allocated towards achieving that goal within the ministry?
Hon. I. Waddell: We have 21 FTEs in the small business development branch, plus the Canada-B.C. Business Service Centre. We don't have a lot of resources. This is a slim and efficient ministry.
R. Thorpe: What are the top three areas of focus within the branch for reducing red tape and regulatory burden on small businesses this year? What are the three that you've identified and that staff are going to work on?
Hon. I. Waddell: One is -- and it refers to some of the remarks his colleague from the Fraser Valley made -- to take the one-stop business registration and work with the municipalities on that. We have Canada-B.C
R. Thorpe: I guess I could conclude that within the top three focus areas for reducing regulatory burden, employment standards and WCB are not in the top three. With respect to the Business Paper Reduction Act, we hear about what's been accomplished so far. What are the targets that you've established to achieve during the fiscal year 1999-2000 for the continuation of the reduction of paper?
Hon. I. Waddell: We're going to continue with the Business Paper Reduction Act. It's a new act, and it's a new concept. As you know, what it enables us to do
[ Page 13313 ]You know, there will be some work on the liquor laws that will come in to reform that outdated, red-taped liquor administration for the hospitality industry.
R. Thorpe: Let me just ask this question again. What is the measurable goal you've established for yourself with this achievement for the fiscal year? The reason I ask is that, hopefully, you've established a goal. Perhaps you haven't, and that's fine. Just say you haven't established a goal. But what we want to be able to do at the end of the year or partway through the year is monitor our progress. So have we established a goal for reduction in the Business Paper Reduction Act? Have we established a goal within the ministry that we're working aggressively to achieve? What is that goal?
Hon. I. Waddell: The goal is to keep aggressively achieving it. You don't say: "We want to change four acts." You want to change as many as you can, and you want to apply it across government. You can't say: "We're going to change four; we're going to change 20." We don't know what the numbers will be. In the first group I think it was 19.
R. Thorpe: Once again, we don't have a measurable target that we're striving to achieve. There's no shame in only achieving 80 percent or 95 percent. There's no shame in that. But we don't have a target, a measurable goal, for the Business Paper Reduction Act.
Let me move to the next question I have. The youth mentorship program is presently recruiting 300 business mentors across British Columbia. Where? How? What's the budget, and who's responsible?
Hon. I. Waddell: Perhaps I could just get the member to repeat his question.
Let me set the context. The YouBET program is the business development program for youth. It's a three-stage workshop. It's a runaway success. The first stage is a one-day business workshop; the second stage is opportunity workshops for three days; the third stage is business-plan training -- 12 days. This is where we're bringing in youth mentors, which will run in tandem with stage 3. That links local business operators for experienced guidance during the business development process.
Do you want a budget for that? The whole YouBET program is $1.3 million and 2.5 FTEs. We don't have it broken down -- the extra money for the business mentorship part. A lot of it is volunteer. We'll try to get the member that figure.
R. Thorpe: Are the 300 mentors recruited or volunteered -- whatever the correct terminology is -- throughout the entire province of British Columbia? Do we have a regional breakdown? If we don't have that, if we could get that after
Hon. I. Waddell: We will provide that information. I believe the program is reaching throughout the province. I myself went into a YouBET program workshop in Williams Lake a few months ago and saw the program working and saw some mentors there. If it's in Williams Lake, it must be in other places as well.
R. Thorpe: Your plan states: "Improve the delivery of the business support programs by forging strategic alliances with other levels of government and the private sector." Who in the private sector are you forging alliances with? What is the plan? What are the goals, and what are the measurements for success?
Hon. I. Waddell: I think the best way to answer that is to give the member some examples. For example, during Small Business Week, I approached the Hongkong Bank and worked with them in translating and releasing some of the materials on small business in the Chinese language. We worked with merchants in the Punjabi market in Vancouver, in the private sector there, to work on a leaflet in Punjabi. Our government agents throughout the province have been starting to deliver services. For example, you can pay your hydro bills there now. They bid for that contract and got that contract. In two remote areas, we in fact provide banking services for the banks through our government agents. So we're available to work with business in a way that we can use our offices.
As to a master plan, no, there's no master plan. As the occasions come up, as the opportunities come up, we work with business. I've always resisted a little bit. I've never believed in a lot of the Stalinist central-planning economy
J. Reid: With the programs, the YouBET program was mentioned. I'm looking at the advertising expenses for Small Business, Tourism and Culture and notice that with the advertising expenses, the largest expense was for the YouBET program. We're looking at $142,291 as opposed to, say, the one-stop business registration advertising, which was just a little over $5,000. If the minister could explain the advertising costs and why they're so high for this program compared to anything else, and what the projections are
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is that we wanted to get the program into small communities throughout the province, and the way to do that was to advertise the workshops. There are a number of workshops. There are three stages. That money is going to advertising. I know that actually, in the scheme of advertising, that is not a lot of money. It's a lot compared to that other amount, but it has to be done in order to attract the young people to the program and to get it into the local communities. That's why that figure is there.
J. Reid: The second part of that question is: what would be the projection for next year? Is it basically the same or
Hon. I. Waddell: That's a good question. It's about the same.
J. Reid: With the YouBET program, we have heard that it has been received with enthusiasm. Does the minister have figures to show the success rate or, more importantly, how in a program like this success would be measured and tracked?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'll ask the deputy to answer this one.
[ Page 13314 ]L. Tait: In the last three years, YouBET has introduced entrepreneurship as a career option to over 4,500 youth and has provided in-depth business development training to over 550 youth. We do evaluations. Not all of our graduates go into business specifically, and we're starting to track what happens to them once they leave the program. We should have some of those specific evaluations ready by the end of summer.
J. Reid: Another program that's offered -- the Visions for the Future program -- is also one that we hope to see great success in, and that might be even more difficult to determine what success would be. If the minister could share with us what the projected numbers are for the Visions program next year and, once again in that program, how success can be tracked or, more importantly, what's working and what's not working, and how to make it work better.
Hon. I. Waddell: Last year the Visions program was delivered in 11 communities, and it exceeded its target of 750 youth. That was the target. In fact, 2,500 aboriginal youth attended the Visions program. We consulted with the people that came -- we followed it up -- and they wanted it to be more specific. The program gave them a general awareness of business, but they wanted it to be much more specifically career-oriented. So we're going to do that, and our target this year will be 1,000. We'll try to get it at a thousand and as a much more serious program, if I might put it that way -- a much more targeted program.
J. Reid: What were the advertising costs for the Visions program? We've heard that the YouBET advertising was almost $150,000 -- $142,000. What would be the advertising expenses for the Visions program?
Hon. I. Waddell: Visions was included in the $142,000. It was YouBET and Visions -- the two youth programs in the ministry.
R. Thorpe: Looking at the business equity branch of Small Business, one of the objectives in your business plan is registering new venture capital corporations under the equity capital program. What is the goal, and what has your performance been to date? What is the goal for this fiscal year?
Hon. I. Waddell: Our target for this year is to register up to 15 new venture capital corporations
R. Thorpe: Was that 50 or 15?
Hon. I. Waddell: Fifteen.
R. Thorpe: Did I hear the minister say $6.5 million in tax credits? I thought this program was capped at $6 million in tax credits.
Hon. I. Waddell: Our working cap is $6.5 million.
R. Thorpe: I guess it was cut from $12 million to $6.5 million.
Those 15 that you're targeting -- does that go through the year, or do you achieve that number pretty quickly in your fiscal year?
Hon. I. Waddell: They're on a calendar year, and the uptake is very quick.
R. Thorpe: The uptake is very quick. As a matter of fact, I'm led to believe it's gone almost within 30 days. So that is fairly quick if it's done on a calendar year.
What kind of backlog do we have that would suggest that the severity of funds shortage for venture capitals
Hon. I. Waddell: I think I'll have to get back to the hon. member on that, because it's detailed. However, if the hon. member is advocating that we increase the amount of money allocated in the budget for venture capital corporations, I'd appreciate his position on that.
R. Thorpe: Talking about venture capitalists, I recently read about Silicon Valley. The difference between the United States and Canada -- $5 billion like that
Let me just ask you, though: how many FTEs do we have in the business equity branch working on these programs?
Hon. I. Waddell: Just following the hon. member's remarks, that means that if we applied his policy, we would reduce the 11 FTEs to zero. We have 11 now. If we got rid of the program, as you've just suggested, we'd have zero.
R. Thorpe: Once again, perhaps I didn't make myself as clear as I could have, or perhaps the minister failed to understand what I said -- two possibilities. What I said, in direct response to the minister's question, was that I believe equity capital should flow from the private sector. That's what I believe.
I understood that in the venture capital area, we had one person working in Vancouver and four working in Victoria. I understand, though, that we no longer have someone working on venture capital in Vancouver. Is that correct?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm informed that the 11 FTEs were over three programs: the employee share ownership program, the equity capital program and the Working Opportunity Fund. As a result of downsizing, we cut one position in Vancouver.
R. Thorpe: Was that one individual -- and I have no idea who it is -- basically focused on the venture capital area of the ministry?
Hon. I. Waddell: The person worked in the equity capital area, but we've picked that up by putting the work to the other four people.
[ Page 13315 ]R. Thorpe: It just seemed a little strange to me that in the lower mainland, a fairly hot area of venture capital, we would look at having no one represent us there. Or maybe some other branch is picking up on
Let me ask a question. It says here in this business plan: "Approve investments by the Working Opportunity Fund in small and medium-sized businesses." I was led to believe that the Working Opportunity Fund did its own assessments and its own selection of investments. Have I been misled? Does the ministry approve these small and medium-sized investments?
Hon. I. Waddell: The way the procedure works is that the recommendations come from the Working Opportunity Fund to the director of the business equity branch, who then gives the final approval. But it has to come through that person, by law. If you look at the act, the director is the administrator. Now, if the hon. member wants to ask me about the Working Opportunity Fund and all its successes, I could go on for half an hour.
R. Thorpe: The minister made the right choice by sitting down.
I've been advised that B.C. is the only jurisdiction in Canada where the government has to issue the receipts. With the other 20 similar funds in Canada, they're issued by the organization -- i.e., the Working Opportunity Fund. If that's the case, why is that the case?
Hon. I. Waddell: We do. We'll look into that point. I think it's in the act, and I think there's a reason for the procedure. But I'll get back to the member on that. I share with him, you know
R. Thorpe: Since we didn't have any specific measurable goals under the Business Paper Reduction Act, perhaps that's one we can do. Of course, the opposition is always pleased to work with the minister in achieving those goals.
With respect to the government agents branch, which
Hon. I. Waddell: We do exit surveys -- not to be confused with exit polls, but exit surveys -- on an ongoing basis. Every two years we try to do a broad survey. We did one last year and found that 97 percent of the customers were satisfied with the knowledge of the GA staff. Over 50 percent rated the knowledge of staff as excellent; 80 percent of the customers placed a high importance on GA services. We try to break it down in government offices: small, medium and large. We can get you those statistics if you want.
J. Reid: On page 7 of the business plan, concerning the government agents branch, it states that the ministry is looking at offering a broader scope of value-added services to the public. Could the minister explain what types of value-added services those might be?
Hon. I. Waddell: I believe that people are entitled to services no matter where they are in Canada and British Columbia. It occurred to me that the government agents -- who we spend some $10 million on and who collect billions for the government -- could be better used. So we wanted to find ways that we could fill in the gaps if services are not there. Hydro bills, for example, are an easy way. We got a bid and made a contract with Hydro that people could pay their Hydro bills there -- their government agent -- as they go into the small town. The Canadian Passport Office -- why couldn't they do some passport services there? We're looking into those kinds of areas where we could expand the role of the government agents.
J. Reid: I don't want to presume here, hon. Chair, and so I'd ask the minister: would there be an added fee, on top of the fee that already applies, for people to use these services -- for example, with passports or a similar service?
Hon. I. Waddell: We would negotiate partnership agreements on behalf of the people we deliver the services to. I don't think we're there to try and make a bunch of money on it. We're trying to make efficiencies in services.
J. Reid: That's very good to hear. I guess the question would be, just to confirm this: is there any revenue projected off of the increased services offered through the government agents?
Hon. I. Waddell: The only projected cost recovery is reflected in the blue book.
J. Reid: I have a question concerning a constituent's issue. To clarify, I wonder if the minister could answer whether businesses that incorporate federally, under the Canada Corporations Act, are accepted in other provinces in Canada with just a nominal fee and what the situation is here in British Columbia.
Hon. I. Waddell: If the member passes the letter to me, I will make sure that it's referred to the Canada-B.C. Business Service Centre and get their people to answer it. They have a federal rep there, and they're experts in the law pertaining across the country. I just don't want to give an answer off the top of my head.
J. Reid: The concern here is with the competitiveness of B.C. as opposed to other provinces -- talking and working with the province, working with the federal government in other aspects of business startup. My information is that, indeed, those federal incorporations are accepted in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. With a nominal fee ranging from nothing in Alberta to $35 in Ontario, the licensing is obtained, and the business is set to go usually within two to three days. It's my understanding -- and also, I believe this letter has already gone to the minister -- that in B.C. the registration under the Canada Corporations Act is not recognized. Could the minister give an explanation of why that might be?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'll have to take that on notice and look into it.
J. Reid: Just to further emphasize the object of this questioning
[ Page 13316 ]red tape and cooperation, and this is a situation that has taken place. This is a reality of business in B.C. The extra provincial registration is required. The cost is $275, plus another $100 for expediting it. The process takes months and requires the services of attorneys and/or notaries. An extra cost of $50 for an agency licence takes two to three weeks of waiting. Total cost for these procedures is $650, with a waiting time of three to four months, again as opposed to other provinces.
So when we're looking at making business competitive in British Columbia -- and this information has already gone to the minister, as I mentioned earlier -- the concern for advocacy, that when issues are brought forward to the Minister of Small Business or to the ministry, these businesses don't see action and don't see resolution
Hon. I. Waddell: I wonder if the member would just backtrack a moment. Are we talking about a federal business -- someone who wants to set up a federal corporation and register it throughout the country? Or are we talking about someone who wants to operate a B.C. business?
J. Reid: The situation is a person who is going to operate all across Canada. They have incorporated federally under the Canada Corporations Act and have found, as they go to do business in each different province, that B.C. is the most difficult and the most costly province in which to begin their business in these situations.
Hon. I. Waddell: Just to clarify again, that's to register a federal corporation in British Columbia. They do have, of course, an option to register a British Columbia corporation in British Columbia, but for various reasons they might want to do it in different jurisdictions.
R. Thorpe: There's lots of talk about cutting red tape. With respect to the ministry, what is the ministry doing to show leadership in setting goals and cutting red tape within its own ministry in dealing with small business and tourism operators?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm not quite sure of the question. Are we talking about what we've done for reducing red tape across government? I can give a number of examples. I've given some of them: B.C. Business Connects, one-stop business registration, Business Paper Reduction Act, the Interactive Business Planner, regional access and so on. Or is he asking about what's internal to the ministry?
R. Thorpe: I was asking specifically what has been done inside the ministry to cut red tape.
Hon. I. Waddell: We've cut back the administration of this ministry to the bone, and we're following our own procedures as set out -- for example, looking at things through the business lens. All our programs are
R. Thorpe: I notice the staff were gathering some information there with respect to what they've done within the ministry, and I don't know whether they have some things they want to say specifically or provide the minister with specifically. So I'll just look for it.
R. Thorpe: No, apparently not.
The minister did mention the Interactive Business Planner -- the web page. Are you satisfied with the operation of the web page?
Hon. I. Waddell: Which web page?
R. Thorpe: The Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture.
Hon. I. Waddell: The honest answer is no. I don't like the web page of Tourism B.C.; I don't like our own web page. I think they're under development and that they are
R. Thorpe: Well, I had some people try to work with the web page and the Interactive Business Planner, and they had great difficulties with it. It wasn't responding. I didn't just try it once; I tried several times. Given what the minister has said, then what is your plan to get it fixed this year? Or do you have one to get it fixed this year and up to your standards? What financial and human resources have you committed to that, and what's your target for having it completed?
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't have any additional resources in the department; it's cut pretty well to the bare bone. But I've instructed the department, as a high priority, to make sure that those web pages are good and that they work. I asked them to do it as soon as possible, and I understand that's being done.
R. Thorpe: So is it fair to say, then, that no additional financial resources have been committed to upgrading the web page that the minister is not happy with, which he wants brought up to a world-class standard?
L. Tait: In cooperation between the communications branch and the information systems branch, we do have a priority set to update our web site. The existing resources are in the budget.
[B. Goodacre in the chair.]
R. Thorpe: That was a good shuffle.
With respect to cutting red tape, I just want to ask this question about the business lens, because there's been lots of talk about it. There's lots of spin about it. Are the minister and the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture committed to ensuring that the business lens that is talked about is applied to all new regulations that come forward with respect to small business and tourism?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is yes. Just to go back a little bit, because it fits in with what you were asking about within
[ Page 13317 ]the ministry, I'll give you an example of what we're doing within the ministry on red tape. We are responsible, as you know, for archaeological
That reduces some of the red tape of the previous system, where they would go out and get licences and do all that. Then suddenly they find another area, and the people have to go to Victoria with a referral. We're trying to incorporate that together. When you're getting a licence, you look through the lens of the archaeological aspect. That's an example of what we're doing in the ministry, where assessment can be done locally rather than in Victoria and speed up the process.
R. Thorpe: Flipping back very quickly to government agents, one of the things that we talked about the other day was a paragraph in the budget about looking at new fees as we go forward. Also, one of your objectives is to generate increased revenues through cost recovery. Are you looking at increasing fees on any of the items that are now handled through the government agent offices for which you have responsibility -- yes or no?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm not looking at increased fees in my areas. There are all sorts of areas. The government agents who collect fees for a number of different government departments
R. Thorpe: I think that concludes the Small Business branch, and I know that some staff have been here today
Back in good old October 1993 the former minister from Okanagan-Boundary issued "Commitment to Small Business: A Discussion Paper." I think a commitment to a small business discussion paper might be very important. It would be very important for the minister and the staff, which is relatively new, to get a copy of this and read it. You know what? People were saying in 1993 exactly what they're saying in 1999 about small businesses. Fees, licences and taxation are often cited as problems and a cause of the growing resentment of government by small business operators.
It might be very good, because this talks about streamlining and reducing red tape back in 1993, and we seem to be talking about that again. It says that we're going to consult with business on new government regulations. I think it would be very important for people to get a copy of this 1993 document -- it's available in the library, and I'm sure it's available in the ministry -- because the things that we're talking about today seem to be the same things that we were talking about in 1996. That's why we've attempted to ask today: what is the plan? When is stuff going to be done? What are the measurable goals? People now want results with respect to small business. They want the action plans identified; they want results. Sometimes they won't agree with all the results, but they want some action in these areas.
Thanks to the staff for being here and for changing their plans.
Hon. I. Waddell: I looked at that document actually, and I couldn't agree more with the hon. member. That's why the biggest winners in this budget are small business people, with a dramatic tax reduction to establish
R. Thorpe: I didn't think I'd have to get into this, but I can't miss this. We hear about this wonderful reduction in the tax rate from 8 percent to 5.5 percent, and everyone's supposed to jump up and down. There are 40,000 businesses that are going to reap $38 million this year.
R. Thorpe: That's on an annualized basis. I'm talking about the current fiscal year.
You know what? People forgot to tell those same small businesses that there was a $108 million property tax download from the provincial government to the municipalities, which they're going to get to pay. In the same budget a few pages later, new licences and fees amount to $47 million. So you giveth $38 million; you taketh $47 million. They're net losers of $9 million -- new fees and licences to operate in the province of British Columbia. It's nice to talk about things all by themselves -- about the reduction in tax -- but as I mentioned to the minister, COTA said that most of our businesses aren't making a profit. So it doesn't make a difference. It's about viability. But tell the whole picture. Don't say you gave $38 million and forget to say that you took $47 million.
If we could move along to some questions on Burns Bog. We'll try not to get bogged down here. On February 3 the minister unveiled his agreement with Delta Fraser Properties regarding the development of Burns Bog. He called it a win-win-win deal. Could the minister explain this statement?
Hon. I. Waddell: The reason I called it a win deal was, first of all, that we had to move the PNE. The PNE in Vancouver -- the parks board, specifically -- wanted the PNE out of Vancouver, in spite of the fact that it provides so many jobs for young people, and it's a very important institution for the province. It would cost a lot of money to find land in the Fraser Valley for the PNE -- a hundred acres or so. You're looking at $40 million to $50 million. As part of the agreement with Delta Fraser Properties, they were going to give the province a hundred acres as a site for the PNE. That's a win. It saves $50 million for the taxpayers.
The development of the bog was to be in the north part of the bog, which is an area that's kind of eaten up. It's a pretty chewed-up area right now. There's development there, and there are traffic problems on River Road. The plan was to clear up that area. That would be a win. We wanted to preserve the bog -- the heart of the bog. It's owned privately; it's private property. We tried to buy it before for $27 million. It was not for sale. You have to have a willing seller to buy it. It's been appraised at anywhere from $28 million to $100 million.
In the agreement with Delta Fraser Properties, we were to get 3,200 acres of the whole 5,000 acres that we think is part of the bog. For them to be able to go ahead and offer the project to Delta city council, they were going to give to the province -- for nothing -- 3,200 acres in the heart of the bog, which we'd make into a park. I believe that was a win. So I thought it was a win-win situation. Now, it turned out that the local people didn't want the PNE there. When that became clear, I said that the PNE wouldn't go there. Right now Delta Fraser
[ Page 13318 ]Properties is dealing with the Delta city council and dealing with a number of environmental groups -- just announced last week -- to try and get a workable solution so that we can preserve the bog and clear up the future development of that northern end of the bog in Delta.
Remember, that bog now is subject to cranberry farming. It's got a garbage dump on it. I talk about it being like a cheese that's being nibbled away by mice, and that's true. I think we all, including the Leader of the Opposition, share the goal of preserving the heart of the bog. So that's why I called it a win-win situation. I still believe that, in the end, we will preserve the heart of the bog and work out a solution that's a win for everyone.
R. Thorpe: I understand that Western Delta Property Corp. had had some financial difficulties, and in fact it defaulted on a $17.2 million loan on its Burns Bog property. Zurich Indemnity Co. of Canada had foreclosed on this loan. Was the ministry aware of this foreclosure when it granted the $25 million loan to this company?
Hon. I. Waddell: Western Delta Property Partnerships is a new partnership. It's Laurel McLaughlin and B.J. Seaman, both of whom have sufficient assets. Our loan is well secured.
R. Thorpe: Was the ministry also aware that the corporation was two years in arrears in its property taxes to the city of Delta -- $1.7 million?
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes, we were. It was a stipulation alone that it was paid, because it was basically assembling the land -- property -- with owners who were really financially sound, like Mr. Seaman. He's a distinguished businessman from Calgary who wanted to invest in British Columbia. That's the way the land assembly was made.
R. Thorpe: Is the minister saying to me in clear and concise language that they knew the financial conditions, the outstanding amount to Zurich and the property taxes to the city of Delta, when they advanced the $25 million? Is that a yes?
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes.
R. Thorpe: In February of this year, after a very strong public outcry, the Delta council rejected the proposal for Burns Bog. Did the minister consult with the Delta council before advancing the $25 million?
Hon. I. Waddell: First of all, the Delta council hasn't rejected the proposal. They expressed concerns about putting the PNE or a development there, because there was no formal proposal put to them. There was the idea of what was going to happen. The answer was that we did consult with people in Delta -- specifically the mayor and other councillors. You have to be a bit careful, because by law they have to have a hearing, and then they have to make a decision after a public hearing and environmental studies. So we anticipated a public hearing and an environmental study. There was a signal from Delta council that they didn't want any of the bog touched, and that's why we withdrew the PNE from there. But the proposal is still to go before Delta council.
R. Thorpe: The minister has said: "My job is to listen to the people." They've said pretty soundly that they don't want the PNE at or near Burns Bog. Did the minister or any of the minister's officials consult with interest groups or the public about what they wanted, before the ministry made the advance and the decisions that it did with regards to Burns Bog?
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes, we consulted with a number of people, including environmentalists.
R. Thorpe: It's my understanding that the moneys that were advanced -- the $25 million that was advanced to the company
Hon. I. Waddell: This is a legal, technical question that was part of the agreement. They were forming the new company. It had 30 days to register in the province. The agreement was that the company would register in the time period, and in fact they did.
R. Thorpe: Who acted as legal counsel for the province of British Columbia in this arrangement?
Hon. I. Waddell: Ladner Downs.
R. Thorpe: I don't expect the minister
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't have the figures. It's part of the loan agreement with Employment and Investment.
R. Thorpe: As we've done in the past with these questions, if the ministry undertakes to provide that information, I'd be pleased to move on to the next subject.
Hon. I. Waddell: I said it was under Employment and Investment. You'll have to ask Employment and Investment because they give the loan, not me.
R. Thorpe: I thought that in the mode of cutting red tape, perhaps the minister could get that information for me, because it would be a lot easier for him to work his way through that streamlined bureaucracy than it would be for me.
If we could move to the PNE, what is the current status -- I know it changes day by day -- of the PNE?
Hon. I. Waddell: The current status is that we're negotiating with the city of Vancouver for a three-year extension. I believe that we have, basically, an agreement to extend the PNE. The compromise was that we would work with them -- and I think saner heads have really prevailed here -- to make it a more green area. That's what people wanted -- to make it work in with the park. The Vancouver parks board wanted to turn it into a park overnight; they didn't have any money for that. Other people wanted to keep the PNE going forever.
What we've compromised doing is making a green PNE. That happened last year, and it worked. As the buildings were
[ Page 13319 ]torn down, we revised the PNE, and we managed to live together. That's what we're working on. As soon as I have the full details of the agreement, I'll release it; but I expect the PNE to continue on the present site for another three years. That gives us a number of options to find another site that will not be prohibitively expensive. The mayor of Surrey wrote to me and suggested that we come to Surrey. I wrote back to him and said: "Give me 100 acres free." I haven't received a reply to my letter. We are pursuing those options.
R. Thorpe: What is the province's financial contribution for the 1999-2000 PNE -- both operating and capital?
Hon. I. Waddell: On an operating basis we expect the PNE to continue to be self-sufficient for this fiscal year, with no capital expenditures.
R. Thorpe: Very quickly, why does the minister think
Hon. I. Waddell: There are two problems in the
We think -- at least, I believe -- that it's worth trying to keep the tradition of the PNE alive, so that city folk can relate to country folk, to know where their food and some of those traditions come from -- not to mention the youth employment and the possibility of keeping some Olympic areas open, possible sites and so on, at the PNE. Those have been some of the difficulties.
R. Thorpe: Why did the Landmark Entertainment Group's deal fall through?
Hon. I. Waddell: The investors got the Asian flu. They had a lot of investments in Asia, and they wanted to come here with a big theme park, but then they bowed out.
R. Thorpe: How much money did the provincial government spend on this project, trying to attract Landmark to British Columbia?
Hon. I. Waddell: We don't have those figures right here. They're not in the estimates for next year. We'll see if we can dig them out. They're probably just part of the working of our department -- just the deputy minister working 18 hours instead of 16 hours at that period.
R. Thorpe: That's very nice. You should be careful, though. You could be in violation of your own very tight Employment Standards Act.
I would appreciate getting a schedule on Landmark, as that file still remains active. As I'm sure your staff will know -- perhaps you don't know, minister -- FOI information is held up on some of those things. So if we could have an undertaking that that information will be provided to us in the near future, that's fine with me.
Hon. I. Waddell: Before I do that
R. Thorpe: If we could move to Pavco -- the B.C. Pavilion Corporation -- are there operating subsidies to Pavco this year for operation and for capital?
Hon. I. Waddell: The figure is $2.384 million -- total grant.
R. Thorpe: That covers both operating and capital?
L. Tait: Yes.
R. Thorpe: It looks like $2 million of that is earmarked for capital. What are the key capital projects that Pavco is looking at doing this year?
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't see any reason why I can't share this with the member. Set aside for capital expenditures in fiscal 2000 is $2 million. It's 6 percent higher than originally allocated for fiscal '99. Projects are described in more detail in the corporation's five-year capital plan. We're looking at the allocation between the facilities as follows: the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition centre, $347,000; B.C. Place Stadium, $931,000; Tradex, $85,000; Robson Square Conference Centre, $5,000; Bridge Studios, $115,000; corporate-wide technology initiatives, $517,000. That's how it's broken down. I think I can just make this available to the hon. member, and he can see it.
R. Thorpe: What role does Pavco play in the development of the proposed new Vancouver convention centre?
Hon. I. Waddell: Pavco is involved because it has to lease out the facilities, and so it is promoting the centre worldwide. It sits on a committee. Warren Buckley, the CEO, sits on a committee that is helping to plan the centre.
I'm going to ask for a break in a couple of minutes.
R. Thorpe: Let's take a little break right now, in the interests of the minister's well-being.
The committee recessed from 4:34 p.m. to 4:36 p.m.
[B. Goodacre in the chair.]
R. Thorpe: Will Pavco have any financial obligations for the new Vancouver convention centre?
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't believe it will. I think the only obligation it will have is to look at and to do some manage-
[ Page 13320 ]ment aspects of it. But I expect that will pay for itself. We've been moving, as you know, over the years towards Pavco being self-sufficient. And it is in just about everything except for B.C. Place Stadium, and that's where we've got work to do.
R. Thorpe: Does the minister and the ministry support or
Hon. I. Waddell: I can't really answer that. It's not in my estimates. It's Employment and Investment that is doing the negotiations for the trade and exhibition centre. All I can say, however, is that they have some very good people doing those negotiations, and I think that will soon come to fruition.
R. Thorpe: My question was to the minister as the Minister of Tourism, and I asked: do you support the concept of taking a portion of the current hotel tax, a possible new car rental tax and a delegate fee tax
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, before answering that, I'd have to look at that a little bit more closely -- one, at the specific details as they emerge in the final package and, second, at the effects on tourism. I can say that I think we need a convention centre, and we're doing the planning for it. It will add incredibly to the tourist industry in Vancouver, which is already doing very well. But it is a key to the future of the tourism industry in Vancouver. I have no doubts about that.
R. Thorpe: We too, as the official opposition, support a Vancouver convention centre, provided that a comprehensive multi-year business plan is done and that it clearly shows that it can stand on its own merits. So we look forward to seeing that business plan. I guess my next question on this is -- quickly: do you see the role of Tourism Vancouver changing in any way with respect to how it collects, and the flow of, the current hotel taxes? Do you see any change happening there with respect to Tourism Vancouver, or do you see it staying the same way?
Hon. I. Waddell: I see it staying the same way. At some point I would like us to have a debate on the use of the hotel tax and what the requirements are for Tourism Vancouver and Tourism Victoria
R. Thorpe: $27 million.
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, it's $27 million, but there's here and there
R. Thorpe: If we could just move through to some very quick things with respect to your budget. In the budget for the ministry, half a million dollars is identified for strategic priorities. Was that number in there last year? Were there comparable numbers last year? If so, what amount, and what do you envisage that half a million dollars being used for this year?
Hon. I. Waddell: Overall, the budget of the ministry is down. I hope the member notices that. In the allocation of this budget, there's $500,000 for strategic priorities. Because our ministry seems to be responsible for issues as they come up more and more, this money as been earmarked. For example, the Olympic bid
R. Thorpe: The communications budget shows a total of $681,500. Is that all-inclusive or just staff costs or just advertising costs? Is it all-inclusive?
Hon. I. Waddell: It's salaries and operating costs for the branch.
R. Thorpe: Does that include advertising costs? If not, what is the total advertising cost within the ministry?
Hon. I. Waddell: It doesn't include advertising costs. I believe we provided the member a breakdown of advertising costs. We're not big advertisers, I don't think. We do it for the youth program as one or our big
R. Thorpe: In fact, the youth program is the largest expenditure of your advertising. It's about $143,000 in advertising costs alone. The information that was provided
What role does CPCS play in your communications plan?
Hon. I. Waddell: The same role they play in any other ministry.
R. Thorpe: Just a couple of quick follow-up questions here, and then on this side we can move it into the liquor distribution branch. Tourism B.C. -- and I think the minister and deputy can probably handle this -- is spending $27,461, 000 this year and at the end of the year is showing a surplus of around $3 million or a carry-forward in their retained earnings. Does the Minister of Tourism believe that those spending
[ Page 13321 ]levels are the levels required (1) to accomplish the goals, since he's approved the business plan, and (2) for us to remain globally competitive?
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes -- and let me explain. You know, you could spend endless amounts in marketing. The sky has no limit. However, we've got a budget. Tourism is growing. We're projecting an almost $9 billion industry. If you read the projections by Tourism B.C., you'll see where they are projecting more people coming -- specifically Americans, cross-border, long- and short-haul.
They're going to get about a 2 percent increase in the marketing budget because of the hotel tax. It's unique in Canada that we have a system where they've got a guaranteed budget, and that is a percentage of the hotel tax. There will be more people coming, more people staying in hotels, more money -- about a 2 percent lift, which is good.
If the hon. member's party were to support the increase in a hotel tax in other jurisdictions like Richmond and so on that want that -- want to be like Vancouver and get the additional 2 percent -- it would provide even more money for tourism throughout the province. I'm not quite sure what the member's position is on that. But to answer the question, the answer is generally yes.
R. Thorpe: Well, as the member for Cariboo South and the Minister of Forests are often quoted, your government seems to be able to do whatever it wants. So I'm sure you can address some of those other issues.
What is the current status of discussions to increase tourism revenues from the 1.65 percent to 2 percent, as I understand they've requested?
Hon. I. Waddell: Just apropos the Minister of Forests, the Minister of Forests said that under the British parliamentary system, the government can do almost what it wants. In Britain, the government could legislate that they only have blue-eyed babies. That's what political science says about the British parliamentary system. They use that example. In Canada, the government can't, because we have the Charter of Rights. So I don't understand why the opposition and the newspapers quote the Minister of Forests basically quoting what Dicey said in his classic work about the British parliamentary system in the nineteenth century. It's a mystery to me. But the hon. member seems to think it's important.
With reference to the discussions on the tourism tax, there have been some discussions with COTA. There are no plans at the moment to increase that percentage. If there were compelling reasons and perhaps a plan that could show that it would get feedback -- you know, it would help the industry
R. Thorpe: With respect to tourism, Tourism B.C., tourism policy and the Ferry Corporation in British Columbia, I think we found out in our estimates that Tourism B.C. is not really working on research and impact, etc. We found out that in tourism policy nothing's really being done there with respect to Ferries and tourism. I just want to emphasize it, because I think the minister did make reference to the chief executive officer of Tourism B.C. perhaps doing some things there with the chair of Tourism B.C., and that he personally would be doing some things with B.C. Ferries with respect to the importance of tourism in B.C. I just want to get on the record how important we think it is that there be a coordinated work plan, so that things aren't left: "Oh, did somebody think about this?" or "Somebody didn't think about this."
We would like to have reassurance from the minister that that in fact is going to receive a priority from his ministry, as I think he said earlier. I just want to end this part with that, if I could.
Hon. I. Waddell: I'll certainly give the member that assurance, and I'll give him further assurance that I'd be prepared to look at the Tourism Act to make sure that it sets out fully the power of the minister to direct policy and to make some of those issues that the hon. member has raised work better in the minister's relationship with Tourism British Columbia, which is a Crown corporation.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the ministry, that will conclude our estimates. We'll move on to the liquor distribution branch. I'd like to thank the deputy minister, the assistant deputy ministers and all of the staff in the ministry who have provided us with information during the past few months. We look forward to receiving all of the committed information. Perhaps we could just agree, in concluding here, to have a follow-up agreement of all of the things that were undertaken to be delivered so that we could move on those items.
Hon. I. Waddell: We'll get the Hansard, and we'll check that and do a checklist. I'm sure you and the deputy will be virtual pen pals in the few months to follow.
R. Thorpe: Hopefully, it won't take that long.
Hon. I. Waddell: I'd like to introduce my deputy minister, Philip Halkett, on my right. On his right is Gord Hall, the manager of corporate policy. They're both ably assisted by Donna Morse, who is here. Jay Chambers, who is the general manager of the LDB, is unavoidably absent at the Canadian association of liquor jurisdictions. So we're ready to proceed now.
R. Thorpe: The regional estimates for 1998-99 were $635 million. When I had our briefing in February of this year, it was estimated that the profit target would be $625 million. Now I see that it's $614 million. Is $614 million the best estimate of profit generation for the LDB for the year 1998-1999?
Hon. I. Waddell: In answer to that, the LDB's estimated actual net income for '98-99 -- that's last year, and this is unaudited -- was $616 million. I can give you a little comment on that, if you like.
R. Thorpe: I'm going to ask you some detailed questions, so you might respond. When will the audited statements be finished?
[ Page 13322 ]Hon. I. Waddell: They're audited by the auditor general, who audits the audited statements. He'll audit them in September. Usually, he gets to them about September.
R. Thorpe: I just want to spend a little bit of time on 1998-1999 before we move into '99-2000. It's my understanding that the budgeted volume in litres was 327,700,000 litres of beverage alcohol. How did we end up the year with respect to litres of sales?
Hon. I. Waddell: On these technical questions, hon. Chair, I'm going to have my deputy answer them.
P. Halkett: Actual '98-99 litres by category: spirits, 18.777 million; wine, 32.485 million; packaged beer, 204.906 million; draft beer, 57.350 million; cider and coolers, 15.296 million; and non-alcoholic, 204 thousand; for a total of 329,018,000 litres. That's against a budget of 327,700,000.
R. Thorpe: Were there any substantial product mix issues or variations, or were the trends generally the same? Did you have any significant product mix changes in our actual versus your plan?
P. Halkett: The spirits were up about 120,000 litres from budget. These are all from budget. Wine was down slightly. By slightly, I mean 115,000 litres. Packaged beer was up slightly. By slightly, I mean 1,906,000 litres. Draft beer was down by 3.4 percent, down from a budgeted figure of 58,400,000 to 57,350,000. So in simple language, we're very close on the numbers, other than draft beer, which is a reduction of about 3.4 percent. The others are very, very close.
R. Thorpe: Thank you for that detailed answer, hon. Chair -- through to the deputy.
What was the planned sales revenue budget, and what was the actual sales revenue achieved?
P. Halkett: Hon. Chair, the total was $1,640,781,000 -- the unaudited actual for '98-99. The budget for '98-99 -- this is gross sales -- was $1,635,600,000.
R. Thorpe: So for all intents and purposes, we're close on our volumes. We exceeded our volumes. We've exceeded slightly in our sales revenue. Why, then, does it appear that we're coming up short in what our net profit expectation
P. Halkett: The two items that I think were significant and squeezed the margin -- if I can use that phrase -- were the cost of container handling, which, as the member knows, went into effect on October 1
R. Thorpe: Well, it may be up compared to the previous year, but it looks like it's down $19 million from the original forecast for 1998-1999, and it's down $9 million from the figure I received in February. I think it was February.
What were the Y2K costs, actual versus your plan? I'm sure you had them budgeted in your plan.
P. Halkett: The LDB's total year 2000 project costs are estimated at $8.1 million over four years. So starting with the '98-99 actuals, the total was $4.28 million, and I have that broken down between capital, consultants, staff time and administration. And I also have those figures over the four years starting in 1996-1997.
R. Thorpe: My question was fairly specific. I'm sure the LDB had a budget for the year 1998-1999 with respect to Y2K, so I'd just like to know what the original budget was and what the actual costs charged against that budget were.
P. Halkett: We don't have those figures with us. We don't have the original budget. I have the actuals. I didn't bring the plan numbers for last year, but I'll endeavour to get them for the member.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister or staff advise if the actual was substantially off the plan?
Hon. I. Waddell: We won't know till we get those figures.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the cost of container handling, I believe the number I was given was $4.4 million on a net basis. What is it on a gross basis? Do you have that information?
Hon. I. Waddell: Last year our expenses were about $6 million and our revenue was about $1.8 million. So the net cost was $4.4 million. Those are rounded figures.
R. Thorpe: Do we know how both the gross and net costs compare to our budgeted costs?
Hon. I. Waddell: Apparently we didn't have a specific budget for the program -- too many uncertainties in it, so there was no basis to make a valid estimate.
R. Thorpe: What is the status of the container recovery and handling program strategically? Where are we today? Where did we think we would be today? Do we have any problems or issues that have to be dealt with?
Hon. I. Waddell: This new system for recycling wine and spirits containers, we feel, has been well-received by the public. It has achieved a return of approximately 55 percent within the first six months. We want to look at the costs of the system and the associated container fees. We're going to review that by September, and we'll let the member know the results of our review.
[ Page 13323 ]R. Thorpe: I think I might leave this area alone for a bit, if I can receive the assurances of the minister and staff that as a follow-up to these estimates -- and somewhere long before September -- I could receive a detailed briefing on the status of where we thought we'd be, where we are and what the costs are. So if I can get that commitment
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes.
R. Thorpe: The reason I want that commitment is because there is a great fear within the industry -- a fear that I'm sure the minister and staff are aware of -- that when this program launched the costs were substantially lowballed to get people onside. There's a great fear of substantial fee increases in this area. That's why I think it's very, very important that that go on the record and that we have the opportunity to review this in detail before the issue gets totally out of control.
Moving along -- since I have the commitment; that's great -- how many stores in the 1999-2000 plan are estimated to be open on Sundays?
Hon. I. Waddell: We have no estimate. What we propose to do is to go slowly in this matter. This is a change in policy. Once we have the legislation in place -- or the changes to the regulations, if needed -- then we will proceed. We're looking at consulting the local municipalities. We're committed to consulting the local interests. Our priority will be high tourist areas.
R. Thorpe: Is it fair to say -- and only the minister can judge whether it's fair, but let me make the statement -- that the principles of the business lens, that that kind of timely, detailed, consultative process will be used with the stakeholders and potentially affected stakeholders and communities -- I consider communities to be stakeholders -- before implementation of that program? Is that a fair conclusion on my part?
The Chair: Before you answer, are we talking future policy here, folks?
R. Thorpe: No.
The Chair: Okay.
Hon. I. Waddell: I think it's a fair statement, with this caveat: the stakeholders won't have a veto in the decision. They'll be consulted and so on, but you've got to be a little careful that you don't set it up so you just have a veto. Then there'd be no changes at all, of course. But we'll be sensitive to the business interests of the other
R. Thorpe: Currently in the LDB system there is an electronic debit card system in place. Are there costs related to that on an annualized basis? Are you able to identify those costs?
Hon. I. Waddell: There are no costs that I know of on the debit card.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the possible evolution of debit card systems and the way business is done, what kind of analysis has been done, and what capital costs and/or operating costs would be incurred by the branch if it chose to institute credit cards?
Hon. I. Waddell: We're putting together our plans on that. There obviously will be costs associated with using credit cards. This is a retailer like any other; it just happens to be the biggest retailer in the province. We'll go through the Minister of Finance, because there will be some savings in bulk buying, if you like, for the province with the credit card companies.
I just want to tell you that, as the member knows, it's my aim to make the liquor distribution branch a modern retailer. It's up for an award in Toronto for the first time -- a national award as a retailer. I would like to see it win some of these awards; I'd like to see it become a first-class
R. Thorpe: What is the capital plan for the year 1999-2000?
Hon. I. Waddell: We've completed last year's capital plan. Next year we're planning 15 replacements, or relocations, and 14 renovations. The construction budget is $60,000; leasehold improvements, $90,000; store equipment, $717,350. That's a total of about $896,350. This, of course, is the largest
R. Thorpe: Do I understand that the total capital plan, then, for the LDB is less than $1 million going forward in the year 1999-2000? I believe, historically, it's been in the $2-$2.5 million range.
Hon. I. Waddell: I didn't mean to mislead the hon. member. Those figures were for the stores, and now we've got some other figures in addition -- for computers and so on -- which total $3,253,000. I can give you a list of where they would be: general manager, retail operation, financial information services, distribution centres, merchandising, human resources, loss prevention, internal audit, corporate policy and communications, and legal services and corporate strategy.
R. Thorpe: The number I heard for stores operation was, I think, around $700,000 or $800,000 -- something like that. How much of that is for cooler installations? Are cooler installations a capital expenditure, or are they a leasehold improvement?
Hon. I. Waddell: None is for coolers. Part of the agreement with the stakeholders that led to the accord in the Jo Surich report was that we wouldn't put in coolers. We'd leave that for the cold beer and wine stores.
R. Thorpe: Strategically, do the four strategic pillars of customer service, business effectiveness, workplace quality and social responsibility remain in place for the fiscal year 1999-2000?
[ Page 13324 ]Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is yes.
R. Thorpe: What are the top two new initiatives for each of those four pillars, please?
Hon. I. Waddell: Perhaps I could group them together and list what I consider our top priorities: first, completing the year 2000 readiness program; second, improving customer service; third, implementing the liquor policy review recommendations -- those are the changes arising out of the Surich report; fourth, enhancing the LDB social responsibility program; and finally, achieving budget targets.
R. Thorpe: Did you do it for each pillar?
Hon. I. Waddell: No, I did it generally as the priorities. I think it includes all four pillars.
R. Thorpe: There's been a lot of talk about cutting red tape. Having dealt with the LDB in my previous lives, I know there's a lot of paper and a lot of red
Hon. I. Waddell: I want to answer that by making an overall statement that the member
The Chair: We'll recess for a division.
The committee recessed from 5:19 p.m. to 5:28 p.m.
[B. Goodacre in the chair.]
Hon. I. Waddell: I'll just recap. The question was in respect to red tape in the liquor distribution branch. I had started out by saying generally that it's a controlled substance we're talking about so there have to be to some regulations. However, I'm on the Business Task Force which considers red tape, and I noticed from the meetings that most of the questions with respect to liquor were with the liquor control and licensing branch where they had some concerns about red tape and enforcement and so on -- licensing. That's why we've reduced the number of licenses from ten to two. The ones with the LDB tended to be methods of payment in government liquor stores -- that's why we brought in the credit cards -- mark-up rates and structure. The way I see the LDB functioning is that it regularly meets with industry associations, and it tries to be receptive to their concerns.
R. Thorpe: So can the minister tell me: does the LDB have a program -- both internal and external -- to cut red tape? Do they actually have a program, or do they just react when people come forward? Do they have a disciplined program that outlines a plan, that outlines a responsibility? Yes or no?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is yes, because they are subject to the business lens, as we've asked every department to be.
R. Thorpe: I just want to understand that. On all new regulations or policy changes -- whatever -- that could or could not have an impact on the suppliers, customers, etc., then it's the minister's undertaking that the LDB is committed to submitting those to the same commitment and rigours as the business lens, such as government has announced.
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes, that's true -- keeping in mind the overall commitment that it's a controlled substance.
R. Thorpe: I get a little concerned when the minister uses that word, "controlled substance." I mean, it's a legal product sold in the province of British Columbia. In many parts of the world, some of the products are considered agricultural products. So I'm sure that he's not implying anything bad about any of those people that make or sell those products when he uses the word "controlled." I think beer comes from good barley and wine comes from grapes grown around the world, especially in the Okanagan. What I would just like the minister and the LDB
Hon. I. Waddell: It stems from a policy of a social objective of not having cheap alcohol.
R. Thorpe: So the minimum pricing policy is for pure social reasons. There's no other reason whatsoever for that policy on pricing. Is that correct?
Hon. I. Waddell: I suppose one could argue it does protect revenue as well. But it stems, historically, from the social policy aspect.
R. Thorpe: Does the LDB have its own web page and information available for its customers and suppliers on the Internet and Web?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm smiling because I'm glad the member's asking these questions. I asked all of my groups, four months ago, to do this. I'm glad you're asking the questions so that they also hear it from the opposition.
R. Neufeld: They're not doing it for you?
Hon. L. Waddell: They're doing it. Their higher priority was to do the year 2000 problems with the computers.
R. Neufeld: Y2K.
Hon. I. Waddell: Y2K -- thank you. They've put out an RFP requesting proposals for a new type of web site. As I said previously, I want Tourism B.C., the LDB and my ministry to take advantage of the state-of-the-art web sites that are created by small business in British Columbia and get moving on it.
R. Thorpe: Red tape, Internet, access to information
[ Page 13325 ]additions, product deletions. In this technological age that we live in, surely these kinds of things could be on the computer -- because all of the LDB stores have computers. These are some of the kinds of things that I would like to see them perhaps move away from and use on an exceptional basis rather than on a mass mailing basis. I am very, very supportive of making sure that all our organizations are up to speed with the year that we live in -- 1999. So that's an example.
I'm just going to turn it over to my colleague from Parksville-Qualicum and North Nanaimo.
J. Reid: I have a couple of questions regarding specific pricing. In referring to an issue that we discussed earlier about wanting to be competitive not just in B.C. but compared to other provinces, it's my understanding that when someone is importing samples for listing applications, there are differences between the provinces in the application of taxes, duties and provincial markup. Would the minister be able to explain what the position of B.C. is on this and how it differs from other provinces?
Hon. I. Waddell: Apparently the LDB gets the markup and then gives it back on samples. I believe there's someone from Nanaimo who wrote -- perhaps one of your constituents -- and we're dealing with him to try and show him how to get the markup back.
J. Reid: It's my understanding, then, carrying on with the same issue that the -- whether this is part of the same issue or whether it's different -- discounts given to agents for liquor products to be used for sampling purposes to help promote the products
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm informed that the LDB doesn't give discounts just because it's a sample. Some other provinces may do that.
R. Thorpe: Why does the LDB appear to be pursuing so aggressively the sale -- or the non-sale -- of brewpub products in liquor distribution branch stores?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm not quite clear on it. Is this the Spinnakers matter that you're raising?
R. Thorpe: They're a brewpub -- sure.
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm sorry. What was the question, then, with respect
R. Thorpe: Why does the LDB appear to be pursuing this issue -- the sale of brewpub products in LDB stores -- so aggressively, when in fact the province's own Liquor Appeal Board said it should be able to go ahead?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'll ask the deputy to answer.
P. Halkett: Hon. Chair, the basis of the disagreement, as I've communicated to the brewpub owners who have come to see me
As I've indicated to the brewpub owners, they need not be party to this action. In other words, I've said any number of times to them that they need not go the expense and trouble of dealing with this in the court system, that we feel it's important to have appeal bodies follow the law. Our side of the case is that the Liquor Appeal Board erred in law -- as administrative panels occasionally do -- and therefore we feel that it is in the public interest to clarify this issue once and for all.
Hon. I. Waddell: Let me just add to that, if I may. The issue is on tied houses. When brewpubs were started up, the deal was that they could sell to their own establishment but they couldn't sell outside, because there's a law against tied houses. It's an old law. That is, if you manufacture beer, you can't also be the retailer of the beer. The fear was that a couple of companies would own all the pubs and establishments, and they would restrict other beers from getting in. That was the idea.
During the Surich matter, no change in brewpub policy was recommended by the stakeholders. It didn't get through that process. Now, I said I'd have another look at it -- I've got to wait till this case finishes -- to try to see whether that tied policy rule still makes sense in the modern world. When they got the brewpub licences, they understood that that was part of the terms of licence.
R. Thorpe: Can the minister or staff confirm that the LDB did sell brewpub beer from the United States? Are they still offering those products for sale in the stores today?
Hon. I. Waddell: We believe that they've all been delisted. It's very difficult to restrict them, because they're foreign products; there are no legal means to restrict.
R. Thorpe: It was always quite interesting to me why the LDB would offer brewpub beers from Washington State for sale, but they wouldn't offer them from British Columbia. I always found that a difficult bridge to get across -- one that, quite frankly, I would not support. If the brewpubs had to do it all over again, would the LDB consider listing those products today, if in fact commercial viability was there?
Hon. I. Waddell: I think that's speculative. I'll go by my previous answer. I've said that I'd have a look at it after the court case is finished.
R. Thorpe: During the past year there was a regional brewery markup introduced. Why was that introduced?
Hon. I. Waddell: It was introduced to help small, independent, regional breweries compete with the larger commercial breweries. We also have a special markup category to assist small cottage breweries with a production volume of less than 75,000 hectolitres.
R. Thorpe: This new regional brewery status was effective, I think, February 28, 1999. How many breweries located
[ Page 13326 ]here in British Columbia did that affect? How many non-British Columbia brewers, whose products the LDB lists, benefited from that?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is one in British Columbia -- Pacific Western Breweries of Prince George -- and one in Alberta -- Big Rock Brewery.
R. Thorpe: I'm sure the LDB is aware that there are eligible breweries in Washington, four in Oregon and one in California that would benefit from this. Yet other brewers in British Columbia do not qualify. What is the average per-litre tax that a regional brewery paid before the change and that a regional brewery pays after the change?
Hon. I. Waddell: I believe it's a 5 percent savings.
R. Thorpe: That tax reduction that was passed through
Hon. I. Waddell: It's up to the company. It's a markup matter, and it's up to them to do with it what they want. It's worth 25 cents a dozen.
R. Thorpe: I think that, annualized, it's about $800,000, if my memory serves me correctly.
With respect to craft brewers, why do they pay a markup
Hon. I. Waddell: The LDB's beer markup system provides a significant benefit to craft brewers. It has been instrumental in developing one of the largest craft-brewing sectors in Canada. The LDB has recently modified its markup methodology for craft brewers. This will result in a modest markup reduction from $1.43 to $1.40 per litre for packaged beer, effective May 30, 1999.
R. Thorpe: With respect to craft brewers, has that arrangement been finalized now?
Hon. I. Waddell: It has been implemented.
R. Thorpe: For the record, the craft-brewing industry in British Columbia is close to collapse. It's in significant difficulty. This agreement was supposed to be completed by February 28; that was the undertaking to the industry. Obviously it wasn't; it was perhaps concluded sometime in May. It falls far short, I'm led to believe, of the indications that they had received from government. It may be an issue that should be revisited, because indications were given. These are the very small business owners in British Columbia, and I would like to urge that the ministry and the officials address that issue again, given the fact of the $630 million that we're making out of this industry.
With respect to the taxation decisions the government has made, Alberta has recently -- over the last five years -- lowered the taxation on breweries four times. Given that the industry and the consumers benefit by some $12 million on an annualized basis, what are we in British Columbia doing in looking at perhaps some of the highest markup rates in North America? What are we doing to ensure that our brewers -- big and small, small and big, craft, micro, regionals, whatever they all are -- can compete fairly, now that Alberta has put in regional tax benefits for regional brewers which now make it advantageous for their regional brewers to compete much more aggressively against our craft brewers and other brewers?
Hon. I. Waddell: Of course we look at the Alberta system, but it's not directly relevant to compare beer markups between B.C. and Alberta. Alberta has a privatized system, and retailing in B.C. liquor stores is covered by the LDB's markup. In Alberta, private retailers apply their own markup on top of the government's markup, so you've got two markups. The total markup collected in each province from government and private retailers is not significantly different on representative products. I'll make available this list of products, including beer -- Molson's
R. Thorpe: I would suggest to the minister that he may want to review that in detail. We are potentially looking at beer price differentials of $3 a dozen -- and higher when we move to 24-packs. Let me tell you, that's going to have a significant impact as product comes flowing in from Alberta. Someone should be looking at that very seriously. I have my own figures. We've done our own research, and there are significant differences. For a hard-working British Columbian, $3 a dozen starts to impact significantly.
I had a number of questions on the container area, but I'm going to let those go now, provided that I have the undertaking from the minister. I'd like to just tighten that undertaking up a little bit: that I can be assured that within the next 45 days I can have a detailed briefing from the minister's deputy and senior staff at the LDB on this full subject. I'm not going to get into my whole list of extensive questioning on containers. If you can make that commitment -- that we'd have that detailed briefing within 45 days
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes, I would commit to that. And I might say that I appreciate -- sometimes I don't reflect it -- the member's questions, particularly in this area, because he's got a lot of expertise in it, and I'm listening very carefully.
R. Thorpe: I think that concludes my questions on the liquor distribution branch. I just want to
Vote 42 approved.
Vote 43: Royal British Columbia Museum, $10,770,000 -- approved.
Hon. I. Waddell: I move that the committee rise, report resolutions of the estimates of the ministry and seek leave to sit again.
[ Page 13327 ]Motion approved.
The committee rose at 5:55 p.m.
The committee met at 6:41 p.m.
[E. Walsh in the chair.]
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIESOn vote 21: ministry operations, $1,481,539,000.
Hon. L. Boone: I'd like to make a few introductory remarks. First of all, I'd like to advise you that there are many different staff that will be here with me at different times, but probably this will be the stable person -- I use that term loosely -- my deputy minister, Mike Corbeil. Also with me is Les Foster, and Theresa Kerin is behind me right now. It is always a pleasure to have an opportunity to talk about the good work that is being done by this ministry, and I want to talk to you now about how we intend to improve on that fiscal job in this fiscal year.
I've introduced some of the staff that are here, and as I said, there are others here in the House as well. Each person that is in this room with me today has had a very important role to play in making the ministry more effective and more focused over the past year. But most of the credit for this ministry belongs with the staff that are out there -- the front-line staff and people that work in organizations and associations that are, in fact, the heart and the soul of this ministry and of us, as we try to support strong families and to build healthier communities. I'd really like to personally thank each and every person that's in this room today for the support they've given me and the ministry, and I'd like to thank each and every ministry person out there that has worked very hard on behalf of children and families in the province and also all of those that work in various organizations, for the very vital work that they do.
I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the challenges that we've overcome since this ministry first came into formation. We've succeeded in bringing together programs and services that used to be spread across five different ministries. That has been no easy challenge. This work represented the largest restructuring of child welfare services anywhere in North America, something no one had tried before. Members will recall that the ministry was designed, first and foremost, to help keep children safe. We've made very significant progress in that regard. We put in place a standardized risk assessment model and better standards for guardianship of children in our care. We've recruited more foster families. We've introduced better training and more support for social workers and foster parents alike, and we'll be building on that in the next fiscal year. We continue to move towards a more individualized focus for serving children at risk.
On a functional level, we've streamlined our operations so that more dollars go directly into front-line services. This year, while we continue to strengthen child protection, we will focus increasingly on meeting the needs of youth and helping them make a successful transition into adulthood. I know that we can count on all of our community partners to work with us and to continue to overcome the challenges that we face, just as we have done so successfully in the past 12 months.
It has been a challenging year, not just for our ministry but for many British Columbians. The collapse of the Asian markets for our province's lumber, pulp and minerals hit our resource communities hard. Mills closed, businesses failed, jobs were lost. And when that happens, the pain is felt not just in the cash register. It is felt all around the kitchen table. It is felt in the homes of the people who must struggle to cope with a difficult economy. It is in these times of struggle that the work of this ministry is most needed and most difficult, especially combined with the changes in our social fabric.
Our province has the fastest-growing child population in Canada. The number of children with special needs continues to grow, partly because of new technologies that make it possible to diagnose those conditions earlier and more exactly. More of these children survive to adulthood, and every year we serve more adults who have developmental disabilities. All of these realities mean that there's more demand for our services. We've made some wise choices over the past year to help us meet that growing demand. We've hired 198 more social workers to further improve our child protection system. We are now working to hire another 98 social workers, mainly to fill vacancies but also to finalize our commitment to hire 250 new child welfare workers. I look forward to keeping this House up to date as we move forward on that commitment.
I'm proud to say that over the past 12 months, we've also put more strength behind the effort to deal with addiction in British Columbia, especially where it is needed most -- among youth and in traditionally underserved communities. Today there is better support for young people at risk -- more outreach and support workers, more safe housing for kids breaking free of the sex trade and more help for those who want to leave the streets and live safer, healthier lives.
We're also taking firm action to reduce the rate of growth in the number of children coming into care, because the health and safety of the children of British Columbia remains our first and foremost concern. These are solid accomplishments that should be recorded to the credit of the ministry staff and to the efforts of all our partners in the communities who play such a vital role in our success. As I mentioned earlier, I'm confident that together we can successfully meet the challenges of the year ahead.
Those challenges exist across the province, in all of our communities. Our government had to make some difficult choices in this year's budget. We could have followed the lead of Alberta or Ontario and slashed the funding of services for people in need and those that rely on them. But I'm proud to say that we've never lost our focus on, or our commitment to, supporting children and families. We've increased funding for health care. We've increased funding for education. This year's budget for the Ministry for Children and Families is also increased to $1.48 billion. That is an increase of $59.6 million over last year's restated budget and an increase of $14.6 million over last year's spending.
However, even with an increase, the rising demand for services means that we have to work very hard to find efficiencies to do our work better and more effectively. We're doing that in every part of the ministry. In child protection, we're going one step further. We're not just finding efficiencies, which many times means spending less. We're actually spending more on programs and services that reduce the need
[ Page 13328 ]for child protection -- programs like family support, youth programs, addiction services and services for aboriginal children and families. In other words, we're spending more on prevention today, so later on we'll need to spend less on the cure.
The result will be good for all British Columbians. Children win because they get better care, and we as a society win because we do not have to take those children into care. Families win because they have better support. Taxpayers win because it costs less to do better.
Because this is such an important part of this ministry's work this year, I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about it in detail. All our work around child protection starts from the position that children should only come into care when there is no other, less disruptive way to ensure their safety. Last year we amended the Child, Family and Community Service Act to give our social workers one more less disruptive way, using supervision orders, to keep children safe without taking them out of their homes.
Social workers and all our front-line staff are working hard to help families become stronger so kids are safer. Not all children can be safe at home with their parents. When that's the case, we look to other family members, because children need families, and that's the bottom line. It's just as true for children who have no biological family or none that can care for them as it is for any other child.
We believe that children in the continuing care of the ministry deserve real, permanent homes, and we will do what we can to find those kids adoptive families. If they must remain in the ministry care, we will make sure that they are appropriately matched with good foster families. We're working hard to recruit more foster families, especially in aboriginal and multicultural communities, to help ensure that we can make those appropriate matches. Last year we had a successful recruitment campaign, and I'm sure that this year we'll see even more families opening their homes to kids in need.
We're also moving away from putting children in group homes. Many provide excellent care, but as I said earlier, children need families. As we shift more and more towards permanent placement or foster care, we will need fewer group homes. That will mean lower costs, so more money's available for preventive and supportive services.
This year we're putting extra dollars -- $11 million, actually -- into family support, an increase of 13 percent over last year's expenditure. This new funding will go towards everything from parent training to homemaking services to mediation in conflicts between parents and teens, and more. These programs will give parents and children the help they need to resolve their problems at home, by strengthening the family. Again, the best possible outcome for all of us is for families to stay together in a safe and healthy environment.
Another key support for families, especially in times of stress, is child care, so we're increasing funding for the child care subsidy by $3 million so that more families with low or modest incomes can get the quality care they need.
As I mentioned earlier, we're also putting more money into treating addictions, which play a role in about a third of all protection cases. Most custodial parents are women, yet until recently, too many mothers ran into serious barriers when they sought addiction treatment. Women in the north and in other remote communities have had to travel hundreds of miles to get the help they need, including help on the question of who would look after their children while they were in treatment. Needless to say, often they did not get treatment.
We have broken through that barrier. In partnership with the Valley Recovery Support Association, we are expanding Peardonville House's treatment centre for women in Abbotsford. Once again British Columbia leads the way with the first centre in Canada that offers women residential addiction treatment with licensed on-site child care. Now we're getting ready to build a second facility, up in Prince George, where northern mums can be with their kids while they get the help they need to save their families. While that centre is under construction, we are meeting the needs of northern families right now through a mobile treatment program. It takes treatment directly to families in Prince George, Dawson Creek and Terrace. We know that giving these women the help they need, where and when they need it, will strengthen their families and reduce their need for further support from the ministry.
The same thinking applies in the other key area that we are targeting, and that is funding to treat addiction. We are also increasing spending on youth addiction by 13.5 percent this year -- an additional $9.5 million. We're putting that money to work specifically for young people. This is an effort that has enormous implications for all our futures, all across the province. Too many young British Columbians lose their way and wander into the maze of drug or alcohol dependence. Once they're in, they're vulnerable to abuse and exploitation -- so much crime, so much misery, so high a cost in lost opportunities. We must break the cycle that destroys the lives of young people, wrecks families and weakens our society. That's why we're expanding addiction treatment for youth. I'm proud to say that we've already created British Columbia's first ever day-treatment program for youth in the north.
Last week I announced a range of new services for youth, and I want to point out that I've put these new services throughout the province. Strategically, we know that youth need addiction treatment. I wish it wasn't true -- I really do wish it wasn't true -- but you know, it is. And I know that a large portion of our youth end up in the downtown east side, attracted by the big city. When they end up there, they end up on the street addicted to some form of drugs. We need to get these kids home, back to their families and the communities that know and care for them. The services that I announced last week will help support these youths. They are going to support these youth throughout the province of British Columbia.
There's something else that's pretty exciting about these new services. We know that youth face different issues and have different needs than adults. We know that youth detox faster, that family is more important and that having a consistent caregiver is critical to youth, while adults have different needs. So we've developed these services to reflect the needs of youth. Making these services focus on the particular needs of youth will make them relevant, accessible and effective.
We are bringing a whole range of other supports to young people, so that young people who need this help will know that it's available and will know how to get it. In addition, we have hired 24 new outreach and support workers, and we're sending them out into the streets to reach
[ Page 13329 ]out to kids who've drifted into the sex trade. We've expanded our network of safe houses for street kids, to give them an out when they want to free themselves from the bleak cycle of life on the streets. These improvements are already starting to make a difference.
This year we will keep building on our success. One way we will do that is by working more closely with aboriginal British Columbians and their communities. In Prince George -- where I come from -- the local native friendship centre is doing a lot of good, in partnership with our ministry. The Reconnect program, which we fund and they run, reaches out to kids on the street, and it's working very well. In partnership with our ministry, the friendship centre has just hired another new outreach worker, and now we're working together to develop safe housing to help lead kids out of the sex trade.
Of course, that's just one example where we're working to support aboriginal children and other youth in other ways as well. We do have child welfare agreements with 14 first nations, and they're providing child protection and family support services to 100 Indian bands throughout British Columbia. More than half the children in care on reserves are now served by aboriginal child welfare agencies.
This year we expect to sign agreements with four more first nations, and we will continue to work with Métis and aboriginal organizations in the cities to help them build the capacity to support aboriginal families off reserve. All these measures will ultimately reduce the number of children coming into ministry care, and over time that means that we'll have more resources available to focus on building stronger, healthier communities for all British Columbians. That's a commitment we share throughout this ministry.
We're also committed to getting the most out of the funding that we have available. We've already cut $10 million from our own internal administration, cuts that will not affect services to the children and families of this province. As government, it is our responsibility to the taxpayer to get the most out of every dollar we spend, and we do. Having said that, I recognize just how difficult these fiscal decisions are. Where should we put the dollars? How do we fairly balance resources across the community? It was a very hard decision that I had to make this year when we turned to our major contracted service providers to ask for their help. We're asking them to trim their spending by 1.5 percent. Although it may seem like a small amount, these savings will make a difference.
The key to our success will be in our ability to work cooperatively with the sector. I would like to see the ministry build a stronger working relationship with these key groups. We are all involved in this effort for the same reason -- the well-being of children and their families. It is important that we face the challenge together as a team, working in partnership with the sector, and I have every confidence that together we can achieve this goal.
But even though funding is an issue, we remain strongly committed to providing services to children and youth with special needs. The proof is in the budget line. We've allocated an extra $2.6 million this year, for a total spending of $127.2 million. That includes $34.6 million for supported child care, a program that some communities, including my own, are still working to bring into operation.
We have some real success stories in supported child care. When we first began implementing this program in 1994, we were serving approximately 3,000 children. This year I am pleased to report that we are serving 6,000 children in this very important, worthwhile program. In fact, this year we will push even harder to get supported child care programs up and running so that families in every part of B.C. will have equal access to all the supports that this program offers.
In 1999 we had a budget of $463 million for community living services. Due to a variety of pressures, we actually spent $493 million, an overexpenditure of $30 million. This year our fiscal budget is $486 million, so we are working with the sector to look at collaborative ways to meet those pressures and to live within our budget. It's important to understand this budget in the context of the commitment that this government has made since 1991. Expenditures have increased by 70 percent for adults alone or 10 percent per year since 1991. I don't expect people from the community living sector to stop advocating for those that they care for and love, but it is only by working together that we can leave a legacy of services that support the needs of those most vulnerable.
We have also made a commitment to work with communities, service providers and advocacy groups to create a range of services to help us meet the future within our budget. We're committed to building partnerships with people in our communities to meet tomorrow's challenges. We've cut administration costs while maintaining front-line services. We've concentrated on where the need was greatest: children in need of protection. This year our focus will be on youth at risk, especially those who are fighting to get off the streets or out of the grip of addiction.
We will channel our resources towards strengthening families and towards preventing the kinds of problems -- especially among young people -- that can lead to lifelong misery for the individual and trouble for society. The goal of my ministry this year will be fewer children taken into care, more young people finding their way back to healthier lives, stronger families and more stable communities. We have already seen good results, and this year we hope to build on our successes and to move forward to meet the many challenges of children and families in this province.
L. Reid: I'm pleased to participate in this debate this evening as the official opposition critic for Children and Families. Certainly there are some philosophical discussions that I wish to frame this evening. I believe that society is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable. There is no doubt in my mind. I believe that each and every one of us has an obligation to safeguard the next generation.
I come to that as a special educator. I began a teaching career almost 20 years ago, so I have directly taught children with autism, cerebral palsy, speech and language difficulties and behavioral difficulties. Frankly, I ran for public office as a special educator because I wanted government to work in partnership with families and children in this province. I probably understand better than most the necessity for early intervention, for early speech and language therapy -- and for all kinds of early interventions, whether it be occupational therapy or physiotherapy -- and the necessity to invest in these therapies when they'll be most effective -- when children are young. I worked very hard as Health critic to ensure the continuation of those services for children across this province.
For me to see these services move from Health to the Ministry for Children and Families in order to decrease the
[ Page 13330 ]level of service
Again, as we move through this debate over the next number of days, I do believe that government has some choices and that young children in this province deserve and require very fine early intervention services. I'll reference specifically the rally in Victoria on Friday of the B.C. Association for Community Living. Those individuals came to government to put forward their issue. Their issue, according to the reports, was that
The minister referenced the fact that she requested that the contracted sector basically return 1.5 percent of their budget. I don't accept the notion that it was a request, by any stretch of the imagination. They are required to provide those dollars, and those dollars will be lifted away from their clients in the province of British Columbia. It's not just the 1.5 percent. In fact, the community-living sector says that this adds up to $4.2 million -- a significant sum of money. Add to that another $10.9 million. The ministry will cut back another $10.9 million from community living through utilization management, and they are waiting for a discussion on how that unfolds for them. The ministry has not said how they will take this money from the sector, but this is probably what the Minister for Children and Families wants to consult about.
Perhaps if we can start with just those two items. In terms of the 1.5 percent, the minister, in her opening remarks, referenced that it was a request. For the record, I would suggest that it's far stronger than a request, and I would simply ask the minister to confirm.
Hon. L. Boone: Yes, we haven't asked them whether we can take back 1.5 percent. We've asked them to work with us to identify how they can remove 1.5 percent, but their budgets have been reduced by 1.5 percent. You're right.
L. Reid: Again, for the record, in the opening remarks
The letter is sent to the contracted service providers -- and let's not forget that these are the people on the front line who do deliver those services to individuals and communities. They have, I think, some legitimate issues when they see, frankly, the choices this government does make. There isn't a shortage of dollars for cost overruns on the fast ferry; there aren't shortages in other areas. But to in fact disenfranchise children in the province of British Columbia speaks to me as a educator, and it confounds me that the minister would attempt to justify it.
Again, I will come back to the B.C. Association for Community Living. Add another $4 million taken from families. The ministry will take another $4 million from families by income-testing families to disqualify them for the $107 monthly subsidy for supported child care. On that one, I want to put on the record a letter -- one of probably 500 or 600 that I have received on this very issue. This one perhaps captures the issue:
"Re: Income-testing, $107 child care subsidyThis is a family that lives in North Delta, and she begins by talking about her pregnancy:
. . . .Please take the time to read this letter, as it is very important to the welfare of special needs people in our province."
"On August 7, 1998, my pregnancy concluded with the birth of my 9 pound 2 ounce baby boy we later named Jason. Six months of my pregnancy was spent on strict bed rest to achieve this birth, and my husband and I were thrilled to have a healthy second son. Approximately one hour after they had taken Jason to the nursery for observation
. . .the pediatrician came back . . . .. She thought that our son had a chromosomal abnormality which causes Down's syndrome. A few days later it was confirmed. You could not possibly understand the shock and grief that this sort of news brings, unless you have had the experience yourself. We went through a grieving process of sorts, mourning lost hopes and dreams for our child . . . .
"Jason is now ten months old, and we love him dearly. He has already made a great contribution to our family. He rolls around, sits up, babbles, smiles, laughs
. . . .He and his four-year-old brother Kyle have a very special bond . . . .
"I am telling you some of our story, so perhaps you will understand that we are real people with real lives and that we, and others like us, deserve to be considered before the government decides to revoke an existing benefit such as the $107 child care subsidy.
"My husband and I have always worked full-time. I went back to work as a graphic designer in mid-February when Jason was six months old but reduced my hours to two days per week. We made this decision for many reasons: Jason will require more help and instruction than a 'typical' child; Jason will have many more appointments with doctors, physiotherapists and development experts; Jason will have to have ongoing assessments for his speech, hearing, language, vision, etc; Jason will have to have open-heart surgery within a few years to close up a hole between the left and right sides of the holding chambers in his heart. Our family will be learning sign language to aid in his language development. Jason requires extra support to learn to do the things we take for grantedThis letter, I think, encapsulates the other 400 or 500 letters I have on this very topic. The quote that I read into the record is directly from the ministry document -- that the ministry will subsidize the cost of the child care space regardless of income. I'd like to begin with asking the minister where this change in philosophy has come from.
. . . .
"I need to be available to take Jason to [his preschool] programs
. . . .We took into consideration all of these factors when we made our decision as a family to reduce my work schedule. In fact, I chose to work two full days rather than more partial days at another location, because of the child care subsidy. If I had worked partial days, I would be home before my husband leaves . . .for his afternoon shift . . .thus avoiding day care expenses altogether . . . .We think that it is of great benefit to Jason to attend day care . . .even at this early age, because we have seen the way our older son Kyle has responded in the same environment. Jason is thriving in the day care setting . . . .
"It is hard to put into words our feelings of devastation and betrayal when we recently received the letter from Vaughn Dowie stating, without explanation, the change in eligibility
[ Page 13331 ]requirements for the support payment. We feel that our children are being punished for the overspending in other governmental departments. We are at a loss to explain this about-face in policy and beliefs. 'The Government's Response to Supported Child Care' states: 'However, in recognition of the vital importance of early intervention and education in the years before school and the costs of raising a child with special needs, all parents of children who meet the supported child care program criteria for extra support will be eligible for a special needs subsidy -- to be introduced in the fall of 1995 -- that will subsidize the costs of the child care space, regardless of income.' Now the Ministry for Children and Families is income-testing the subsidy. Should we believe that the ministry no longer cares about the 'vital importance of early intervention'
. . . ?
"Please do not make the families and, most importantly, the children suffer by cutting the child care subsidy. We desperately need this subsidy in order to maintain a quality home and educational environment for our children. Please do not put a greater burden on the education system by not offering special needs children the proven advantage of early intervention. Please ease the financial burden of raising a special needs child. Please do not send us back to the Dark Ages, where there were no opportunities for people with special needs.
"Allow our much-loved special needs children to be all they can be. Allow them to grow and become contributing members of society by being independent and supporting themselves
. . . .Allow the $107 child care subsidy to continue, and help us help our special needs children."
Hon. L. Boone: It's not really a change in philosophy. It's a change in how we achieve our goal, which is to try to make our services available to as many people as possible. In fact, supported child care was brought into place to try and do that. We did, at one point in time, have a very small number of people who were receiving excellent services -- no doubt they were excellent services -- through block funding that was given to a number of agencies to deliver a quality child care program for those special needs individuals. Supported child care was brought in to spread those resources around so that individuals could receive supported child care closer to their communities and so that we could give some of that support to all child care agencies.
We have implemented income testing to enable us to provide those services to those who really can't afford those services on their own, and to spread it out so that it's available to more. Without that income testing and without increasing the budget substantially, we wouldn't be able to spread it over many places. We recognize that we need to try and make our services as available as we can to as many people as we can and that those who can afford it should pay for some of those services to enable us to deliver that program to more individuals out there.
L. Reid: In terms of the numbers, the minister mentioned that there were probably 6,000 children who avail themselves of the services in the supported child care program. What number is the target, once individuals have been income tested?
Hon. L. Boone: We believe that we would be able to
I think we've got it here. The 6,000 that I mentioned is what we are going to be doing this year. I made an error in that. It was not that we are currently serving 6,000. In '99-2000 we're going to be serving 6,000. Currently we're doing 5,600, so it would be an increase of 400.
The Chair: The division bells have rung, and we will recess until after we're finished in the main chamber.
The committee recessed from 7:16 p.m. to 7:28 p.m.
[E. Walsh in the chair.]
L. Reid: Just prior to the break I had asked the minister: in terms of the 6,000 children that are currently receiving supported child care, what impact does she anticipate as a result of the $107 income testing?
Hon. L. Boone: We expect that about 1,700 fewer families will be receiving the $107, but that means that that $107 would be available for others that require it.
L. Reid: So in terms of a line item in the budget, it's still the intention of the ministry to have a target of 6,000 families who will receive supported child care?
Hon. L. Boone: Yes.
L. Reid: How was that number of 6,000 arrived at?
Hon. L. Boone: That's the number of children that are attending, reported by the agencies.
L. Reid: My contention on this particular aspect will be that this is a fairly easy number to budget for, and certainly it's been reported that somehow the ministry believes this number could continue to grow. It seems to me that when a child, at two or three years of age, receives a diagnosis and in fact is then eligible for supported child care, there's typically a known number of children. It's for a finite length of time -- i.e., it ends when the child reaches kindergarten age and goes into the public school system.
So it seems to me that the intention to disenfranchise 1,700 children and, subsequently, 1,700 families is a bizarre choice for this government to make. That will not generate enormous sums of money, but it's vitally important to those families -- vitally important.
I could spend a great deal of time over the next day and a half putting on the record every single one of the individuals who has said that this will dramatically, negatively impact their quality of life and the quality of life that they are able to provide for their child. So the number of children is known. The number of years they'll be in the program is known. And for most of these children it's less than two years before they reach five years of age and head into the school system. So we're talking maybe $2,600, $2,800 per family.
It seems like a very interesting place for this government to find money when we compare that to a $220 million cost overrun on the fast ferry program. Then we somehow attempt to claw back $2,800 from some of the families in the province who are facing the most difficulty in terms of parenting these
[ Page 13332 ]significantly involved, special needs young people. It seems like an interesting choice for this government to have made.
In terms of our contention as opposition, if this is indeed a government that truly supports early intervention -- and, again that campaigned very effectively on that -- it's now time to deliver on that commitment. The original commitment
There should be some outreach. That $107 is not an enormous sum of money. Again, for a child who's maybe two years in the program, it's less than $2,800. So indeed for that issue to somehow grind down out of a $22 billion government expenditure for this fiscal year, to rest on whether or not $2,800 is clawed back from 1,700 British Columbia families
If I might ask a specific question to the minister: of these 1,700 children and families that will be impacted, what cost savings do you intend to realize at their expense?
Hon. L. Boone: We're anticipating savings of about $1.6 million.
I need to respond a little bit, because I find it a little irksome to have the member opposite chastise us on choices when that side over there was demanding that we balance the budget, that we give massive tax breaks to corporations and that we reduce our costs. It is absolutely impossible for them to sit there and demand that we spend more and more money on everything, including the Ministry of Forests, the Ministry of Highways -- you name it. For every single ministry, they come into the chambers and demand more money for those things. And then to sit here and criticize us when this ministry has an increase of $15 million
We're one of only three ministries that have an increase; Health, Education and this ministry here. And health and education are very prominent in the lives of all of the people that we deal with in this ministry as well. So the additional dollars that are going into Health, the additional dollars that are going into Education -- those are there to help support the children and families that we deal with as well. For you to criticize us and to stand in the House on a regular basis criticizing us for having a deficit of $600 million when you, at the same time, are demanding that we cut even more -- I find it a little galling, hon. member.
L. Reid: This deficit that this government is experiencing today is all about choices. There's no question about that. So before the minister takes to her feet and becomes an enormous hypocrite on this question, let's talk about the $800,000 subsidy -- the tax benefit -- to the Hongkong Bank of Canada.
The Chair: I'll remind the hon. member about parliamentary language.
L. Reid: Thank you; caution taken. But the minister has to appreciate that the actions do not match the words of this government -- absolutely do not match.
In terms of this government suggesting a $1.6 million saving, how can parents in this province be expected to accept that notion when they know that millions of dollars are being put out to subsidize successful businesses in this province and are being put out because the government can't manage the fast ferry expansion program? How does that $1.6 million chalk up against a $220 million cost overrun? And you have the gall, minister, to suggest that parents
The Chair: Through the Chair.
In terms of the other issues that the B.C. Community Living Association has brought forward
The discussion in the field today appears to be -- on behalf of families again -- that it is this ministry's intention to reduce the number of voluntary care agreements for children between 16, 17 and 18 years of age. Has the minister taken that decision?
Hon. L. Boone: That's a decision that I think is a good one. It's one that most people support, once they understand that we are in fact increasing support, as I said earlier, to families so that families can remain together -- so that families have their children with them. It's not one that's meant to be a problem to families, but it's there to support families. We are not saying to families: "Well, you've got a problem with your teen. Fine. We'll take over, and we will become the parent and guardian of that teen." We're saying: "We want to work with you to give you support so that you can remain a family and stay together." Therefore we are making it so that voluntary care agreements are more difficult to get into, so that we can work and provide those supports to families. I think most families would agree that that's in their best interest.
L. Reid: Families today are very concerned about that. I would simply pose the question: has it been the lack of effectiveness of those particular intervention strategies at 16 and 17 years of age that has now allowed the ministry to take a step back and suggest that they're not going to go down that road? Indeed, were those strategies, in the minister's mind, effective or not?
Hon. L. Boone: No, I don't think it's in the best interest to put kids in group homes or to take kids away from their families and to take over those responsibilities. I don't believe that's the most effective way to deal with families. I believe that it is more effective, as we've said earlier, to give those supports to families so that they can remain together.
[ Page 13333 ]
L. Reid: Again on this voluntary care agreement, it says that the option will now be limited. What is the deciding factor in terms of who continues to have access to that option and who does not?
Hon. L. Boone: This will not apply to special needs children. They will still be available, and those children who are in need of protection will, of course, still be getting it. We're talking about voluntary care agreements, where teenagers come to the ministry stating that they can't cope, that they need some help. We will be providing them with some assistance.
L. Reid: The minister, in her opening remarks, suggested that cutbacks to the contracted sector would somehow not impact the front line -- the direct service providers. The comment here is: "The ministry will keep service providers' budgets at last year's level, even though the ministry had to ask for an extra $23 million in 1998-99 for the community living sector."
So what happens? What's good for the ministry? That same largesse is not available for the field in terms of the contracted sector. Although the ministry says that cuts should be taken from administration, the ministry has held funding levels to community service providers at the 1994-95 rate for administration.
Can these cuts, frankly, occur without impacting service? I would contend that the answer to that is no. If the minister had some understanding of how teams work
Hon. L. Boone: There's a variety
With 85 percent of our dollars going out the door to agencies, we have to look to others to do those things for us. We can't do that ourselves anymore, and that's made it difficult. We have, in the ministry, administrative costs that run from 6 percent to 28 percent. We've asked each agency to come back to us with a plan as to how they will reduce those costs, and I think it's totally realistic to think that those that are at 28 percent should be able to cut 1.5 percent without feeling too much of an impact on their front-line staff. We are asking that the others come back. We will work with them to try and find ways that we can save and that we can reduce costs. We will continue to work with them to try and assist them with those things. But I think that even you can realize that when 85 percent of our budget goes out the door to others to control, we are really hamstrung in terms of how we can get any efficiencies within the ministry.
L. Reid: The minister would leave us with the impression that if the program is administered by government, somehow it's going to be more fiscally prudent and administrative costs would indeed be less. I would simply put on the record that it's this ministry that avails itself of many millions of dollars in special warrant spending. They, too, have some difficulty in arriving at programs with some kind of fiscal prudence. I believe the actual amount was $70 million. So do I accept the minister's contention that I should be reassured that if it were offered by government, somehow it would be a less expensive proposition? I don't accept that contention.
The other issue that the B.C. Association for Community Living has brought forward is that the wait-lists for supports and services have grown steadily since 1995. The ministry is asking service providers to support more individuals and families at the same time that they are cutting budgets. The ministry also expects families to carry the increasing responsibility of caring for their family with fewer supports and services. This is an issue that the minister and I canvassed in the special warrants debate regarding respite-care reductions to families from 32 days to 28 days annually -- and no end in sight. That number may indeed reduce further. That suggests that families who were entitled to one weekend off a month and seven days in the summer, are somehow no longer entitled to that -- they don't deserve that level of support.
I was one of those folks who believed that the Ministry for Children and Families was created to assist families. Indeed, if those individuals in our communities are saving enormous dollars in the system -- i.e., they are caring for their mentally handicapped adult, as an example, in their home, and that young adult is not in a community placement
So to somehow reduce those very meagre resources to those families -- i.e., in having two full days off a month, because the other 28 days a month they are responsible 24 hours a day for those young people -- that's a concern. When we canvassed this debate in the estimates -- and we canvassed it a great deal in terms of respite care -- the minister's response was: "I'm not prepared to pay people to care for their children at home."
This is not a semantic discussion. This is on whether or not there is enough goodwill on behalf of government to recognize when they are getting an enormous benefit. They are receiving an enormous benefit from British Columbia families who choose to maintain those very challenging people at home. I applaud the fact that they do that. I think it's miraculous in many cases.
The hon. member for North Vancouver-Seymour and I have attended a number of meetings where family members
[ Page 13334 ]have come together to suggest that this respite care availability is absolutely a necessity for their lifestyle, for their lives. These are people who have 40-year-old and 50-year-old mentally handicapped adults at home, which makes those parents 70 and 80 years of age. To deny those people two days off a month -- to somehow suggest that it's worthy of a government reduction plan or program -- is, frankly, insulting to me.
It seems to me that the government should be, first off, thanking those people on a regular basis, not decreasing the level of respite care that's available to them. Frankly, it should be looking at the value that those people contribute and acknowledging that perhaps an increase of a day or two a year might make a whole lot more sense, have a whole more decency and a whole lot more goodwill than reducing that service. I will ask the minister to comment.
Hon. L. Boone: I understand that there were 32 days that were allocated. They did an analysis and found that the average was 28 days, so they reduced it down to 28 days.
For those who feel that they need more than the 28 days, they have the ability to ask for an exemption on that. That's where it's at.
L. Reid: I would still put on the record that the communiqué that went in no way indicated that an exemption was possible. If that is indeed ministry policy, I will be happy to indicate that to the people who have come before me. But the letter simply said: "Your respite care days have been reduced from 32 to 28. Thank you." It didn't say anything else. If it's something that the ministry truly believes in, it would make sense that they actually communicate that to the individuals who might benefit from that.
In terms of the average being 28, the minister must be aware that the inability of individuals to use their allotments in all cases was simply a lack of appropriate individuals to come into their homes and provide that level of care. It was through no lack of desire on the part of the parents to have that time off; it was through no lack of interest in terms of their lifestyle. It was because there were not appropriate individuals available to come; that denied them that service. So to suggest that the utilization wasn't 100 percent, without examining other factors, is not valid.
The other point I want to make in terms of the growing demands for service: the MCF is making changes to policy regarding eligibility. The Ministry for Children and Families is making changes to policy for community living services to support ministry staff in making decisions around service delivery and prioritization of service. I am querying the minister on this -- if indeed this is where the 70 ranking in terms of IQ quotient has come into being. If the minister can simply answer yes or no, I'll phrase my next question.
Hon. L. Boone: It has always been an IQ of 70 or less.
L. Reid: The information the minister presents has been, in the past, only one aspect of the pie, one aspect of the decision. There was greater emphasis placed on the functioning ability of individuals when they presented with an IQ that was very close to 70 but may have been 71 or 72. It wasn't a precise cutoff at 70. The minister will also know that many, many autistic individuals who will never live independently, who will never, in some cases, be able to feed and clothe themselves have an IQ far in excess of 70. So to somehow suggest that that is alone the criterion, again, I would tender for the record, is somewhat uninformed, somewhat mean-spirited.
These are families that truly could benefit from some support. These are 20- and 30-year-old autistic young people living at home because when they turned the magical age of 18 or 19, all service that might have been available to them, frankly, became unavailable. They no longer met the criteria in terms of age, and their functioning level was not taken into consideration. So I would request that that be examined in terms of functioning -- the fact that the minister has recently taken a much more precise view of that cutoff, to the detriment of many, many adults in this province who may have an IQ greater than 70, but their functioning level in no way reflects their intelligence quotient.
If the minister could take that comment to heart and see if we can come back to this discussion at a future point with some criterion that's a little more warm-hearted towards the very huge difficulties that these families face because their children may have an IQ greater than 70. There's no way that those children will ever live independently; there's no way they will ever be able to continue life and livelihood without an appropriate level of service. The contention raised by many of the families on the steps of this Legislature on Friday was the myth out there that somehow the ministry believes their children become magically better once they reach 19 -- that the supports that were in place are swept away at 19 years of age. I have some real empathy for that. These are not people that function dramatically better because they're 19 years of age. Their functioning levels will always be compromised, and for the ministry not to recognize that -- to make this particular 70 IQ the only cutoff -- alarms me. It alarms me as a special educator, and it alarms me as the critic for the Ministry for Children and Families, because, again, this ministry was created to assist families -- not just to assist families until their children reach 19 years of age. If the minister could comment.
Hon. L. Boone: As I understand it, the 70 IQ has always been the policy. I also understand that autistic children are not included in that, because you can't test the IQ of an autistic child. However, at this time, when we have tremendous pressures, when we've got people who are waiting for services, I would be very reluctant to say that we shouldn't be using the 70 IQ which has been in place for a long time, because we need to make sure that the services are there for those who need them the most. If we had a lot of empty spaces and abilities to service these people, then we could be a little more lenient on this. But at this particular time, with huge increases in this ministry's budget -- in this sector, every year -- I would say that now is not the time to reduce those eligibility
L. Reid: For the record and for the minister's information, you can indeed IQ-test autistic children. The minister will know that she has two letters from two parents on file -- two autistic young women, both with an IQ of 71, who have been denied service. This is not an empty-space discussion. This is about services for these young people in their communities, at home sometimes. Sometimes it's respite care services at home. So the response that there may be people more appropriate for these empty spaces that might exist in the system
[ Page 13335 ]not an empty-space discussion. This is whether or not they can continue to avail themselves of services that may indeed be found in their own homes under a respite care program. I'm aware that the minister has those letters. They were copied to me, and both those families are waiting for a response from this minister. They're asking the very same question that I'm asking: can the minister have staff examine those two cases in terms of the functioning levels of those two young people? It is not solely an IQ discussion.
Hon. L. Boone: If she would bring those cases to our attention, we would certainly review them. If they're autistic, they should be eligible, but they may be wait-listed if in fact there are no spaces there. If you bring those to our attention
L. Reid: I thank the minister for that.
In terms of the number of issues I want to continue to canvass, I referenced earlier in my remarks the rally on Friday on the steps of the Legislature. I'm moving to the rally on Saturday at the Vancouver Public Library. This one is on behalf of the Developmental Disabilities Association of Vancouver-Richmond -- on behalf of thousands of agencies, associations and families affected by the massive cuts to B.C.'s developmentally disabled community. Contained in their document is a letter that they've written to the Premier, which reads:
"B.C.'s developmentally disabled community is counting on you and the Ministry for Children and Families for the services and programs we so desperately need. Yet because of your government's policies, we're again facing massive funding reductions.
"The financial toll alone will see cuts of more than $45 million, while the emotional, mental and physical toll is incalculable. There is no doubt that the total impact of your budget will jeopardize the very foundation of community living in this province -- an initiative your government promised to support.
"You must know that your cuts threaten the province's already most vulnerable and marginalized citizens and that the associations, agencies and families caring for them cannot get any leaner. There is nowhere left for us to cut without cutting off people in need.
"So since 10 percent of B.C.'s population and the people who serve them will be facing horrendous decision-making in the months ahead, we would like to know how you would choose. Would you provide:
Home care for an 80-year-old woman with a 40-year-old Down's syndrome daughter living at home. Or,
Respite for a single mom with a profoundly autistic five-year-old son so that she can go grocery shopping
. . . ?Or,
Transportation for a 15-year-old girl with a mental and physical disability so that she can attend an after-school program
. . . ?Or,
Infant development intervention and counselling for a baby boy born prematurely and weighing 1.5 pounds, who is on a two-year waiting list for help? Or,
Job coaching for a mentally disabled adult who wants to leave a sheltered workshop to find work and maintain a job independently in the community?
"How do you help one and not the other? It can't be done in these cases or the tens of thousands of others. Surely you'll agree and will support the Minister for Children and Families to uphold her public statement of less than a year ago: 'That this government is committed to rebuilding trust, engaging the community in meaningful consultation and making the health, safety and well-being of children and families the ministry's number one priority.'That's written by Roger Mutimer, president of the Developmental Disabilities Association of Vancouver-Richmond.
"We want to work together to resolve this crisis. That is why we are respectfully submitting this five-step plan for reform. It's our plea and our demand to you to 'Face Us and Face Up.' On behalf of B.C.'s developmentally disabled community, we eagerly look forward to your response and agreement to meet and begin discussions."
I know the minister has this letter, because I know that it was sent to all folks within the ministry. The individuals made the case for a five-step plan for reform, "Our Appeal To Save B.C.'s Developmentally Disabled Community":
"This five-step plan for reform represents what we hope is the beginning of a strategic plan to create a caring, proactive environment for the developmentally disabled in our province. We believe it can act as a framework to build mutual responsibility for meeting the needs of the individuals and families we serve together. It's also a plan that makes both management and fiscal sense, because we know that investing early and investing now will mitigate future devastating personal and financial costs.Their third point is to enact community living legislation.
"We therefore call on the Premier and the Ministry for Children and Families to:
"Face up to an immediate cessation of all current and planned cuts to the community living sector.
"Revamp the MCF. Face up to a management review of the Ministry for Children and Families, with a pledge to implement all recommendations. There must be a meaningful consultation process between the MCF, service providers and families to (1) clarify the MCF's mandate, (2) organize the MCF and the contracted service sector to better meet clients' needs and
. . .(3) determine how best to save/reallocate funds within the broader social service sector . . . ."
"Face up to creating a community living act that enshrines government commitment to people with developmental disabilities and their families.Now, I know the minister has this, because this is the document that has gone to just about everyone in the province of British Columbia. This is the document that was shared with all the participants at Saturday's rally at the Vancouver Public Library. These issues are family issues, and this is the ministry that was created to better assist families. If the minister could comment on consultation she may have had with the Developmental Disabilities Association of Vancouver-Richmond.
"Create policy in collaboration. Face up to a review process -- conducted by people both internal and external to the MCF -- before implementation of any new policy, process or a priorities plan so that they may be thoroughly and openly evaluated and monitored.
"Commit to early intervention and prevention. Face up to funding and supporting the development and sustainment of early intervention and prevention programs that shift the emphasis from expensive crisis intervention services to nurturing healthy individuals, families and communities."
Hon. L. Boone: There is no $45 million cut, as the member suggests. There is a $4 million cut, for the 1.5 percent. That is the total amount that's there. We have been working with that sector. We have a provincewide table; we also have regional tables that are within our regions for the community living sector. At the provincewide table, we've been discussing with them for well over a year
[ Page 13336 ]that. The provincewide table started to try and find ways to deal with some of the pressures, because there are some very real pressures in this sector.
We've in fact offered to second a member from their association into the ministry to work with us to try and identify ways that we can deliver services in a different way -- that they can deliver services in a different way -- so that we can meet those pressures and make sure that we can service some of those people that are on our wait-lists. That offer to second somebody was turned down by the sector. We have not been adverse to working with them; we want to work with them. We need to make sure that we can try and find some ways to deliver services in a manner such that we can meet some of those wait-list pressures that we have out there.
L. Reid: The minister suggested that the sum is not $45 million. Allow me to put it on the record again: the 1.5 percent clawback generates $4.2 million in a clawback; $10.9 million from community living through utilization management -- and again, the minister may wish to elaborate on exactly what that means; $4 million from families, by income-testing families to disqualify them from the $107 monthly subsidy for supported child care
Hon. L. Boone: As I said before, it is not $45 million. With the $26.4 million that we talked about earlier, we said that special needs children would be exempt from that. In terms of the voluntary care agreements, we're looking at finding ways of keeping kids together. We're looking at making sure we can get adoptions out there. The $10.9 million, as I said earlier, is to try and identify some of the pressures that are there. It is not a cut. It is just saying that we need to identify those pressures and find ways and means that we can deal with $10.9 million
L. Reid: The point I made when I referenced the $45.4 million was the impact that this would have on community living. The minister came back and said: "Well, it's not about special needs." The issue is community living. Will there be a reduction of $45.4 million in the community living sector in this province? I contend that the answer to that question is yes. And I would ask the minister to explain what the $10.9 million is if it's not a reduction in funding.
Hon. L. Boone: This is the third time. Maybe we'll get it through this time. It is not a reduction in funding. We're saying that there are pressures out there that we need to try and address. We're asking them to try and help us find ways and means of saving $10 million within their budget so that those dollars can be spread out to service more individuals.
That's not saying that this budget is going to be reduced by $10.9 million. We're just saying: "Try and find ways that you can save dollars within this budget so that we can actually service more individuals out there." But there's not going to be $10.9 million less coming into the community living sector budget. We're just saying: "Try and work with us; see if there are ways that we can spend $10.9 million better so that we can deliver services to more individuals."
L. Reid: How did the minister arrive at the sum of $10.9 million?
Hon. L. Boone: It was based on some of the children that were turning 19 and some of those that had turned 19 in '98-99.
L. Reid: The minister suggested in her response earlier that the $10.9 million is somehow not 10.9 million fewer dollars available. That's an interesting characterization, but the sector believes -- and certainly there's correspondence to back that up -- that they were not kindly asked how they might best come up with $10.9 million. The reference was that there would be 10.9 million fewer dollars in the system.
The minister has referenced that basically the services will not be available once a number of these individuals turn 19 years of age. She has confirmed some of the worst fears for parents in this province, where they realize that their children have been disenfranchised because they've reached the magical age of 19. It's not that their needs have changed, it's not that their educational opportunities have changed, and it's not that their work environment has somehow diminished. The only thing that's changed in their life is that government has relinquished the responsibility to serve them. That is the only thing that has changed. Their needs have not changed because they've reached the magical age of 19.
The minister can suggest that it's a request to return $10.9 million, but frankly, the sector does not believe that. They don't believe that it was a friendly request to come up with ways to save that money. They believe -- this minister has told them -- that those dollars will not be found in the system in 1999-2000. If the minister continues to take the position that she has requested
Hon. L. Boone: You're talking about the $1.5 million. The $1.5 million
The Chair: Through the Chair.
Hon. L. Boone:
That table that was put together there
[ Page 13337 ]increase every year for this sector was just simply not possible to do. So that was not something that they were unaware of, nor was it something that they objected to. They recognized that they needed to work with us to find ways of delivering those services.
L. Reid: I was always referencing the $10.9 million. So I will ask the question one more time. This sector believes that there will be 10.9 million fewer dollars to spend. The minister has possibly put the kindest characterization on it by saying: "Well, they've been requested to come up with different ways to spend that in different areas." Frankly, that's robbing Peter to pay Paul. It's moving those dollars from individuals who could truly benefit. The minister's only explanation was that somehow programs will be removed from folks who are 19 years of age. So this is diminishing the service as well as diminishing the budget. I think that's a factual comment -- if the minister could kindly verify.
Hon. L. Boone: Could you repeat that? I missed that last statement.
L. Reid: I am referencing $10.9 million that I believe is, frankly, just being moved from one column in the ledger to the next -- that indeed these dollars will be taken from the community living sector; that these dollars currently support individuals who are 19 years of age and older; and that somehow the minister has decided to characterize this in the kindest way possible by saying that it's a request to the sector to come up with ways to do things for less money by serving a different population. At the end of the day, there will be fewer dollars in place for individuals who are 19 years of age and older. Yes or no?
Hon. L. Boone: No.
L. Reid: The reference to utilization management -- if the minister could explain in some detail what that means beyond asking the sector to come back with some suggestions as to how best to utilize those dollars.
Hon. L. Boone: As I said, I'm not
L. Reid: It took three tries to get the minister to basically define her use of the word "pressures"; it means wait-lists. If indeed there are $10.9 million worth of wait-lists for service in the province today, what portion of that list -- what portion of that sum of money, what portion of the $10.9 million -- was available to children under 19, and what is available to children over 19 prior to this ministry attempting to rejig the figures?
Hon. L. Boone: We seem to have a communication problem here. We're not rejigging any of those dollars there. We're asking people to come to the table to try and help us find ways that we can save those dollars, because we've got pressures out there that are unfunded -- $10.9 million worth of pressures that are currently unfunded. So it's not that we're rejigging the figures or moving things from here to there. We're just saying: "If we want to deal with some of these pressures, we need your help in trying to find this money so that we can in fact deliver services to more
L. Reid: If the pressures are wait-list, my question is a simple one: how many people are waiting for service today, where that service is valued at $10.9 million?
Hon. L. Boone: There's a wait-list of about 300 for the residential wait-list, for different types of residential care, but we do have some individuals who are aging and whose needs are increasing as a result of aging. But currently there are about 300 on the wait-list.
L. Reid: Could the minister indicate to me how many of those individuals -- of the 300 -- are under 19 and how many are over 19?
Hon. L. Boone: They're all over 19.
K. Whittred: I have an issue that may, I think, be related to the area that my colleague has been canvassing. I note that the Minister for Advanced Education is here; actually, I canvassed this in his estimates.
I will start by just giving a little bit of background on this particular issue. It involves a program for developmentally disadvantaged youth or adults called the career strategies for youth program. Perhaps I can just start by asking the minister if she is familiar with that program.
Hon. L. Boone: You see a lot of head-shaking here -- no.
K. Whittred: I'm batting 100. The Minister of Advanced Education didn't know about it either. So I will fill in the blanks, as much as I understand of the program.
The program, as I understand it, is run by the Ministry for Children and Families for young adults who have left the school system. It has been a day program, and I gather that it focused on pre-employment life skills, social skills -- those sorts of things. My understanding of the problem is not that the program is being discontinued but that the program, because of the contractual arrangements with the Ministry of Advanced Education, is changing its delivery model. As a result, the parents of these young people are upset.
I will stop there and see if that rings a bell with any of the people.
[ Page 13338 ]Hon. L. Boone: I'm not sure if we're ringing the right bell, but this may be the bell. We think you are talking about a service for at-risk minors, which provides assistance to at-risk minors to achieve independence through life skills and educational programs to assist youth to become employed and prepare them for participation in recognized training programs. The service ensures that programs are integrated, coordinated, community-based and planned to meet the best interests of the children to be served. The program was transferred from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Training and Technology on April 1, 1999. The services are provided through contracted agencies.
Now, we think that this is the program that you're talking about. You say no. Okay.
K. Whittred: No, the program that I am talking about, as I said, is called Career Strategies for Youth. It ended on June 7, which is right about now. The problem is that this program was a day program. It was a program that young adults who had left school went to for a full day, so it was like going to school. This program has been curtailed. As I say, it hasn't disappeared. It is now a job strategies program, so what it apparently is now is a program where the young person would go, see a counsellor and be assessed as to the appropriateness of whether he needs career guidance, whether he should be going on to post-secondary or apprenticeship training or whether, in fact, the young person would benefit from more pre-employment-type training.
The complaint that I have from a whole bunch of constituents on the North Shore -- and, I might add, my colleague from North Vancouver-Seymour has the same pile of letters -- is that this program no longer provides a day program for the students to attend. I know this is offered by one of the ministries that I've inquired of, so I'll ask again: does this ring a bell with anyone?
Hon. L. Boone: We believe that it is the Ministry of Advanced Education's responsibility. However, we're not going to duck this, hon. member. If you want to give that information to us, we will get that information and pass it on to whoever the appropriate person is to deal with this. You're talking about services that are delivered by the North Shore community association -- is that it? So we will do that, but we believe that this is a program that Advanced Education has responsibility for.
K. Whittred: When I brought this up with the Minister of Advanced Education, he suggested I bring it up with the Ministry for Children and Families. I've heard that before. In any case, minister, I will take your advice. In fact, I'm going to give this information to both ministries and see if we can't get to the bottom of it.
L. Reid: The minister responded that all 300 individuals on the wait-list for residential care are over 19 years of age. Can the minister indicate what length of time those individuals have been on the wait-list, on average?
Hon. L. Boone: It's hard to give an average, but we believe it's between two and three years that they could be on the wait-list. It depends on their needs. Those with the most pressing needs would be dealt with first, and we would try to provide some day programming to assist those families with the most pressing needs.
L. Reid: The minister, in an earlier remark, talked about individuals on this list who were aging. If she could give me some clarification, in terms of
Hon. L. Boone: About 25 percent of those with disabilities are over 45. Some of them are with aging parents, and those are the ones that create some of the pressures and some of the reasons why we've in fact gone over budget in past years. We've had to meet those concerns. When we've had somebody with a parent that's ill and not doing well, then we've had to find a placement for those individuals.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's response, because that's exactly the group of parents that the hon. member for North Vancouver-Seymour and I met with -- in terms of parents who are now 70 and 80 years of age. The minister referenced that while these individuals are on the wait-list, there may be some likelihood of day programming. Again, this group of parents -- and there were probably 100 to 150 parents -- have made their issue known to both the hon. member for North Vancouver-Seymour and me. They say that the likelihood of them receiving any kind of day programming is, frankly, non-existent. They have had to -- one or the other parent -- basically give up work to be at home. Once the child turned 19, there was no service available Monday to Friday. There was no day program available. They were wait-listed, but there was no service forthcoming.
I will bring the minister back to her comment on the $10.9 million that's somehow going to be
Hon. L. Boone: First of all, we still haven't got this through to you. The reason we need to do the utilization strategy is because of the wait-lists and because of individuals who are in fact living with aging parents and need to have some support there. We need to provide some support to these individuals, and we are asking the rest of the sector to look and find ways of delivering services differently so that we can provide some support and some services to those who are not receiving any.
I know that it's not easy to do. It's not easy to look and say that we want to change how we're doing these things. It's not easy to say that we would like to try and find some dollars so that we can deliver services to other individuals. But that is the very reason why we are doing the utilization management -- not so that we can take money away from the sector but so that we can in fact take some of those dollars and spread them to other individuals who aren't receiving services right now and need them desperately.
[ Page 13339 ]L. Reid: My question to the minister was: what percentage of those individuals on the wait-list today -- those 300 folks -- can access a day living program in their communities Monday to Friday?
Hon. L. Boone: We don't have that figure as to how many of the individuals on wait-lists are receiving services. We would have to look at each and every one of them separately, but we do try to put in services where they are most required and where they're most needed. But at this point in time we don't have that broken down.
L. Reid: Of the families that the hon. member for North Vancouver-Seymour and I met with, there wasn't a single one who was able to access day programming Monday to Friday -- not a single one. It didn't matter if their child was 19 or 55 -- there was no service available to them. That's further compounded by the employment standards. Up to that point some of them may have had opportunities to move into a sheltered-workshop situation, which is something their parents desired for them. I made this same appeal to the Minister of Labour in his estimates. If it's possible for this government to wrap their mind around an exemption for the high-tech sector in terms of the employment standards that this government has brought to bear, perhaps this ministry in concert with the Ministry of Labour could actually consider an exemption for these individuals. Some of them, effective April 1, were no longer able to stay in any kind of program that made sense to them.
D. Jarvis: They wander the malls.
L. Reid: As my colleague says, their families are absolutely distraught at the notion that now their family folks would be wandering shopping malls and watching television for eight hours a day, because there was no other legitimate program for them. So to reduce the dollars available and to keep these individuals on wait-lists -- and as the minister said, the wait-list could be two to three years long
Economic questions, lifestyle questions and, frankly, just exhaustion questions when it comes to providing the best possible supports
Now, lots of these folks have been on wait-lists for far longer than two or three years. Again, this issue troubles me enormously, because the response they got from the individuals who made contact with them was that they could simply wait. That was not decent, not appropriate, not in that young person's best interests, not in the family's best interests -- you know, one day relentlessly wandering into the next day, wandering into the next day
You have an enormous segment of this population, and their parents, disillusioned by the fact that there is nothing out there for them. The ministry continues to fall back on that somehow at 19 their needs change. Often their needs increase at 19 years of age. So if I can do anything this evening in terms of having the minister acknowledge that this problem is enormous and doing something about resolving it, parents in this province would be eternally grateful. They are having an incredibly difficult time, reconciling the notion that this government is there to assist families and waiting on a wait-list in excess of three years because their child has only done one thing different -- and that is have a birthday. If the minister would comment.
Hon. L. Boone: Well, certainly I'm well aware of the enormity of the problem here. I've talked to the community living sector, as you have. We know the difficulties that are faced out there. That's one of the reasons why we've had to put $35 million into this sector. That's why we had an overrun last year: because we were recognizing that and we were in fact providing services to those who turned 19. For many of them, I think the pressures came from those who had aging parents; it's a really incredible stress.
You ought to recognize, as well, that the Minister of Labour and I are working to try and deal with some of the labour standards issues, but I don't think that any of us want to go back to the days -- and you talked about sheltered workshops -- when, in fact, people with disabilities were being used. They were working at far less than minimum wage and earning practically nothing. They were getting a job and also providing value, providing employment, but getting paid nothing for it. Those types of days, I don't think we will ever go back to. So we need to deal with that.
I hate to go back, but I have to go back to the point that I originally made, which is that this is why we need our utilization strategy. This is why we need to come together and work, not just us but with the community -- to ask how we provide dollars to service all of those individuals out there. How can we come together to make sure that we can provide support to families that have aging adults with disabilities or children who are turning 19? Clearly we cannot afford to put in $30 million every year on an ongoing basis. That's just not sustainable. We need to find ways of doing things in a different manner, so that we can make sure that we have those services for every individual out there. That is why the utilization strategy is so important and why I support it.
L. Reid: I would simply ask her how she and her ministry can justify discontinuing services at 19 years of age.
[ Page 13340 ]Hon. L. Boone: We're not discontinuing services. When you talk about the community living sector, you're talking about coming out of one area, where they were receiving services through the school system, and coming into another area, where you're talking about community living or day programs or what have you. As I said, we need to deal with this. There is a real problem in terms of what happens when somebody turns the age of 19.
They've been in school, and parents have been able to go about their lives and do things. Suddenly, they're coming back. I know that's a problem; you know that's a problem; the community living sector knows that's a problem. We have to find a way that we can deliver programs to those individuals, and we have to do so by working together to find out ways of finding the dollars so we can provide services to all of those individuals. Increasing the budget $30 million or $40 million every year is just not in the cards.
L. Reid: The minister is repeating the fact that these services are not discontinued. The bottom line is that parents today who have a young person one day before their nineteenth birthday have service; one day after, that service is discontinued. The minister, in good conscience, cannot get to her feet and say that services haven't been discontinued. If you're the recipient, as the child or the parent, of service that no longer exists, there is no other characterization to place upon it: you do not have service.
The minister agrees that she understands the problem. The fact is that there is no service, and you may wait two or three or four years for service to come along. That is unacceptable in terms of the costs to these families -- not just emotionally, but financially. There are families in this province who are moving to the welfare rolls. They cannot support their young person, because they can no longer be gainfully employed. That has to be the big picture for this ministry that was created to assist families. So are these parents correct when they say and they believe that their services have been discontinued? There is no other characterization to place upon that.
Noting the hour, I would move that this committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 8:46 p.m.
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