2000 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 29, 2000
Volume 18, Number 7
[ Page 14587 ]
C. Clark: I am pleased to introduce to the House today two of our army of young B.C. Liberals who are out there scouring every university and college while we wait for the next election: Jennifer Dibblee and Brock Worobel. I hope the House will make them welcome.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I would ask the House to bid a fond farewell to one of the distinguished members of the Legislature press gallery -- I didn't know they had distinguished members -- Mr. Shane Foxman of Global TV. He was originally sentenced to life on this rock pile but was given time off for good behaviour. He's being recalled to the Vancouver newsroom, and today is his last day. I have told him, in the corridor here, that he's been pleasantly obnoxious to deal with. Mr. "Smiling" Foxman will be remembered as the worst New York Yankees fan in the history of the Legislature, but there is no truth to the rumour that he was expelled from the press gallery on that count. Please join me in wishing Sunshine Boy good luck.
G. Campbell: I want to join the Premier in wishing Mr. Foxman all the best. I had hoped to hear words of condolence from the Deputy Premier with regard to Mr. Foxman, because
An Hon. Member: Former Deputy Premier.
G. Campbell: Former Deputy Premier -- sorry. I'm sorry that he's just the former Deputy Premier and not a former member, hon. Speaker.
I want to say to Mr. Foxman that I know the city of Vancouver will look forward to your coverage. It's an excellent city -- it had a very good mayor for a few years -- and I'm sure you'll enjoy your time there.
Hon. J. Pullinger: I've got a special introduction to make today. There's a young man, 11 years old, who's come down from Shawnigan Lake. He's come down specifically to be in the House today for his very first time, and I understand he's been looking forward to it for some time. I'd ask the House to help me welcome Jason MacDonald, who's the son of Sheryl MacDonald, who works in my office.
Hon. I. Waddell: I too have some guests in the Legislature today, one of whom is Francisco Rodriguez, of Milenio magazine, a Spanish-language publication. I'd also like to introduce Rainer and Sarah Maas, who are visiting us today from Peace Reach Adventures Ltd., an ecotourism outfit in Aldergrove. I'd like the House to welcome them.
M. de Jong: In the gallery today is a constituent of mine, Mr. Darren Stollings, who I've come to know over the past couple of years. I'd like to have members make him welcome here as well.
EDUCATION AS AN ESSENTIAL SERVICE ACTG. Campbell presented a bill intituled Education As An Essential Service Act.
G. Campbell: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time.
G. Campbell: This is the fourth time in seven years that the official opposition has sought the government's support for the declaration of education as an essential service in the province of British Columbia. This bill recognizes the crucial importance of education to our children's future, and it guarantees that our students' educational rights are protected without fear of disruption to studies or to safe, reliable access to schools. This bill does not outlaw strikes or in any way undermine the right of British Columbia's workers to the free collective bargaining process. Rather, it ensures that students' educational rights are maintained while the collective bargaining process occurs.
In particular, this bill amends the Labour Relations Code to ensure that when a labour dispute occurs, either party involved may apply to the chair to investigate whether that dispute poses a threat to the health and safety of British Columbians or to the provision of educational services. Where such a threat exists, it authorizes the minister to order a 40-day cooling-off period or to direct the board to designate those facilities as essential, ensuring that all facilities and services are maintained.
Our children are our future, and a strong, reliable education, based on the highest standards of excellence, is the most important service we can give them. I urge the government to allow this bill to be fully debated in the House, and on behalf of students, parents, school trustees and teachers across British Columbia, I urge all members of the House to join me in passing this crucial legislation. I move that the bill be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill M201 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
LABOUR DISPUTE NEGOTIATIONS AND
APPOINTMENT OF INDUSTRIAL INQUIRY COMMISSIONERS
[ Page 14588 ]Hon. U. Dosanjh: As is quite clear to everyone in British Columbia, we appointed two inquiry commissioners, appointed by the Minister of Labour, to look into the matter. That was done with the consent of both parties in this dispute, and we're hoping that this dispute can be resolved by those mediators essentially. Hopefully they can return to work sooner than Friday. There's a deadline, and that's Saturday noon. By then, the commissioners are to make a report recommending whatever action they believe is appropriate to the Minister of Labour, and at that point we will look at our options. I'm hoping that this matter can be resolved before Saturday noon and without any further action on the part of the government.
The Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a supplemental.
G. Campbell: We really don't need mediators or arbitrators to recommend a course of action. If the government would just declare education an essential service, our children could be in school and the collective bargaining process would continue. The Premier's comments over the last couple of days have reminded me of a former NDP Education minister's comments when she said that some of our children may be better off out of school. There is nothing more important than giving our children the education that they need, that they deserve and that their parents pay for. There is not a reason on earth why children and teachers should not be back in the classroom at work today. Why won't the Premier do the right thing and end the strike now?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: We took action yesterday, and that action means that the commissioners will mediate the dispute. If the dispute is not resolved by the parties through their mediation, they will make recommendations. It is my hope and it is my wish that students be in schools by Monday.
G. Campbell: Hon. Speaker, the Premier's hope and wish should have been that students were in school last Monday. That's when they were supposed to be in school. The dithering that has gone on here has cost students two million student-days in school. Now, the Premier may smirk at that and think that's okay, but I can tell you that for students that's not all right, for teachers that's not all right and for parents that is not all right.
The deadline that he has set for next Monday should have been last Monday or last Friday, so that we didn't have any disruption in schools in the province of British Columbia and our kids got the learning experiences that they deserve and that their parents pay for. The government has already made up its mind, hon. Speaker. Why should we carry on with this sham? Why should students lose another million student school days just so the government can kowtow to its union bosses? I don't understand that. Could the Premier please explain it?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Hon. Speaker, it is not my style of governing to make up my mind about an issue before the recommendations of the mediators in this particular matter are in. There is a process in place.
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There are fundamental rights that people have in this province, and I am thankful that we have a province that respects free collective bargaining as much as it values the education of children and the lives of their families. That's the difference. The difference between this side and that side is that we have the utmost respect for the children's education and their families as well as the free collective bargaining rights of workers in British Columbia. There has to be a balance struck between the two, and we have struck that balance. The commissioners are at work, and I want the children to be back by Monday at the latest.
G. Hogg: Sa-hali Secondary School in Kamloops has over 100 grade 12 students preparing to write their provincial exams on April 18, less than three short weeks away. They will lose a week of in-class preparation time because this government is afraid to stand up for students. Can the Premier please tell us how he thinks the grade 12 students at Sa-hali Secondary and other students all across this province are going to make up for this lost week of education and prep time as they're facing their provincial exams?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Education is key to our kids' future; there's no question about that. But good-quality education, delivered in safe buildings -- buildings with proper facilities -- is an equally important part of education. Those are the issues that are facing us in this collective bargaining dispute right now, hon. Speaker. Those are the issues that are being put on the collective bargaining table to improve education, both by trustees and by the workers who are there. Children's futures will be better off when these issues are resolved by the parties in a free collective bargaining venue. Solutions reached between the parties with the assistance of an industrial inquiry commissioner make more sense than what the Liberals would do, which is to not allow for any process where these issues can be worked out in a fair and free way. Their solution does nothing to help the grade 12 child who needs her provincial exams.
The Speaker: The member for Surrey-White Rock on a supplemental.
G. Hogg: For the grade 12 students at Sa-hali Secondary and for other students on the quarter system, losing five days of school is the equivalent to losing five weeks in many other school systems. These students may well be facing the most important exams of their lives -- exams which will determine their future opportunities. We know through the government's words and actions that they're not willing to stand up for students. But can the Premier tell us why these grade 12 students have to pay the price for this dithering?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Hon. Speaker, there is a process in place where these matters can be resolved tonight. We are hopeful on this side of the House that the matters are resolved tonight. There are people of the highest expertise. The Liberals on the other side would undermine the expertise of the individuals appointed as industrial inquiry commissioners, but they are of the highest expertise. The people who are at the table have the goal to resolve the matters on behalf of the students that the hon. member refers to. We want the process to work. We have done everything possible to make the
[ Page 14589 ]process work. We're urging the parties to get on and make the process work. Once again, fearmongering by the opposition does nothing to assist the grade 12 student.
LABOUR DISPUTE NEGOTIATIONS AND INTERIM ACCORD AGREEMENTM. de Jong: The government actually signed an interim agreement with CUPE only two months ago and, incredibly, promised to pay that union up to half a million dollars to cover its negotiating costs. My question to the Premier is: how does he justify paying up to half a million taxpayers' dollars to a union that is today on strike, denying hundreds of thousands of students their right to an education and costing their parents millions of dollars in child care-related expenses?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The issues that are being resolved under the industrial inquiry commissioners are the narrow terms of the collective agreement -- the wages and working conditions. Such an agreement is not on the table.
The Speaker: The member for Matsqui on a supplemental.
M. de Jong: Well, the Minister of Labour doesn't understand. Maybe the Premier, who will start acting like a Premier and answering some of these difficult questions
Hon. P. Ramsey: The member is quoting from a tentative accord agreement. If he reads the title of it, it is a tentative agreement which was reached
The Speaker: Order, members. Proceed, minister.
Hon. P. Ramsey:
PROTECTION OF GROUNDWATER FROM MTBE CONTAMINATIONJ. Weisgerber: My question is to the Minister of Environment. Serious groundwater contamination from the gasoline additive MTBE has caused the state of California to introduce legislation that would (a) require the labelling of gas pumps where MTBE is dispensed and (b) eliminate the use of MTBE in California.
Last Monday Bill Clinton introduced legislation that will require a two-year phase-out of MTBE nationwide in the United States. He cited risks to public health and the environment as the reason for bringing that in. Can the minister tell us what steps she has taken to determine the level of MTBE in drinking water here in British Columbia?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I thank the hon. member for my first question as Minister of Environment. I would also like to commend the member. I know this is something that he has worked hard on in terms of the alternatives to MTBE, in terms of ethanol technology development. I certainly agree with him that something like ethanol is much kinder to the environment. We need to encourage that technology. That's exactly the kind of initiative that our government wants to take under the green economy initiative.
The Speaker: The member for Peace River South on a supplemental.
J. Weisgerber: Well, the question was: what is the government doing to measure groundwater MTBE content here in British Columbia today? We know MTBE is a human carcinogen. It takes less than one cupful of MTBE to pollute 13 million gallons of water. We also know that refiners are adding 15 percent by volume MTBE to gasoline. Millions of gallons of MTBE are sold in British Columbia every year. It's time for us to protect our drinking water and our environment. Can the minister tell us what steps she has taken to look for alternatives to MTBE? And could she tell us again what steps they've taken to measure the amount of MTBE in our drinking water today?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I'm hoping that the hon. member's comments mean that as part of our freshwater strategy that I released just a few months ago, he will be supporting our work towards groundwater protection legislation.
In terms of the alternatives, I can say I was pleased, with my colleague the Minister of Advanced Education, Training and Technology last week at Globe 2000, to announce Ethanol B.C. and the contribution of seed money from this government to help encourage the development of ethanol technology. It was also part of the recommendation of the Greenhouse Gas Forum, which my colleague the Minister of Energy and I presented to the joint ministers' meeting just a couple of days ago, to establish a national centre for the development of ethanol technology to replace the need for MTBE.
The Speaker: The bell ends question period.
SUPPLY ACT (No. 1), 2000
[ Page 14590 ]This supply bill is in the general form of previous supply bills considered by this House. As required by the Financial Administration Act, special warrants are included in this bill. The schedule lists warrants approved for the '99-2000 fiscal year. It is our intention that special warrants will become the exception rather than the norm in financial arrangements in our province. The Budget Transparency and Accountability Act provides that supplementary estimates will become the norm in the future. This will result in increased scrutiny of government spending and will increase government accountability.
The first section of this bill requests one-quarter of the voted estimates, as presented in the estimates, to provide for the general programs of government. Fifty percent of financing transaction requirements set out in schedules C, D and E of the estimates have been provided for in section 2 of the interim supply bill. This will allow time later for more complete debate on these items. Finally, the third section requests the disbursements related to revenue collected for and then transferred to other entities, which appear in schedule F of the estimates.
As there is no impact on the deficit, borrowing or debt from these particular financing transactions, 100 percent of the year's requirements is being sought in the supply bill. Hon. Speaker, I move second reading of Bill 4.
I. Chong: Hon. Speaker, today I wish I were able to say that I am pleased to rise and debate second reading of Bill 4, Supply Act (No. 1), 2000. But that would not be the truth. In fact, I regret that I have to stand here and debate the granting of interim supply to this government to show yet again how nothing has changed, even though there's a new Premier.
What we have is an incompetent government trying to fool the public that things have changed. But this is clear evidence that they have not. Here and now I register my disdain for today's debate brought on as a consequence of this sham of a government, since for me to be silent would indicate some form of endorsement of the inept and pathetic actions of this government. It is a sad day for the people of this province when they must bear witness to this continuance of pitiful government.
How many times have we done this? How many times has the request for interim supply been a norm during this government's administration? I don't intend to go back to 1991, because I wasn't here then. But I will go back to 1996. So let's get ready, for here's the listing.
Interim supply was requested Thursday, June 26, 1996; then again on Wednesday, March 27, 1997; then again on Tuesday, June 24, 1997; once again on Tuesday, March 31, 1998; followed by Tuesday, June 30, 1998; and then again last year on March 31, 1999; and finally on Tuesday, June 29, 1999. That bring us up to date, interim supply being requested always days just before the end of a fiscal year or days just before the end of the first quarter of the fiscal year.
It's not as though this government could not have avoided this. As a matter of fact, this whole sorry excuse could have easily been avoided if there had been just one ounce of leadership on that side of the House. I think there's probably some puzzlement for those government members, because they don't understand how they could have made interim supply this year a non-reality. So allow me to elaborate as to how this government missed a great opportunity.
When the former Premier, the member for Vancouver-Kingsway, was forced to vacate his position last August, the appointed interim Premier, who I'm happy to see is here -- the member for North Coast -- was given the responsibility to deal with the NDP leadership issue. Knowing that he only wanted the job temporarily, you would have expected that he would have urged the selection of a new Premier, of a new leader, to occur before the end of, say, last November. But rather, it went until February of this year. The interim Premier deferred his decision and put off the leadership race to satisfy certain members of his own caucus, I would imagine, rather than thinking about the people of this province.
The Speaker: Excuse me, member. The Minister for Northern Development rises on a point of order.
Hon. D. Miller: A minor but important point, Mr. Speaker. I think the correct title is not interim Premier, but Premier for an interim period.
The Speaker: Thank you, minister. Please continue, member.
I. Chong: Thank you, hon. Speaker, and I will be mindful of that correction for the Premier for an interim time.
What sound reasons did that Premier for an interim time have for the delay, other than to ensure that the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast would have a chance at running for that top job? As we're all aware, that member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast was, at that time last fall, undergoing an investigation for possible breach of the Members' Conflict of Interest Act.
So who was in charge, anyway? Was it the member for Esquimalt-Metchosin? Was it the member for Vancouver-Kingsway? Just who was pulling at those Pinocchio strings of our Premier for an interim time last fall? After all, there had already been three declared candidates. So was the real reason that this caretaker Premier delayed the leadership race because he was being pressured to allow more time for the massive NDP membership sign-ups? It doesn't really matter. It doesn't really matter anymore, except that the NDP cannot use the leadership race as an excuse for not being able to bring forward the budget for the year 2000-2001 and to allow those budget estimates that should follow right after the introduction of that budget.
The people of this province have had to pay dearly for the inactivity of this government for those six full months -- August 1999 to February 2000. We have had to pay for an increase in debt and debt servicing. We have had to pay for ministry overexpenditures, as evidenced by the special warrants attached to Bill 4. And we have had to pay in terms of lost opportunities to find savings. The cost to our economy has been great. For six months, while this government dithered as to who should be their next leader, it prolonged the chill in our investment climate. For six months no one knew who would ultimately end up as Finance minister, and thus no one was able to take the decisive action that was necessary to ensure that the Enns report recommendations surrounding the tabling of the budget and its subsequent debate could be implemented in time this year. It means that we have all returned to this Legislature -- like every other
[ Page 14591 ]year -- in late March, with the budget being tabled in the final days before the end of a fiscal year so that interim supply would be inevitable.
What is the new vision of this new Premier? What kind of new governance does he intend to bring forward? What is his form of new leadership? I don't see vision, I don't see new governance, and I don't see strong leadership. What we do have is the same old faces, with their same old pitiful ways, with their same old tired excuses. On February 20 of this year the NDP government smiled bravely as they got themselves a brand-new Premier. But the joke's on them, because he isn't even brand-new at all. He's exactly the same; he's merely switched seats. What's that saying that we hear so often -- "changing the deck chairs on the Titanic"? Well, he's changed the chairs of his seating here in this chamber.
The most incompetent government in the history of British Columbia changes leaders, but right away he maintains the same pattern as his predecessor. How many members on that side of the House have the courage to stand up and participate in this debate and explain to all of us here, explain to all of their constituents and explain to all British Columbians why it is that this government deserves to be granted interim supply?
If they were to participate in this debate
I would also like to know if any member on that side of the House stood up in their caucus or even in their cabinet and said: "Enough is enough. It's time we did things differently, it's time we act responsibly, and it's time that we show the people of this province that we take our duties and our roles seriously." Did anyone on that side of the House stand up and say that? Anyone? I don't think so.
If anyone did protest, then maybe we wouldn't be looking at debating this interim supply bill now. If they did speak up and they did protest, we wouldn't have the need for another interim supply bill. I will wait, as will members on this side of the House, to see if any brave soul rises up from the other side of the House to defend this interim supply bill as to how it came about this time and as to why it needs to be supported this time, versus all those other times. What are those reasons?
Just like the B.C. Ferries -- everyone on that side of the House sat silently while close to $500 million was spent without so much as a business plan. Everyone sat silently while the debt at B.C. Ferries ballooned to over $1 billion. And everyone sat silent while B.C. Ferry ministers -- all of them, five or six of them -- defended the project, even though deep down inside they must have known something wasn't quite right. After all, spending targets were not being met; completion date targets were not being met. So again, if any one member over there on that side of the House can tell us what action he or she personally took to stop the fast ferries fiasco, we'd like to hear from that member.
I. Chong: Oh, did I see a hand being raised? No, I don't think so.
Otherwise, members, you cannot expect us members on this side of the House to say to the people of this province that this government should be given authority to spend more money -- $5.5 billion -- without a full debate. I would like to see each and every member on that side of the House rise and defend this bill and explain what steps he or she personally took to avoid it. I'm sure everyone is eager and anxious to hear all of those excuses you must have lined up by now.
Maybe you could even produce a top ten list, like David Letterman does on his show -- you know, the top ten reasons why the NDP could not avoid introducing a supply bill this March. It should be quite entertaining. Maybe you'll even be up for an award at the Emmys.
Our job is to hold this government to account and to hold its record up to the highest public scrutiny possible, and the latter is only possible when they have the courage to call an election.
This is a government that continues to run from the taxpayer. It continues to rack up debt; it continues to spend more money than it takes in; it continues in the same way as before. So a change of Premier has not made any difference -- one iota. This government blew it; they blew their chance of showing the people of this province that they really meant what they were saying. They blew that chance on the very first day we returned to this Legislature. The people of this province are offended by this pattern of behaviour, because it could have ended, yet it didn't.
We have a government that has destroyed our economy, that has ruined our health care system, that has thrown our public education system into total chaos. We have a government that has forgotten what its responsibility is to its constituents and to all the people of this province. We were all sent here to do a job: to be stewards of the taxpayers' money -- not to take ownership of it.
Whenever legislation is brought forward for debate, our constituents expect that there will be some value or substance to that legislation. But this bill has no real value, and it has no real substance, in that it could have been avoided. This bill is just another excuse for fiscal irresponsibility, and I cannot support it.
The people of Oak Bay-Gordon Head asked me to represent them, and I value that as an honour and a privilege, as I am sure many members do. The constituents that I represent also said to me: "Hold this government's feet to the fire; don't go easy on them." In effect, they said: "Give them that cold place where ice doesn't exist."
Hon. Speaker, this week the ninth consecutive deficit budget was tabled. We see that our total provincial debt has doubled since the NDP government took office in 1991. Our annual debt servicing -- that is, interest costs -- amounts to $2.8 billion, which translates to a daily interest cost of $7.704 million each and every day.
These actions by this government show reckless mismanagement. The spending warrants attached to this bill alone amount to $376.9 million -- over one-third of a billion dollars -- which this government requires that we ratify for last year's overspending. This government is out of control,
[ Page 14592 ]and they want automatic approval to spend another $5.5 billion without debate. I say no, and I say stop this insanity and call an election.
T. Nebbeling: I, like my colleague, am pleased to rise to speak to this interim supply bill. I took a bit of a different angle than my colleague did. I basically took the perspective of: what is the government really asking me? Does the government truly deserve to have consideration for a request to basically hand over to them a large amount of money? My colleague identified the interim supply bill as $5.5 billion, with the special warrants representing $376 million. Looking at these numbers, I felt the need to consider what this government has done. I didn't even have to go down the road for nine years to come up with what I believe to be a decent analysis of the action of this government when it comes to the financial management of our province.
The last budget, I think, can be taken and broken down in certain segments. When you do that, it clearly shows why giving this government the kind of trust they're asking us for would never be merited. The record of this government so far is that every year they have driven us deeper into debt, from $17 billion when they became the government of this province in 1991 to $36.5 billion today, which means that the debt service alone is close to $3 billion.
That is, of course, the first question I ask myself. If this government had been financially responsible and had managed its affairs the way anybody else has to manage their affairs, which means living within your means, and if this government had taken on the responsibility that they recognized in '96 and had started to service that debt and not just pay off the interest on that debt, we would not have generations to come that will face an incredible burden. Today it is $3 billion a year that we pay in debt. When we see so much need in this province -- be it in health care, be it in education, be it in social services, be it in just building an economy -- it is almost shameful to see that this government has not been willing to recognize that the only way to prosperity is by undoing that debt that we face annually. If I were to ask my constituents, "Would you support me supporting this supply bill?" I can guarantee you right now that it would be a resounding "No Way."
Why is this government continuing to do what it's doing when it comes to the financial management of this province? That is my second question. Why is it that this government really believes that it has to spend money to create jobs -- and unfortunately, at the end of the day after they have spent the money, has failed to create jobs? My colleague used the example of the fast ferries -- $500 million. One day not so long ago this government said: "Let's build a ship industry. Let's create some jobs for this province in the building of ships." They came up with a new concept. They said: "Well, just building ships like it is traditionally done is done by many others, so let's do something different. Let's take aluminum, and instead of making beer cans out of them, let's make catamarans out of the aluminum that we have here as an industry."
We have spent, like my colleague also noticed, $500 million trying to create an industry that exists in a very flourishing way in many other countries. In British Columbia, we failed. Why? It's because this government was so determined to build this shipbuilding industry that they ignored all the basic principles that apply to running a business. It was almost like an attitude of government: "Well, we are government. We can spend money; we need to spend. We do not have to work within the guidelines that any for-profit business would have to." That has led to this dismal result. We now have three fast ferries that cannot be used anywhere in this province.
An Hon. Member: Pretty slow ferries.
T. Nebbeling: They are extremely slow, because they're always in drydock. Every time they come out, we see yet another problem develop with the ferry. It can't handle the volumes that are needed on the runs that are being used. As a consequence, the government has now, after all this money, realized that this was an experiment that was doomed to fail. But it took $500 million to come to that conclusion. When I look at that, and then this government says, "Now we want to spend another $5 billion, but we can't give you the plan; we cannot show you how we're going spend this money," I can't say: "Go ahead. You have proven to me that you are capable of doing that."
It is not only the fast ferries. Let's take Skeena Cellulose, a decade-old mill that just could no longer produce the amount of pulp it had to produce to be economically viable. It was pretty well ready to shut down, and then the Deputy Premier of this province said: "Hey, wait a second. This is a mill in my town, and I'm going to save that mill." The government went into the pulp business, and the government allocated $310 million to get this mill to flourish once again, to upgrade it. Again, two years later we know we wasted $310 million on a business that didn't have a plan. We just jumped into it.
There are four or five other examples I could use right now, Mr. Speaker, but I'm not going to do this. There are other elements that lead me to say that giving this government the trust to spend $5 billion without a debate, without a proper business plan, without a proper analysis of how they're going spend this money can't be done. It would be too risky. Ultimately, we're talking about money from the people in this province.
Why is it that this latest budget in no way, shape or form reflects any recognition of the fact that indeed business is not something this government should be involved in -- that there are business people in this province who clearly can assist this government to set the road to prosperity by allowing certain things to happen right here in British Columbia? Why is it that this government again rejects any attempt by business to say: "Government, things are wrong in this province. Our people are suffering. We're losing more jobs. We're losing more businesses to Alberta, to the state of Washington and to Oregon"?
The business sector is saying: "There are ways to stop that drain. There are ways to reverse the situation." They did get together with the government prior to the budget, and they gave some advice. For example, they advised that the government should truly start trying to see how they can live within their means. They suggested that maybe government should, as an initial step, reduce the cost of government by 5 percent across the board -- a 5 percent reduction in bureaucracy. What did the government do? They hired 459 more bureaucrats. So business advice was clearly rejected in this particular instance. Government had no intention of liv-
[ Page 14593 ]ing within its means. Government had no intention of listening to the business sector, which was willing to step in and say: "Okay. We will put our effort to putting the ship of state in a new direction. We will invest in this province under the right conditions, if indeed this government allows us to do that. But get rid of some of the bureaucracy. Get rid of some of the policies that truly undermine the viability of business in this province."
Like I said, instead of eliminating bureaucracy, they added more bureaucrats to it, which will create more paperwork, more demands for businesses to fill out forms and more pressure on the bottom line, because all this is costing. So rejecting the business sector is a major and fatal flaw in the budget that we had presented here. With that flaw, again, I cannot stand here and say: "Go ahead with the interim supply."
Over the last couple of weeks we've seen exposure of deals made by this government with the trade unions, where everybody was convinced -- because of the tough talk that this government did about how they were negotiating on behalf of the people in British Columbia -- that all the contracts were for three years; it was zero-zero-and-2 percent. Suddenly we see that the government needs another $600 million -- not for the future; no, for the past -- to pay for the side deals that were made with the trade unions on behalf of their workers, their members -- $600 million in benefit packages that was never exposed to the public in British Columbia, $600 million out of the pockets of people who themselves had to live within their means because the government kept taxing.
So, Mr. Speaker, again the fact that this government is constantly involved in behind-closed-doors negotiations and making deals with the trade unions. How they can publicly be seen as not giving any extra money to the workers, because we are so tight, but then behind closed doors they give a little package that goes on the side that turns into a big benefit for the same workers -- we the people in British Columbia pay for that. When I see this underhandedness by government when they deal with the trade union, there is no way that I can support the supply bill. Nor I can I support, obviously, the special warrants.
I would talk completely differently if this government had shown any interest in listening to the business sector, if this government had shown any interest in listening to small and medium-sized businesses that are willing to take on the challenge to turn the economy around.
What people and small business basically said was: "Government, leave some more money in the pockets of our customers. Give our customers a little bit more on their paycheques, so when they come home at the end of the month and have their paycheque, they can say, 'Well, there is another substantial increase here. You know what? Let's buy that piece of garden furniture. Or let's have something done to the house.' " What small and medium-sized business basically said was: "Allow British Columbians enough money in their pockets so they can become consumers again."
The reason that small and medium-sized business said that is that they know that when people become consumers, there is going to be more demand for consumer goods. When there is more demand for consumer goods, obviously the stores get busier, which means they can start hiring people again. It also means that in the manufacturing sector we're going to have more demand for work, for jobs, because there will be more demand for the products that will create jobs. These are going to be jobs that will take people from the welfare rolls. So on the one hand, you save money as government, and on the other hand, you put them in the workforce, and they start becoming payers of taxes.
The Leader of the Opposition said recently in a meeting: "Let me explain how that works. Today we have 100 people in the workforce that all pay $60 in tax. We believe," he stated very clearly, "that if we employ 200 people paying $40 in tax, as a government we actually make more money. We have more people working. We make more money as a government through income tax. That's additional money that in the long run will pay for the additional cost of health and education."
That's the message that was given to this government -- not once, not twice, quite a few times. This government again chooses to totally ignore it. This government chooses to say: "No, what we're going to do is introduce a budget that may not be liked by the business sector, but it certainly will please our union brothers."
It was the leader of the public servants, the president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, who said in an interview after he listened to the budget and analyzed it
Mr. Sinclair is of exactly the same mind as this government. Mr. Sinclair doesn't believe that you can balance your books by putting people back to work in the private sector. Mr. Sinclair believes, like many members opposite believe, that it is the government that should be creating jobs. After the billions of dollars of waste we have seen channelled toward these so-called business projects, I would have hoped that this government would have realized that that is not the path to go. I had hoped that Mr. Sinclair would have realized that being a partner with the business sector can actually make a difference in this province. But obviously none of that came true, Mr. Speaker.
So when I am asked later on to vote on this bill, clearly I will have to say no to this bill. I don't think that this government has the ability or the sense of responsibility to do the right thing when it comes to the financial management of this province. It is not a good thing for me to have to say that, because it will just mean that until we have an election in this province, this government will continue to waste money. It will just mean that more people will be out of work. It will just mean that more people will leave this province in the hope that they can find a job somewhere else in Canada. Isn't that a ludicrous concept -- to think that we cannot afford to stay in this province because of policies and labour conditions that force people out of this province? It makes it impossible for businesses to survive.
I had hoped that the government would have come in with a budget this year that would reflect their strong desire to turn things around. I had hoped that they would deal with the skeletons that are today in the closet and basically have a new start -- give this province once again a bit of hope, a bit of desire for prosperity. It hasn't happened. We have a budget that continues to drive us deeper into debt. It is a budget that
[ Page 14594 ]will take more out of the money that comes into the government coffers. To service that debt, it will take out of the system more money that should have been channelled toward health care. It will take more money that should have been channelled toward education.
I can only hope that the new Premier realizes that he truly has a government that believes in the same things they believed in for the last nine years, and that he is not, as the new Premier of this province, a new broom that will sweep clean. I hope that the Premier realizes that the damage done by this government, and the damage that will continue to be done to this province by this government, is not justified. I hope this will cause him to realize that the only way that will work for British Columbians right now is if this government calls an election and we have a new government to indeed turn the ship of state around and start working toward a boisterous economy. That's what the people of this province want. This government doesn't want it. I hope they will do the honourable thing.
B. McKinnon: I'm pleased to rise and take part in this debate. Every year there is hope on this side of the House that the government will make some effort to balance the budget and not overspend and have to use warrants. This year is not any different from the last few years. We are here once again to debate this government's overspending. We have come to another year-end with a desperate government out of money and out of control.
First let's take a look at the Ministry for Children and Families. This ministry overspent by a whopping $41.4 million. From that $41.4 million, $32 million was spent on compensation agreements for community social service agencies; $9.4 million went to indirect costs of the Community Social Services Employers Association contract agreement. Why these large amounts were ignored in the budgeting process is anyone's guess. Maybe truth wasn't in vogue when the bargaining took place.
The Ministry for Children and Families should have been provided with the funds in their budgeting process to cover these costs. The government knew they were going to have labour negotiations, but instead of preparing themselves for these negotiations in the budget, they simply ignored the process. I guess the NDP wanted another fudge-it budget, until they were told to tell the truth.
It's really amazing. Not one cent in the ministry went to children who desperately need help. B.C. has the highest child poverty rate in Canada. What about the children waiting for speech therapy, children suffering from autism, children with special needs? Did you know, hon. Speaker, that children waiting for speech therapy have a waiting list of 6,000? That is disgraceful. That is not a hard and fast number. The list is so long that many do not even bother putting their names on it.
I could go on and on about where the money should have gone. This NDP government is trying to tell the people of this province that special warrants reflect public priorities. Once again I have to say that this is not so and that the money is not servicing people's needs. Their needs are not a priority with this government.
The Minister of Finance said that our health care would receive $376.9 million. This is to meet the higher-than-budgeted costs for the fiscal year 1999-2000. He also said that his government was meeting the demand for health care services and that it was a priority for them. We have a growing and aging population that is increasing the demand for our health care system. The NDP are trying to make us believe that they have found it necessary to provide added health funding this year for that reason alone. I dispute that. This government has never paid any attention to the people in this province. They dance to the tune of big labour, and they know it.
The patients in this province never saw a penny of this money. The wait-lists continue to grow, and our health system continues to deteriorate, because the patient is not given any consideration. Our health care facilities are deteriorating. This government does not have a strategic plan for our health care system. They have no direction. They are completely lost.
This government continues to give knee-jerk reactions to what happens on the BCTV news. That is exactly how our health care is run. For example, BCTV reports on the 6 p.m. news that Surrey Memorial Hospital is having a crisis. Guess what, hon. Speaker. Within 48 hours, 30 beds close at another hospital in the province, and Surrey Memorial announces the opening of 30 new beds. That's what our health care has deteriorated to.
Let's take a look at where the money really went: $143 million went to regional programs, which include wage settlements again. That phrase, "wage settlement," keeps coming up. The Medical Services Plan will receive $54 million towards a government-negotiated settlement with the B.C. Medical Association, pending its ratification. Wages again. Pharmacare received $24.6 million to cover increased drug costs, $7.2 million went to the health care sector for Y2K readiness and $16.5 million went to reduce the Health ministry's total warrant requirement to get it to $217.4 million. Again we have to ask: where is the help for our waiting lists?
Let's take a look at the special warrants to the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education received $23.3 million in warrants. The government signed an agreement with the BCTF regarding an early retirement incentive plan for teachers over 55 and a teacher career transition plan for teachers over 50. The incentive paid to the teachers is the difference in salary costs between teachers participating and new teachers hired to replace them. The government, under this agreement, has made a commitment to those teachers who retired or left the system on June 30, 1999. The office of the comptroller general has advised the government that in accordance with government accounting policy, the full three-year cost of the agreement must be recognized in the fiscal year of 1999-2000. That total cost is $28 million.
The independent schools receive $900,000. The ministry is required by the Independent School Act to fund each independent school in accordance with the regulations in that act. I have many independent schools in my constituency. Many parents who send their children to independent schools are concerned by this budget and the amount of money the ministry has given to them. The wording is very vague and creates concern. It appears that the government is only providing independent schools with half the money required. They only receive half the funding increase that they gave the public schools. Year after year we hear the BCTF calling for abandonment of the independent school programs and the funding for them.
[ Page 14595 ]This year the budget looks like the government listened, and that bothers me. It makes me question again what this government is up to. They are quietly reducing their commitment to the independent schools. It is interesting: of all the money the Ministry of Education receives, only 7 percent goes to the school boards to make sure that our children have a sound education. This has to pay for the school supplies, and as we well know, many of our students do not have the books necessary to get a sound education.
We continue to have strikes in our system. Most of the children in this province are out of school. We have a government that is afraid to show leadership and make education an essential service. Kids want to go to school; they want an education. Parents and children are once again being held hostage, and this government is to blame.
As we continue looking at the warrants, I see that the Ministry of Forests needs a warrant for $22 million: $7 million of that is going to manage the bark beetle infestation; $15 million went to rehabilitation of bridges on Forest Service roads. I believe that both of these could have gone through the budgeting process; then this ministry wouldn't need warrants to get by on.
Well, we come to the most disgraceful of all warrants: $70 million to the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Relations -- $70 million thrown away on the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, a convention centre that this government is fully responsible for destroying. The government's excuse is that they needed to keep the project moving while they were continuing to negotiate in concert with the federal government, or else they could terminate the project altogether. Everybody knows they couldn't negotiate anything with our ex-Premier. Everything he touched sank to the bottom of the ocean. Everybody on that side of the House supported him and let him run wild with taxpayer money. To the members opposite, it was only a mere $70 million.
I think the members opposite need to be reminded once again of the real cost of the fast ferry fiasco and what it really meant to the taxpayers of British Columbia. We could have funded 200 teachers' salaries for one year. We could have funded 400 nurses' salaries for one year, funded 200 RCMP officers' salaries for one year, eliminated cardiac and hip surgery wait-lists, built seven new rural hospitals, paid for 600 kidney and liver transplants, paid for 250 air ambulance trips from Prince George to Vancouver, bought ten mobile mammography units, constructed and operated 900 long term care beds for one year, bought six MRI scanners, bought 12 CT scanners, paid for the care of 200 children in foster care homes, bought textbooks for 10,000 high school students
If we had a competent government sitting opposite, hon. Speaker, these warrants would have been part of the budget. The auditor general has told us that these cost overruns could have been avoided. This government has shown the people of British Columbia that they don't care. They don't care how much they spend, what they spend it on, whom they spend it on or who suffers because of their negligence.
How can the members opposite support a government that has skyrocketed our debt and wasted billions of tax dollars on projects such as the fast ferry fiasco, the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre and the Skeena Cellulose buyout, and on lost revenues from Nanoose Bay, the fixed-wage policy and numerous mismanaged megaprojects? How can any member opposite support a government that has given this province needless red tape, put the taxpayers on the hook for liabilities such as the Carrier Lumber decision
The throne speech was disgraceful. There was no vision for this province. The budget is a budget of spend, spend, spend. The NDP's spending disasters have made British Columbia the laughingstock of Canada -- a once great province brought to its knees by an incompetent government. I will not support this bill.
The Speaker: Thank you, member.
I recognize the member for Prince George-Omineca.
P. Nettleton: I should extend, on behalf of myself personally and my constituents congratulations to you on your election as Speaker. I know you're going to do a great job in that position.
The matter at hand deals with the whole question of special warrants. I have before me a news release dated February 11, 2000. The heading of this news release in fact is: "Special Warrants Reflect Public Priorities." I just want to talk briefly, if I may, about health-related public priorities as they relate to this request for warrants. I have an advisory before me with respect to the priorities of the folks that I represent in Prince George-Omineca -- not only the constituents of Prince George-Omineca but the Stewart-Nechako region -- as they relate to a proposed multilevel-care facility.
Last evening -- March 28, 2000 -- the Northern Interior regional health board medical advisory committee met. This was a public meeting attended by a number of folks from the community, and they were assured that a multilevel-care facility was the number one priority of the health board's capital project list. They went on to point out that it didn't necessarily mean that it was the number one priority on the province's list. Their concern was: where are we at with respect to the provincial list in terms of priorities for this type of project? I checked the priority list -- page 50 of the budget reports -- with respect to health capital projects. This facility, which is a number one priority with the Northern Interior regional health board and the people of the Stewart-Nechako, does not appear on this list that has been provided to this House in the past days.
I have checked further with the Treasury department for a complete list -- if in fact this list is not complete -- which may or may not include this project, the multilevel-care facility to which I referred. Treasury will not provide that list, hon. Speaker. They will not provide this information not only to myself as the representative of Prince George-Omineca but, more importantly, to the people of the Stewart-Nechako region, who have hoped and waited for some two decades for a multilevel-care facility. I think this is a concern in terms of not only the priorities of the people of this region but also the claim by this government that in fact the special warrants reflect public priorities.
With respect to the list that I had requested of the Treasury department, I'm just wondering if there is in fact a list establishing provincial priorities for capital projects. I don't
[ Page 14596 ]know. Perhaps there is a list and this project does not appear. We may never know. In any event, we're waiting to hear with respect to that.
There's been a lot of work that's gone into the proposed multilevel-care facility for Stewart-Nechako. There was a report commissioned by JB Clark and Co. of Vanderhoof, which is a wonderful little town in the Prince George-Omineca area that lies geographically between Prince George and Fort St. James, where I reside. That is the site of the current outdated facility. JB Clark, as I say, prepared a report which was part of the preliminary work that went into doing the proposal, which went forward initially to the Northern Interior regional health board and from there found its way to Victoria as part of the application process. Some months ago that proposal was denied.
By way of background, the JB Clark report points to the efforts to obtain a long term continuing care facility in Vanderhoof for the Stewart-Nechako, and it points out that in fact the application spanned two decades. During the history of the initiative, it talks about how there have been three changes of provincial governments and federal governments, four provincial elections, over half a dozen different provincial cabinet ministers, three different MLAs representing Stewart-Nechako, three mayors of Vanderhoof and, more significantly, a fundamental change in the management of regional health care facilities. This change in governance models, called New Directions, was the province of British Columbia's response to the Closer to Home initiatives which came out of the Royal Commission on Health Care in 1991. "The absence of a local care facility that provides a high quality of appropriate care to seniors and to individuals who are severely limited or cannot care for themselves is a source of high frustration and despair in the Stewart-Nechako community." I don't think that's an exaggeration by any means. In terms of what the priorities of the public are, if as this news release claims, there is some attempt by way of these special warrants to reflect public priorities, I'm just wondering why it is that we in our region find ourselves in the position we're in with respect to this facility and the ongoing rejection of this proposal.
Briefly, as well, with respect to the current status of the proposal, this report points out that the need for extended care has evolved into a need for a multilevel-care facility. With the appointment of members to the Northern Interior regional health board, there was renewed intention to bring this issue forward in order to see a multilevel-care facility built and operated in Vanderhoof. I know that with the previous Minister of Health, I did have the opportunity to discuss this proposal in some detail. I met with her and her staff and was given some assurance not that the facility would proceed but in fact that it would be considered. The last piece of correspondence that I received from the minister was dated May 26, 1999.
This was prior to the formal rejection of the proposal for the multilevel-care facility, in which the minister indicated that local capital planning is the responsibility of each regional health board or community health council. The Northern Interior regional health board considers a replacement multilevel-care facility for Omineca Lodge a regional priority, and they anticipate submitting a proposal for a new facility. I should add that in fact that has been done, and in fact the proposal has been rejected.
The government's budget for fiscal 1999-2000 boosts health care funding by $615 million; $21 million has been allocated for additional long term care beds. For the most part, these are new long term care beds and facilities currently under construction and due to open this year.
Following the formal rejection by the Ministry of Health of the proposal, the proposed multilevel-care facility in Vanderhoof, I met with ministry staff in Victoria. Again I expressed the sense of frustration, the sense of hopelessness and despair, which I think characterized the sentiment with respect to this much-needed, long-overdue long term care facility.
Much to my surprise, not only was this facility not on any provincial list with respect to priorities, in fact there was no list. There was no list for projects of this sort -- new facilities which would meet these kinds of needs. In fact, there was never any chance that this proposal would go anywhere other than the desk of the then minister in Victoria. So all of the work and effort, all of the expectation that had been raised with respect to this proposal, with respect to funding for this facility was for naught.
Having said that, again I would point to the request that this government makes with the special warrants for funding to, in their words, "reflect public priorities." My response, I can tell you -- on behalf of the constituents that I represent, on behalf of the Stewart-Nechako region and, if nothing else, in light of the treatment of the people that I represent -- with respect to this proposal is an emphatic no.
I'm quite happy to be able to respond in that way, in much the same way that this current government has responded to the requests of the constituents I represent. In fact, I think it would have been preferred had they been straightforward with respect to this proposal and said no from the outset, rather than allow the groups and individuals involved in this proposal to put in the hours and the work, the energy and the money that they have done in order to see this facility go forward.
Having said that, it is my hope that the new minister will consider this facility in terms of their claim to their willingness and their claim to reflect public priorities. If in fact there is any legitimacy to that claim, any truth to that notion, I would challenge the current minister in the current government to respond to the very public proclamation by the Northern Interior regional health board in the Stewart-Nechako region, the constituents of that entire region, that in fact this is their priority. This is their priority, hon. Speaker. Thus it becomes my priority, and I carry this forward to the current government and the current minister. I lay it on their desk and ask them, in turn, to respond. Again I say on behalf of my constituents, with respect to the special warrants and the requests for additional moneys, that I'm quite happy to respond in the negative and say no. That concludes my comments, then, with respect to the whole question of special warrants.
R. Neufeld: Hon. Speaker, I'd also like to congratulate you on your position in the chair this year. Although I wasn't here when it took place, it's good to see you there, and I hope you have a House that is going to be civil and easy to manage. I'm sure it will be
[ Page 14597 ]Today I rise to speak to Bill 4, Supply Act (No. 1), 2000, under a brand-new Minister of Finance and a brand-new Premier. I want to go back again in time and talk a bit about what took place in earlier years. You and I will recollect many of these quotes I'm going to make, as we were both elected in the same year, 1991. Many of these quotes that I'm going to put forward into Hansard today are ones that I'm sure some of the members opposite in government wish they had never made or, secondly, wonder why they made them in 1992. This all has something to do with the supply act, and I'll get to it as I get on a little bit further.
The Speech from the Throne in 1992 committed that it would do no more than British Columbians could afford and would manage our province's finances openly and responsibly. That was made by the then Premier, Mr. Harcourt. In fact, I remember
Then in 1993 we had a Speech from the Throne, and we were here, Mr. Speaker -- you and I and some other members in the House right now -- listening to what was going to take place. One of the comments made was: "The new British Columbia Investment Office, reporting to the Premier, will work to cut unnecessary red tape and duplication within the normal regulatory and review processes." When I think about the time I spent here from 1993 till now and witnessed every year anywhere from 50 to 80 to 100 pieces legislation passed by this House and all the resulting regulation that goes along with it, I wonder what happened to that promise. In fact, if you think about it, what the
So many people have changed over there. They've gone from one place to the other. I can never remember, but I think it's the member for Cariboo South -- who used to be the Forests minister and who threw his cell phone out the window and now is over there on that end of the House -- who talked about the cost of the Forest Practices Code being over $1 billion, which was of absolutely no use to either government or industry. It cost the taxpayers $1 billion. That's the kind of commitment that this government made at that time. They were going to reduce regulation, and in fact they increased it.
In 1993: "This government will ensure that we remain among the lowest-taxed jurisdictions in Canada and that our tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently." That was a commitment made by the last Premier we had, when he was Finance minister. He now sits down at that end of the House.
Then there was the Speech from the Throne in 1994. It says: "In the last two and a half years, we have indeed seen a profound change in provincial government, especially with regard to fiscal policy
An Hon. Member: Shortly.
R. Neufeld: Shortly.
The same year, Elizabeth Cull, the Finance minister, said:
"Our debt management plan has two goals: one is to eliminate the province's deficit;" -- this is in 1994 -- "the other is to ensure that the level of total tax-supported debt reflects the province's ability to repay through increased economic growth and revenues. The progress we've made in reducing the deficit in this and previous budgets has slowed the growth of British Columbia's direct debt, and we'll build on this progress by eliminating the deficit in 1996-97."Well, that commitment was made in 1994.
March 22, 1995: "A government's responsibility is to provide that foundation upon which jobs can grow -- from the ground up, business by business, community by community." Now, that's a pretty nice statement -- make everyone feel really good, all those people who are out there looking for work. That was made in 1995. I'd suggest that the same people who said that in 1995 should maybe go to Gold River. Maybe they should go to where Cassiar used to be. Maybe they should take a trip to Tumbler Ridge. Maybe they should take a trip to a few other communities in British Columbia that have been devastated by this government's inaction, overregulation and overtaxation.
Then we go on to, again, the Finance minister in 1995, Elizabeth Cull. Her statement on March 28 was: "With this year's budget, we have completed a key part of the job we started when we took office." Heaven forbid that British Columbians wish today that they had never started that job and taken office. "There will be no budget deficit for the government of British Columbia this year. With this 1995 budget, we balanced the budget a full year ahead of our promise to the people of British Columbia, and we have done it while maintaining our commitment to freeze taxes." This is Elizabeth Cull in 1995.
That was one of the first fudge-it budgets, which almost every one of the members across the way took part in and actually approved. Now, I can understand some of the backbenchers of the day not knowing what was going on. I can understand that clearly. But many of the people -- in fact, all the people -- in cabinet today were there and approved those kind of statements. They clapped; they cheered. They stood in this House and clapped and cheered. I was here -- so were you, hon. Speaker -- to witness it.
G. Plant: But they're really sorry now.
R. Neufeld: And they're really sorry now: "I didn't really tell the truth."
She went on to say: "The first goal will be to maintain British Columbia's credit rating as the best of any province." Well, they've certainly done that. We've lost credit ratings steadily. One would wish they wouldn't have any goals. On second thought, maybe they don't have any goals. "Our second goal will be to balance the budget and use surpluses to pay down the $10.2 billion of debt incurred from decades of operating deficits. A 20-year payback period will be established, based on realistic economic and fiscal assumptions." Well, the taxpayer-supported debt that Elizabeth Cull was talking about at that time -- the $10.2 billion -- I believe is about $20-some billion today. That's the plan that they've implemented to pay it back.
[ Page 14598 ]Then we go to 1996. The same Minister of Finance, on April 30, says: "We will have a surplus of $87 million in this fiscal year
Then the same minister stated that B.C.'s second balanced budget in a row
We still have it today, a decade later -- one full decade later. You can go back in Hansard and look and get quotes from person after person on the government side of the House talking about being open and honest. In fact, that was one of the 54 promises, I believe it was, in the Harcourt manifesto: open and honest. You haven't hit either one of those words once, not once, from 1991 when you took office -- and it was a sorry time for British Columbia -- until today. And I doubt you're going to change. We thought maybe there would be some small glimmer, that the door might have opened a little crack with the new Premier -- in transparency -- but it didn't happen.
Then in 1996 the member for Saanich South, another new Finance minister, talks about a five-year health care funding guarantee. It "means that health care spending will keep pace with population growth and cost pressures." I wonder if there's anyone in B.C. who really feels that today. I wonder if you have lived up to that promise -- this government that says health care and education are their top priorities. Tell that to the people who are on the longest waiting lists that British Columbia has had in decades. Tell that to people who can't get in for MRI scans. Tell that to people who can't get hip replacements or cancer treatment. Tell that to those people. Tell them that you had a five-year plan to guarantee
The only guarantee British Columbians got out of you folks was more debt -- more debt and less service -- and the statistics are there to prove it. That's no one saying it just because they want to say it. The statistics are there to prove that on any mark -- any mark you want to take -- this government has failed miserably, failed the people of British Columbia miserably. And in Bill 4, you want interim supply for $5.5 billion. You know, we shouldn't give you a penny -- shouldn't give you a lousy cent. In fact, most British Columbians would like to boot you out and start all over again -- very quickly.
An Hon. Member: Let's go for it.
The Speaker: Through the Chair, please, members.
R. Neufeld: Then we had the budget address from March 30, 1998, from the now Minister of Labour.
An Hon. Member: Which riding?
R. Neufeld: Vancouver-Hastings, I guess, is her riding.
She stated: "I have decided to set the deficit target for 1998-99 at $95 million, close to half the level of last year's deficit and less than half of 1 percent of the overall budget." Those are some of the quotes made from 1992 forward. I know that it makes a number of the members uncomfortable, and so it should.
Some of them are in this House yet today, who made those statements and haven't been able to live up to them. You know what, Mr. Speaker? I don't doubt for one moment that it would be hard to be in government and live up to some of those statements. But I didn't make those statements; I didn't stand there and make those statements. But members on that side of the House sure stood up and made those statements and hardly lived up to one of them.
Is it any wonder that British Columbians feel a bit deluded? They wonder what in the world is going on in their province when they're at the bottom of the economic heap of every province in Canada, including Newfoundland. I mean, this group of financial wizards, I call them, has taken us from number one in Canada. Wouldn't you like to be number one again? Had they kept some of their promises, maybe we could be number one. But we're at the bottom of the pile, all because of some socialist dogma that doesn't work; it never has worked and never will work.
Let's go on to our new Premier. When British Columbians saw the NDP elect a new leader after the last disgraced leader had to leave office
So we had hoped and most British Columbians had hoped that maybe this group of financial wizards had figured it out, got a new leader, a new road. "We saw the light. We turned on the lightbulb. We're out of the socialist darkroom. We're going to look at things in British Columbia in a different way. I'm going to be open and transparent, and I'm going to be honest. And my goodness, I'm sorry I wasted $500 million on ferries that don't work; I'm really sorry. But what can I do?"
Well, this new Premier promised on November 7
When he talks about that and says those kinds of things, one wonders how hollow it is, because you go back to March 24, 1992, when that same person stood in this House and talked about a budget in 1992 that was farsighted: "It doesn't go 60 years, but it sets a trend for years to come." Well, I guess that's the only piece of truth I can find, because in 1992 this present Premier knew how poorly this government was going to do. He could actually look into the future; it was transparent. I think that if you left this group here for 60 years, you'd have a deficit budget 60 years from now. Even if the
[ Page 14599 ]feds give you $100 billion a year, these folks would figure out how to fritter it away on something that doesn't work and never would work.
An Hon. Member: Skeena Cellulose.
R. Neufeld: You name it -- they'd figure out how to get rid of it.
Also, on January 12 the present Premier, on "Voice of the Province," said
Let's go to page 50 in the budget manual. If they were truthful and honest with the budget -- if the Premier really meant what he said about big projects and small projects backed by solid business plans
Health facilities: construction of a replacement tower for Surrey Memorial Hospital; construction of Royal Jubilee Hospital Diagnostic and Treatment Centre and Vancouver Island Cancer Clinic in Victoria; fit-out of the Vancouver General Hospital tower; second floor redevelopment and construction of a facility at the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops; replacement of the health care centre in Clearwater; replacement of the Keremeos Diagnostic and Treatment Centre. Justice facilities, roads and transportation, power generation -- it goes on and on.
Well, I'm telling you, if you've got a business plan, I'd like to see it tabled here this afternoon -- for each and every one of those projects. If the Premier of the day, the Premier that is the Premier today, was actually honest on January 12 -- talking about big projects and small projects, well managed, backed by solid business plans -- I shouldn't think that any one of those members in cabinet should have a wit of problem coming back in the House here in ten minutes and putting on the table those business plans for every one of those capital projects in this book. I'll bet you there's not one.
R. Neufeld: Okay. There's one. I'll give you one. Maybe there are a couple more, because these have been in the book for the last ten years, so I don't know whether you've got a business plan or not. But it's interesting how it's so easy to say something, so easy to promise something and so easy for this group to not live up to those promises.
Continued construction of the third fast ferry. I find it absolutely amazing. We've got two ferries that don't work. They're far too expensive to run, they cost too much money to build, they don't work, people don't like them, they cost twice as much as what they should have, and you're still finishing the last one. You can't sell the two you've got running right now
The Speaker: Through the Chair, please, member.
But what's happened, Mr. Speaker? It doesn't matter where you go, when you look at some of the promises that were made in the budget, there is nothing you can live up to. But if we go back to what I said, from 1992 forward, about a growing economy that every Finance minister talked about, every Premier talked about
When they talked about all the nice things about jobs -- how the jobs are going to be so great
Let's look at the record of some of the other provinces across Canada when it comes to balanced budgets -- surpluses. Alberta: seven consecutive balanced budgets right next door to us, while we went through nine deficit budgets. It's deplorable. I have been here and listened to six sorry Finance ministers get up and give nine deficit budgets -- nine deficit budgets by six different Finance ministers, all with the same promises, and under the leadership of three different Premiers. I'll tell you, if that isn't disgraceful, I don't know what is. If I was one of those folks, I think I'd be leaving town.
Manitoba: five balanced budgets. Mining in every province across Canada is on the upsurge except in British Columbia. We close 'em regularly. We've closed more than we've opened. Way to go. And yes, we have the best mineralization in the whole country. New Brunswick: five balanced budgets. My goodness, it must be a bit of a trend. I don't know if these folks haven't caught on yet, but maybe not. Newfoundland balanced its budget; Prince Edward Island has balanced three budgets; Nova Scotia has balanced four budgets. At the same time, these folks have driven us to wrack and ruin.
Saskatchewan -- now, this is the home of socialism; this is where it started: seven consecutive balanced budgets. Health care spending has increased by 17 percent in each of the last two years. They've got a new tax system that they're putting into place, which this government just will not have anything
[ Page 14600 ]to do with. They're going to eliminate a 15 percent high-income surtax. When the new tax system in Saskatchewan is fully implemented, roughly 70 percent of all Saskatchewan taxpayers will pay income tax at a rate equal to the residents of Alberta, and it will mean savings of about $260 million per year for taxpayers -- or roughly $1,000 for a family of four.
And we sit around and listen to these folks talk about how great they are by giving tax breaks of one point that amount to about two show-hall tickets and a bag of popcorn. It's terrible. British Columbia is in terrible debt -- $36 billion. It has over doubled since this group took office.
What do we have to show for it? There's certainly not too much floating anymore. The ferries, yeah, we've got that to show for it -- all kinds of bailouts, all kinds of tried things. We don't even know what's on the horizon when it comes to court cases; British Columbians don't, unfortunately.
I would think that the best thing that this group could do is actually call an election. I'm glad my red light's gone on, Mr. Speaker
The Speaker: Thank you, member.
D. Jarvis: Mr. Speaker, I too must congratulate you on your election. You will probably end up being one of the few Speakers that have been here since 1991 who hasn't thrown me out of the House, because I intend to behave today and for the rest of the session. In any event, I hope you do a good job. Everyone is looking to you to be one of the best Speakers we've had.
Today we're back here again discussing supply; this is sort of an annual event that we have had since I first was elected in '91. We arrive in Victoria, and the first thing we find out is that this NDP government has failed again once more to be able to balance its books. Subsequently we have to create more money for them, which is a sad state of affairs when you look at the government that is supposed to be conscious of the moneys that it handles for the people of British Columbia. And they have failed to do it, in a miserable way, over the years.
The issue today is one of principle -- that is, whether we are to give them more money. Should we give the government approval for interim supply to the tune of $5.5 billion more? The general consensus on this side of the House, I believe, is no. I doubt if we will support the government on this aspect.
Should we give interim supply to a government that has overspent this last budget? Again we have to say no. Should we give interim supply to a government that for year after year has mismanaged this province and put every man, woman and child in debt?
Some four million people in this province each owe about $9,000 -- each and every one of them. That is a very sad state of affairs in this province. For example -- a little bit of humour here -- the member for Richmond East, who was the second MLA to ever have a baby during a session
In this decade, B.C. is the only province in Canada that has never balanced its budget. So should we be giving interim supply to a government that, contrary to the promises to balance these budgets, hasn't done so for nine consecutive years? The answer has to be a resounding no. As I said, it's a matter of principle. This is really not how the NDP did actually get elected. This is a government that, unfortunately, feels it can do anything and get away with it; they can go ahead in spending.
Our friend from Peace River North was discussing quotations from different members on the other side of the House that he had pulled out -- how they had said that they were going to balance the budget. But I actually have here -- I know we're not supposed to use props -- a booklet. It's called " New Democrat Fiscal Framework: The Five-Year Balanced Budget Plan." This is signed by New Democratic leader Mike Harcourt, September 20, '91. If you'll bear with me, there are a few things in here that show the fact that these individuals across the other side of the House are essentially here under false pretences, because they ran on the basis that "New Democrats will not commit British Columbia to increased government debt simply to suit the short-term political needs of this election."
An Hon. Member: Unbelievable.
D. Jarvis: It is; it's an unbelievable statement.
This is the former Premier and now the sort of sub-Lieutenant-Premier of the present Premier: "One promise I have made is that my government will pursue these priorities within a balanced budget over the business cycle." Well, this has never been done in nine years -- and especially in his first four years.
Again, he said that his platform and their platform -- the one that they ran on, all of them -- "sets out where we aim to take government." They didn't tell everyone that they intended to take us down to the bowels of the depths. He said: "It shows the people of B.C. that we're on their side -- that we're listening and we have B.C.'s spending priorities right." He had forgotten about the $300 million-plus that they've spent on Skeena Cellulose and the convention centre that's going to cost us maybe $150 million by the time all the books are in. Fast ferries -- we've blown $500 million on the fast ferries, and that is not even counting the interest, which they estimate will be another $100 million to $190 million. Overall, on those three little items, they've blown over a billion dollars.
The sad thing about this New Democrat fiscal framework is that they say in this platform booklet I have here, which represented their philosophy before they were elected in 1991 -- and the basis of how they were elected, because they sent it to every household
[ Page 14601 ]We wonder whatever happened. Whatever happened to those things that they told us -- their sort of front-line platforms or planks that they were going to run on? On the basis that they criticized the Social Credit government for the last couple of years on their overspending
Well, now we know what the real truth is. We have had deficits for nine years running. We now have a deficit this year of $1.4 billion, I believe, and our debt will then exceed $36 billion. B.C. is out of sync with the rest of the country -- all of Canada and especially the socialist prairie provinces where they were first formed. Remember those days when Tommy Douglas used to be sort of the godfather of the NDP party. The rest of the country
This year, as I said, our deficit is $1.3 billion. In '91 it was $1.1 billion; in '98 it was $1 billion even, and in '97 it was $430 million. You can see that while everyone else in this country is lowering their deficits and having balanced budgets, B.C.'s debt is growing and growing and growing. Every province in this country is focusing on paying down their debt, but B.C. is not balancing their budget. It's a nefarious horde we have here running this government, Mr. Speaker.
I want to mention a short little story that deals with monetary supply. Years and years ago I was an independent adjuster in the lower part of the Fraser Valley and north side of the river from where you are. My associate was a gentleman by the name of Mr. Creighton Lytle, who had a son, Clive Lytle, that you may have known, who was a great NDP worker and who also worked for the B.C. Federation of Labour. Clive's mother, Margaret, invited me out to their home one day to meet a friend of hers, because she knew I was interested in politics. I went to have coffee with her, and lo and behold, I was there one on one and sat and talked for about an hour and a half with Tommy Douglas. That was back in 1962 -- a long time ago -- when he had been bounced out of Saskatchewan, when the people of Saskatchewan suddenly realized that they didn't want him and had actually defeated him. He came out to British Columbia and ran in a by-election in Coquitlam.
I sat down with the infamous Rev. Douglas and found him to be quite a nice gentleman. No question, he was the guru of the CCF party and, as I said before, probably the real godfather of the NDP party. His theme at that time
Tommy Douglas, being from Saskatchewan, the home of the CCF-NDP socialist party
The total debt in Saskatchewan will decline by $286 million this next year. They will have paid off all the debt that they've incurred since 1994, where B.C. is continually increasing their debt.
So it's a sad state of affairs that we have in this province, in which this government is continually putting our people, our children and our grandchildren in debt -- and doubtful if they'll pay it off for years to come. As I mentioned, every person in this province owes $9,000; they're in hock for it. We look at the students around this province that already are in debt trying to get an education, plus the other basic debts they have, and it's rather frightening how they look at the future.
It's no wonder that people are leaving this province. According to the Toronto-Dominion Bank, B.C.'s economy suffered the weakest performance in the 1990s; it was down 6 percent. B.C. was the only province in Canada where the real per-capita GDP actually decreased; it increased in Alberta by 20 percent, in Saskatchewan by 23 percent and in Manitoba by 14.9 percent. All the rest of the provinces in western Canada had increases. Yet in B.C. we had a decrease. In fact, we are in a minus position. B.C. experienced the lowest annual economic growth rate in all of Canada, and that is nothing to be proud of. Yet we see the NDP across the floor here smiling and thinking that all's right in the world.
B.C. recorded the worst rise in business bankruptcy in Canada during 1992-98 -- the worst. The dollar value of business bankruptcies in B.C. shot up from $449 million to $1.4 billion in 1998, a 226 percent increase. And 131 B.C. companies moved to Alberta in the last year, in 1999 alone. Over 600 companies have headed off to Alberta since 1992.
So, Mr. Speaker, we're in a situation where this government now is asking us, because they have overspent, to loan, to pass Bill 4 -- a supply act, No. 1 for the year 2000 -- and is asking us to supply them with another $5.5 billion to cover their excessive spending -- the incompetency, as it was just pointed out to me. But they do not know how to handle the books. I just wonder if any of them over here have ever even run a peanut stand.
It's unbelievable, the incompetence that we see in the way they handle the taxpayers' money. It used to be a tax-and-spend government, and now it's just a spend, spend, spend government. It's unbelievable. We're not going to see any relief for the people in British Columbia until such time as we have another election and we kick this gang out of the province.
In any event, I'm going to say that I do not intend to support this bill. I would hope that the members of the NDP party on that side who aren't necessarily in sync with their
[ Page 14602 ]own party would also agree that this is a time when we've got to be a little more confident in how we spend our money and not spend it foolishly, the way they have done without looking at business plans -- such as the B.C. Ferries.
I notice that ICBC and the Advanced Education ministry are building a university and using -- how do I put it? -- premium money for your driver's licence and your driver's insurance now. They're using that to help build a university in British Columbia out in the Surrey area, instead of using the line ministry, but they have no business plan for that. No one seems to know where that cost is going. Moneys are being spent, and there's no control.
This is B.C. Ferries all over again. This is what this government continually does, time after time after time. Every project they see, they figure this is the greatest thing in the world, knowing full well that none of them have ever had the experience of being able to look after a project. So they waltz ahead without control. And we end up having to spend it all. So as far as the Supply Act goes, I have to put my name down that I shall not support it, and I will vote against it.
At the same time, Mr. Speaker, if I may, I would like leave to make an introduction.
D. Jarvis: I notice that up in the gallery right now
B. Penner: I rise today to take part in this debate, this being second reading on Bill 4, Supply Act (No. 1), 2000. For those people just tuning in, in principle this bill deals with two key issues: the retroactive approval of significant overspending by the NDP government over and above the budget that this Legislature approved for fiscal 1999-2000, as well as approval for spending for the next three months, carrying them into the next fiscal year. That would represent about one-quarter of the total spending that was tabled in the provincial budget on Monday of this week. I'll have more to say about that later.
I want to just maybe give a little bit more detail about what this bill contains. First of all, having to do with the overspending, the wording in the bill appears fairly innocuous at the outset. It states: "AND WHEREAS, in accordance with the Financial Administration Act, expenditures by special warrants of $376 900 000 in respect of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2000 have been submitted to the Legislature in the schedule of this act." That is the overspending to which I just referred to a moment ago.
The second significant issue contained in this bill that's put before us today for consideration is contained in section 1, "Voted expenses appropriation." It says: "From and out of the consolidated revenue fund there may be paid and applied in the manner and at the times the government may determine the sum of $5 500 000 000 towards defraying the charges and expenses of the public service of the Province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2001
Hon. Speaker, you can literally say that this is a $5 billion bill. I'd probably like to say that I've never before held a $5 billion bill, but I have. Exactly a year ago today, almost, we were here in the Legislature debating a similar bill. I think that one was Supply Act (No. 1), Bill 54 from last year. That bill was for a slightly lower amount of money, but it was still in excess of $5 billion. So you can see at the outset that in many ways, what we're doing here today is not new.
I think we need to pursue that issue a little bit further, because we've heard this government say over and over in the last couple of weeks -- it's obviously in their talking points -- that this is a new government with a new approach for governing British Columbia. In fact I'm told that in the text of the Finance minister's speech -- at least the prepared text -- there were 14 references to the term "new government." However, the Finance minister -- probably wisely -- chose to actually say only seven of those references. Perhaps he was growing weary of the mantra, as were the rest of us. But the government would like us and, obviously, British Columbians to believe that the government has changed its way of doing things.
I don't think that's the case. But before we pursue this examination any further, I thought it might help to put matters in context and refer to the Oxford English Dictionary and its definition of the word "new," to see if what the government is foisting upon British Columbians is in fact new. Here's what the Oxford Dictionary has to say: "Not existing before, now first made, brought into existence, invented, introduced, known or heard of, experienced or discovered for the first time. Renewed, fresh, further, additional, different, changed." There's a later reference to something called the New Left: "An extremist radical movement among students." That might be apropos. Then later, "new," being used as an adverb, is defined as: "Newly, recently, just." And an example is given: "As in a newly laid egg." Many people in British Columbia can be forgiven if they feel that the Finance minister did lay an egg in the Legislature when he tabled the most recent budget last Monday.
Let's go back up to those other definitions. "Not existing before, now first made, brought into existence, invented, introduced, known or heard of, experienced or discovered for the first time." Hon. Speaker, this is not the first time that the NDP government has overspent its budget, because that is what the special warrant component of this bill is all about. That means that despite receiving a record amount of money last year to be spent by the Legislature on behalf of taxpayers, they still overspent that budget. Last year, when I was here debating the supply bill, I noted that they had overspent their budget the previous year by $170 million. This year, the overspending is even worse. The overspending is almost double. Actually, it's more than double; it's $376.9 million.
Far from becoming new or getting a grip on the problem, this government is acting in a far less responsible manner than it did before. Things are getting worse. And that's not new.
Again, just to put things in context, I think I'll refer to some of the remarks that I made when I stood here in the Legislature a year ago, the last time the government came here looking for us to rubberstamp and approve their overspending. Here's what I had to say last year: "The content of this bill
[ Page 14603 ]I went on to note last year that although I'm not a great student of American history, I do recall that the main issue with the American Revolution pertained to the entire issue of representation and taxation. That is, the people occupying the colony of America felt that they were not receiving adequate representation, considering all the tax that they were forwarding to Great Britain. That sparked the revolution.
The same thing happens every year in British Columbia. Money is collected from British Columbians by law -- they don't have a choice; while it might not be at gunpoint, you could say it is, in a sense, collected forcibly -- and a sizeable portion gets forwarded to Victoria. And yet British Columbians get very little chance to have a say in what happens with their money. Once, maybe every four or five years, they get to have an election and actually go to a ballot box and mark an X next to the name of the person that they would like to have represent them in their community. But in between those elections, they get to have very little say in what happens to their hard-earned tax dollars once they're forwarded to Victoria.
Then, to make matters worse, the provincial government goes and authorizes overspending without consulting those elected representatives, and it comes back almost like a dog with its tail between its legs towards the end of the fiscal year, saying: "Oops. We've blown it again. Please pat us on the head and tell us it's okay that we couldn't live within our means."
That really undermines the principles of parliamentary democracy. It's bad enough that the voters only have a real say in what happens in government once every four or five years. It's even worse that the people they elect don't get a say in what happens to the finances of the province. But I digress.
I went on to note -- and I think this is a fairly succinct summary of the government's performance to date: "I believe this incompetent government is irresponsible, self-serving, debt-addicted and represents modern-day Luddites who can't be trusted with a blank cheque or credit card." I think that analysis holds true today, notwithstanding the government's claim to be new and different.
I went on further to note that the NDP budget, which was tabled a year ago, did contain some good news -- mostly for banks. Interest payments on the debt last year were to exceed $2.6 billion, and I worked it out on my calculator that that amounted to about $5,000 every hour, day and night, without a single penny actually going to paying down the debt.
I further observed that my constituents know that the best way to start getting out of a hole is to stop digging and that the time to stop digging that hole deeper is now. But the government carried on and not only went on to borrow all of the money they told us last year they were going to, but again, as noted, exceeded that budget by more than $300 million, putting us even further into debt.
Rather than getting their spending under control, the government just feels that they can come here for retroactive approval for their special warrants, which are really just a cabinet order authorizing the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars. So that's not new. I think we've established that the conduct of the government between last year and this year, coming back both times for approval of their overspending, is not new and doesn't meet that definition.
What else could we say might be new -- that they've curbed their excessive spending? That is, spending in excess of revenue. Well, no, because the budget that was tabled on Monday again predicts a $1.3 billion deficit, despite an increase in revenue of $1.1 billion. So that's not new. How about other actions of this government? Well, in the past they were accused of saying one thing but doing another. We remember that in the last election they went around to British Columbians and explained and committed to the fact that they had already balanced the budget -- not just that they were going to but that they already had -- and they presented what they purported to be factual financial statements prepared by the Ministry of Finance alleging that they had indeed made ends meet and that revenues matched expenditures. Well, that wasn't true.
So probably quite rightly, the NDP government of the day, under the former Premier -- who had to resign due to an RCMP investigation -- were tagged with the label of being a government that said one thing but did another. Has that changed? Well, let's consider. There's a different person occupying the Premier's chair -- who, incidentally, is the same person who revealed to the public that the previous Premier was under RCMP investigation. I think we need to examine his conduct in government to see whether or not he differs at all from that moniker of saying one thing but doing another.
I can use a local example to help us in making that decision. Late last July the former Attorney General, now the Premier, came to Chilliwack and issued an invitation to all staff working for the Attorney General's ministry in my community to attend a very important news conference that he was holding. The purpose of that news conference was apparently to announce something to do with the dilapidated, 45-year-old Chilliwack courthouse facility. Well, I crashed that event, because I didn't receive an invitation directly from the Attorney General. I was there, and I heard him say that he had great news for Chilliwack, because he had been able to secure $5 million in funding to renovate the existing court facility.
Now, I won't argue here and say that many people feel that wouldn't be a wise investment of funds, given that the building is so old and that the money would probably be better put towards a new building. However, he did come to Chilliwack and say that he had $5 million in funding for the Chilliwack courthouse.
It turns out that wasn't true. In making inquiries with staff who work for the Treasury Board, I found out that Treasury Board had never approved that $5 million -- not in July, not in August, not in September, not in October, not in November, not in December. By December they were saying, "Just wait until January," but in January they said, "Well, it will come soon -- maybe by March," and by March of this year they're telling me that
G. Plant: Any day now.
B. Penner: The member for Richmond-Steveston is correct: "Any day now -- perhaps by the end of March." Well, guess what: there's still no news. There's still no official confirmation that Treasury Board, of which the former Attorney General was a member, had actually approved that $5 million that he told people in Chilliwack last July he had for them.
[ Page 14604 ]In my view, that is saying one thing and doing another. That's not new.
B. Penner: Maybe the cheque's in the mail. The member for Cowichan-Ladysmith points out that it's not true, and I guess it wasn't true. He came to Chilliwack, and his ministry essentially issued an edict to employees working for the Attorney General's ministry to come out and hear this command performance -- to be told something, in the member's words, that was not true. That's still, in my view, saying one thing and doing another, and that's not new.
How about the debt? Have they changed their ways in that? Have we seen anything new from the government in terms of their handling of the provincial finances in terms of the debt? Apparently not. I refer to a column which appears in today's Times Colonist, written by that insightful journalist Les Leyne, under the headline "NDP Transparently Doesn't Care About B.C.'s Debt." Aside from the witty title to the column, he goes on to note: "It is the most transparently obvious thing about the NDP through the 1990s that they simply don't care about debt."
That's their past track record. Has anything changed in this budget? Well, no. We see that taxpayer-supported debt will be increased deliberately, consciously -- not accidentally but on purpose -- by this NDP government, under the supposedly new leader, by $3 billion in one year. That's nothing new, or if it is new, it's the size of the increase in one year. That's new: by how much more it's going up.
In the past we had things like, back in 1995, the debt management plan. The following year it was called the revised debt management plan, and the year after that it was turned into the financial management plan. Then we had the modified financial plan, which evolved into the 1999 five-year fiscal planning framework. The goal set out in all of those so-called plans, in terms of debt management, has never been met. Every year they move the goalposts to make life easier for themselves, but every year the NDP fails to live up to even those reduced standards. That's a pretty outrageous record, especially when you compare it to other provinces in Canada, and many provinces are not as blessed as we are in terms of our resources and our people.
[D. Streifel in the chair.]
Mr. Leyne goes on to note an interesting observation in one of the documents tabled by this government as part of their budget way back in 1995. This was the original debt management plan. It stated: "Recent borrowing requirements to fund capital investment cannot be sustained over the long term." That was $7 billion in debt ago. Since then the government has not heeded their own words.
In fact, I'd like to take you back a little bit further -- and I have to thank my colleague the member for West Vancouver-Capilano for supplying me with this interesting document. As he explained yesterday, I think, in his response to the budget, he found it while cleaning up his office. It's a government-written, taxpayer-funded publication.
Deputy Speaker: I call the member's attention to the use of props in the House. It's a violation of standing orders. I would like to remind the member of that. If you'd remove the prop, please.
B. Penner: Thank you. I'll just be reading it, and I think I'm allowed to read from documents. I would like to share with the members in the chamber that this document, which was funded by taxpayers, authored by the government and sent out across the province, stated as follows: "We are pursuing a balanced approach." This was back in 1993.
"No to ignoring the deficit. Some will say: 'Don't worry about the deficit. We owe the money to ourselves. Just keep spending, or spend even more.' That's what they did in Ottawa during the seventies and the eighties. The result has been higher deficits and fewer services. Ignoring the deficit simply means that more and more of your tax dollars will be diverted to banks and other creditors to pay off interest on the debt. And less and less will be available to care for the elderly, to teach our children, or to create new jobs. No, we cannot afford to ignore the deficit."That's according to a document written by the NDP government back in 1993. I don't know what's worse: the fact that they seem to have erred in their ways or the fact that taxpayers were charged to promulgate this falsehood around the province and have what could probably most accurately be described as a propaganda sheet distributed under the guise of provincial government news. But that's what they said, hon. Speaker, back in 1993. If you hold them accountable to their own standards, you see that this government has failed -- and failed miserably: "Ignoring the deficit simply means that more and more of your tax dollars will be diverted to banks and other creditors to pay off interest on the debt." That's the NDP talking. It sounds much like the Fraser Institute. But do you know what? The NDP was right when they said that in '93; they're just wrong in that they didn't live by their own words. By that standard, they have failed.
It's not just us here today that will pay that price but all of the young people in the province and people who hope to live here in the future. My colleague the member for North Vancouver-Seymour mentioned earlier that there's a young child here today that's eight weeks of age that's sharing some space in one of our caucus offices -- the daughter of the member for Richmond East. She was born owing $9,000 in provincial debt. That's quite a legacy to leave to person that's only three weeks old -- quite a challenge.
However, let's go back to the analysis. Do we see that what the NDP has done with the budget is anything new? The government would like us to believe that it's new. They'd like us to believe that their approach is balanced. In fact, we heard that throughout the budget speech: that they're taking a balanced approach. Well, is that a new slogan? I'll refer again to this document that you don't want me to show to anyone, called "Budget '93: Choices and Challenges." This is the one paid for by taxpayers, written by the NDP government. Throughout, it uses the slogan: "Balanced Approach Builds Recovery." I see that again on page 5 on the inside: "Yes to a Balanced Approach."
That was seven years ago, and yet we heard the same slogan in the budget on Monday. But we certainly didn't see balance in terms of the bottom line. We didn't see balance in terms of the fiscal state of the province. And that's not new either. The NDP has lived true to its word -- talking about balance but not living it, not actually having the courage to live up to their own standards that they've set for themselves.
Rather than meet the definition of new, hon. Speaker, I submit that all of this experience of us standing here debating
[ Page 14605 ]this interim supply bill more accurately describes the Oxford Dictionary definition of the word "déjà vu." That's defined as "an illusory feeling of having already experienced a present situation" or "something tediously familiar." Well, I think this is getting to be tediously familiar. For people who are avid fans of the Legislature's television channel, they're probably pinching themselves, too, and thinking: "Haven't we seen this all before? Haven't we heard this song?" Yes, we have. But the government, which claims to be new, hasn't changed. It's outrageous. We do have to embark on a new course of providing government in British Columbia. This is not the way to do it. Unfortunately, this tired group of 40 MLAs that comprises the NDP government simply don't seem to have it in themselves to provide anything that is really new -- more of the same perhaps, but nothing new.
Voters across the province deserve a chance of having a new government. It's been almost four years since the last provincial election. You know, in most provinces elections are held every four years -- or maybe even a little less. Certainly it had been the history in British Columbia, on average, that elections were held every three and a half years. That had been a tradition, which unfortunately we seem to have deviated from towards the end of the 1980s and now throughout the 1990s -- governments going to the last gasp of breath that they can possibly muster, living as long as the electoral law will allow them before facing the cold shower of an election and seeing what the voters have to say about their performance.
I talked, a little bit earlier, about the lack of opportunity for democratic participation in British Columbia and, in many respects, in the parliamentary system -- but I think the situation is even worse here in B.C. I'd like to share a quote with you that I observed earlier today. It's attributed to Aristotle, a Greek philosopher: "If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost."
Clearly, when a government makes a decision, made by a few people sitting around a cabinet table, to spend almost $400 million over and above what the people's elected representatives have authorized and then, some months later, comes back here to those elected representatives and says, "Here it is. It's a fait accompli. Rubber-stamp it," not only are the elected representatives not getting a chance to participate meaningfully in the governance of our province, but certainly the people who elected those representatives are shut out altogether. That's ultimately what this bill, Bill 4, is all about. It's about shutting out the people of British Columbia from a meaningful role in governing themselves.
There once was a slogan: "Government for the people, by the people." We certainly haven't had much of that here in British Columbia in recent years. The official opposition, led by our leader, has taken a bold approach to this problem by saying that should we be successful in forming government after the next election, we will establish a citizens' assembly to seriously review the entire process of elections in British Columbia and to determine whether or not it would make sense to change the current system, whereby a governing party can take office getting only 39 percent of the popular vote. That's what happened in British Columbia in 1996. The NDP received less than 40 percent of the vote but got more than 50 percent of the seats.
In many parts of the world, that's considered not just unfair but undemocratic, so some kind of mixed system of proportional representation has been pursued and implemented. I know that Prime Minister Tony Blair of England, a member of the Labour Party, has embarked upon a serious investigation of changing their electoral system. I think there's hesitation there, probably for good reasons, about going to a pure system of proportional representation. But I think there is room for a blended system, a mixed system, based on a combination of our traditional parliamentary system of first past the post with an element of proportional representation, so that there's more balance in the Legislature to reflect the views of real British Columbians.
I know that's an ambitious topic, and we'll leave it to the good people of British Columbia to see what they ultimately decide. Whatever the citizens' panel comes up with will be put to a referendum, if indeed they do recommend significant changes.
It's not until we start involving people in a more meaningful way that we'll stop this unending parade of supply bills. I think that in every single session of the Legislature since I was elected in 1996, the government has come before us, cap in hand, saying: "Please, oh golly gee please, approve a couple hundred million dollars in overspending and billions and billions of dollars in future spending, without detailed debate, without putting it under the microscope of close examination and questioning."
We should learn from our mistakes. We should learn from the errors of our ways and improve. That's what education is all about; it's about learning. But this government, which likes to claim that they support learning, hasn't learned. They like to talk at length about fostering a reputation for British Columbia as the education province, the province where people would come to learn. Well, I say to the government and the NDP: physician, heal thyself. If you want other people to learn, learn yourself, and learn from all the mistakes you've been making over the last nine years. Start to live by some of the measurements and standards that you have set for yourself in terms of living within your means, in terms of balancing the budget, in terms of stopping the practice of squandering billions and billions of extra dollars every year just on interest on the debt. The NDP likes to say that it doesn't like big banks. Big banks -- they're those corporate interests out there, and my goodness, they're bad. Who do you think the banks' best customer is in British Columbia, hon. Speaker? Who do you think it is? Not Mac-Blo. It's not any other major corporation that you can think of. McDonald Dettwiler and Associates in Richmond? I don't think they're the best customer of the banks in British Columbia. It's you guys; it's the NDP government that has made itself the best customer the banks could ever hope to have.
Why is that? Not only because of the amount of the debt and the interest that you pay, but because those payments are guaranteed by hard-working British Columbians. Taxpayers are standing behind that debt, sweating away day in and day out, working if they're lucky enough to have a job in this province, struggling to make ends meet, forwarding their taxes to Victoria and having a portion of that siphoned off, going into the black hole of interest payments on our debt. That is what this government has accomplished, that is what is going to happen in this new budget, and that is not new to this government. They've been doing it for nine years.
[ Page 14606 ]It's time to stop doing it -- just stop. Years ago Nancy Reagan in the United States started or at least was a major proponent of a slogan: "Just say no." Mr. Speaker, I say: "Just say no to Bill 4."
J. Weisbeck: Two weeks ago this House was presented with the throne speech, outlining the government's legislative agenda for the upcoming year. In the very near future I hope to have an opportunity to respond to that speech -- a speech, I might add, which was probably one of the shortest in my history as an MLA.
Three days ago the government unveiled its budget, probably the most important document affecting the citizens of British Columbia. We in the opposition, along with the citizens of our province, haven't had time yet to digest, debate and decide the merits of this critical legislation. Certainly the initial reaction by the public and the media has not been very positive -- but I think more of that's at a later date.
Yet here we are today debating another piece of legislation, the government's interim supply bill, Bill 4, Supply Act (No. 1), 2000. This bill gives provision "to defray certain expenses of the public service of the Province, and for other purposes connected with the public service, for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2001." We also have in this bill special warrants in the amount of $376 million in respect of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2000. "From and out of the consolidated revenue fund there may be paid and applied in the manner and at the times the government may determine the sum of $5 500 000 000 towards defraying the charges and expenses of the public service of the Province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2001
Mr. Speaker, one of the most difficult tasks I have as an MLA is explaining to my constituents in Okanagan East exactly what politicians do here in Victoria. They watch us on television and follow our proceedings through the media, yet the citizens of my riding and the rest of B.C. are puzzled by what's going on here in this Legislature. I can't blame them; I completely understand their confusion, because I'm often baffled by this government's actions as well.
I tell my constituents that the throne speech is supposed to be the government's legislative compass, pointing the way to a better future. It's supposed to make us feel optimistic, despite the NDP's dismal track record of the past decade. Even before the rhetoric of the throne speech settled across the province, we're hit with the reality of the budget. It's almost like being subject to the pain of hangover before we've had the chance to enjoy the pleasure of the honeymoon. However, our budgetary headache is of such a migraine magnitude that the economic hangover is going to be with us far into the future.
So before we've even had the opportunity to properly fulfil our democratic responsibilities on behalf of our citizens, this House is now thrust into another peculiar exercise called the interim supply debate. This is a most curious and confounding spectacle to all British Columbians. I think one would have to sit on that side of the aisle for ten years to make sense of this. I find myself in a challenging position trying to explain to my long-suffering constituents about this anomaly called interim supply. After I do my best to demystify this quirky political process, I get a question-answer session that goes something like this: "So let me see if I've got this right," my constituents say, "the government first introduces a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Yet before the budget is debated and approved, the government introduces a hasty interim bill before it goes broke and can't pay its bills." I of course respond: "Yes, it's something like that." They say: "So even if you don't agree with the budget, the government has the Legislature over a barrel." And I agree: "It's something like that." They ask: "Isn't the government putting the cash cow before the cart? In other words, aren't they asking us to put a down payment on the horse before we've had a chance to inspect it?" Exactly.
Why does the NDP do this? I tell them: "I'm not sure. You should probably ask them in the next election." Mr. Speaker, I would like to encourage all British Columbians to ask this government why it spends their money through something called special warrants. This is another curious NDP practice of avoiding the democratic process, of spending taxpayers' money without proper authority. Why bother declaring an open and transparent budgeting process and then turning around and overspending behind the cloak of cabinet secrecy? I can understand my constituents' confusion and cynicism. Unfortunately, far too few taxpayers are fully aware of the implications of special warrants and interim supply. But once they understand how their money is being mishandled, they unanimously want an end to these practices. We on this side of the House completely agree with British Columbians.
We over here, on the opposite side of the House, have long fought to reform the government's questionable budgeting practices. This fly-by-the-seat, stop-gap financing is completely unacceptable to us and every commonsensical British Columbian. It demonstrates a government in disarray and undermines investor and taxpayer confidence in B.C.'s ability to properly manage its fiscal house. To the casual observer, the government's interim supply requisition seems strange. Unfortunately for us on this side, strange has become commonplace with this government's accounting habits. Nothing much surprises us any more. We on this side agree with the citizens and economic experts that we have to restore economic order in our own house to lead by example before we expect any improvement at the provincial level.
As I mentioned, British Columbians have had a few days to digest the details of the NDP's ninth consecutive deficit budget. Even Saskatchewan has brought in seven consecutive balanced budgets, and they have balanced budgets until the year 2003-2004. They've increased health care spending by 17 percent in the last two years. Why is it that this other socialist party in Canada can bring in balanced budgets and this socialist government in British Columbia cannot? I'm afraid the response has been a case of collective economic heartburn.
At the onset, I would like to congratulate the government for at least listening to the Liberal opposition by introducing truth-in-budgeting legislation. Only in B.C. do we need such extreme measures. It's a pity that we need legislation and a court case to force this government to follow acceptable accounting procedures. On April 10, Mr. David Stockell will be in court. I think we'll all be waiting, with interest, for the results of that court case.
While the government did get the message on truth-telling, it missed the mark on tax cuts -- another Liberal Party policy. The reason governments throughout the world have introduced tax cuts is to stimulate the economy. Tax cuts work -- plain and simple. Tax cuts are proven to create more jobs,
[ Page 14607 ]accelerate economic growth and generate more investments. These are the economic conditions that have been lacking in B.C. this past decade. These are the reasons why the high-tech industry is not being attracted to British Columbia at the same rate that they are in other jurisdictions, namely, Alberta and Washington State.
The evidence is overwhelming. There's proof from all over the world that tax cuts lead to more revenue for government, not less. Surely the members opposite are familiar with the New Zealand example, where individual tax rates have been cut by 24 percent since 1995. Since then, total revenues have jumped by $1.3 billion. In our country, several provinces have turned to tax cuts to stimulate their economies, achieving successful outcomes. Ontario has cut its basic personal income tax rate by 20 points since 1995, and yearly personal income tax revenues have soared by $2 billion. In fact, eight out of ten provinces have reduced personal income tax rates during the same period. In every case, revenues have gone up.
Real economic growth begins with real tax relief. A thriving investment climate depends on a dramatic reduction in personal income tax. This is the fundamental fiscal philosophy that separates the B.C. Liberals from the NDP. We believe in less government spending, and we believe that individual citizens are able to stimulate the economy with their own money. The NDP, on the other hand, believes in big government, intervention and costly megaprojects. There is no better example than fast ferries, when you appreciate what those fast ferries really cost.
The $463 million wasted on the fast ferries alone could have paid for all of the following. It could have funded 200 teachers' salaries for one year; funded 400 nursing salaries for one year; funded 200 RCMP officers' salaries for one year; eliminated cardiac and hip surgery wait-lists; built seven new rural hospitals; paid for 600 kidney and 40 liver transplants; paid for 250 air ambulance trips from Prince George to Vancouver; bought ten mobile mammography units; constructed and operated 100 long-term care beds for one year; bought six MRI scanners; bought 12 CT scanners; paid for the care of 200 children in foster homes; and bought new textbooks for 10,000 high school students.
Sadly, we have all witnessed the stagnation and waste which have plagued the province during the NDP decade of the nineties. Most of the citizens of this province support our position, and they deserve to be heard through a general election.
It is understandable that our citizens greet this budget with cynicism. This isn't a tax cut; it's hardly a scratch. I think it amounts to a cup of coffee a day. Meanwhile, that cup of coffee costs B.C. taxpayers more than $7 million a day in interest payments on public debt. Now, that's an economic migraine.
Here's what the Certified General Accountants Association of B.C. has to say about this government's timid budget. The association calls it a tax-tinkering and big-debt budget. The association says that the provincial budget is devoid of a master plan to balance the books. Well, at least they've promised to stop cooking them. And faced with a billion-dollar deficit and $36.5 billion in total debt, the association reminded the government that there is a big difference between a balanced approach and a balanced budget that adheres to sound fiscal management.
I'd like to further quote the CGA's response: "While there are some minor changes to business and personal taxes, [the] budget will not send a clear and powerful message to potential investors that British Columbia is a good place to invest and create jobs. The budget will simply prolong the investment chill that hangs over this province's potential for prosperity and economic growth."
The real concern for the province's accountants is that B.C.'s ballooning debt load will continue to drain the energy out of our economy. It seems that the momentum and optimism ushered in by the new millennium has been stalled by the New Democrats after only a few weeks in the twenty-first century. Budget 2000 is a lost opportunity that will do nothing to stimulate private sector job creation, investment or confidence in our economy. It is another lost opportunity for British Columbia.
This budget reflects this government's political attitude as articulated in its throne speech. Neither presents a broad vision nor bold action for the future. Instead, they are a lament to the past, a prayer to a return to the past glory that once was B.C. Faced with the present gloom of its own making, this government cannot see its way clear to lead us into the new economy. This budget isn't a master plan; it's a hodgepodge of tidbits designed to cool all of the hot buttons this government has pushed over the past ten years. It's not that they finally listened to common sense; they just realized that they could no longer ignore reality. If this budget is meant to appease the voters in the upcoming election, I think the NDP is in for a rude awakening. This government has created an expensive legacy which will not be easily forgotten nor forgiven by the electorate.
My constituents have had an opportunity to review the highlights of this budget, and they have told me that much is missing from it. The government promised us transparency. All it means is that now we can watch them waste the taxpayers' money. It might have been more comforting to continue to try and hide the mess. Where was the commitment to balancing the books? This government still has no credible long-term plan to bring its runaway spending under control. The NDP has had ten long years to try and prove their spend-side economic theories. Well, the verdict is in. This government has demonstrated that it's incapable of leading this province to its potential prosperity. On the contrary, every British Columbian will be paying for the fiscal mistakes of this government for years to come.
Budget 2000 has failed to eliminate this government's practice of bailing out troubled businesses. The government has wasted over $1 billion on business subsidies since 1996 -- money that could have gone to schools and hospitals. Rather than playing economic roulette, trying to pick the winners from the losers, the NDP government should be correcting its policies to make B.C. attractive for all business. Budget 2000 has failed to fully disclose all costs of capital projects and to put all contracts to open tender. The fast ferry fiasco should never have been allowed to happen.
Unfortunately, the government is repeating the same mistakes on projects like SkyTrain. Commencing construction with no business plan and no open tendering of contracts is setting the stage for further financial tragedy. Mainly because of the failed ferry fiasco, taxpayers are now on the hook for B.C. Ferry's $1.1 billion debt, but the corporation's structural problems remain. We need to know how the fast ferry fiasco
[ Page 14608 ]was allowed to happen, who was responsible and what specific steps must be taken to make sure that it never happens again. The same should hold true for all Crown corporations.
Just yesterday the members opposite were still trumpeting B.C. as the education province. I hope that they're learning from the present school shutdown. Meanwhile, the budget failed to redirect funds to students instead of costly bureaucracies and labour contracts. The government missed the opportunity to develop a long-term strategic plan to ensure an education system that thrives on excellence. This is the third day in a row that the education province has been shut down. Mr. Speaker, 355,000 students are being denied an education that has been paid for by the hard-working taxpayers of B.C. This government has continually told us that education is a priority for them. If that's true, why doesn't this government protect its investment and our children's future by declaring education an essential service?
I was happy to hear this government finally got the message that honesty and openness are essential ingredients in conducting the public's business. But like its tax cuts, it's a case of too little, too late. For example, the government should have come clean about the true cost of its so-called zero-zero-and-2 public sector wage and benefit settlements. This government's hidden concessions should have been openly negotiated in the first place and fully disclosed to the public before being approved.
This budget also failed to address the cost of conducting business. The government's labour and regulatory policies have made all B.C. businesses noncompetitive. By rebalancing labour laws, increasing flexibility under the Employment Standards Act and cutting red tape by one third within three years, the government could have restored our ability to compete, stimulated investments and increased revenues for public services.
Another concern of my constituents is that this government's policies are forcing our best and brightest to fulfil their futures elsewhere. If the government wants to stop this brain drain, it has to start by dramatically reducing personal income taxes. Our citizens clearly deserve better. A new budget by the "Old" Democratic Party isn't the answer. If the government truly believes its policies will build B.C. back to prosperity, it has responsibility to do the honourable thing: call a general election and let the people decide our future direction. I cannot support this bill. I certainly do not want to give this government any chance to further waste away our money.
G. Plant: It's new to see you sitting in that chair. I congratulate you on your elevation to high office and wish you
Deputy Speaker: The chair is pretty high.
Bill 4. A new year, a new interim supply bill, a new opportunity to pause for a moment and think about the way in which the government has discharged its trust as the manager of the public finances of British Columbia over the past number of months. That is really, I think, what an interim supply bill requires us to do. As everyone who has spoken before me this afternoon has pointed out, we're being asked to give the government permission here to spend a quarter of the money that it requires for the whole year, in circumstances where we have only just a day or so ago seen its plan for public expenditure and really have not had the opportunity to conduct the searching scrutiny of that plan in all its particulars that we need to before we as opposition can decide whether we would give the government permission to spend all that money.
When I have had the opportunity to speak in interim supply bill debates in the past, I've tried to think about the task that lies before us from the perspective of whether the government has, first of all, managed the financial affairs of the province that are within its domain over the past number of months in a way that gives me confidence that they have worked and discharged their duties with the necessary level of confidence and responsibility to give me hope that they could be properly entrusted with the funds they're asking for. I've also asked the question of whether there is before us now a statement of vision -- a plan, a statement of objectives -- which gives us some hope that over the months to come the government has a path that it intends to follow and that it's a good path. Those are all, I think, good questions to ask about interim supply bills. And this is an interim supply bill like lots of other interim supply bills; it has attached to it some special warrants.
I want to start my remarks today by focusing for a while on the special warrant part of Bill 4. Hon. Speaker, I can't remember if you were in the chamber, but I'm sure you were. It was the middle of July last year. We were bringing the legislative session to a close. It was, I think, if not the longest, one of the longest legislative sessions in the history of this Legislature. We were presented with a bill. It was Bill 101, the Supply Act, 1999-2000. As is typical, that's the bill that comes in at the end of a legislative session, in which we sort of wrap it all together -- in terms of the money, in terms of the budget, in terms of the estimates, in terms of the examination of the spending plans of each of the Crown's ministries -- and we get one last chance at deciding whether or not we're going to give the government permission to spend that money.
That opportunity, the middle of last summer, in Bill 101 was presented to us with a number of provisions. I really want to focus on only one. That was the voted expenditures appropriation. The amount of that voted expenditures appropriation was $20,811,511,000. That's not all, of course; there's capital and loans and financing transactions and a whole host of other things. But when you look at what I think was then called the consolidated revenue fund, the core work of government -- excluding the business of Crown corporations and other agencies that back then were not included in the expenditure list here -- the total was, as I say, just over $20.8 billion.
Mr. Speaker, I don't know about you; I thought that was kind of a lot of money. I thought that was an enormous amount of money, and I know that we spent quite a lot of time asking about that expenditure. We certainly spent time scrutinizing the estimates of each of the ministries: the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, which wanted $30,651,000; the Ministry for Children and Families, which wanted $1,481,539,000. Those estimates were scrutinized and examined, and then this bill was passed.
[ Page 14609 ]
Gosh, I thought we had given the government permission to spend really quite a lot of money. And you know, I'm sure I left the session last summer with the impression that the government was full of confidence that it had adequately provided for all of the needs that could possibly arise over the course of the months -- in fact, almost the year -- to come, that they had thought carefully about their spending requirements and their program needs and thought carefully -- as indeed anyone running an organization that's got billions of dollars to spend must think -- about the things that are unforeseeable, building in contingencies, building in planning for the unexpected.
If you don't plan for the unexpected, it'll catch you. It'll really catch you off guard. In the real world -- that is, outside this little fantasy land of government
But you know, I have to also make this confession. Although I certainly took that sense of confidence from the government, I have had just enough experience with this government that there was this kind of niggling doubt in the back of my mind.
An Hon. Member: Wriggling around.
G. Plant: That's right -- a niggling doubt that was wriggling around looking for wriggle room. I have to confess that when I left this place in the middle of July last summer, I was a little bit concerned that perhaps the government had not actually provided for every single eventuality that might befall itself. Perhaps, given their horrendous eight-year track record of predicting the time of day, let alone planning for the cost of government, I should pay attention. Like a good opposition politician, I shouldn't just go home and forget about things for the months to follow, but I should be on guard.
So I didn't just go home and sit in my constituency office and try to help my constituents. What I did was that every day I waited by the telephone. Sometimes I didn't wait for very long; sometimes I waited all day, depending on the extent of my anxiety. But every day I waited by the telephone, worrying and thinking that, you know, if by some chance they haven't actually provided for every single need, whether foreseen or unforeseen, and they need a bit more money -- if $20,811,511,000 somehow wasn't quite enough -- they'll call me.
That's what you do in a democracy. You have a little public scrutiny around the spending of government. If government says, "Whoa, oh my goodness, we didn't realize that this Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre thing was going to be a complete disaster, leaving us with a $70 million investment and nothing to show for it," the place to debate that is here. They'd come in and they'd call me. Mr. Speaker, you'd call all the MLAs together, because the government would say: "Oh, we made a little bit of a planning error, and we need to get your permission to spend some more money."
You know, I waited month after month by the telephone. Every day I waited for that call, worrying. But the call never came, so I had no choice but to assume that the affairs of state were in good hands, that the Minister of Finance -- whichever minister it was that week or month; there have been, so many it's hard to keep track -- had a firm grip on the public finances and that the Minister of Finance was comfortable and all the Crown ministers were confident that at any given moment they could say with certainty that $20,811,511,000 was all the money they needed to run the government of British Columbia until the end of March, 2000 -- that is, a couple of days away.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
With that in mind, Mr. Speaker, I know you were probably as shocked as I was -- shocked -- to receive a press release from the government on February 11, 2000.
G. Plant: Members on this side of the House are saying to me that they were as shocked as I was, and I am certain that they were.
An Hon. Member: Appalled.
G. Plant: I mean, appalled doesn't
Actually, not just a little bit more money. Not just, oh, I don't know, $8,000 or $9,000 that would allow it to round itself up to $20,811,520,000. No. They actually had given themselves permission to spend $376.9 million. Oops.
That is serious money. I don't even want to begin to think how much health care or education that kind of money could buy. But I have to admit that when I looked at this I was so saddened, because I thought: here I had been sitting by the telephone day after day, waiting for the government to call, just in case they needed permission to spend a bit more money, and they didn't do it. They went off, and they signed those special little pieces of paper called special warrants, and they gave themselves permission to spend $376.9 million. That's a lot of bad planning. That's $376.9 million worth of lack of foresight. That is appalling planning, to not be able to foresee $376.9 million.
But, you know, maybe that's what happens. Sometimes accidents happen; sometimes the unforeseeable happens. Sometimes people, even when they do careful planning, aren't able to plan for every single eventuality. I thought, all right, in February they had to make this decision to give themselves almost $400 million of extra money. But, you know, they'll call the House in.
[ Page 14610 ]So I confess I spent a couple of more days in the middle of February thinking, okay, they'll call us back in, because this government certainly wouldn't want to go out and spend $380 million without a little accountability for it -- would they? They wouldn't want to go out and spend $380 million without accounting for it here on the floor of the Legislature.
Or maybe they'd just rather have a leadership convention. No, it would be so irresponsible of them to do that -- wouldn't it? It would be so irresponsible of the government to care more about the internal machinations of its political party needs than to care about the needs of the people of British Columbia whose $380 million they were actually spending.
I have to confess, Mr. Speaker, that after all my years of wishing and hoping and thinking that this government actually did have the public interest at heart when it was making its decisions, I guess I became a little bit cynical. I thought, jeez, maybe they slipped those special warrants out in the middle of that week of February 11 because they thought that everybody else would be watching TV and watching the leadership convention and not paying much attention to their egregious mismanagement of the public finances of the province.
So now it's been months and months
But I want to spend a minute or two -- thinking, I guess I would say, that it's probably appropriate, given that we're dealing with second reading here -- dealing with some of the principles that are appropriate when you're looking at interim supply. For a moment, then, I'd like to take a step back and think about what I've been listening to over the last couple of weeks about a new approach to government, which the supposedly new Premier of this supposedly new, not really recycled NDP government is going to give to all of us in British Columbia.
I think that what's been promised is a new set of principles for how we do our business here in this chamber and how government does its business. That's why we've been given, for example, a budget transparency and accountability bill to examine, to give effect to some recommendations that have made over time by various bodies, including the auditor general, for how we can be more accountable, how government can be more accountable to the public in the way it spends money.
I've listened to the Premier -- the new Premier, the former Attorney General -- talk about the new stamp he wants to put on government. I've thought about that. I must admit, again, that I'm just a romantic fool, Mr. Speaker. I really hope that things will be different. I can always hope that things will be different, even though I have so little evidence upon which to base my hope, but that is actually what it comes down to.
It's fine get up here and talk about a culture of openness, it's fine to get up here and talk about cooperation and a new way of doing business in government, but really, we should be judged
I don't know. I started in a different place in that inquiry than most people might because I've been the justice critic for three and a half or four years, and throughout that time the man who is now the Premier was the Attorney General. I've certainly had a lot of opportunity to watch that member make his mark on the Ministry of Attorney General and to consider whether he has the background from that experience to give me the confidence and optimism that we might actually be on the verge of a new way of doing business -- the business that we call government in British Columbia.
I was reading the budget transparency and accountability bill earlier today. I'm trying to think about whether I saw in that the kinds of things that would give me the confidence that would allow me to support this interim supply bill in terms of a new way of doing the financial part of the business of government. What I saw in that bill was a bunch of commitments and promises to do things in a certain way -- to file certain reports, to convene certain committees, to prepare certain plans -- all set out in the statute books. I suppose we'll examine the details of that when we get to it. It looks at first glance to be an interesting sort of plan for trying to restructure the way government plans its expenditures.
Frankly, the one that leaped out at me was a provision that talked about the obligation on each ministry to file annual reports. Filing reports, I think, is a reasonably good and efficient way of building a track record and being somewhat accountable for the work that has been done in a ministry -- for accounting to the public about how a ministry has done its job. I'm sitting there in my office, looking at this new bill, and I'm thinking about the new Premier that gee, this is his new commitment to British Columbia. He's going to be more structured in the way that government finances are run. And then I had this thought.
Funny thing, Mr. Speaker. There is this statute called the Attorney General Act, and it has a provision in it, section 6, that says that the Attorney General has to file a report every year. To help you out in case you don't have it at the tip of your tongue, Mr. Speaker, it's not, "We'd kind of like it if the Attorney General would file a report every year," and it's not: "We're going to ask the Attorney General, and he might look at filing a report." It says that the Attorney General shall file a report every year. I mean, that's exactly what this new budget transparency and accountability bill is all about -- reporting. We've got this new Premier who's so keen on it, he must have been really good at it in the past. It must have been his past experience, filing these reports year after year, that has built in him this trust in the business of filing reports as a way of making government accountable.
Wrong, wrong. Sadly, the last annual report of the Ministry of Attorney General
[ Page 14611 ]G. Plant: It's really not worth laughing about; it's really quite sad. The last annual report for the Ministry of Attorney General is for the year 1996-97. You can do your arithmetic any way you like, but that's about four or five years ago. The organizational chart of the ministry today doesn't look anything like it did four or five years ago. There are beginnings here
Now this is the guy who is the Premier. We're going to get a lot of annual reports from this guy; I just know it. I just know we are going to be overwhelmed with accountability. We're going to be deluged with reports.
An Hon. Member: You have to be in government longer than a year to give out an annual report.
G. Plant: That's the strategy. My learned colleague -- he's so insightful. He's struck right to the heart of it. This government won't be in office for a whole year, so they won't actually have to file an annual report.
There we go. I thought this would be so simple. I could go into my filing cabinet, and I would find the annual reports from the Ministry of Attorney General. It would fill me with confidence that the government's plans for reporting, for accountability, for showing the public how it's doing it's work would
It's pretty disappointing. I started out with all this hope. I started out with this hope that we had a new Premier who was going to bring a new era of something or other to this government, and I don't have that hope anymore. But then this is the Premier who either slept through or didn't bother to attend every important meeting that he was ever within five miles of for his entire political career. Perhaps I was the fool for being hopeful and optimistic when in fact there really is very little to be hopeful or optimistic about.
Hon. Speaker, I don't want bring the government to a halt by declining or denying it the opportunity to spend the first three months' worth of its budgeted funding for the year. But I can't in any way look at their record in terms of managing the money that they've been entrusted to spend in the past
On that basis, I think it would be a counsel of foolishness to support this bill, and I won't do it. I can't support this bill. I can't support a bill that purports to endorse the fiscal policies and practices of this government, and I won't do it.
S. Hawkins: First of all, hon. Speaker, let me congratulate you on your election as Speaker. I know it'll be a challenging term, and I wish you the best.
I welcome the opportunity to rise and speak to Bill 4, Supply Act (No. 1), 2000. I was just going to recycle my notes from last year, because every year that I've been in this chamber coming back for the beginning of term and the introduction of a budget, very shortly after we get this interim supply bill. Every year -- this is the fifth time now -- the NDP asks us to approve spending for a fiscal year before we even have a chance to debate that budget. I find that a little bit appalling. We in this chamber do not get a chance to scrutinize the budget before we're asked
Every year they run out of money. Every year they run out of money, and they overspend it, and they ask for special warrants, which again is attached to the end of this supply bill. At the end of this supply bill is special warrants -- $376.9 million worth of special warrants. That's money they overspent from last year's budget, as my colleagues have pointed out before me. We approved $20.8 billion in last year's budget. You would have thought they would have had enough to spend last year, but they overspent it. They're not only asking for $5.8 billion to spend as they want for the first quarter -- because we are not able, in the next couple of days, to debate the 2000-2001 budget thoroughly -- they're asking for a free hand to spend $5.8 billion over the next three months and also retroactively asking for spending approval for the almost $400 million that they spent last year on their cost overruns.
They're coming to us after the fact with the special warrants, and it shows disdain for this chamber. As my colleagues have pointed out, we've been available. If they needed the money, if they needed that $376.9 million, why didn't they call the House back? They had a chance to do that. They had a chance every month of the year to do that. When did they run out of that money? February 11 was when they passed out the notice that they had overspent and they had special warrants signed. I was available for almost every day. I see the minister
But you know what? I plan my life more than three or four days at a time. Notice for this chamber is often short. Some of us plan our lives for a little bit more than crisis situations or a week or three or four days at a time. Sometimes the House does get called back on very, very short notice, and unfortunately some of us are unable to attend some of the ceremonies that do come into this chamber. But we are available.
Last year, I do recall, they did call the House back, and I flew back from vacation and came back for a week to help debate the Nisga'a treaty. They were kind enough to let me know in the middle of my vacation that they were calling the House back. We are available. And for money like that -- almost $400 million
[ Page 14612 ]
Frankly, the Legislature -- every member in this House
There's been a lot of criticism on last year's budget. Certainly there's a lot of criticism already on this year's budget. We've only seen the budget introduced for two days. It was introduced on Monday, and already the ripple effect of negative criticism on the budget is starting to take place. I personally haven't heard one good thing about the budget. I have from members across the way, and I have from the Finance minister. But from the business community, from my constituents, from patients, from people that use public services, from workers, from families, I haven't heard a lot of overwhelming positive response on the budget.
What I did hear was that the Premier -- the new Premier -- has said that this isn't a budget that he could take to the public for an election. Now, what does that tell you? What confidence do they have in their budget that they put forward this year? They couldn't take it to the electorate and say: "Here's our mandate, here's our plan, and here's how we're going to spend money. But you know what? We're not going to let you vote on it, because this isn't really a budget that we're really that proud of; this isn't a budget that we can take to the public and call an election on -- not this year, no, no. This is sort of our budget
Well, you know what? This budget isn't any different from the last eight budgets. This budget is the ninth consecutive deficit budget that this government has offered to British Columbians. They haven't been able to balance one budget since they got elected -- not one. The deficit grows bigger every year; the debt grows bigger every year. Spending is out of control; the spending is higher every year.
Guess what. Confidence in the government goes down every year; confidence in B.C. goes down every year. Guess where the economy is. Guess where investment, where business confidence is in this province -- dead last in the country. I don't think that's anything to be proud of.
I think that's why this government and this Premier are unable to take this budget to the electorate. I think they're afraid to, because they know that if they do, they don't stand a chance. You know, they talk in this budget about making choices, and they talk about a balanced approach. Well, what the heck does that mean? Shouldn't we be talking about a balanced budget? Isn't that where every other province in the country is going -- towards balanced budgets, towards managing their debt, towards getting their finances in order, towards posting surpluses, towards making money available to pay for health and education services?
But what this government has chosen to do for the last eight years and now the ninth year is tax, borrow and spend. They talk about their tax cuts, and we know they're a sham. We know that they're a flow-through of federal tax cuts. We know that they're not really enough to make a difference; we know that. You know, they can try and pass one over the people of B.C. again, but it's not going to work.
If this government really thought they had a good budget, they would take it to a vote. They would call an election and let the people decide. But I think they're afraid to do it. They're not proud of their budget. They're afraid to do it, and I expect that they won't do it.
They want us to support this bill for interim supply. They want us to say: "Yes, yes. You can have $5.8 billion to spend as you want for the next three months." But you know what? I'm having a really hard time this year, as I did last year, in finding any reasons why I would support this interim supply bill.
This budget is a disaster. This budget was made in crisis situations, hon. Speaker. Let's just think about what happened in the last six or eight months when this budget was being developed. We've been through three Finance ministers. This is the third Finance minister in the last six or seven months. What kind of continuity, what kind of stability, what kind of confidence does that instil in the people of B.C. and in this budget? You know, it's a shame that there is such little confidence and little certainty around the building of this budget. This budget was built in times of crisis, in times of scandal, in times of a leadership
We've really been shortchanged in B.C. over the last few years. We've seen four Premiers and at least three Finance ministers in the last eight months. There must have been at least five or six Finance ministers in the last few months. Where's the confidence? Where's the continuity? It's just not there. The only continuity that they've shown us is nine consecutive deficit budgets and their inability, their incompetence and their total lack of understanding of what this province really needs in order to bring back investors, in order to bring back job creation, in order to bring back
S. Hawkins: Yeah, to bring back people that have moved out. In fact, one of the biggest booming industries in this province, I understand, is the moving business. You know what? They're not moving people around B.C.; they're moving people out of B.C.
Anyway, given the time, I would ask if I could adjourn debate for private members' statements and reserve my position for after private members' statements.
S. Hawkins moved adjournment of the debate.
[ Page 14613 ]Leave granted.
CHILD SERVICES EQUALITY ACTL. Reid: Hon. Speaker, may I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment as the Speaker of this Legislature.
In my opportunity today I have chosen to advance the issue of the initiative application that was approved in principle on March 23 and to honour the parents in this province, Mr. McDermott and Ms. Kellett, who have chosen to carry forward their issues of providing services to the young people of this province in a more timely fashion.
Their interest in a citizen-based initiative process was, frankly, borne of frustration. They have individuals in their lives -- in the case of Mr. McDermott a daughter and in the case of Ms. Kellett a grandchild -- who have basically been waiting for service. Their issue is to advance the notion that this is indeed a representative democracy, that indeed they can participate in the process in the vehicle that has been provided by this Legislature -- the initiative and referendum legislation -- and take their issue to the people of this province. Their task is enormous. I for one would never belittle the enormity of the task. It will require roughly 10 percent of the registered voters in each of the 75 electoral districts to advance their concern and their commitment to this process.
By way of background, I will put into the record the Elections B.C. initiative application that has been approved in principle. An application for an issue that would replace waiting lists for social and health care services for children with a 30-day processing period has been given approval-in-principle by chief electoral officer Robert Patterson. The petition, entitled "Initiative to Establish the Children Services Equality Act," will be issued to the proponent for signature collection on May 23, 2000. Proponents will have 90 days to collect the signatures of at least 10 percent of voters in each electoral district who were registered on or before the day the petition is issued.
A summary, if I might, of the new initiative. The purpose of the initiative draft bill is to establish a process which would replace waiting lists for social and health care services and programs for children, with a 30-day processing period of applications for such services or programs. The ministry responsible for the provision of the service or program applied for would have 30 days to screen the application and deliver the service or program. The bill establishes an appeal period if applications are rejected. The bill would establish an early intervention fund to be administered by the child, youth and family advocate in conjunction with several ministries. The fund would be separate from the budget used to provide social or health care services and programs and would provide for services as designated by the child, youth and family advocate.
This is not a new idea, hon. Speaker. In fact, Ms. Preston last year, in her 1998 annual report for the office of the child, youth and family advocate, talked very clearly about a special fund -- that indeed the medical needs of children in this province should not be subjected to the vagaries of the budgeting process, that indeed they should continue to be a priority in British Columbia. Certainly the report made some points very clearly, and I'm trusting that these recommendations that were put in place last year by Ms. Preston will indeed fall on fertile ground, if you will.
I want to return to the initiative that has been put forward by Mr. McDermott and Ms. Kellett. I think it was actually born of a meeting that was attended by the hon. MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, the individuals at Queen Alexandra Hospital and the Pearkes Centre for Children. Their issues are all about speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy for the very youngest members of our society, and whether we recognize that need. I think we have an opportunity to honour the parents who are prepared to go forward and offer their comment.
I want to put on the record the story that has been shared with me by Mr. McDermott.
"I am the father of two children, ages four and two. My eldest daughter Mariel has cerebral palsy and several other complex health needs. Mariel has overcome many health- and developmental-related obstacles. She is slowly winning each new battle put before her, thanks to a team of caregivers, therapists, medical personnel and social workers, all of whom have dedicated their professional lives to the care of children.
"While it has been a difficult task obtaining these services that help cope with the enormity of Mariel's care, I cannot adequately put into words the value of these services and programs provided and paid for by our provincial government. To show my appreciation for the good fortune, I have given my time to serving on both the MCF regional child care council and the Family Partners Committee, a joint project of the capital health region and the Queen Alexandra Foundation.
"It was through the Family Partners Committee that I began to hear story after heartbreaking story from parents expressing their frustration at being wait-listed for the same services that my child already receives. A group of parents and I decided to communicate our concerns to our elected representatives. I suggested to the group that perhaps the initiative process could help us in our effort to remove families from waiting lists and provide them with the services and programs they require.
"Penny Kellett, the grandmother of Austyn, a two-year-old boy with relatively the same brain injury as my daughter, thought the initiative idea was a good one, and together we wrote what we now refer to as the wait-list initiative.
"The wait-list initiative calls for the elimination of all waiting lists for social and health care services for children. The idea of a waiting list was to serve everyone on a first-come, first-served basis. I underline the words 'serve everyone.' Unfortunately, this concept has turned into something that builds inequity right into the system. In the place of a waiting list, we are seeking a reasonable processing period that is equitable, economical and efficient. This initiative goes far beyond our health care system and involves at least half a dozen ministries. It encompasses all social and health care services and programs.
"While children are the focus of this initiative, it does not come at the expense or exclusion of any other age group or interest group. We are waging this war on waiting lists one battle at a time. Once the precedent is set to end wait-lists for children, no one will be allowed to wait for social or health services. Time is critical for children, because when prompt social and health services are provided, they can eliminate problems for these children as adults. I would like to use just one of the services my daughter receives as an example.The Speaker: In response to the statement, the hon. member for Kootenay.
"Mariel currently receives physiotherapy to lessen the spasticity in her limbs. The success of this therapy will eliminate the need for invasive, painful and costly orthopedic surgeries.
[ Page 14614 ]This will free up funding and allow our senior citizens that need hip replacement to receive the corrective surgery they require. Early intervention helps everyone. The very best scientific data have already told us that initiating proper therapies during the critical first few years of life to the developing brain can have an enormous impact on the child's quality of life. Closing that window of opportunity by placing a child on a waiting list is robbing that child of improving their quality of life.
"My family's been provided with services and programs to help with our daughter's care in an unintrusive, respectful and timely manner. I would like to see our government offer this same consideration to every family that needs help. Since the wait-list initiative was introduced on November 17, 1999, it has gained accelerating support. Penny and I have informed both the government of the day and the official opposition of this initiative."
E. Walsh: I'd like to thank the member for Richmond East for bringing this initiative forward and to the attention of this whole Legislature. This initiative, whose purpose is to establish a process which would replace waiting lists for social and health services and programs for children and to create an early intervention fund, is an initiative that the member has in fact come out in support of and has promised to put forward a private member's bill of support on in the future.
I acknowledge that there are wait-lists, and I also acknowledge and realize just how difficult it is for families when they cannot access the services that they want when they need them. But just to go over some of the initiatives that the government has in fact put in place
All of the new funding for early intervention support that I just spoke of will go directly into programs and services for children and families. All of the programs that are offered by the Ministry for Children and Families are based on family-centred approaches that provide parents with as much choice as possible.
We're doing everything we can possibly do right now with the resources that we have in place in the province to ensure that the services that children and families need are available. For example, this budget that we've just discussed a couple of days ago means that more children will receive the speech, physio and occupational therapy that they need. Since 1992, this government has increased the budget for children and children with special needs by more than 62 percent, to over $127 million. This is an increase of about $1 million since last year. The Ministry for Children and Families has received an increase of 14 percent in its budget this year.
I want to go over a couple of the highlights of '97 and '98. These highlights include the following: 6,240 families were served by youth and child care workers; the professional support for children with special needs program served 1,403 families; and 2,760 children were served by the at-home program. In June of 1997, a working group was established within the ministry to review the functions of this program.
As of March of 1999, this province became an inclusive child care province. Inclusive child care is supported child care, whereby children who need extra support are able to participate in typical community child care settings. There is also an additional $7.5 million which will dedicated to residential care and training supports for adults with developmental disabilities and their families. Actually, that brings this government's commitment to this issue to a total of $15.5 million.
B.C. has maintained the highest per-capita health spending among the provinces for the past six years. B.C. also spends $400 million annually to integrate children with special needs into classrooms. We will continue to look at ways by which we can reduce wait times, including offering families other services, providing training to caregivers and providing services in a group setting -- this also to families.
Hon. Speaker, I see my time is up.
The Speaker: For reply, the member for Richmond East.
L. Reid: I thank the member opposite for her comments. Certainly she is correct. The services that individual families across this province are waiting for are in the realm of occupational therapy, physiotherapy, respite care, the at-home program -- all the services that families need to enjoy a quality of life with their special needs child.
Certainly the recommendation that was brought forward by Joyce Preston
In terms of other groups that are onside today and are supportive, there's the Federation of Child and Family Services of British Columbia. This is dated March 14.
"Dear Ms. Kellett:
"Thank you for your recent letter outlining your initiative to eliminate waiting lists for social and health care services for children. As a provincial federation representing over 100 child- and family-serving agencies, our board of directors supports the goal of eliminating wait-lists for children who require therapy, equipment, care aid or any other health or social need. That being said, we also recognize that we live in a less than ideal society where wait-lists for almost any services for children have become a harsh reality. This is especially true for children with a disability. Notwithstanding the reasons and rationale for these wait-lists, be it funding, adaptive equipment or bureaucracy, it is unacceptable for children to wait inordinate lengths of time for services or adaptive equipment. Our board applauds energies and novel approaches to reduce or eliminate wait-lists for children who require services, and we'll follow with interest the process that your organization has engaged in.
"On behalf of the children and youth in British Columbia, we wish you the best in advocating for change.
Iain Cunningham, President"
[ Page 14615 ]If I might, hon. Speaker, the British Columbia Association for Child Development and Rehabilitation
"I'm writing to you on behalf of the board of directors of the British Columbia Association for Child Development and Rehabilitation to offer our support for your draft bill on the wait-list initiative for all social and health care services and programs for children. Our board and our member agencies, consisting of child development centres throughout the province, are extremely concerned about the 6,000 children, according to the Ministry of Children and Families statistics, who are on wait-lists to receive therapeutic and other support services. Our organization has been advocating for protected funding for early intervention therapeutic and health services for children ever since its member agencies were transferred from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry for Children and Families. Our association fully supports the need for reasonable processing periods and appeal processes with respect to social and health care services for children with special needs. Please keep us updated on your progress and let us know.Hon. Speaker, my commitment was to bring forward this issue before this Legislature in the form of a private member's statement. I have honoured that commitment. In the words of Jim McDermott, the initiative now belongs to the registered voters in the province of British Columbia, and we certainly wish them well.
Dawn Proudlove, President"
The Speaker: For the second private member's statement, I call on the member for Comox Valley.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CHILD CAREE. Gillespie: Hon. Speaker, let me take this opportunity, my first opportunity, to congratulate you on your election to your new office.
I'm really pleased tonight that we are talking about child care, because both as a parent and as a representative of my constituency, I cannot think of a subject that is more important to more people in this province.
Tonight I'd like to talk about the steps toward a universal, publicly supported child care strategy for serving the children, the families and the communities of this province. Public interest in a national child care strategy flourished in the 1980s, and many public promises to this end were made through the 1990s. But public policy has failed to keep pace either with public opinion or with public promises.
Since this government took office in 1991, we have been committed to the children and the families of this province. We realize the need to continue working with communities, with business and labour, with families and with individuals to ensure that parents receive the support they need to provide quality care for their children. We have invested in child care services and programs to address child poverty. But three main areas of concern require our attention: access, affordability and adequacy.
Talking about access, 31 percent of British Columbia parents were restrained, by child care concerns, from seeking work, from staying employed or from taking needed education or training. Twenty-five percent of parents with full-time jobs find it difficult to get the child care that their children need, and 43 percent of those attending school or training programs have frequent child care problems. Certainly any of us in this work know how difficult it can be to get the kind of child care that's required for the diverse and demanding kinds of work that we do.
Affordability. The average fee for child care services has increased 12 percent to $590 a month in licensed child group facilities and $510 in licensed family day care. Parents now pay 82 percent of all child care costs in British Columbia and the provincial government 18 percent. That's $1.35 billion spent by parents in this province every year, with a $188 million contribution from the province.
Adequacy. Half of the children in subsidized child care are in environments of unknown quality, and only 21 percent of all children in child care in British Columbia are in regulated, licensed environments. In working to address these concerns, Canada and British Columbia signed a four-year $32 million agreement in 1995. This agreement improved access to child care as a cost-sharing program to test the ways to improve job opportunities for Canadians and to reduce dependency on the social safety net. British Columbia was the only province to develop child care pilot programs through this program, through a range of innovative projects designed to test expanded delivery of child care services. Just to speak to one of those, a very successful program in our community is one-stop access for child care. In addition, during this time the government created the first B.C. legislative framework for a child care system -- the BC Benefits (Child Care) Act. This government intends to continue to expand the existing child care system to provide affordable child care for more children across this province.
The $188 million spent by the British Columbia government covers a number of areas: a child care subsidy -- $113 million for low- and moderate-income families to obtain child care while they work or attend school or employability programs; supported child care provides grants to cover the costs of extra supports for special needs children; child care resource and referral; the infant-toddler incentive grant compensation contribution program, which is a wage top-up program for people who work in licensed child care facilities; emergency repair, replacement and relocation moneys; facilities and equipment moneys; and the young parent program -- again, a program very dear to my heart -- which encourages young parents to stay in school and prepare for the workforce. We have a day care program called Teddies and Toddlers at Vanier high school in the Comox Valley constituency, and this program has resulted in a number of things, the first among which is the tremendous pride of the young men and women who as new parents are able to continue and complete their schooling. Those young men and women feel that pride, their families feel that pride and enjoy that success, and I can tell you that the caregivers in the program share that pride and success every day.
Last summer the Ministry of Social Development and Economic Security was created to mark this government's commitment to addressing the concerns of all B.C. families, including skills training, housing, B.C. Benefits and of course child care. In October of last year, "Building a Better Future for British Columbia's Kids," a discussion paper on child care, was released. This discussion paper was released in order to set the stage for what we are anticipating in a national child care strategy.
[ Page 14616 ]It has a basic premise, and that premise is that parents are the primary caregivers for their children and provide the foundation on which their children build their lives. But they do not bear this responsibility alone. Child care is a shared responsibility. It is up to all of us -- governments, communities, business and labour, families and individuals -- to ensure that parents receive the support they need to provide quality care for their children.
It sets out four guiding principles. We must work to ensure quality child care services that meet the developmental needs of children. We must continue to rethink and strengthen the way society supports parents and caregivers to provide the quality care that children need. We must provide links among parents, neighbourhood schools, early childhood education and care programs and services, child care providers and other services for preschool and school-age children. We must keep the direct costs of child care for low- and middle-income parents at a level they can afford.
This ministry invited all British Columbians -- parents, child care providers, concerned citizens, social agencies, stakeholders from business and labour -- to respond to the ideas contained in the discussion paper and to provide the government with their thoughts and ideas on child care in this province. Over 10,000 responses were received by the ministry. This clearly shows the public support for child care. And I believe
The Speaker: Thank you, member.
The Speaker: In response, the hon. member for Richmond East.
L. Reid: I thank my hon. colleague opposite, from Comox Valley, for her remarks.
What the research tells us in terms of early childhood is that the early years do matter. Experiences from conception to age six have the most important influence, of any time in the life cycle, on the connecting and sculpting of the brain's neurons. Positive stimulation early in life improves learning, behaviour and health right into adulthood.
Readiness for school is an important indicator of developmental maturity and future success in school. Safe, cohesive neighbourhoods, high-quality child care and growing up with a mother who has a higher level of education are all factors that positively affect school readiness. These points are taken from "Toward a Healthy Future," prepared by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health in September 1999.
As well, the quality of care matters. "Research shows that high-quality child care positively influences children's development and learning
This Legislature will know that the board of trade, the YWCA -- a number of different agencies over the last number of months -- have taken a real interest in the area of child care and have concluded that investing in child care in the province of British Columbia is good public policy, that the investment return is significant.
In 1998, Cleveland and Krashinsky, two economists from the University of Toronto, completed an economic study on the costs and benefits of good child care. The study calculated the costs and benefits of providing publicly funded early childhood care and education for all children two to five years of age -- those whose mothers are in the paid workforce as well as those whose mothers are not. They concluded that for every dollar invested in high-quality child care, there is a $2 benefit to children, parents and society.
The YWCA, in "Early Childhood Development -- Investing in Kids is Good Public Policy," says that new research has provided evidence that investment in our children's early development, before they go to school, can prevent many social problems and indicates that the economic payback is spectacular.
Certainly we have had many discussions around funding education, funding post-secondary education. I believe it's time for this Legislature to have a discussion about funding the early intervention piece -- the two-to-five-year-old children in this province who today
Certainly there are all kinds of examples where education plays a key role, where we can actually prevent individuals from entering the criminal justice system. We can spend fewer dollars on health care if we actually intervene when therapies will be the most effective. Frankly, we both know that it is when children are young that you have the greatest chance of recognizing difference and the least cost to those interventions.
So there is work to be done. There are opportunities before us. Certainly the member opposite has canvassed the current reality. But again, 71 percent of two-parent families with children have both parents working. That's a significant number, and it's dramatically different from the experience of many members of this chamber, who had opportunities that, frankly, are not available to younger families today. To survive in this province, you need a double income and you need opportunities for children that all of us would wish for our children.
So, hon. Speaker, it's timely that we have the debate. I would love to see this Legislature focus on the early intervention piece. I would love to see some commitment to ensuring that little folks, before they go to school, have an opportunity -- whether it's the Hawaiian Healthy Start program, whether it's the Good Start program
[ Page 14617 ]across the globe where people have taken what they know from the research and applied it in a very practical way. We have that opportunity before us in British Columbia.
Certainly I would like to see us engage in a debate that is broad enough that the entire province feels included in the debate and feels that they can bring some expertise to bear. My caucus has had the opportunity to hear from some very, very skilful people in the areas of child care and early childhood development and would certainly be supportive of engaging again, I'm sure, in opportunities for this Legislature as a whole, perhaps, to have some debate based on good scientific research -- where there's measurement, where there's understanding of benchmarks, where there's discussion that's broader than lots of the rhetoric that we often engage in, in this chamber. The information is available to us all, and I would invite all members of this Legislature to participate.
The Speaker: And to reply, the hon. member for Comox Valley.
E. Gillespie: Again, I thank the hon. member for her comments and in particular for her references to the research, which I also have here. I think it's very clear that in Canada there is very little debate about the value of a publicly supported child care program. What we are seeing both in Canada and in British Columbia are some small first steps. I want to take a moment here to recognize the first step of the federal government in this year's budget in allowing for a move from six-month coverage to one-year coverage for a new mother. I would look forward to seeing that program expanded so that more people will have the opportunity to access that kind of support for the very first days of life.
I welcome the commitment made in this year's throne speech to begin to build, with parents and care providers, a publicly funded child care system here in this province. A first step to be introduced this year is a comprehensive program to support safe, affordable before- and after-school care. There are many who would assume that children are cared for during the day at school by their teachers and the personnel at their school and that outside of school there may be somebody at home or other agencies that can care for those children. The grim reality is that many children are at home alone in unsafe environments and perhaps not the most stimulating of environments. This is but a first step toward providing a comprehensive child care system for British Columbians.
My colleague spoke of some of the research that she had access to. I would just like to mention a couple of numbers here. The labour force participation rate of mothers with children between zero and 15 years
Current polls make it clear that a large majority of Canadians and British Columbians agree that government should spend more on child care. Canadians have been long talking about the need for a national or universal day care program. In 1996 public opinion polling showed that fully two-thirds of all Canadians support the idea of a national child care program.
There are just two thoughts I would like to leave people with. The first is a quote from John Godfrey, who's the Liberal Member of Parliament for Don Valley West in Toronto: "As a president of Harvard once remarked, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance." If, as all the evidence indicates, early investments in human development are by far the most effective, in terms of both improving the quality of our population and avoiding future social costs, then Canada can't afford not to
The Speaker: Thank you, member. Your time has expired.
E. Gillespie: Canada's children and their families deserve no less.
The Speaker: For the third private member's statement, I call on the member for Vancouver-Langara.
THE INFORMAL COMMUNITYV. Anderson: Hon. Speaker, I, like others, would like to congratulate you on being elevated to this position and trust that the 75 of us that you have to contend with will not be too much for your digestive system.
Today I wish to speak about a common element of every healthy community, whether rural or urban, whether wealthy or less wealthy. It is an element which has been very much a part of Canada for all of its history. When this element is missing, the validity of a community ceases to be. This element is the informal support system that members of the community offer to one another on a regular basis, without payment or reward or even recognition. These are the informal kindnesses that one person extends to another, whether a smile, a helping hand or a supportive activity. It may be the lending of a tool or the offer to babysit. Or it may be taking a cake to the neighbour next door. Or it may be joining with others to raise a barn or harvest the field of a sick neighbour. These informal interactions are the groundwork of family life, of business life, of recreational life in every place where persons live, work and play together.
By these actions we support each other in ways that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. The informal systems are beyond value; they are indispensable to our healthy living. These informal interpersonal interactions are indispensable in a hospital, in a school room, in every business, in every organization, for it makes them healthy places for the persons who live and work there. The informal environment, like the quality of the air, goes largely unnoticed, yet is a key factor for healthy, successful, interpersonal living. Most often we describe the result of healthy, informal interaction by saying: "It feels good to be here in this place." We describe the place where we discover it to be a place for which we have a feeling of contentment.
This informal community, this action, brings together people in groups like Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, seniors, volunteer sports and youth Candystripers, sharing personal caring with others. Every community has countless volunteer groups, whereby people help one another in almost every aspect of living just for the joy of sharing and caring.
These volunteer activities are extremely important for a healthy, vibrant community. By sharing one's time and talents,
[ Page 14618 ]everyone benefits, both the recipient and the giver. Indeed, it is often heard that it is the giver who usually receives more benefit than the person to whom a gift has been given.
The volunteer sector, as it is often called, is being recognized and celebrated as an inherent aspect of community life, which needs to be acknowledged and supported in government planning. Just as a government helps to create and sustain an environment for business, the government needs to help create and sustain an environment for volunteers from children to seniors.
The non-profit or not-for-profit servers of our communities provide the semi-organized means for volunteers to work together most effectively and most efficiently in assisting others. Particularly in urban centres, where often we're strangers to one another, these non-profit societies provide a means to coordinate volunteer services. Without these volunteer groups, the quality of life of our communities would be greatly reduced.
It is important that members of this Legislature recognize and celebrate the important contribution that volunteers make in providing the social cohesion that holds our communities together and which enhances the quality of life for all of us. We all benefit from the continuous contribution of time and talent that neighbours provide to neighbours. Not a minute goes by, day or night, where there are not countless deeds of informal support being offered in every community, most of these unnoticed and unsung.
Periodically we have volunteer recognition nights or a volunteer recognition week, which are most appropriate. Yet we must also recognize the unknown volunteers who quietly and continuously serve. These are the ones who give our communities quality and stability, warmth and friendship. Often a government forgets these people and wants to organize according to whatever government plan is in fashion at the moment.
In so doing, they usually challenge, ignore, override and inhibit the real work of the informal community which has been built up over time. It is not the role of government to take over, to professionalize, to restructure the family or the informal community. It is the government's role to recognize, affirm and support.
Only the persons who live each day in that place know what is really important there. Outsiders need to recognize that they are outsiders and that only when invited have they something to contribute.
The Speaker: To respond, the hon. member for Coquitlam-Maillardville.
J. Cashore: I'd like to thank the member for Vancouver-Langara for making a copy of his comments available to me. It's very much appreciated.
I would say that I don't think it's really a question of the government forgetting volunteers and organizing them, nor do I agree that outsiders should remain outside. I know the member didn't mean it that way. I think volunteerism, by its very nature and by the sense of what the hon. member had to say, is inclusive and not exclusive. And I think that when it comes to the sensitive issue of the role of government, there's no question that government can be that of which it can be said: "The helping hand strikes again." I know that implicit in those remarks is that concern.
At the same time, the hon. member referenced the history of Canada and the role of volunteerism in enabling people to survive the long prairie winters. If somebody became ill, if somebody's barn burnt down, volunteers were there to help out and thus have an informal way of maintaining a kind of precursor to a social safety net. Yet the hon. member also acknowledged that as we get into more urban situations, it is more complex and more difficult sometimes to try to find a way to enable a community to volunteer and carry out its desire to be mutually helpful.
I think it's not so much a question of government by nature being interfering and harmful, but a question of trying to develop an ethic within government that is sensitive, facilitating, enabling and supportive and that knows, through that sensitivity, when to get out of the way and allow something to carry on by those very valuable people who are doing the volunteer work.
I don't think the member would oppose programs that are truly enabling programs of government. Indeed, I do know that in a previous life the hon. member, who is the distinguished founder of the Vancouver Food Bank and also the founder of an organization called Canadian Ecumenical Action
I don't think it's an issue that government is by nature a problem, but I think government has to be watched very carefully to ensure that its true role is facilitated. Here in British Columbia, I know there are a number of programs that I won't have time to list. But I just want to mention a few of them where, again, that enabling role is very important.
Volunteering contributes to the personal and career development of those who do volunteer. In 1997 more than 32 percent of British Columbians over the age of 15 -- over one million people -- volunteered 169 million hours of their time which, if it was to be given a dollar value, would be worth over $2.7 billion on the labour market. So truly there is a vibrant, healthy and dynamic volunteer aspect that is absolutely essential here in British Columbia.
Volunteers tell us that they can do it themselves, and what they need from government are practical tools to help them move forward. So the Ministry of Community Development, Cooperatives and Volunteers is supporting the volunteer movement in this province. In January 2000 the ministry launched Involve B.C., a program that recognizes and supports the work of the voluntary sector in creating services and opportunities that enrich the lives of British Columbians. Grants of up to $20,000 are available to volunteer organizations for training, development and networking opportunities. Add to that the kind of volunteer programs that exist through the Ministry of Parks, through the Youth Options office, through the emergency volunteers for the provincial emergency program
[ Page 14619 ]The Speaker: Thank you, member.
The Speaker: To reply, the hon. member for Vancouver-Langara.
V. Anderson: I thank the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville for his response and appreciate that over many years we've had the opportunity to interact and share common ideas and common concerns of working with the people in the communities where we have lived across the country.
I think it is extremely important that when we're working and planning
Let me suggest an area that our hon. colleague is very much familiar with -- in fact, probably more familiar than myself -- and that's downtown on the east side of Vancouver. There you have a tremendous volunteer community of people who care for each other, who look after each other, who bear with each other's hurt and pains and sorrows, and who give each other strength and encouragement in a way that outsiders would find very difficult to do. And yet we don't often hear about that particular strength and vitality that these people have.
We also find it very interesting ways that volunteer opportunities give people a strength to go beyond that into other activities of their own. So I want to stress tonight that it's important that when we're working with the organized community in many aspects, in order to do it effectively and well we need to always recognize and give priority to the informal volunteer service that people undertake every day of their lives in the community where they live. Perhaps we can go to their communities, with their willingness and their invitation, to build on the strengths that they have. Unless we understand the strength of the everyday life where they share with one another, then we can do more harm than good.
I want to celebrate tonight the everyday activities in which everyone is engaged. I have never come across a person who in one way or another didn't volunteer to help others in the community, family, association or group which they are a part of, and I want to celebrate that in our community.
TOURISM INDUSTRY GOOD NEWSP. Calendino: Hon. Speaker, like everybody else, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your election to the much-heralded position of Speaker of the House. I'm sure that your sense of fairness, your good judgment and your knowledge of the parliamentary system will serve this chamber very well.
Tonight I am pleased to speak about the booming growth in the tourism industry in this beautiful province of ours. As we all know, the resource sector of the B.C. economy suffered a slowdown in '97-98 due to external factors such as the meltdown of the Asian economies and the resulting depression in commodity prices but, I must also say, due to the negativity of the business community and of some members of this House that has contributed to the uncertainty in consumer confidence. But in all this negativity there is a silver lining out there. Indeed, we have seen a phenomenal growth in the three sectors that we today call the new economy.
The film and television industry, for example, has set new records year after year for the last decade. Last year it surpassed, for the first time, the $1 billion mark in productions in B.C., and greater Vancouver can now boast being the third-largest production centre in North America. I am pleased to say that a good chunk of that production is done at Bridge Studios and other facilities in my own constituency of Burnaby North.
I'm also pleased to say that Burnaby North and the rest of the city is also the favourite location for the second-fastest-growing sector of our economy, the high-tech industry, which has grown an incredible 50 percent in the last three years. As the Minister of Finance said the other day, high-tech has grown from a $6 billion to a $74 billion industry in only the last two years. This growth is unmatched by any other sector anywhere in Canada. I take pride in saying that most of that growth has taken place in my city of Burnaby with companies like Ballard Power, Creo Products, Electronic Arts, Trillium Digital Systems, IBM Software Development Centre, Spectrum Signal Processing, Ericsson cellular and Telus -- which moved to Burnaby from Calgary -- and other smaller players such as InfoTouch technologies and Chancery Software.
For the sake of the member on the other side of the House, I want to say that all this growth in Burnaby has taken place under an NDP majority administration. Why do I say that? I say it because in spite of the constant negative rhetoric of the opposition, NDPers do know how to encourage business and investments and do know how to make business succeed.
The Speaker: Order, member. I reminder members that this is not really a forum for partisan political discussion. Try and keep your remarks relative to the standing order.
P. Calendino: I appreciate that, hon. Speaker, and I won't do it anymore.
Burnaby and, if I may add, 12 or 15 European Community countries which are run by social democratic governments are living proof of encouragement of investments. There are many other high-tech companies in Burnaby, of course, but I must limit myself so that I can go back to my original topic of tourism.
Tourism is the third bright spot in our economy. It is another one of those success stories that is not highlighted enough either by us or by the media, and I think that's a shame. Like the two sectors I mentioned earlier, tourism is enjoying stupendous growth year after year. In fact, 1999 was another record year for tourists visiting B.C., thanks to some good marketing by Tourism B.C., which is the agency set up by this government in 1997.
I'd like to give some figures to show how great the industry is doing. Revenues reached $9.2 billion in '99, up 4.9
[ Page 14620 ]percent over '98 and exceeding Small Business, Tourism and Culture forecasts by nearly 2 percent. This calls for a celebration. The minister responsible already celebrated, I think, but unfortunately without me.
Continuing with the figures, revenue from U.S. Visitors increased by 6.8 percent to $2.3 billion. From the Asia-Pacific region it rose 11.1 percent to $911 million. Revenue from Europe increased 9.3 percent to $683 million, and revenue from tourists from other provinces and territories increased 3.2 percent to $2.7 billion. The province received in all a record 22.3 million overnight visitors, which is up 2.1 percent over '98 and surpassed the Expo-driven totals of 1986, according to reports in the major press.
Forecasts for 2000 are just as bright and promising. Tourism B.C. president and CEO Rod Harris says he expects a total of $9.4 billion in revenue for the coming year and 22.6 million visitors. This is more encouraging news both for the industry and for the provincial economy, and one more occasion to celebrate at the end of the year. To believe that, one has only to look out of the front windows of this building to see the numerous groups of tourists from all parts of the world enjoying the clean air and the beautiful sights of the capital city. Indeed, last year it was so good for Victoria that Tourism Victoria reported a healthy surplus of $154,000 -- thanks mostly to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. From that exhibition there will be a legacy of $70,000, which will be directed to attract winter tourists to the capital city.
There are plenty of attractions around the province for winter activities. A few days ago Minister Waddell announced a $150 million expansion to Silver Star Mountain Resorts, and three weeks ago the Premier announced a $200 million expansion at the Whitetooth ski area in Golden. Earlier in the year Intrawest Developments, which manages Whistler and Blackcomb, announced a $250 million investment for that ski resort. These are private investments, and they're made here in B.C. because investors do have confidence in this province. These and other investments have made British Columbia an international ski destination. In fact, last season B.C. had 5.6 million skier visits.
The Speaker: Thank you, member. Your time has expired.
P. Calendino: That clock goes fast, hon. Speaker.
The Speaker: In response, the member for Okanagan-Penticton.
R. Thorpe: I would like to recognize the member for Burnaby North for his comments.
I think it's very, very important when we're talking about our tourism industry here in British Columbia that we all recognize what a tremendous job the private sector has done in growing this business throughout British Columbia -- whether it be in Prince George or Cranbrook, the Peace country, Vancouver Island, the lower mainland, Kamloops or the sunny Okanagan, the home of Canada's finest grape and wine industry. We owe thanks to the thousands of employees from all age groups, of all genders, who have worked so diligently in building this industry in British Columbia. It provides opportunity for many, especially our youth. For many -- our youth in particular -- it's a first job opportunity, and I have personal experience where they've taken this first job opportunity and grown into successful businesses.
As we all look forward, we need to ensure -- all of us, all sides of this House -- that tourism has the opportunity through educational facilities to be complemented not only where the industry is today but, more importantly, where it's going to be tomorrow.
We -- all of us -- have to work together to remove the tremendous burden of red tape and to ensure that all regions of this province have high land use levels and resource plans in place. I think all members in this House have to work together on that to support the tourism industry. We have to ensure that the tourism industry is at the table and is an equal participant in all land use issues if we're going to continue to grow this very, very important industry here in British Columbia. We have to work with the industry to ensure that they are part of and involved in the complete transportation system that is so important for the development of this industry, whether it be in the north or here on the Island or in the Okanagan. They have to be heard; their voices have to be heard.
All of us in this House have to work together to ensure that public lands are accessible to commercial recreation and that access to commercial recreation tenure is affordable, efficient and timely. I too would like to recognize the successes of Tourism B.C. for their tremendous marketing efforts and for the international awards they've achieved. I would like to recognize the employees of Tourism B.C. for that contribution and the private sector board that advises these employees and has worked so diligently to build this industry.
These are but a few of the things that all members of this House can and should work together on, so we can ensure that this industry continues to grow. Most importantly, if we all work together, the potential for the future is unbelievable. To all those involved in the tourism industry, thanks for your hard work and for your commitment to British Columbia. When we all work together, we can continue to build a world-class industry.
The Speaker: And to reply, the member for Burnaby North.
P. Calendino: I want to thank the member opposite for his kind words, and I have to concur with him in most of the things that he said. With him, I would also like to thank the members of the tourism industry -- Tourism B.C. in partnership with the private sector. They are the ones who really should take the credit for the success of the industry in this province. As well, I wish to thank the workers in the industry, because without their kindness and their good service the industry would not be as successful.
However, we do have to give credit to some of the programs that the government has initiated by itself and along with Tourism B.C. -- for example, the program B.C. Escapes, which is aimed at attracting the $10 trillion of the baby-boomers in North America; programs like Tourism Partners, which is directed at attracting tourism from all over the world. With a $5 million investment in there, along with the private sector, they are being very successful in attracting more and more visitors to this province every year. Then there are programs for overseas, such as the Asia-Pacific program, with information in both Japanese and Mandarin, and the European program with videotapes and ads in the printed media aimed at raising European awareness. These programs are having their penetration in those parts of the world.
[ Page 14621 ]
As well, the government has allowed cities and municipalities to apply for a municipal tax if they wish to do their own promotion of tourism in their own communities. In the budget, we have put in $2 million to promote tourism in remote areas of B.C. -- ecotourism for resource-based communities to diversify their industries. As well, the tourism industry depends very much on small business. Our budget has cut the small business income tax to the lowest in Canada, to only 4.75 percent, and this should benefit the industry quite a bit.
I must say that the investment in ecotourism will very likely prove to be one of the best investments that we can ever make. In fact, I have a friend who moved to Victoria only three years ago and was so taken up by the beauty of this Island that he himself started an ecotourism business with some first nations experiences included in it. He is promoting that in Italy already. He had very good success last year. Hopefully this year it will be even better. I think we should be proud of what the tourism industry is doing in B.C. and the success that we're having. I thank you, hon. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on the topic.
The Speaker: That concludes private members' statements.
Hon. D. Miller: I call continued debate on second reading of Bill 4.
The Speaker: The member for Okanagan West was continuing debate.
SUPPLY ACT (No. 1), 2000
(second reading continued)
In fact, this budget is more of the same; it's increased spending, increased debt and bigger deficits. I don't see any change. When they talk about new government and new plans and a balanced approach, I don't see anything different than what I've seen in the last eight or nine years of NDP misgoverning.
This government actually has done more to hurt families and the economies than any other in the history of this province. What's really scary is that they pretend to be concerned about debt, but really there is no debt management plan. There never has been. There's been, I think, a sham of a debt management plan. In fact, in previous budgets we've seen promises of debt reduction. In 1995 the then minister, Elizabeth Cull, tabled the 1995 debt management plan. You remember those budgets, don't you -- '95-96 and '96-97, where they
S. Hawkins: Well, yes, they had promised that they were balanced budgets. They were supposed to be balanced budgets. And they were going to pay down the debt by $10.2 billion over 20 years. I don't know if you remember, but those were the budgets they ran the election on. This House never got to debate those budgets either. But you know what? They never carried through that plan.
The next plan was 1997. They didn't even bother calling it a debt management plan after that; they called it the 1997 financial management plan. They don't even call it debt management, because they know they're not going to manage the debt.
They planned or promised to balance the budget in '97-98. Well, that didn't happen. In 1998 they put forward a modified financial plan, whatever that means. Again, they promised to balance the budget in '99-2000. Well, that didn't happen.
Last year they put together a framework. They didn't even call it a plan anymore; they called it the 1999 five-year fiscal planning framework. They promised to balance the budget in the 2002-2003 budget.
This year we're hearing that they're not even planning a debt management plan. We don't see a plan in the budget. They're not planning to balance the budget till 2004-2005. Well, you know what? They're not going to be in power then, so it doesn't really matter. They don't have a plan. They are running by the skin of their teeth.
An Hon. Member: Seat of their pants.
S. Hawkins: Seat of their pants -- thank you. The government hasn't balanced a budget in nine years. The results have been devastating, because families and working people are paying for the mismanagement and incompetence of this government. This year alone, the debt-servicing costs are increasing by $300 million. Can you imagine?
S. Hawkins: You know, the members laugh on the other side.
Can you imagine what kind of services that would buy? They talk about protecting health and education. Well, if you want to protect health and education, for goodness' sake get your debt under control. Every year you are borrowing, you are increasing the costs. You are taking away money from those services to pay on something that's of absolutely no value for health or education. In fact, it's taking away from there.
Every other province has made the right choice; they've been balancing the budget. They've been reducing their deficits, eliminating their deficits. They've been paying down their debt. They've been posting surpluses -- in Alberta seven balanced budgets, in Manitoba five balanced budgets, in New Brunswick five balanced budgets, in Newfoundland its balanced budgets, in Prince Edward Island four balanced budgets, in Nova Scotia four balanced budgets. Everywhere you go, the rest of the country -- the federal government -- balance their budget. They're posting surpluses; they're able to decrease their debt.
[ Page 14622 ]You know what? The province where I grew up, the province of Tommy Douglas and Blakeney and the NDP, that socialist province -- you know what they've done? They've balanced their budget seven times -- seven balanced budgets in Saskatchewan. They're posting a surplus of $53.1 million this year, and they're forecasting a surplus in the next year's budget. They're decreasing taxes. They're able to put more money back into services like health care and education and back into families' pockets.
We're not able to do that; we're dead last. Under this government, we don't even foresee a balanced budget for another three or four years. That is absolutely ridiculous. They won't be here. Thank goodness, they won't be here. But that's the kind of long-term future planning that they're doing for our province. That is not helpful. That is absolutely unhelpful as far as job creation, as far as building confidence in our economy, as far as bringing investors back.
People look at our province, and they go: "Uh-uh, not investing there, not even going to go there." In fact, before the break I mentioned that the biggest booming industry in this province appears to be the moving industry. They're moving people out of the province. They're moving people into other provinces and down south. And that's a shame, because -- you know what? -- we're losing our young, bright, working people. That's the people who move. The people who can, do; they move. It's a shame that this government has nothing in the budget -- absolutely nothing -- to keep those people here or bring them home. There are absolutely no incentives to do that.
I talked before about them talking about this balanced approach and making choices. The choices they've made in the last year and the choices they continue to make in this budget are the wrong choices. They're taking us down the road to ruin. They're not making the choices that are going to help people move forward towards economic recovery in this province.
In my opinion, the best thing the Finance minister could say about his budget on budget day was that they would not engage in any more reckless spending or megaprojects. Well, hooray. I don't believe 'em anyway. I mean, you judge a government on their record and the budgets they've put before us, and they continue to do that. That is not reassuring. In fact, it's a stunning admission of failure, incompetence and waste. And I'm sure the Finance minister was speaking of projects like the fast ferries, like the convention centre, like Skeena Cellulose. It's unbelievable that they would admit to such incompetence and failure in a throne speech. But that's how low you go sometimes, I guess.
The budget is not very inspiring. It does not inspire confidence in my constituents. I've had faxes; I've had phone calls. I've had a lot of complaints about what the government is doing. In fact, my constituents have one wish. It is resounding, and it's almost unanimous. They say that the best thing this government could do for our economy -- the best thing they could do for the next year to bring back people and to bring back investors -- is to call an election. That's what they're asking for. That's what they want to vote on, and that's what they want us to vote on -- to boot these guys out, call an election and bring our province back to the road of recovery.
I will not be supporting this budget; I will not be supporting this Supply Act. The government has failed time and time again, and I don't think they'll succeed with this one.
G. Campbell: I want to talk and focus on one specific aspect of this bill tonight. There's been a lot of talk from the government -- unfortunately, it's just been talk so far -- about reforming the way government works and changing the way we approach our democratic processes in the province. Sometimes when we listen to the rhetoric that we hear from the other side, it sounds pretty much like most people there have just arrived at the Legislature in the last week or two. The fact is that they've been here for a decade. In that decade they've had every opportunity to make significant improvements and significant reforms in the way the Legislature works, so that we can open the doors of this Legislature to the public of British Columbia, reaffirm our commitment to democratic processes and reaffirm our commitment to the principle that the entire Legislature is the body that gives authority for the government to take money from the people of this province and spend it on public activities.
This is not a new issue, but when you look at the fact that this year once again this government has turned to special warrants as a means of funding government, it does speak to the commitment of the New Democratic government to open, public, honest, accountable decision-making for the people of the province of British Columbia -- $376.9 million in special warrants which reflect this government's inability to keep costs under control, an inability in most cases even to see the facts that are before them at the beginning of a budget year.
If you look at the special warrants, hon. Speaker, you will see that they include special warrants for the Minister for Children and Families, a ministry that
If this government was truly committed to the children of this province, it would plan properly. It would include the front-line workers, it would talk to people in communities, and it would provide resources as a budget was developed to make sure those front-line workers could provide for the care that those children need. It has failed to do so, and so this year we are told there is a need for a special warrant for $41.4 million. That's not good enough for the children of British Columbia, and it's not good enough for the opposition.
In the opposition, we believe that public education should be our top priority, that we should focus resources on children and teachers in classrooms, so that we can give our children the most important service we can: an education that provides them with the tools they need to succeed in the modern world. There is no excuse for the government not being able to plan for the expenditures that are required to meet at least the minimum targets that we would all set for ourselves.
The Ministry of Forests has just discovered, evidently, that there is a large pine beetle infestation problem throughout the forests of the interior of the province of British Columbia. They just figured it out. The pine beetles have been hard at work in those forests in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and unfortunately they're going to be working even harder this year.
[ Page 14623 ]I wonder if the government has discovered that it's going to require positive, concerted action to deal with this problem. It is going to require a plan; it is going to require us to execute the plan. It's going to require us to provide resources to local communities to make sure we deal with that problem. It's going to require political will, and it's going to require focused leadership to give the people of the province, particularly in the forest communities that are depending on that fibre, to make sure that we deal with that problem this year. I don't want this to be a surprise to the government next year. I want them to understand that this is a problem, and I hope they will bring forward the resources that are necessary to deal with it aggressively and boldly, so we snuff out that problem in the coming budget year. Last year they knew about. They didn't plan for it; the resources weren't there for it.
We all know that we face serious problems in the delivery of services in the province, and the fundamental place that that starts is right here, with the New Democrat government. In 1995-96 -- that's four years ago -- the auditor general came forward with a report. In that report he pointed out some of the comments that had been made in the past with regard to special warrants. Let me use the words of a New Democrat Premier to describe what a government's obligation to the people of British Columbia should be. He said:
"Mr. Speaker, our system is founded on some very basic principles, the most basic of which is that the government has to justify its spending and tax decisions to the representatives of the people before they embark on either. The government has flouted that basic parliamentary principle. It's a misuse of the special warrants. It's the foundation of parliamentary government, because we are elected representatives -- all of us. We have to scrutinize the government's and executive council's decisions to tax people and to spend people's moneySome Hon. Members: Who said that?
. . . ."
G. Campbell: Many people are asking who said that. The member for Vancouver-Kingsway, the former Premier of the province of British Columbia, the man who supposedly led that side of the House for the last four years, said that the government's misuse of special warrants was wrong.
Another member of this government said in the past: "I would suggest that the only thing we've witnessed, in tedious repetition, is special-warrant spending by this government."
An Hon. Member: What year did he say that?
G. Campbell: That was said in 1992.
Some Hon. Members: Who said that?
G. Campbell: The Minister of Education.
An Hon. Member: Who would that be?
G. Campbell: The member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, a former Minister of Finance for this government. In spite of what he said, the government continues with $376.9 million investment.
The auditor general was very clear in 1995-96. The role of this Legislature, the role of a parliamentary assembly like this, is to review, peruse, question and, if it decides to do so, approve expenditures before they take place. Special warrants are not there for the political convenience of the government.
We should remember that the reason they were put in place was because it used to be difficult for members to get to the House. Every single member of this House can be here in the Legislative Assembly within 24 hours to act on an emergency if an emergency is forthcoming. There's only one emergency in the province of British Columbia, and that's the urgent need to have an election so we can replace this government.
Special warrants should not be used occasionally; they should not be used in special circumstances. They should be banned. They should not be a tool of public finance in the modern world; they do not need to be. So if this government is truly committed to honesty, to openness, to accountability, they will ban the use of special warrants by this government and future governments in the province. I guarantee the government this: should they bring in legislation to ban the use of special warrants, this side of the House will support them, because that would be a unanimous commitment to the people of British Columbia.
It is critical that the public confidence in this institution be restored; it is critical that the public trust in this institution be restored. That will not take place as long as we have a government that turns its back on its parliamentary responsibilities.
On March 2 of this year I wrote to the Premier. I encouraged the Premier to call the House back immediately so that we could deal with the $376 million in special warrants. I urged him to call the House back so we could deal with them in full and in detail, so we or the Legislature could approve the expenditures prior to their being made, so the government could answer the many questions that people would have in Children and Families and Forestry, etc., to make sure that those dollars will be well focused and well spent and that there was some respect from the government for the hard-working people of this province who have to pay these dollars -- $376.9 million -- whipped through in special warrants without so much as a moment's debate. I don't think anybody in British Columbia was served by that. I don't believe that this Premier's spoken commitment is reflected in a government that does turn its back on those parliamentary traditions.
So, hon. Speaker, I would hope that as we move through not just the debate on this supply bill but the debate on the government's so-called transparency bill, the government will seriously consider the elimination of special warrants as a tool of public finance in the province of British Columbia. It is not necessary, it's not needed, and it should be abolished. As we abolish it, we will start to take the steps down the road to restoring and re-establishing public confidence in this institution and public confidence in the spending habits of all parliamentarians in the province.
The Speaker: I call on the Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations to close debate.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'll be brief in my closing remarks. I thank the members opposite for their comments about this bill. I would point out, for the benefit of those who have been observing the second reading debate here, that the actual supply act that we were debating is a fairly routine piece of legislation. What it does require is
The Speaker: Order, members.
[ Page 14624 ]Hon. P. Ramsey: As this Legislature moves through the debate of the budget and the consideration of estimates for the year 2000-2001, it needs to have authority to actually spend money and keep those institutions -- schools, hospitals, universities, day cares and the Ministries of Forests and Environment -- running after the end of the current fiscal year, after the end of March. Therefore what the supply bill contains -- its most important provisions are indeed to do exactly that -- is authority for government to allocate one-quarter of the voted estimates, as presented in the estimates that provide for the operations of government for the coming year beginning April 1.
It also authorizes 50 percent funding of the financing transaction requirements that have been indicated in the estimates and 100 percent of revenue that's collected and transferred to other entities which appear in the schedule of estimates. That's the very routine part of this bill. It gets contained in supply bills in most parliaments that I'm aware of.
The second part that there has been much debate about is, of course, that the act does contain authorization for special warrants for expenditures that arose during the course of the last fiscal year. On one point I agree with some of the comments that I've heard from the members opposite: that the use of special warrants in this House, in the way that it has occurred in the past, is something that we should change.
We have a bill on the order paper, the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act, that contains measures to reform how this House employs special warrants. I look forward to that debate on that bill and some thoughtful discussion of under what circumstances, if ever, a special authority might be required by a government and when, if ever, warrants ought to be employed. That is a matter for debate at another time, though we surely have had some vigorous presentations on it here this afternoon and this evening.
The final thing I'd say is that we will have an opportunity to discuss the content of the specific warrants that are contained in this bill later this evening, and I believe that we'll have some good debate on why these were necessary and explanations provided by the ministers responsible.
With that, hon. Speaker, I move second reading of Bill 4.
Second reading of Bill 4 approved on the following division:
|YEAS -- 37|
|NAYS -- 34|
Bill 4, Supply Act (No. 1), 2000, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
SUPPLY ACT (No. 1), 2000The House in committee on Bill 4; T. Stevenson in the chair.
Sections 1 to 3 inclusive approved.
On the schedule.
On warrant 6.
G. Plant: The schedule of Bill 4 includes a reference to special warrants for the Ministry of Attorney General in the amount of $2.8 million. The description which accompanies or is part of the schedule says that the allocated amount is intended "to supplement schedule D, Financing Transactions -- Capital Expenditures, to provide funding for capitalized tenant improvements." Could I impose on the Attorney General to explain what is intended by that description?
Hon. A. Petter: This really relates to a change in accounting practice as we move towards capitalization of tenant improvements. The expectation of the ministry had been that that capitalization would take place in the next fiscal year, but in fact it was decided, in consultation with Finance and others, that it should take place in this fiscal year. The consequence of capitalizing those improvements, which is part of a general shifting in policy -- which the member's aware of -- towards capitalization, was to create a $9.1 million capital expenditure pressure. The ministry tried to absorb that pressure as best it could and was able to absorb most of that pressure, but at the time that this warrant was approved, it was anticipated that it wouldn't be able to absorb the entire pressure.
A warrant was therefore sought for $2.8 million which was felt might not be absorbable, if I can put it that way. In any event, it appears that the ministry in fact will only require something like $1.5 million, not the full $2.8 million, because of offsetting savings. But the warrant was passed to make sure that there were sufficient funds to offset the remainder of the pressure that resulted from this change in accounting practice relating to the capitalization one year earlier than the ministry had previously anticipated.
G. Plant: Though the potential impact of $9.1 million was accommodated by savings elsewhere in the ministry, at the
[ Page 14625 ]time of the warrant there was still thought to be a need for $2.8 million. I understand that that may now be reduced still further to $1.5 million, and I take it that the ministry's intention is only to draw down from the warrant the amount required to fulfil this purpose. If the ministry only needs $1.5 million, they're only going to take $1.5 million. Is that correct?
The Chair: Members, for those wanting to have conversations, we'd ask if you could go outside for those.
Hon. A. Petter: It would be wonderful, I must say, if we could draw down an additional amount
Hon. I. Waddell: On a point of order, I wonder if the House would celebrate with me. Tonight is the twentieth anniversary of the wedding -- I know; I was the emcee -- of the hon. member for Vancouver-Kingsway, the former Premier, and his wife Dale. It's their twentieth anniversary, and I think we should celebrate that tonight.
G. Plant: I'm grateful to have this expanded conception of the new idea of points of order, but I'm sure all members on this side of the House join with the government in wishing the member many happy returns of the day. I'm also appreciative of the explanation.
That concludes the questions I have in relation to the Attorney General warrants.
The Chair: Now back to the Ministry for Children and Families.
On warrant 1.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Mr. Chairman, I'm waiting for staff to join me. I'll be with you in a minute.
L. Reid: Certainly I'm intrigued by the press release that came out: "Special Warrants Reflect Public Priorities." I'm wondering why the budget for this government doesn't reflect the public priorities and why each and every year, this Legislature comes forward to debate special warrants, which is basically -- as the members opposite are more than aware -- an opportunity to allow for the overspending of this ministry. It's roughly $41.4 million, and my understanding is that it's regarding compensation agreements with contracted service agencies which allows for $32 million. I would hope the comments I made during the briefing on this warrant would have some clarification today, in terms of the question I posed at that juncture, which was around union and non-union contracts and if the $32 million has been reflected in the recent LRB discussion where the lift was going to be equally applicable to the union sector versus the non-union sector in the front line -- as an example, the child care delivery system. If the minister would kindly comment
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I appreciate the question from the hon. member and know that they had a very good discussion yesterday or the day before on this -- a good briefing from staff. I'm pleased to make that begin a precedent so that there's lots of information flowing back and forth so we all work from the same page.
On this issue, the settlement was indeed union and non-union for the whole of the sector. The issue of child care is not in this ministry; it's in the Ministry of Social Development and Economic Security.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's comment, and I will extend my thanks for the opportunity to be briefed on this issue.
In terms of my comment on the child care piece, it's that sometime during the Munroe table negotiation, there was discussion of whether or not the child care piece was part of the original discussion. I appreciate that it's not something that's in the ministry today, but given the history, was the dollar allotment put forward at that juncture by this ministry?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The issue of compensation in the child care field is still not mine. It doesn't belong here and so would be best referred to PSEC or to the minister responsible.
L. Reid: Certainly I appreciate the minister's comment. My understanding is that the supported child care piece is still something that resides within the Ministry for Children and Families, whether it be the allocation of services around speech and language therapy, occupational therapy or physiotherapy. My question, in terms of the compensation agreement with the contracted agencies
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We'll have to take a minute or two to do that -- to break those numbers out. We haven't got numbers actually listed that way. But it is indeed the case that supported child care is a piece of this, which is a different matter than just straight child care.
R. Thorpe: With respect to supported child care, have there been some cutbacks in your budget during the period we're talking about, to attempt to meet your fiscal responsibilities?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: In June last year, implementation of an income testing process that took place in supported child care
R. Thorpe: Because the focus here is on the children, could we translate, then, how many children or families were adversely affected by that $2 million cut?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I think we've got two things here. One, this issue was canvassed in last year's estimates, and the ministry and my office would be happy to provide that information about what that debate was about. We can pass that back to you.
[ Page 14626 ]R. Thorpe: We're here because we want a new way of cooperation; we want transparency. I know that my colleague and I were in those estimates last year, and quite frankly, I don't recall us getting that information. Now, let me ask again, because I think the minister's undertaking was fairly broad. I was just wondering if the minister could be more specific on what information she and her staff want to provide with respect to these cuts to supported child care and when we would get that information.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We'd be happy to provide that to the hon. member's office tomorrow, and then it can be as full as we can find the information.
R. Thorpe: Thanks, minister. I look forward to receiving that tomorrow, as does my colleague the critic responsible.
With respect to supported child care in the province, could the minister advise what kinds of mechanisms are in place to monitor the wait-lists for those that are in need of this service?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The mechanism we have in place at the moment is that the information about that is collected at the regional level and is then passed on to Victoria. So we work very closely with the regions as to what is happening with the wait-lists.
R. Thorpe: I'll ask a couple of questions so I don't have to be up and down here, if that's okay with the Chair, related to this issue that we're just talking about -- the growing wait-lists in supported child care. My first question, hon. Chair through to the minister, is
R. Thorpe: Hon. Chair, I'm up asking a question. But on a point of order, could we please ask the members over in that corner of the House, if they're not going to pay attention, to either keep the noise down or leave the House?
The Chair: Thank you, member. I'm sure they'll
R. Thorpe: With respect to the information that comes in from the regions with respect to the wait-lists, how often does that come through? What action is taken when it does come through? And how much have we seen the wait-lists with respect to supported child care grow in the past year?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I say first to the hon. member that we're beginning to get into the estimates themselves, and I think I'd like to see more of those specific questions put there at that time. In the meantime, however, we'll be happy to provide the member with that information. It comes in about quarterly, but there's more information around all that, and we'll be happy to provide that with the other information that I was prepared to offer to send to the member tomorrow morning.
K. Whittred: I want to say to the minister that I'm pleased to finally get the child care responsibilities sorted out. I do have a question as it relates to the block funding vis-à-vis the funds for supported child care. I have recently returned from a trip in the northern part of the province, and while there I was honoured to visit a variety of child care centres. It is my understanding that these facilities are in jeopardy. The reason that I was given is that the ministry's move to supported child care has meant an end to the block funding. Of course, this has had a serious impact on the communities, and I wonder if the minister would comment on that.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I thank the member for the question and would comment that the block funding issue was canvassed in previous estimates. I would suggest that there will be opportunities in the estimates as they come forward, but that this special warrant is about salary adjustments for low-wage redress in this sector and in several other sectors within the ministry. Indeed, it's about stability; it's about a working living wage for low-end salaries and folks there. As I know the member knows, most of the people in those positions are women. This special warrant is about salaries, benefits and wages for low-end redress. That's what the warrant is about. The other issues we can canvass at great length, however long we want, when we get to the estimates, which I'm sure will be very soon.
K. Whittred: I thank the minister for that caution. I will simply mention that this area of block funding, vis-à-vis the supported child care funding, is an area that I really do think needs to be thoroughly canvassed. It is my observation that there are a number of very, very outstanding child care centres in this province that are in jeopardy because of this shift in ministry funding patterns. With that, I will canvass this at the appropriate time.
L. Reid: I appreciate my hon. colleague's comments, because this is certainly about compensation agreements for agencies. And I appreciate the minister's comments about low-wage redress.
My concern is that at the very same time this government is espousing a new child care initiative, a new child care policy, we around this province know that numerous child care agencies are being closed. The press releases come on a regular basis, in terms of closures of supported child care agencies -- which, frankly, does fall under the mandate of this ministry. So my question to the minister is: is this a situation where this $32 million has basically been removed from the front line? Is this indeed in any way responsible for the closure of a variety of centres around this province that did offer supported child care spaces?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I think I should say right off the top that I reassure the member that this did not come out of front-line services. These are salaries. Low-wage redress did not come out of front-line services.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's comment, but my understanding is that this was part of the utilization management and that indeed the ministry needed to find, I believe, $13 million. My understanding is that in fact $13 million was not found -- only $7.5 million. So I think my comment is valid.
I think it's interesting that we're faced with a government that is on the path to providing child care; at the same time,
[ Page 14627 ]they are closing agencies around this province. So if the minister tells me it came out of a different column in the ledger
It just strikes me as odd that the press release machine on one hand
The minister is assuring us that the $32 million was not found, basically, from these programs. But we know that's not true -- at least the 1.5 percent clawback across the board came from front-line agencies. I have need of more clarification from this minister.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: First of all, we're not closing agencies. That's a point that needs to be made, it would seem. We're not doing that.
The special warrant is, as I said before, about providing a working living wage for those who work in the systems that are part of us -- the 604 agencies that are part of the union and non-union
The second part of this is that $9.4 million of the special warrants is for services in the community living sector. They were part of a plan initially -- utilization management -- which couldn't be put into effect. In fact, the money was allocated and used to provide services within the community living sector.
L. Reid: I'm intrigued by the minister's wording: "We're not closing agencies." When funding is withdrawn by this government, that is the outcome. My question to the minister would be: in terms of compensation agreements, what percentage of that $32 million would have gone to new agencies versus existing agencies, because it's the existing agencies that absolutely have had their funding cut by this government?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I think the member probably has the particular page that I'm going to refer to, which describes the number of agencies. There are 604 of them, and they are grouped: the CSSEA group, called the Munroe group of 122 agencies; the renewal and new certifications in 75 agencies. In the non-union community social services sector excluding child care, 370 of those are going to be receiving the wages and benefits package. In the HEABC, the health sector, which has some groups that relate to this ministry -- community, nurses, paramedical and contingency -- there are 37 of those. Those are the agencies. I think they're all existing ones. We can endeavour to sort out which ones are new and which ones aren't, but that's the group -- 604 agencies.
I. Chong: Following along the lines of the critic for Children and Families, regarding the $9.4 million which the minister just alluded to, can the minister disclose for us the composition of those indirect costs of the $9.4 million -- in other words, the kinds of indirect costs we're looking at? Are there benefits which are actual cash benefits? Are there benefits which are medical-related -- those kinds of things? Can the minister provide a better disclosure of what the $9.4 million represents?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I welcome the question from my colleague from the Victoria region. The $9.4 million covered the costs of 200 new beds in the community living sector. It covered training and support services for the establishment of those 200 beds, some which were in a new location and some which were beds in an existing facility. It's 200 additional beds for adults.
I. Chong: Could the minister provide us with the areas or the regions that this relates to? If she has a list, perhaps she could provide it to us. Or if there are just a few areas affected, perhaps she can read that into the Hansard so that we're aware of what areas were affected by this $9.4 million.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I think we provided this information to the critic. It was page 4 of the material. I can read some of it, but it looks like every region got some of this. As you know, there are 11 regions, and every one of them got something. Correction -- except for South Fraser. All the others got something.
I. Chong: I will confer with our critic to see whether we did in fact have that information. I wasn't aware of that.
I would also like to ask, then -- this may relate to some similar information that has been passed on, and I apologize if that is the case: is there also a breakdown of the regions or communities that benefit from the $32 million adjustment that was made? Again, was it all 11 regions, or was it only some regions? I could see a difference perhaps, because the $9.2 million related to special beds that were opened in new locations, whereas the $32 million could more specifically be spread throughout the province.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I have here eight pages that look like this, which have the amounts of money that have been assigned to each of the 604 agencies, which are indeed spread all across the province. If the member is hinting in some way that there was some favouritism in some region over another, you can check the numbers. It has been allocated as the 604 agencies needed it and the staffing there required it.
I. Chong: I was not trying to suggest to the hon. minister that there was favouritism. I was just trying to assure that when this adjustment was made, in fact all areas of the province had to undergo the same thorough review and perhaps benefit -- or not -- from whatever adjustments had been made.
A final question, unless the answer solicits more questions, is: can the minister advise when the retroactive date would be for these adjustments? I know the warrant was approved in February, but does it go back retroactively to
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I can say that one group goes back to April 1, 1998, and the most recent one goes back to February 1 of this year.
D. Symons: Following along on the thoughts of the previous questioner, I wonder if I might ask the minister whether these wage increases that you were doing for low-paid workers applied across the board to the workers in that par-
[ Page 14628 ]ticular sector or whether indeed you were targeting just those that were low-paid in relative terms. I want the minister to give me some range of the wage earners that were targeted for those wage increases. What were the pre-hourly rates with benefits and the post-hourly rates with benefits? I want the lowest-paid worker that's going to receive benefits because of these increases you've given and the highest-paid of the low-paid ones that will also receive benefits. I assume you've put a cap on those that would be receiving benefits so that all of the efforts would go to lower-paid people, not the ones who are already reasonably paid.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: First of all, the member probably knows this already, but these contracts were not negotiated by this ministry but were negotiated by CSSEA. We were not a participant in that part of it. Let me then tell you about, if you like, the before-wage for the residential care worker. It was $14.49, and for the non-residential care worker it was $16.95. Then you multiply that by the benefits figure, which was in this case 1.2599 times 1,957 hours. That would give you, for the residential care worker, an annual salary of $34,978. For the non-residential care worker it's $41,792; that's what it was.
Now, after the negotiation and the contract has been organized, the RCW -- if I may -- is now at $41,952. So it has gone from $34, 987 to $41,952. The non-residential care worker has gone from $41,792 to $47,564. I know that the member is a math whiz, so we'll leave that to work out further.
The Chair: The member continues.
D. Symons: Well, maybe -- it all depends.
But you're looking at about a 25 percent increase there, it would seem. I was asking, you know: was every worker, then, in those two fields that you mentioned paid equally? Or were there some, from contracts that they had with their employer, receiving more than the $14.49 or the $16.95 that you mentioned to begin with? I'm curious whether
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: First of all, these numbers are averages. So we've averaged it over the time. The basic principle was to bring them all up to a common level. If you want a specific breakdown, we would have to go and talk -- ask CSSEA for the individual ones.
D. Symons: I was sort of asking for specifics, because I think what the minister said is that everybody got a raise. I thought that when the minister began answering questions here, she said that you were targeting the low-paid workers. I thought, in that sense, you'll be targeting the lowest-paid ones to bring them up. So you wouldn't have to average the low and the high. But indeed you'd have more people paid the same rate, rather than some still being lower than others for the same work. It appears from your answer that you said that's not the case.
Also, from what you were saying, you indicated that somehow this wage negotiation wasn't done with the government. I'm wondering how this is possible. I'm sure that the government must have been at the table, because there couldn't be any moneys paid to these people unless the government supplied it. Regardless of what organization is doing the negotiating with the employees, the government is supplying the money eventually. It comes from the provincial coffers; they're going to pay for that. You must have had someone at the table taking part in those discussions. Who was at the table?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The answer to that is that it was the Ministry of Finance that was at the table.
An Hon. Member: It's their question.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yeah, that is correct. That is a question for the Ministry of Finance, which is a little different.
D. Symons: I'm wondering if the minister knows who was at the table. I put two questions together before, and I got the answer to the second part or got the answer to go somewhere else for the second part. But the minister or the staff with the minister might know who the actual person was at that table on behalf of the government; that would be useful to know.
And before, I asked the question as to -- since you talked averages -- whether indeed there was some effort to get the low ones up so everybody was getting the same rate for the same work. You really didn't answer that question.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I hope this will be helpful to the member. Before the current negotiations, the range was $9 to $14 an hour. Since, with the contract now in place, the base for the residential care worker is $14.45.
D. Symons: I gather from that that there's still a range, though -- which is why I was asking the question. You say that now they're all at $14 for equal work. Well, that's very good.
Just one last thing, though, because the minister said we have to go to the Finance ministry. We're discussing the special warrants for the Ministry for Children and Families. Certainly it would seem, since these warrants come under the Minister for Children and Families, that somebody from that ministry must have been at that table. Are you saying that nobody from the Ministry for Children and Families was
The Chair: Through the Chair, member.
D. Symons: I beg your pardon. Through the Chair, the minister indicated that it was the Finance minister. I'm just wondering, since these special warrants are for the Ministry for Children and Families, why somebody from Children and Families was not there. Again, I ask the minister if she would know the person who was there, rather than referring us to a ministry.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: First of all, we can provide the member with the complete list of the CSSEA bargaining team. But as you know, the ministry is not the employer; the association -- CSSEA -- is the bargaining agent for the employers. That's how the bargaining
[ Page 14629 ]L. Reid: I was intrigued by the minister's comments when she indicated that indeed it wasn't negotiated by government. Yes, the Ministry of Finance is part of this government, and if they were at the table, they do certainly qualify. The minister may or may not be aware, but there was government representation from this ministry at the table, because the fallout from it was horrendous. The perceived political interference with which this government comes to the negotiating table
Our sense on this side of the House is that there should be some accountability around that. Special warrants always confound members on this side of the House in terms of the ministry's and the government's seeming inability to predict the expenditure. There must be someone on that side of that House who said, "If we're going to address low wage, the possible cost could be X" -- whatever X happened to be. Then budget that amount appropriately.
It troubles me that we continue to see the shift: "Well, it wasn't my ministry; it was this ministry. It wasn't this ministry; it was that ministry." At the end of the day, it's still the taxpayer.
In terms of the settlement grid, which is supposed to be zero-zero-and-2, the minister will know that this was well outside that. If she could give me a sense of what the percentage increase was for individuals, particularly the residential care workers in the province.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The percentage increase for the residential care worker is 19.9 percent; for the non-residential care worker, it's 13.8 percent.
I just want to clarify something else, if I might. While it wasn't the Ministry of Finance, I would have to ask the members to address some of those questions to the Ministry of Finance. This ministry was not at the table.
L. Reid: The minister will know that that advice, however well intentioned, is worth zero. When it comes to posing those questions to the people that we are often referred to, the response always is: "That is the question you'll have to pose" -- in this instance -- "back to the Minister for Children and Families." I can give you 19 different examples in last year's estimates where that was the response. I'm going to allow the minister to suggest, in a louder voice, her sense that this process will indeed be different.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I was going to suggest to the hon. member that contract negotiations may well be different at different times. We're in a particular situation in this situation. I'm not aware that the member has indeed asked the Ministry of Finance any of these questions, and I would suggest that that might be a helpful avenue.
A. Sanders: I want to ask the minister to give me an update during special warrants on one of the supported child care facilities that we have in Vernon, the North Okanagan Neurological Association. This is an association that provided supported child care for disabled children and also provided some day care services. They were certainly at risk of being closed down because of the increases in funding that were necessitated by the bargains that were struck with the union members and the differential in funding that was necessary in order to continue the services. That, compounded with the health accord where no one could be laid off, created a very serious problem for what's known our area as NONA -- North Okanagan Neurological Association. If the minister could bring me up to date on the status of that association, I'd be most appreciative.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I would say to the hon. member that I think, on that issue, that if we could have a meeting to talk about this particular issue
A. Sanders: I look forward to the meeting and will take up the minister's offer. I think that it's important to recognize that at a time when we're talking about increasing supported child care
D. Jarvis: Minister, I appreciate that you're new to the job, but I'm also just a poor old city boy, and sometimes things don't mix up with my mind too well. I talked to some of your staff earlier with regard to the addiction services end of it, and I appreciate that a good number of the dollars involved pertain to the labour end of it.
In order to get my head around that aspect, I wonder if I could have some clarification with regard to the physical number of beds. Announcements are made by your ministry, but the product is never delivered, or it takes a long time to deliver. Consequently it was about a year ago that we only had six detox beds in British Columbia for children -- and I expect you to correct me if I'm not entirely correct -- then we kept seeing announcements coming. I think, off the top of my head, there were three or four announcements over the period of the last year that there were going to be so many beds -- 60 beds, 79 beds, and all the rest of it. I wonder if, first of all, we can get a clarification as to how many specific detox beds for kids in British Columbia you have got now, on hand?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I appreciate that the member raised this question in the briefing that was offered, and I gather it was a good exchange. He asked for the information, and we have it here for the member. So we'd be pleased to send it across. It's also true that this is about a particular special warrant, as opposed to estimates about how many beds we're doing -- what and where. We'll be pleased to get into that, obviously in enormous detail no doubt, in the estimates, when we get to that.
The addiction services received a certain amount of money for low-wage redress in this field, and I'm sure the member is aware of that.
[ Page 14630 ]D. Jarvis: I appreciate that this is not the estimates, where we can get into details, but so much of this is actual labour. What I'm trying to say is: how much is that labour? Have you finished all the beds you intended to build? Is the component that we're talking about here in this supply bill for 20 beds, 30 beds or 79 beds? Or are you putting more in there?
It seems to me that when you started this program for more detox beds, that was six months to a year ago. Surely at that time, when we were in the zero-zero-and-2 budgeting frames, you could have considered how much was required for when we got these beds on stream. So that's basically why I'm asking you questions about the number of beds, and if there are any more to come, and if that labour component that you're asking for now is
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I can appreciate the member's interest, desire and energy around wanting to know more about the beds. But I have to say that it really is an estimates discussion. In this case, the labour issue has involved the addition of $2.4 million into the system for low-wage redress, into the addiction part of the services for children and families. That's for the staffing; that's the additional labour cost.
D. Jarvis: There again, this poor little city kid
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: It's entirely possible. The member says he's from the city or whatever, and I'm brand-new at this, so the two of us are finding our way here, perhaps. So the question may need to be stated another way. I would simply say that it is my understanding that the $2.4 million for labour under the special warrant is in the addiction services section of salaries for staff providing those services. So it's $2.4 million, and there's no fraction of that, nor is there anything anywhere else.
D. Jarvis: So I can assume, then, that the $2.4 million was labour, for staff for all 79 of the detox beds that are now in place in British Columbia?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I think we've got it a little clearer now -- what was being asked. I have some information. The final program designs will now result in 80 residential beds -- residentially based spaces -- and that's an increase of five over those that were announced before. This will then include 71 new beds plus nine supported spaces in the youths' own homes.
I can add to this that 30 of those 71 new beds are fully operational; 38 are scheduled to open permanently by August 1 this year. The remaining three beds will open once the new multipurpose addictions facility in Prince George is completed in the spring of 2001. I can add to that as well. The six-day treatment programs are fully operational, and the seven counsellor positions are established. I can send the member this information as well, at a later time, so you'll have it in print.
[P. Calendino in the chair.]
D. Jarvis: Mr. Chair, welcome to the chair. It's the first time you've been there this year. Things are looking up, eh?
To the minister again, can you tell me, for example, out of that $2.4 million, the number of personnel that were involved in that amount of money?
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I'd love to provide that, but I don't have those numbers here. The addiction services are provided both directly from government and also through many, many agencies. I don't have that number here. We'd have to go back to CSSEA, which is the employer bargaining agent, and get that information from them. They would have those kinds of numbers.
D. Jarvis: I was trying to ascertain, actually, how many dollars per bed that $2.4 million represented. But if there's only been 30 beds in operation, then, you know, that looks like about $80,000 a bed on that point. I was just wondering how many personnel it takes to equate to the $2.4 million. Can you answer me that?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The addiction services at $2.4 million represents a lift in salary to all of those people who are working in the addictions field, not just for the 70 beds. It's for all the beds that exist. So it sounds like your number would be a little high, in terms of what you're trying to calculate.
D. Jarvis: I assume that the minister will be sending us a copy tomorrow of all the numbers of personnel involved in that $2.4 million, so we can get an idea. Before we go home, we always want to know these things.
I'm getting great support from my staff over here. So I'll turn it over to the next person who has some questions on that.
R. Neufeld: Just a few brief questions to the minister. I know the minister just acquired the ministry, so some of these things took place before she was the minister, of course.
The $41 million that this special warrant represents -- and the minister has been very careful to tell us that everything is for wages and for contract increases that were negotiated
All that doesn't kind of compute to me. I can't imagine why the ministry wouldn't be at the table trying to say: "Look, we have to look at this in a rational way, because we don't have the money. We don't have $41 million extra lying around in a back corner of our ministry to pay these kinds of increases." Although the number may vary a bit, I can't imagine that there wasn't some anticipation of some kind from within the ministry, prior to this happening, that maybe they should have built something into the budget prior to coming and asking the House for another $41 million.
[ Page 14631 ]
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The collective bargaining was done under PSEC, and I know the members are aware of that system and that organizational method of doing negotiations. The government also had established a contingency vote, and that was an allocation of dollars set aside for the collective bargaining processes, some of which were anticipated to take place throughout the year. In the end, this ministry was instructed not to put any dollars in a contingency or anywhere else. That is legitimate and happens in many circles. The bargaining process is begun, and you don't anticipate, you don't put money in the budget, because in fact it can be an inappropriate thing to do. It can create a difficulty at the bargaining table, because it may prejudice the final results in the bargaining process.
R. Neufeld: I guess I can understand a bit what the minister says, because it could create an expectation. My experience with the unions and this government, to be honest, is that the expectations are high and they're met all the time for the unions, from the government that's in power today. I don't know whether that would make a difference at all or not, but I find it amazing that there wouldn't be some funds set aside in anticipation of what was going to take place. It's just so regular, run-of-the-mill: "We'll just come back to the House; we'll get a special warrant; we can slide that through at any time. We'll come back to the House, as we are again, and say, 'Look, $41 million -- that's all we need. We anticipated some of it, but someone told us not to put it in the budget last year.' " I just find that hard to believe and hard to understand. Some of it may be a bit cynical on my part -- what I said -- but I think it is in fact true.
Secondly, the minister has said that the Ministry of Finance was at the table and we should be asking questions about those issues to the Ministry of Finance. I would ask then that the Minister of Finance enter the House. Come on, sit down in this chair and answer some of the questions that some of the members have about the contract -- about the $41 million. If the Ministry of Finance was sitting at the table -- and they're the ones that tell you whether you've got money or not; they're probably the ones that told the ministry not to put anything into contingency -- then let's bring the Minister of Finance out here, and let's ask him some questions. Could the minister maybe send a note out and ask him to come in and answer some of those questions? Would that be fair?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Apologies for the delay in the response. First of all, I must correct the record. I think I inadvertently suggested that the Ministry of Finance was at the table. That's not what I meant to say. What I meant to say was that the questions about the negotiations and that cluster of ideas should be put to the Minister of Finance. I'm not saying the Ministry of Finance was at the table, but they're the ones who would answer questions about this. That's the first point I want to make.
Secondly, the government did indeed budget for contingencies. There was a contingency fund established. There were, however, some 240,000 workers who were going to be affected by that, and as time went on, the demands were greater on that contingency fund, and this ministry was directed to proceed with a special warrant.
R. Neufeld: It's very confusing to me -- and I'm not going to drag this on much longer. We have a ministry that overexpends its budget by $41 million -- knew in advance that there was going to be a fair-sized overexpenditure. When they bring that special warrant to the House, they try to say, "It is someone else, and we can't control it," and that we should ask the questions of the Ministry of Finance, if they were the ones that actually instructed the ministry not to put in contingencies that were large enough to cover anticipated expenditures. If that's the case, then someone has to answer to the $41 million. I mean, we can't just say that it was someone else and keep brushing it off.
Bring in the Minister of Finance; let's ask that minister. Did he actually instruct the ministry to not put any contingencies in, knowing full well there was going to be a huge overrun in that ministry? Ask the rationale of why you would do that, why you would not allow a ministry to put in contingencies when they knew they were dealing with 240,000 employees. I don't know where that 240,000 comes from, but it's a lot of people. So obviously there must have been some anticipation.
Really, as I say, I'm not going to carry it on much longer, but it just absolutely amazes me. But it certainly makes me understand, I guess, in a little better fashion why this government can't balance its budget, why we come in with $1 billion to $2 billion on a regular basis over nine years. Using that kind of rationale that we're hearing tonight about how you deal with $41 million
Madam Minister, I just think there's a better way. I'm hoping that under your leadership maybe we'll see a better way of trying to deal with these issues and not have to deal with a Children and Families warrant for a huge amount of dollars every year, because it's not fair. It's not the way to do it. I mean, it's absolutely wrong. If it is the Ministry of Finance that actually at the end of the day is responsible, I wouldn't be sitting here as a minister, as you are, taking it on the chin for the Minister of Finance. I'd be sending a note out there and asking the Minister of Finance to come in here and start answering the questions.
Further to that, there are two more issues. The member for North Vancouver-Lonsdale and the member for Okanagan-Vernon talked about centres that are closing. I want to thank the minister for meeting with the members of the Fort Nelson child development centre, who I think we're going to meet tomorrow. So I thank her for that.
But we have one in Fort St. John that's closing its services too, as of June 30, because of steps that this ministry has taken in block funding. It's serious. They have constantly asked this ministry -- because it's a little bit different, and it's in a different area of the province -- not to apply the block funding. So far it's fallen on deaf ears. That service that parents and children receive in the community of Fort St. John could be lost.
Hopefully we can save some services in Fort Nelson, because there are none. They're 250 miles away from the closest place, Fort St. John. In fact, Fort St. John for quite a number of years has subsidized Fort Nelson in child care. I don't think that's fair, in a way. But they do it. The child development centre in Fort St. John has provided funds for Fort Nelson. Thank goodness someone saw the light so that those kids in Fort Nelson could receive some services.
[ Page 14632 ]This ministry chose to change the funding. Fort St. John now can't afford any more deficits; it can't afford to provide Fort Nelson with money. I hope that we start addressing those kinds of problems, instead of coming here at the eleventh hour dealing with a $41 million overrun on a ministry that never hardly touched a child.
R. Thorpe: With respect to this $41 million overrun for direct and indirect costs, how much of this applies to wages for workers that deal with children with autism?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: There are two areas that are receiving funds for staff. Some of the children in these areas may have autism. Those would be children in care with special needs, and there is $1.7 million for staff redress there. In the services to children with special needs category there is $2.1 million for staff redress. Some of those children may well have autism.
R. Thorpe: So do I take it from that answer that you do not know exactly the number of staff people that are dealing especially with autistic children? Is that correct?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The member is correct. No, we don't know.
R. Thorpe: I realize this question has a fair degree of detail. So I want to ask the minister to please review their information, because I will not only be shocked. I will be quite angry if this ministry does not know how many staff or contractors we have in this province dealing with autistic children. So is it possible that they will go back to their office, they will review the information they have, and they will provide to me the detailed information that I asked for specifically related to children with autism: how many workers we have in British Columbia dealing with that and how many contractors we have dealing specifically with that issue?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I know the member is aware that there are, of course, agencies that do deliver this service and have staff that do that. We have the list. I know the member has the list of all the agencies that provide services that we are funding. We'll be happy to pull out of that the agencies that deal directly with children and the supports for their families around the issue of autism.
R. Thorpe: I'm sure. But I'd just like to clarify that the minister is going to pull out not only the agencies and contracts that deal specifically with this issue that I've raised but also employees of the ministry, which was the first part of my question.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I'm sorry -- I missed that first part. The answer is: there are no ministry employees who deal directly with autism.
R. Thorpe: I find this absolutely mind-boggling -- that in British Columbia the Ministry for Children and Families has no employees designated to deal with autistic children. Is that correct?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I thank the member for the question -- and all the members -- because it's affording me an opportunity to learn a whole lot more about, again, what happens at the ministry.
Let me explain how this happens, as I understand it. In the community living services section of the ministry there are some 400 employees. On their caseloads, they may have families who have autistic children -- autistic members of their families. When services are required for those families, for those children, they contract for the service to be delivered. The therapies and the work to be done with the autistic person are contracted to an agency.
R. Thorpe: My last question is: are there no direct employees, then, assigned to implement the "Autism Action Plan" that was tabled last summer? Perhaps that's why we're having very little action on that action plan. Is that correct, minister?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The action plan was developed with members of the sector. It is a policy framework for the delivery of services and therapies around behavioral issues. These are delivered through child development centres, through public health units and through organizations like the Gateway House Society. That is consistent with the points I've made earlier that there's no direct service, but the ministry does contract for those from agencies in the community who have that expertise and those skills.
D. Symons: We're dealing with $41 million that has essentially been mostly for improvement in wages and benefits, as you said, to low-paid workers. I read in Monday's budget address: "Front-line workers in community services are some of the lowest-paid workers in B.C." Most of them are women. "They do tremendous work for little recognition. They must be fairly compensated if we are to retain their skills and dedication. This budget" -- meaning this year's budget now -- "includes $149 million to increase their wages and benefits." I'm curious whether the $41 million that we're talking about includes the same people that are now included in this year's budget or whether they are two separate, distinct groups that are receiving increases because they're low-paid workers.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The $41.4 million is for this fiscal year. The $149 million is for the upcoming fiscal year -- for the whole thing.
R. Coleman: I actually have difficulty with us giving this minister any money, and that's because of my own personal frustrations. I am prepared to cut this minister some slack, because she's a new minister. But when an MLA has been trying to deal with your ministry on an issue for 18 months and your ministry doesn't have the courtesy of more than one response in that 18-month period, I don't know what your staff are doing and why we're paying for that staff and why asking for money to pay for it.
I have some cases that the minister, I'm sure, has been briefed on. One of them is the Schneider case, and there's a couple of others. The frustration is that I can't
[ Page 14633 ]ignored hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of psychological reports that were done on this particular case. Now we're out here asking for more money, when your cases, your own psychologist, told you that your diagnoses in situations were wrong.
So I guess my question to the minister is this -- it's a very short, snappy one, and we can get a quick answer tonight or tomorrow: would the minister agree to meet with me on this file in the next couple of days so we can deal with it, rather than have to go through a long harangue relative to why you're spending money in this area, so these kinds of files are outstanding and MLAs aren't getting responses?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I'd be happy to meet with the hon. member.
L. Reid: The Munroe group lists 122 different agencies. My question is simply: does CSSEA represent agencies above and beyond the 122 that are listed?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: CSSEA represents 567 of those agencies. That's 122 in the so-called Munroe group, 75 in the renewal/new certifications and then the 370 that are in the non-union community social services sector. The rest are the HEABC, the health-related ones.
L. Reid: Perhaps the minister could just provide this information in the next day or so. It seems to me that the individuals in question, members of the CSSEA organization, are reflected within the Ministry for Children and Families. They're also reflected through Women's Equality and through Social Development and Economic Security. Is this ministry bearing the cost of that low-wage redress across those three ministries? Or will those dollars indeed be found in Women's Equality and in Social Development and Economic Security?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: This is strictly for our ministry, the Ministry for Children and Families.
L. Reid: Then perhaps the minister, at her convenience, could provide us with a list of the membership of CSSEA, in terms of the reference in the briefing document, which said certainly CSSEA but 150 other community social service agencies. My understanding would be that those would not necessarily be 122 -- would not comprise any portion of 122 as outlined in this document. So if we could have a list of who indeed is on that list of 150, that would be helpful.
The comment I began this debate with this afternoon was around occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language services. The minister will know that when those services came to this ministry, they in fact were reduced. The number of children receiving that service was dramatically cut.
I want to leave the minister with the thought that the families of this province believe that their children have suffered as a result of some of these issues we're debating this evening -- i.e., compensation increases, etc. -- that in fact the dollars were taken from Peter to pay Paul, that the children of this province were robbed of those services to allow some of these other issues to go forward. The comment I will leave the minister with is that, frankly, they don't find that satisfactory.
Somehow the priority that was placed on those services when they were services offered by the Ministry of Health simply evaporated when they moved to the Ministry for Children and Families. They wish to see some redress on that question -- that indeed it's time to support the young folk of this province.
During the briefing, staff suggested, of the indirect costs of CSSEA's strike, $9.4 million: "The expenditure pressure results in the inability of the Ministry for Children and Families to fully meet all its utilization management savings, which were anticipated at the beginning of the year. The strike, subsequent agreement and ratification at the end of September did not allow any savings to be achieved."
There were savings realized as a result of the strike, and that was stated on the record in this Legislature. So is the minister, first off, aware of that? Secondly, what was the actual value of the savings that were realized?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes, I can share with the member that strike recoveries amounted to $2 million.
L. Reid: What is the value of the contingency fund for the ministry, which certainly did not allow the ministry to meet its obligations under the contract discussion?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The total value, as I understand it, was $110 million in the contingency vote.
L. Reid: One of the other comments that was offered during the briefing was that $3.8 million in savings was the result of a recruitment lag. It seems to me that's simply an acknowledgment that the services were not provided, that the staff were not hired. The individuals of this province who needed services across that spectrum simply did not receive the service. What the ministry is spinning in terms of being a saving to the taxpayer is a loss to the families of this province who depend on those services. Certainly I think the minister needs to be clear that the avenues which have been pursued up to this point have not realized benefit to the families -- a lot of shifting in the columns of the ledger but not satisfactory for the families.
I will end with the minister's comment of earlier, which talked about $14.45 being the base. Again, during the course of the briefing it was indicated to us that over the course of the contract, all agencies will end up with a $16.85 hourly wage plus benefits as the base. Which one of those sums is correct?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I'm sorry; I may have to ask the member to repeat the question. The numbers I have are for residential care workers and non-residential care workers, and there are two different wage levels for those two groups of people. It may be that that's where the two different numbers appear in the information that the member has. They're two different work categories.
L. Reid: I thank the minister, and I look forward to the estimates debate.
The Chair: Now we'll move on to the Ministry of Education. We'll have just a short recess while the minister comes with the staff.
[ Page 14634 ]The committee recessed from 9:09 p.m. to 9:10 p.m.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
On warrant 2.
G. Hogg: I'll start by thanking the minister for arranging for her staff to provide a briefing to us with respect to warrant No. 2. I note that warrant No. 2 was signed on February 10 and calls for $23.3 million and that those are to go into a Teachers Federation labour accord of $22.4 million and into an independent schools shortfall based on a calculation of about $900,000. Inasmuch as this was signed on February 10 and we've had a disruption in educational services over the past week in our schools, and knowing that the ministry does not provide the money to the school boards during the time of a strike or when a strike does take place -- in fact, I understand that the money for administration doesn't even go to the school boards -- I wonder if the minister could advise us how much money is being saved through the course of this labour disruption.
Hon. P. Priddy: Perhaps the member could help me better understand how that question pertains to the special warrant.
G. Hogg: The reason is that within this fiscal year there is a shortfall which the special warrant is compensating for. I appreciate that that appeared to be the case as of February 10 when the warrant was signed, but there have been some substantive changes which have occurred with respect to the demands to the ministry since that time. Therefore I'm wondering whether or not the warrant is still required because of the savings which are being generated as a result of the labour disruption.
Hon. P. Priddy: Member, it's a bit of a rounded figure, because it's a bit hard to do all that assessment. It's about $7 million a day, but we really won't have the final number till probably several weeks after the disruption started, when we get information from payroll about how many people may have actually been off on leave -- you know, sick leave or whatever that might have been. We wouldn't have any more accurate figures until that time, but it's approximately $7 million a day.
G. Hogg: Given the answer, which roughly works out to $35 million, and given that the request with respect to warrant No. 2 is for $23.3 million, I would propose an amendment to the schedule.
The Chair: I'm sorry member, but amendments are not permitted.
G. Farrell-Collins: I'd like to refer on a point of order relative to the proposed amendment by the member for Surrey-White Rock. On page 149 of MacMinn's third edition, there is a ruling from Erskine May on page 805, twentieth edition, where he says that it is well in order for a member to amend a bill by reducing an amount contained in the bill. That's clearly the case, and it's to be done in committee stage. This is being done in committee stage, and I would say that the motion by the member is fully in order, according to those rulings.
The Chair: That ruling, from my understanding, applies to Committee of Supply. This warrant has already passed, and the schedule is attached for discussion. So there is no permission for amendments.
G. Farrell-Collins: I don't want to quarrel with your ruling; I'm merely seeking an explanation of it. Perhaps the Chair can explain to us the citation he's using to make this ruling. It seems to me that the only authority in this province that can approve spending is the Legislature. We are doing that now. I know there is a process in place that allows the government, with special approval from the Lieutenant-Governor, to do it subject to ratification by the House. That's why we have this interim supply debate. If there's another citation on that, I would love to hear what it is. Perhaps the Chair can enlighten us.
The Chair: We refer you to the Financial Administration Act, which will explain this for you.
G. Hogg: I understand your statement that you're declaring my proposed amendment out of order at this point in time. Then I will ask whether or not the minister would be prepared to reduce the amount of $23.3 million to zero, given that there is a surplus to be generated in excess of about $35 million. I understand that the minister has the ability to modify and make that change.
Hon. P. Priddy: I'm not sure if the question was related to the last one. Is the question: would I be willing to amend
G. Hogg: It's my understanding that while the proposed amendment is not acceptable, the minister can withdraw that amount and take it off. That's the advice I've been given. If that is the case, I seek a ruling on that; and if that is the case, I ask the minister whether or not she is prepared to withdraw this warrant, given the details of the past week.
Hon. P. Priddy: No, I would not be prepared to do that at this time, because I don't think we have the ability to do that. If indeed we have savings that accrue as a result of work disruption, then clearly the additional amount that we would need would be less.
G. Hogg: If there are savings as a result of the work disruption, is it the practice of the ministry to provide to the school districts the funds which would be needed to supply the funding for the administrators and the principals who are working throughout this work disruption?
Hon. P. Priddy: Yes.
G. Hogg: I'll move onto the Teachers Federation labour accord. I think we received a good briefing with respect to that. But there are a couple of questions that arise for me from that, around the public policy associated with the development of it. Could the minister please advise me who in fact qualified for the early retirement incentive package?
[ Page 14635 ]
Hon. P. Priddy: The people who qualified were teachers between the ages of 50 -- which, of course, seems very young to some of us -- and 64. People in this age range were provided with an option to retire early with a bonus.
G. Hogg: Could you tell me the public policy behind this retirement package -- the intent which was being driven by this package?
Hon. P. Priddy: The public policy thinking behind this was an initiative to bring some balance, if you will, to the teaching force in terms of teachers who have been teaching over a long period of time and being able to bring new teachers into the system, so that you have teachers with a balance of both age and experience. It's to provide that balance to the teaching profession.
G. Hogg: I note that a former Minister of Finance said that this was a break-even financial item over the course of three years. Are there any savings to be generated outside of the three-year life span, or is it a break-even project throughout?
Hon. P. Priddy: There are no savings to be generated outside of the life span of that.
G. Hogg: I also note that there have been retirement packages in the public sector previously. This one is somewhat more enriched than the general public sector early retirement packages that were given, which I believe gave a five-year relaxation in terms of the age -- that being age 90 in the combination, which was allowed to be reduced to 85. It gave a five-year enhancement without the penalty. This one appears to be enhanced beyond that. Was there a need, in terms of dealing with teachers, to give an enhancement which was above and beyond that given to the rest of the public sector in order to achieve the public policy which the minister made reference to?
Hon. P. Priddy: Although this was arrived at between two different parties, in some ways, this plan actually mirrors the one that was done in the mid-eighties -- what people called the 55 and out. But in terms of the financial incentives for people, it almost mirrors that one.
G. Hogg: I think perhaps it almost mirrors it, but there wasn't the same pay-out incentive. There was the reduction but not the same degree of pay-out incentive associated with it.
I would like to move on to the questions with respect to independent schools. Could the minister please advise how the projections with respect to the enrolment in the independent schools are developed?
Hon. P. Priddy: It's a test for new ministers, to see if they can do it without reading from the book.
My understanding about how that is developed is that it's developed based on what the per-pupil ratio is in the public school system, if you will, within that particular district. How the actual per-pupil ratio is developed is by looking at the district in which that independent school is located.
G. Hogg: I note that in terms of looking at trends, the figures I have show that the annual growth in the independent school system was, over the past five years, 6, 3.4, 3.1, 4.7, 1.9 percent, whereas in the public school system it was at 2.5, 2, 2.2, 1.4, minus 0.02, minus 0.1 percent. We overestimated the number of students in the public school system, and we underestimated them in the independent school system. Yet the trends would suggest just the opposite of the projections and estimates we did. I'm wondering how we rationalize projections that I assume are, at least to some degree, based on the projections and on precedents and putting them in a historical context. The figures seem to suggest something other than what the ministry projected.
Hon. P. Priddy: I must admit that when I was a Surrey school trustee, we always thought the ministry underestimated the enrolment that would be projected, and we were sure we were correct.
As it relates to the particular one you're asking about, the enrolment projections were out, but they were out by only 0.2 percent, so they weren't out by a large degree.
G. Hogg: I appreciate that the enrolments may be out by 0.2 percent, but even if they're out by 0.2 percent, the reflection in terms of the numbers, the actual dollars that are reflected by that 0.2 percent
My next question would be with respect to the 600,000 in the independent schools amount allocation, and that is in the mixture of students. I have asked your staff to provide me with a breakdown of the student mixtures and would just like to get that commitment on record. If I can receive that sometime in the near future, I would appreciate that.
Hon. P. Priddy: Perhaps we could just pass it across the Legislature to you. We have it here for you.
G. Hogg: That's a delightful and quick response. I have no further questions.
The Chair: We'll now move on to the Ministry of Forests. We'll take a momentary recess until the Minister of Forests and staff arrive.
The committee recessed from 9:28 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
The Chair: The committee will proceed -- Ministry of Forests warrants.
On warrant 4.
G. Abbott: The discussion here will focus on the $22 million in special warrants for the Ministry of Forests: $15 million for a bridge program and $7 million for a beetle management program.
[ Page 14636 ]I want to thank the ministry for arranging a briefing earlier. My first question is, I think, of a straightforward character. I would have asked it earlier had I had the particular document in question.
For my information
Hon. J. Doyle: Yes, you're right. It's the same $7 million, member.
G. Abbott: So is there a particular reason, then, why there is a $7 million special warrant for the Ministry of Forests, when it would appear from the news release that there should be a special warrant for $5.5 million for Forests and $1.5 million for Environment, Lands and Parks?
Hon. J. Doyle: Member, maybe I misunderstood your first question somewhat. It was $7 million, the warrant: $5.5 million for the Ministry of Forests and $1.5 million for the Ministry of Environment.
G. Abbott: So this is a special warrant of $7 million in the Ministry of Forests, but in fact $1.5 million of that warrant is for the Ministry of Environment. Is that correct? Why is it being done this way?
Hon. J. Doyle: Hon. member, the reason it was done this way is that the Ministry of Forests has the experts when it comes to beetles, so we were getting the $1.5 million. That's why.
G. Abbott: So the answer to the question is that it is $7 million -- that the entire $7 million will be expended by the Ministry of Forests, but $1.5 million of that will be expended in the parks area, where it's within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. That's the clarification?
Hon. J. Doyle: The $1.5 million will be used to survey the park area, member.
G. Abbott: I thank the minister for that clarification.
The next document that I want to reference is the news release from the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Relations, which basically outlines the rationale behind the special warrants. It's entitled, for the minister's information, "Special Warrants Reflect Public Priorities." At the bottom of the first page of that news release there is a brief reference to the special warrant for the Ministry of Forests and a reason: "Unanticipated costs to manage a major bark beetle infestation ($7 million) and rehabilitate bridges on Forest Service roads ($15 million)."
Could the minister clarify for me what exactly is meant here by "unanticipated"? Does the ministry
Hon. J. Doyle: The reason for the application for the additional money is that we didn't know the extent of the problem. That's why we had to go to get the additional money.
G. Abbott: The minister responds that the ministry was unaware of the extent of the problem, therefore the special warrant was necessary. I certainly want to explore that point in some detail here presently.
The second clarification, though, that I would like before I pursue that is: does the term "unanticipated" apply -- in this explanation from the Ministry of Finance -- to the rehabilitation of bridges on Forest Service roads as well?
Hon. J. Doyle: The reason that it was unanticipated was that for the preceding years, the moneys had come from FRBC. This year the moneys weren't available in FRBC, so I had to go to other sources for the money.
G. Abbott: Is the minister saying that the reason we are here tonight debating the expenditure of $15 million in special warrants for roads is because FRBC is no longer providing those funds?
Hon. J. Doyle: The reason we're here tonight is because the money was for roads. Excuse me -- the moneys were for bridges. That's why we're here tonight.
G. Abbott: I had actually worked that out myself -- that it was for bridges. The point I was attempting to elicit from the minister is this: the $15 million that we are authorizing -- or perhaps will authorize later tonight -- in special warrants for bridges is very much a direct consequence of FRBC's refusal to continue to fund the off-load of the bridges responsibility from the Ministry of Forests. Is that not correct?
Hon. J. Doyle: The reason that FRBC didn't fund this this year was anticipated revenues. With the turn-down in the forest sector, there was less revenue going to Forest Renewal, so they couldn't fund this. They had to get back to what is their job in other areas of forestry.
G. Abbott: Again, I think it will be important for us to explore a little bit more why this situation occurred, because that is an important point that we need to understand: why we end up in situations like we're in tonight.
Just to clarify a point, though, I think it would be fair to say -- I don't want to make light of it -- that the reason why we are undertaking these special warrants is because the Ministry of Forests has authority and responsibility with respect to the very important issues of maintaining Forest Service roads and bridges and a very important responsibility around forest health. Will the minister acknowledge for me tonight that the two items that form the special warrants are in fact core responsibilities of the Ministry of Forests under the statutes and regulations of the province of British Columbia?
[ Page 14637 ]
[E. Gillespie in the chair.]
Hon. J. Doyle: The reason, hon. member, was that we had insufficient money in the base budget to do the works. So that's why we had to go to get the special warrants.
G. Abbott: Again, with all due respect to the minister, I'd pretty much sorted out that you didn't have sufficient money in the base budget -- or we wouldn't be here, actually. So I think that's, again, pretty much a given. The question I had was: are these items that form the special warrants core responsibilities of the Ministry of Forests under the statutes of the province of British Columbia?
Hon. J. Doyle: The ministry has a core responsibility for bark beetle and a core responsibility for roads and bridges. There wasn't enough money in the base budget, as you mentioned a minute ago, to do the works that we had to do because of the enormity of the problem that we had.
G. Abbott: I am proceeding to make a point here, hon. Chair, and hopefully the minister can bear with me for a minute so we can get there. These are core responsibilities of the Ministry of Forests: forest health and bridges. Prior to the inception of Forest Renewal B.C., there were annual line elements in Ministry of Forests budgets related to those things. Those declined when responsibility for those things, or at least much of the financial responsibility for those things, was shifted to FRBC.
My point, again, is that these are core responsibilities of the Ministry of Forests. For a time, they were off-loaded onto Forest Renewal B.C. When Forest Renewal's funding base declined, with the change in the stumpage rates in 1998, they were no longer willing to continue the funding of those. As a consequence, we find ourselves today dealing with special warrants for these particular core responsibilities of the Ministry of Forests, because FRBC can no longer fund them. Is that a fair summary of the source of the problem here?
Hon. J. Doyle: Because of the enormity of the problem that we found ourselves in with the beetle infestation last year, it was bigger than we could handle in our base budget. We didn't anticipate this enormity of a problem because in normal years it hadn't been as bad a problem, when the winter has been colder. So suddenly our base budget wasn't able to handle it, so we had to get special warrants.
G. Abbott: Again, I don't dispute the response from the minister. Again, I was trying to get at the reasons why, despite these being core responsibilities of the ministry, they had not been fully funded by the ministry for a number of years because a portion of those responsibilities had been off-loaded onto Forest Renewal B.C. I sense that the minister is not going to give me that straightforward acknowledgement that that is indeed the core of the problem here. And rather than have long pauses as we wait here to hear the answers, I would rather proceed. But I think the point is an important one; that that is precisely why we are dealing with this tonight. Can the minister advise me -- because we haven't seen the detailed breakdown of the Ministry of Forests budget for 2000-2001 -- are the line items for forest health and for bridge replacement consistent with the numbers in these special warrants? Or are they higher, lower, whatever?
Hon. J. Doyle: I'd like to ask for clarification from the member across the floor. I thought they were here tonight talking about the special warrants for '99-2000. Is that right? You asked a question to do with 2000-2001?
G. Abbott: Just for the edification of the minister, what I would like to see is some evidence that the ministry is in fact in its current budget acknowledging that it has core responsibilities with respect to forest health and with respect to bridge replacement. In fact, they have made provision for those responsibilities in their current budget, so that we don't find ourselves back here one year from today providing more special warrants for the ministry.
Hon. J. Doyle: For the 2000-2001 budget, the ministry has made provision for roads and for forest health to the best of our ability to estimate what the problems will be in the year upcoming.
G. Abbott: I'm relieved to hear that, and could the minister provide us with the figures of what those are going to be?
Hon. J. Doyle: It's my opinion that we're here tonight talking on the '99-2000 year special warrants for this year. That's what we're talking about tonight, not about next year's budget.
G. Abbott: Again, I'm not going to pursue this particular point. Obviously there is small reluctance, at least on the part of the minister, to share the magnitude of the government's proposed expenditures in the current budget -- and that's fine. We don't have to pursue that tonight. I just understood from some of the comments of the Premier that we were entering a new era of glasnost in this institution, effectively, where we would have a new openness with respect to these kinds of issues. Apparently glasnost doesn't extend yet to the chamber. But that's fine. We'll move on. It's not central to my concern to do that.
I want to reference next a document
The Chair: Members, before I acknowledge the minister, could I please remind people that we will have one debate in this House.
Hon. J. Doyle: As far as the new way of doing things in this House, maybe when we do the 2000-2001 estimates, we could both sit in the middle of the floor together, hon. member. That would be a good sign of the new move in this House.
[ Page 14638 ]But as far as the ministry anticipating the problem, we don't know for some time after the beetles fly just what the problem will be. We became aware that we had a massive problem when it was too late to put the moneys in the budget for this year.
G. Abbott: Again, the point is that there was -- I don't have the figures in front of me; staff advised me of this earlier today -- a few million that the Ministry of Forests had put forward to deal with what was expected to be a substantial issue. Again, it's not at all clear to me why the ministry would not have anticipated the magnitude of an epidemic that we are obviously faced with in the province of British Columbia.
Again, to go to the background information here, generously provided by the Ministry of Finance with respect to this, there's not only the factual statement that we have large areas of old-growth pine and spruce that's highly susceptible to bark beetle infestation But the background information itself notes: "Recent weather conditions, specifically two mild winters followed by a very hot, dry summer in 1998, are the primary reason for the significant increases in bark beetle activity in British Columbia."
So it seems to me that obviously we're talking about mild winters in '96-97, another mild winter in '97-98 and a very hot summer in '98-99, all of which are ideal for outbreak epidemics of mountain pine beetles in the province of British Columbia. What is there that would lead us to not anticipate the kind of problem that we are facing here in British Columbia?
Hon. J. Doyle: There was $3 million in the base budget. We knew there was an issue, but until we do the surveys, we are unable to determine the enormity of the problem. It takes up to one year to determine just how bad the problem is.
G. Abbott: The suggestion I'm hearing is that the ministry anticipated they had a $3 million problem on their hands. We're now adding $7 million in special warrants, so the government has now concluded that they've got a $10 million problem on their hands.
The thesis I'm submitting here is that this has a lot less to do with not anticipating the problem, but it has a heck of a lot to do with FRBC stepping out of the picture and not providing funds for forest health. Can the minister tell me what FRBC has provided in the way of funding for forest health issues in the last two fiscal years?
Hon. J. Doyle: I have to say that we don't have those numbers with us tonight, but I will provide them to the member.
G. Abbott: I look forward to receiving those numbers, and I do know those numbers are very much comparable to the $7 million that's being added, through special warrants, to the ministry's budget here tonight. If I'm wrong, I expect that there will be some numbers rushed through the door for the perusal of the minister. If we don't see that, I think we can rightly conclude that the numbers are very similar to those that are being included in special warrants tonight.
Again, in terms of anticipating a problem, does the Ministry of Forests monitor forest health problems around the province so that it is not surprised on a year-to-year basis by unanticipated problems?
Hon. J. Doyle: Yes, we do.
G. Abbott: The minister rightly acknowledges that the Ministry of Forests does monitor insect forest health problems around the province. What did that monitoring program tell you in 1997 and 1998?
Hon. J. Doyle: The surveys that the ministry did told us that we had a problem, but again, we didn't know the enormity. We don't know what's going to happen at winter. If it's a cold enough winter, it takes care of the problem to a great extent. It wasn't a cold winter; it hasn't been, as you said, for two or three winters. It could've got cold last winter, but it didn't.
G. Abbott: The $3 million that the ministry had in its budget for '99-2000 -- the $3 million that was put in -- was put in with the anticipation or the hope that there was going to be a very cold winter that would eradicate a remarkably huge beetle problem that had been a product of, as this document acknowledges, a hot summer in 1998 and two previous mild winters. Everybody, including the Ministry of Forests, knew they had a huge problem on their hands. The $3 million was a reflection of the hope that there was going to be a cold winter. Is that what I'm being told?
Hon. J. Doyle: In 1997 there was not a big problem. In 1998 it started to become more of a problem.
G. Abbott: I think that's one of the reasons why this mountain pine beetle is frequently referred to as a cyclical problem, because it does grow exponentially, and it grows that way particularly when weather conditions are appropriate for those rapidly expanding populations. We had that in the winter of 1996-97 -- as this document acknowledges -- and the winter of 1997-98, and then we had a summer that was absolutely perfect for the proliferation of mountain pine beetle. Why would we have put $3 million in the forest health budget for 1999-2000 based on those factors?
Hon. J. Doyle: Well, 1997 wasn't a bad year. In 1998 it exploded. But again, it takes up to one year for us to find out how much damage there was.
G. Abbott: When the ministry set out the $3 million in forest health funds in the 1999-2000 budget, did it do so in the anticipation or the hope that those funds would be supplemented by funds from Forest Renewal B.C.?
Hon. J. Doyle: We didn't expect any extra money being needed from other sources.
G. Abbott: The federal government does a forest insect and disease survey annually. Does the Minister of Forests reference that federal insect and disease survey when they are dealing with forest health problems?
[ Page 14639 ]Hon. J. Doyle: The federal government doesn't do the surveys to the extent that they used to, so we don't get information that's as good as it was in the past.
G. Abbott: Given that obviously at least some in the Ministry of Forests knew that there was a big problem in 1998, the evidence is certainly supported by this. In 1998 the Ministry of Forests increased the Merritt TSA annual allowable cut by a million cubic metres in order to get out bug-damaged wood. Was that not a clear reflection of the concern or apprehension of at least some in the Ministry of Forests that there was a huge problem on our hands?
Hon. J. Doyle: Merritt had a bark beetle and a fire problem that year. The hope of the ministry was that by increasing the cut, we would take care of the problem.
G. Abbott: No question. Again, is that not a reflection of a huge problem that should have been addressed in the ministry budget with certainly a far greater commitment than $3 million?
Hon. J. Doyle: The ministry was aware we had a problem in Merritt. I didn't mean to say that we had problems in other parts of the province.
G. Abbott: Given that there was an obvious problem in Merritt and that there was an obvious and huge problem, certainly from '97 and on, in the Tweedsmuir area of British Columbia, why would the ministry draw any conclusion other than that they had a huge emerging problem here across British Columbia?
Hon. J. Doyle: The Tweedsmuir issue that you make reference to, member -- government didn't know the extent of the problem until sometime later.
G. Abbott: Again, I'm both puzzled and astonished by the answer. The suggestion here is that the experience of Tweedsmuir Park led the government not to anticipate that we had a huge emerging problem. I'm finding it very difficult to understand how the ministry that has a core responsibility for forest health in this province could possibly be just about the last group of people in the province to know we had a problem. I can tell you that even the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks had a pretty good grip on the problem.
I'll quote here from a memo from the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks dated March 2, 1999. It gives a good indication
Hon. J. Doyle: In the Tweedsmuir area, we knew there was a problem, and we were working hard to negate the problem, to try to control the spread. We had $3 million to use on surveys, and we realized it was not enough money to take care of the problem as much as we want.
G. Abbott: Was the minister's reference here to $3 million
Hon. J. Doyle: There is $7 million in the base budget for the ministry, and $3 million of that is into the beetle problem.
G. Abbott: So now are we onto the $7 million that's in the special warrants? I thought we started out with $3 million in the base budget and $7 million for special warrants, for a total of $10 million directed to forest health. Again I need some clarification.
Hon. J. Doyle: Member, there is $7 million in the forest health base budget; $3 million of that was used for beetles. We then requested an additional $7 million in total from the special warrants for a total of $10 million for beetles.
G. Abbott: Thank you for that clarification, minister.
The area adjacent to Tweedsmuir Park is also an area that has really been going through some difficult problems to deal with bark beetle. It's been the case particularly in Nechako Lakes protected area. There the Ministry of Forests, as I understand it and according to this briefing note, has been managing a beetle-control project for the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks within the Nechako Lakes protected area. Could the minister confirm that the ministry has been conducting the program for the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, and that that program up until the current fiscal year has been funded by Forest Renewal B.C.?
Hon. J. Doyle: We can't confirm, at the present time with the information we have, the source of the moneys.
G. Abbott: I can perhaps be of assistance here. The document I'm referencing is a Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks information note dated March 2, 1999. It was prepared for the ministry to provide an update on the Tweedsmuir Park pine beetle burn project and the Nechako Lakes beetle control project. It says: "This is the final year for FRBC funding to Ministry of Forests for the past beetle control project, and none is approved for '99-2000." It seems to me that that pretty much confirms there was a program, does it not?
Hon. J. Doyle: We know there were moneys for the beetle control program, but I'm sorry, I can't confirm the source of the moneys. I will get back to you with that answer.
G. Abbott: The minister doesn't need to bother. I think the briefing note is sufficient confirmation for me of what was going on. Again, what's the lesson we take from this? Clearly
[ Page 14640 ]the ministry either grossly underestimated or
Now, it absolutely should offend the intelligence of every British Columbian to have the suggestion that somehow, after the weather conditions we'd had for three years, there wasn't going to be a huge mountain pine beetle problem. Everybody knew it. I think I've been the Forests critic now for about three years. Every time I go out, I hear about the mountain pine beetle problem. I know the ministry's got to hear about it too.
Frankly, I think what we see at work here is a combination of that affection of the current government for the high-profile, photo-op, ribbon-cutting opportunity at the expense of the bread-and-butter core responsibilities of a ministry. If we don't address those bread-and-butter core responsibilities of a ministry, we are going to get deeper and deeper into the glue here in British Columbia. Clearly what we are seeing today is the very precious forest resource we have in British Columbia being severely undermined by a bark beetle infestation that, it appears, everybody in British Columbia knew about except for the Ministry of Forests.
Now, we know full well that they knew. I have a lot of respect for the people in the Ministry of Forests. They knew exactly what the problem was, and I think they just had a great deal of difficulty convincing the political masters that they should fulfil their core responsibilities here in British Columbia. Obviously they weren't able to win that battle. As a result, we're here tonight providing special warrants to the government so that they can fulfil their core responsibilities.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
I could go on for some hours, I think, exploring these, but I don't think there's any point. I think it's very clear from the discussion we've had tonight exactly what the situation is here. On the part of this government we see mismanagement, incompetence. Again, it's the same old story with this government: incompetence, mismanagement, a reluctance to embrace those core responsibilities that keep this province ticking. And that's most unfortunate. But I don't think there's a lot of point in continuing on with respect to the details around these issues. I'm not satisfied at this point that the government still learned their lesson.
I'm disappointed that tonight the minister wouldn't provide us on the opposition side with some indication of what kind of resources the government was prepared to put towards these problems in its current budget. I know we will. The minister can certainly expect that in our estimates discussion for the Ministry of Forests. He had better come, and he had better be prepared to defend the magnitude of expenditure of his ministry. I don't think any kind of excuse like, "We didn't expect it to be so big," is going to wash with this side of the Legislature or with the public of British Columbia.
Hon. J. Doyle: Forest health is a very serious issue for the Ministry of Health and for this minister and for this government.
An Hon. Member: Ministry of Health?
Hon. J. Doyle: Excuse me, Ministry of Forests -- talking about the health of the forest. It's a core responsibility. Ministry of Forests
The Chair: Now we shall go on to the Ministry of Finance.
On warrant 3.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The Ministry of Finance has a warrant to supplement vote 28, ministry operations, to provide funding for the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre project in the amount of $70 million. This problem arose at the end of September, when it became apparent that the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre Authority -- that the hoped-for agreement both with Consort properties, the project proponents, and with the federal government on federal participation -- would not come to fruition.
The options were to either keep the project moving forward -- or continue to negotiate both with Consort and with the federal government -- or terminate the project. In view of the unlikely outcome of success in further negotiations and the inherent financial exposure in that environment, the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre Authority recommended to the Premier that the project be stopped and the assets sold. That option was chosen and announced on October 5, I believe. Therefore amounts in this warrant which were part of debt that was going to be financed in this convention centre are an expense that needs to be written off.
I. Chong: I'd like to start off by asking the minister, in order that we establish the time frames
Hon. P. Ramsey: Work on the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre project was begun by Consort properties, if memory serves, in the first part of 1997. The Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre Authority took over in March '98 the management of the project and negotiations with all parties that needed to come together.
I. Chong: I appreciate those answers from the minister. They are rather critical in determining, when it's decided upon, that things should or should not be included in the estimates.
If the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre Authority had taken ownership of this project in March 1998, then you would expect the '98-99 budget or the '99-2000 budget to have some reference to that. But clearly in the order-in-council and
[ Page 14641 ]also
If there was no funding, then there was no anticipated expenditure and therefore nothing included in the estimates books. That contradicts what appears to have occurred, in that the authority took over this project in March 1998. So we have a two-year lag, and somebody wasn't paying attention. I'm just hoping the minister can enlighten us as to what happened, so that we can get to the heart of how this was missed in the estimates last year -- or not provided for -- and then we can elaborate further on the true cost of what has been expended over the last year.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The money to advance this project was a loan from the provincial government to the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre Authority. That's why the member can't find it in the estimates of operating expenses. It was a loan. Staff have informed me that it was noted in the accounting of capital expenditures in that way. To go back and talk about how the proposal was to be structured, the idea was clearly that this was a project that was going to go ahead. It was a combination of the provincial contribution, which had been the financing in part of the convention centre complex, and that was a large amount of money. The goal was to have a privately funded hotel -- that would be a significant amount of money as well -- and to have federal participation in additional cruise ship facilities there.
So the transactions between the province and the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre were in the nature of a loan, which would then have been paid off over time by revenues from the convention centre. Since there is no centre, sunk money into the loan had to be expensed and written off, and that's why we're faced with this warrant.
I. Chong: I appreciate the minister's attempt to explain how we have arrived at this warrant being established. As a professional accountant, I understand when funds have been expended or when loans are no longer receivable and have to be written off. I clearly do understand that, for the minister's sake.
However, what I have difficulty with in this particular expenditure is, first of all, that the loan that was made
Even though I don't see it clearly represented and disclosed in the estimates book, that still brings to mind the question -- or the answer that the minister provided -- that it was anticipated that this project would go ahead. That's why a loan was made; it was anticipated that this project would move ahead. You would get the loan recovered.
Well, if it was anticipated that the project would go ahead and a loan was advanced
So I am trying to establish a pattern. I'm trying to go back through an audit trail, if you will, to find out where we went wrong in this area and to ensure that it doesn't happen again, in addition to finding out the cost that truly was expended -- also to determine at what stages loans were advanced. Was it clearly $70 million that was advanced in '99-2000, or was it in '98-99, where there's an additional amount advanced? Is it an accumulative total? None of that is clear or fully disclosed in the estimates book.
In the spirit of the new minister's approach to transparency and accountability, I am hoping that he can provide us that additional information and shed some light as to what happened.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The staff inform me that a business plan is available if the member wants it. I thought that
Hon. P. Ramsey: I am glad to provide you -- and we don't have it with us in the chamber -- a schedule that draws on the loan.
I. Chong: Clearly you can understand, from the reaction on this side of the House, the fact that there is some cynicism about whether there was a business or financial plan made available to us on this side of House. I know members on this side of the House have asked for it; I know they've asked for it through Employment and Investment. We had asked for the business plan. If we were provided with a copy of the business plan, we would have been able to see the systematic drawdown of the loan, the maximum amount that was intended to be advanced, and we would have been able to canvass this thoroughly in the past two years in the estimates. Because we were not made privy to the details of this plan, even though I know members have asked for it, clearly you can see that this is what has caused the warrant to arise at this time.
I do welcome the minister's office supplying us that through whatever means -- because I don't know if it's in Finance, I don't know if it's in Employment and Investment, and I don't know whether it's in Small Business -- because I believe it has been requested through all those ministries and estimates over the past two years. Whatever ministry has this plan on its shelf, I'm hoping that the minister can dust it off and send a copy to our side of the House. Certainly we would still like to have a look at it, and see when that plan was established and determined.
I do know that other members will perhaps have questions on that, but I will ask specifically the question of the $70 million warrant. Can you advise whether this $70 million represents a gross amount that is being requested to fund the shortfall, or is it net of recoveries? If so, can you provide us the gross amount, the recovery amount, and what the recovery items are?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The gross amount borrowed by the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre Authority was $72.5
[ Page 14642 ]million. The amount of write-off is $70 million. We've had some recoveries. We may have more, but we're writing off what we think is the prudent amount.
I. Chong: Can the minister elaborate on the content of that $2.5 million recovery? As I understand it -- and the minister can correct me if I'm wrong -- some $72.5 million or $73 million, as we were told, was primarily costs associated with soft costs, professional costs, architects' fees and things of that nature, so that there was nothing tangible that could be sold. I am curious as to what tangible items were sold, which $2.5 million could be recovered from.
Hon. P. Ramsey: We've recovered moneys from selling the four moving walkways that were anticipated to relocate the SeaBus terminal to the Vancouver Airport Authority, actually. You may be walking on them one of these days. We've sold a significant amount of the pilings that were to be used, a significant amount of structural steel. The total amount so far -- and these are sales of tangible assets -- is $2.5 million.
I. Chong: I understand that there are walkways of pilings or steel or pipe and those things which are building materials that were sold to recover this. Can the minister advise, or are there any details in his staff's records, of what the original cost of these were, realizing that the recovery was $2.5 million? But was there a higher cost associated with that purchase cost -- ACB, adjusted cost base?
Hon. P. Ramsey: On the piling and pipe, we've been able to sell it for around 80 percent of the cost of acquiring it, significantly less on the moving walkways -- cost of around $3 million; sale for around $800,000.
I. Chong: That is quite a write-down -- from $3 million to a recovery of $800,000. It's almost similar to the fast ferry issue, isn't it? The cost is extremely high, and the write-down is significantly lower.
I. Chong: Yes. As the member says, we would have done better, perhaps, on the ferry.
In any event, I'd like to ask the minister whether, as a result of this write-down, these inventory items were
Hon. P. Ramsey: The member's telephone caller is correct. We have additional piling that we still have and are seeking buyers for. We anticipate being able to sell it -- the pilings particularly -- for around 80 percent of the value that we paid for it. In total, we have around $9.8 million in value left in that, so we should be able to anticipate additional recoveries. But we are not booking any of those in this warrant. We're being very cautious in trying to write down the maximum value at this point. If we get recoveries, they'll come back into general revenue.
I. Chong: That satisfies the questions that I have at this time. I know there are a number of members on this side of the House who have a few other questions, and I will defer to them at this time.
R. Thorpe: That $8 million or $9 million in assets that you have to dispose -- has part of that value been written down so that's carried now in the balance sheet as an asset? Can you clarify that?
Hon. P. Ramsey: We've assumed 50 cents recovery on the dollar; that's less than we've been able to do so far.
R. Thorpe: With respect to this project, I've also been advised -- and I'd like you to confirm the value -- of the inferior steel products that were apparently shipped in from overseas for this project and then had to be repurchased again. What was the value of that?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Staff informed me that the original order of pipe from Korea indeed proved to be not up to the standards that were ordered. It was replaced by pipe from Japan at no additional cost.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the costs, I've been advised that there is the potential of between $9 million and $13 million in consultant fees that are not included in this number of $70 million. Can you confirm that there is an amount outstanding for consultants and where those amounts -- if in fact they haven't been written off -- are hung up on the balance sheet? Or have they been expensed through other ministries?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Staff inform me that they've included the costs of all 125 suppliers, including all consultants, in this warrant.
R. Thorpe: I just want some clarification. Were there consultant fees that in the normal course of this type of project would have been included and capitalized in this project, which were distributed to various expense accounts in perhaps related ministries because there were budgets available for that?
Hon. P. Ramsey: No.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the requests for a business plan -- and my colleague has provided us with copies of the debate from June 16, 1998 -- as some staff will recall, there have been other requests made from time to time. When would the minister provide us with a complete and thorough copy of that business plan?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Would tomorrow do, or would you like it Monday?
[ Page 14643 ]R. Thorpe: No, it could be delivered tomorrow to room 102 in this Legislative Assembly. That would be very much appreciated.
With respect to the company -- I believe it was a numbered company that was established for this project -- has that company been wound up and put to bed?
Hon. P. Ramsey: It still exists -- B.C. Ltd. 580440. Obviously it cannot be wound up until this warrant is authorized and debts are paid.
R. Thorpe: Then, from the minister's answer, is it the intention of this government to wind that company up after this debate has concluded? Is that the intent?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The numbered company is simply a vehicle for getting a project underway. It's a corporate vehicle -- a legal vehicle -- for doing so. As we said when we cancelled this project, we think having a trade and convention centre in Vancouver would be a good thing. But we do not intend to lead on the next proposal. I understand that there is a very active group in Vancouver working hard on a new proposal. They indeed have, I think, recently received a report from an external consultant on the value of it. If there's an opportunity -- a new proposal comes forward -- we'd be looking at it hard. Obviously we have no decision to announce now about participation in a future project.
R. Thorpe: I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it, but based on what I thought I heard the minister say in this very assembly this week about no new megaprojects, I can't quite fathom why we need this type of vehicle. So perhaps we should -- everyone in this House and everyone in British Columbia -- note with caution that there's probably an intention by this government to engage in another megaproject using this numbered company.
With respect to the $70 million that's been written off here, were there moneys that had been expensed through ministry accounts in previous fiscal years? Or have all the costs related to this project -- all the costs from 1998 to date -- been gathered and capitalized net of salvage value for the sale of assets? Or have some of those moneys over that period of time been expensed?
Hon. P. Ramsey: First, I was a little surprised to hear the member's reaction to the idea that there might be a possibility at some time of having a trade and convention centre in Vancouver. I thought that the opposition was in favour of such a project at some time, but maybe I heard wrong.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Well, so be it.
As far as whether there are other expenses associated with this project and not included in the accounting that we are providing tonight -- not that I or staff are aware of. I suspect there has been the occasional staff hour on something or other associated with this out of a variety of offices here, but no significant work of magnitude on the items that are included in here.
R. Thorpe: Obviously the minister has not been paying attention. There is no one on this side of the House that said tonight, or in fact ever, that we were not for a convention centre in Vancouver. Perhaps now, when I get near to my last question, the minister would like to hear once again what the official opposition have said repeatedly: all projects should be based on a detailed, comprehensive business plan. I would have thought, after nine years of complete economic failure, that the minister would also have bought into the concept of a detailed, comprehensive business plan to make economic decisions. It's not your money you're spending; it's the taxpayers' of British Columbia.
So my question to the minister is quite simple
R. Thorpe: Let me see now -- former Premier, Deputy Premier, master of the fleet, in charge of the convention centre, Skeena Cellulose
R. Thorpe: I have a full hand, Diamond Dan. Hon. Chair, I don't want to confuse him when you get over five
Based on your expensive experiment -- yet another failed one -- can the minister tell the people of British Columbia, using that great tool called 20-20 hindsight: do you believe that a detailed, comprehensive business plan would have been appropriate at the beginning of the project, or do you still endorse plans as part of a write-off process?
Hon. P. Ramsey: We will have ample opportunity to debate Bill 2, which contains provision for business plans well in advance of any major capital expenditure. That's what I believe in, hon. member.
R. Thorpe: You know, it was a simple question, one that one would think, in this new era of transparency and accountability
The question is simple: does the minister believe that the comprehensive business plan should have been at the front end of the project? Or is he going to endorse business plans at the back end of a project which in this instance ends up costing taxpayers $70 million? It's a simple question. I believe the answer is fairly simple; I think it is a yes or a no.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I believe that business plans in advance of expenditure is the right way to go. This proposed project was cancelled precisely because the numbers didn't make sense: absent, participation from the federal government; absent, a willing and realistic private sector partner on the hotel; and absent, the agreement with labour that the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre corporation was seeking. Absent those, this did not make sense, and regrettably, it was cancelled.
R. Thorpe: You know, I've got a feeling the Minister of Finance has never developed a comprehensive business plan.
[ Page 14644 ]Anyone who has even read about comprehensive business plans would have known that there would be certain check-off dates, decision dates on who your partners may or may not be, and you don't start writing cheques forever and ever. So what the minister is now telling us, hon. Chair -- and we'll be able to see this in the business plan we are going to get before noon tomorrow, delivered to room 102 -- is that in fact their business plan said that they were prepared to gamble away $70 million of taxpayers' money while they assessed whether or not they had partners. That is what I heard this minister say.
C. Hansen: I guess we'll move on to some of the health issues. I don't know if the minister wants to wait till staff come in.
C. Hansen: Get rolling? Okay.
I want to start with the first aspect of the special warrants that are before us that involve the Ministry of Health, and that's the Kelleher wage arbitration decision. In this special warrant that we have before us is a sum of $104.9 million, which had to be added to the budget of the Ministry of Health last year because of a decision by Stephen Kelleher awarded in a longstanding dispute between the Health Employers Association and the Hospital Employees Union over the implementation of something that's termed in this document as wage comparability.
Hon. Chair, as I understand it, a year ago the minister made an allowance for this. They knew that this arbitration was coming down. They had anticipated that there would be retroactive costs of $32 million and that there was $13 million provided in the ministry's 1999-2000 base budget for what was estimated to be the ongoing impact of this particular settlement. I am wondering if we could start on this with a question to the minister as to how it was that the ministry wound up underestimating the magnitude of this cost to such an extent. We're talking about the final award coming in that was in excess of three times what the ministry had anticipated.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I guess I should make it clear to the chamber -- the member's already referenced it -- that this part of the warrant is as a result of an arbitrator's decision, an arbitrator ruling on a previously agreed upon provision in collective agreements for wage comparability to restore rough equality between HEU workers and GEU workers doing pretty much identical jobs.
HEABC's position -- the employer's position -- was that the benefits in those two unions were roughly comparable and all that was needed for comparability was adjustments in wages. The union's position was that wage adjustments, maternity benefits and additional payment in lieu of other benefits -- of some 75 cents an hour -- were needed for comparability. Mr. Kelleher's decision accepted in part -- I'd say in large part -- the union's position.
The employer's association, HEABC, as the member may know, subsequently appealed this decision. The LRB asked Mr. Kelleher to provide further reasons for his award. That has now transpired. The employer's lawyers have examined it. They believe and have advised the Ministry of Health that further appeal would be fruitless and that the best thing to do is to accept the award, which is of the magnitude that is reflected in this warrant, and get on with disbursing it to the affected workers.
C. Hansen: My understanding is that the decision that was made not to appeal further was made either yesterday or today. I'm wondering if the minister could advise us whether there was any advice to HEABC that came from government, from cabinet or from the ministry -- either the Ministry of Finance or the Ministry of Health -- with regard to not proceeding with this particular appeal of this very, very large amount.
Hon. P. Ramsey: There was no advice to HEABC from the Ministry of Finance. As the members knows, representatives of the Ministry of Health sit on the board of HEABC, but there's no advice from the ministry. The advice was received from HEABC's lawyer.
C. Hansen: The minister was talking about the desire to achieve wage parity between the various unions in this sector. I think it goes back to the Dorsey report, and it actually goes back to 1991 in terms of the classification comparability studies that were done. But at some point government made a conscience decision -- either in terms of the collective agreement or in terms of the health labour accord and the wording that was in there -- that they agreed with the union in terms of moving toward this kind of wage parity. When the Dorsey report was done in
Hon. P. Ramsey: It was '94.
C. Hansen: It was '94. The minister corrects me. Thank you very much.
But certainly as a result of the Dorsey report, it was no secret in British Columbia that the impact of this levelling up
Hon. P. Ramsey: Staff advised me that the start of this whole issue of comparability probably goes back as early as 1978, so it's surely not a new issue in labour relations and labour contracts in the health sector. This issue has been around a long, long time. Insofar as why it was not anticipated to be of this magnitude, I thought I said very clearly off the top that the employer and the Ministry of Health sit on the board of HEABC. Their position was that benefits adjustments were not required to achieve comparability and that the only thing required was wage adjustments. The union took a very different position. And while we may disagree with that position -- that maternity benefits, wage adjustments and other wage adjustments in lieu of benefit adjustments were need -- Mr. Kelleher accepted, in large part, the union's position. Legal advice is that this should not be appealed further, that it would be fruitless.
[ Page 14645 ]
I don't think I can say it more clearly than that. HEABC, on which the Ministry of Health sits, had a common position on this. They carried it forward into an arbitration. The arbitration did not go the way they had anticipated.
C. Hansen: At the time this language was written into the health labour accord
Hon. P. Ramsey: As the member says and as I've said earlier in answers, this issue has a long history. I'd be pleased to provide staff to brief him on all the various (1) collective agreements, (2) arbitrator's awards attached to a collective agreement and (3) subsequent awards based on earlier stuff that led to this final decision. It is not an easy trail to untangle.
What we are dealing with tonight, however, is the simple fact that the employer's position in which HEABC advanced at the table -- advanced to the arbitrator with members of the Ministry of Health sitting on the board of HEABC -- was not upheld by an arbitrator. They did have estimates of what the cost would be. The member has talked about those being built into the estimates for '99-2000. They were. Those were the estimates, because that was the position of what we assumed the cost of this comparability would be. Mr. Kelleher has taken quite another view. His award is binding, unless we choose to appeal. Legal advice is that appeal would not be fruitful.
C. Hansen: What I take issue with is that as we start down the paths that government does for what I believe are very political reasons without any sense of the magnitude of costs
I would contend that when this language was written into that health accord many years ago, nobody fully understood the ramifications of it and the fact that the taxpayers of this province are going to be facing such a huge bill today.
I want to just quote from a document from the Hospital Employees Union. This is a document that is dated September 17, 1998, so it is about a year and a half old. It's talking about the pay equity. I'll just read from this document:
"Pay equity adjustments worth $64.1 million in increased wages will be paid out over the next three years under the new facilities sector collective agreement, bringing the total of payments over the years to close to $500 million since HEU's hard-fought-for plan was first implemented effective 1991."
It was $500 million, and that, I assume -- in fact, I'm quite confident -- that that $500 million doesn't include the dollars that we're talking about here, because this is 18 months old. So we must be talking in excess of $600 million, maybe $700 million of additional taxpayers' money that had to go out to satisfy the pay equity decisions that have gone in favour of the Hospital Employees Union.
My question to the minister is: given that we had the $500 million-and-counting as of 18 months ago -- we're now adding considerably more than this $105 million, because that is just what we're facing in terms of the increase -- what else is coming down that could in the future cause unexpected additions to what pay equity is going to cost us, other than what is now on the table? My understanding is that this is going to be running us $45 million a year of additional ongoing costs in the years to come.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Now that the member has made his position clear on pay equity -- i.e., he doesn't believe in it, doesn't want to fund it, doesn't think it's needed -- I guess we can move on.
C. Hansen: The issue is not one of whether or not support for pay equity is there; the issue is how this government approaches it, whether they go
I want to move on to the other LRB decision that has come down: the decision to provide for parity between union and non-union workers that are covered under the community social services sector. Certainly there are health workers in that sector that are affected by that decision. I appreciate that it is not the majority of workers that fall under Health. Could the minister tell me whether or not this special warrant that is before us reflects the increased costs that will come out of that particular decision?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I've stated very clearly what the warrant covers. There are all sorts of other things going on in a variety of areas. This warrant covers what I've said it covers.
C. Hansen: Certainly this is an area that we will come back and visit in much greater detail when we get into estimates. It is an example of why it is that every year we see significant increases in the budget of the Health ministry of this province, yet every year we see health care in the province deteriorate. We start to realize where those dollars are going, and it's not going to patient care, as is evidenced by this.
We will move onto continuing care. This $6.5 million decision reflects an announcement that was made by the minister December 17 to increase funding for community care beds. My understanding is that most of the regional health boards
[ Page 14646 ]ments but was to be annualized at a rate of, I believe, $26 million per year, I wonder whether or not the department is satisfied that the regions were able to effectively use that money in those few months that remained in the current fiscal year.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The only thing I'd correct in the member's recounting of the facts on this is that the annualized cost is $22 million, which is included in the ministry's budget for the coming year.
Health jurisdictions were asked to provide plans by early January on how they intended to use the money. For the most part, the ministry is satisfied that they were detailed and that good use would be made of it. The regions are to report in detail on how the money was used by March 31.
C. Hansen: The day the minister made this announcement in December there was considerable confusion over whether or not this in fact was new money. The minister at the time made a comment that this was some new money and some reallocation of other moneys. I appreciate the fact that this reflects that the full $6.5 million manifests itself in a special warrant, reflecting the fact that this is new money.
I'd also like to read a comment from the Vancouver-Richmond region. They say that two-thirds of the $1.67 million that the Vancouver-Richmond health board will get immediately is money that had been frozen from the last round of health care cuts. This indicates to me that this may have been new money that manifested itself in a special warrant, but in fact it was making up for other moneys that, to a certain extent, did not fully compensate or cover moneys that had been cut out of the budget or cut back at an earlier date in the year. I'm just wondering if the minister could elaborate.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'm unable to confirm the interpretation of the
C. Hansen: I'd like to take the minister back to the context in which this announcement was made. We were seeing the health care crisis manifest itself in virtually every major hospital in the province, and we had serious problems in our emergency rooms. There's a quote that was actually made by Marshall Dahl, who was president-elect of the B.C. Medical Association at the time. He said: "It is a shame that we have to wait for a crisis to get a reaction like this." I think this announcement that we saw in December is yet one more example of the knee-jerk reaction we have to media coverage of problems in our health care system, rather than the long-term strategy that everybody in health care is looking for and waiting for from this government.
The Minister of Health at the time, if I can
Hon. P. Ramsey: That's an excellent question for estimates, and I'm sure you and the minister will have an excellent dialogue on that issue.
C. Hansen: I know that in terms of how some of these funds were allocated by the various regions, there are some particular issues in each of those regions. I am going to resist the temptation to get into them at this hour and, instead, save them. So I will spare the minister that.
I do want to move on to hospital equipment -- $22.2 million. There is reference here to, primarily, Y2K compliance, but it also indicates there were some non-Y2K-related clinical equipment needs that were identified. And then it goes on to say: "The need for new equipment funding was one of the key points identified in the Vancouver-Richmond action plan in December of '99." I am wondering if the minister could elaborate on what is referred to as non-Y2K-related clinical equipment needs.
Hon. P. Ramsey: During the events of last December which the member describes, particularly the hospitals in the Vancouver area said that there were two things they needed to help resolve it. One was assistance in long-term care; the other was assistance in urgently needed equipment. So the amount was allocated. It actually purchased some 94 pieces of equipment in 34 health regions. I would be pleased to provide the member with a full list of everything from an OR table in Creston to a radiology unit in Mount Waddington to an ultrasound unit in Quesnel.
C. Hansen: One of the issues raised by many of the health authorities around the province, when it came to the equipment upgrades required for Y2K compliance, was that the funding that was provided from the ministry did not include issues such as training of staff and purchase of new software that was necessary in order to make the upgrades possible. So what we found around the province was health authorities that were having to cut into their patient care budgets in order to meet these requirements. Certainly I have never heard an explanation from the ministry as to why the ministry was prepared to fund equipment costs but not prepared to fund the training and software requirements that went along with them. I wonder if the minister could elaborate.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The training of personnel on new equipment is one of the normal expenses that public bodies incur. I must say that from where I sit, I thought the Ministry of Health was very responsive to the needs of the health system for assistance in meeting the Y2K problem. I might point out to the member that other major sectors in public service -- the entire college and university system, the entire K-to-12 system, the entire internal operations of government -- for the most part did Y2K readiness and preparedness with no additional funding.
In the case of Health, because of the patient risk, $100 million was allocated to it. We are still, in some cases, waiting
[ Page 14647 ]for confirmation of what has actually been purchased. Training is part of what any authority is normally expected to do with its employees.
C. Hansen: I am not sure that many of the health authorities would be satisfied with that answer, because basically these are not normal costs. These are not costs they could have foreseen; basically they were stuck with trying to find those dollars from places where they simply didn't exist.
I will move on to the Medical Services Plan. I think many members of this Legislature have been receiving letters from massage therapists around the province, who are very concerned as to what they perceive to be a shifting of dollars from the budget that is available for alternative therapies into the amount that's available for physicians. I'm wondering if the minister could give us any comment on whether or not that in fact happened -- whether or not the clawback in fees that massage therapists have been facing for the month of March is in any way related to the settlement that is before us in this special warrant.
Hon. P. Ramsey: No, there was no transfer of funds from the supplementary benefits program, which includes massage therapy, to cover the costs of the new agreement with the BCMA.
C. Hansen: I want to move on to the issue of the debt service savings of $16.5 million. Just to read the description that we were provided with, the $16.5 million in debt service savings, resulting from slower-than-anticipated capital spending, reduced the total amount of the special warrant that was required. I think that on this side of the House, we would generally celebrate when debt-servicing charges come down. Certainly, if you look at the total picture in government, this is an area that is obviously out of control.
What I take great exception to, when you look back over the history of capital spending and health care in the last couple of years, is where this government's priorities have been. Certainly the fact is that if you go back to the 1998-99 budget, where there was $225 million allocated for health care capital, that year that budget was underspent by $72 million, at the same time as we saw that the fast ferry program funded during that particular fiscal year was overspent by $75 million. In this fiscal year, which is just ending this week, we see that the amount that was allocated for health care capital
The problem that we've got, and the reason why these debt-servicing charges are down, is because this government has not put a priority on the capital needs of health care but instead has put the priorities on the capital needs of other areas. If you start looking down last year, where in fact capital dollars went if they didn't go to health care, they went to the fast ferry program, and they went to all of the other projects that this government has as its priorities.
Even if you look at this year, if you look at all the other areas of capital spending, if you look at education, if you look at the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority, if you look at the B.C. Ferry Corporation and at the rapid transit project, all of those areas have spent to the level of their budgets. The only area in capital spending that this government has gutted, has slashed, is health care capital spending.
My question to the minister is: why is it that this government puts a higher priority on the capital needs of all these other sectors and puts such a low priority on the capital needs of the health care sector in this province?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I really do appreciate the chance to respond to this issue, particularly when the Liberal opposition put out some sort of allegation that capital money had been diverted from health facilities to the ferry program. I really took strong exception to it. That's simply not true; it is inaccurate. It does not reflect the reality of what occurred.
The Ministry of Health has had a problem, over several years, in actually getting the projects that they are authorized and funded to build, in process and under construction. This is not
C. Hansen: I find the minister's response a little bit distressing, because he's talking
I would like to ask the minister: given that this is a responsibility of his ministry, the Ministry of Finance, why is it that these projects are not getting underway in a timely fashion? Why is it that this government is making announcements? We've got press releases coming out of this ministry week after week after week about new capital projects, and then they don't materialize. Why is it that the announcements are made, if the Ministry of Finance can't deliver on the bucks and the projects?
Hon. P. Ramsey: More excellent questions for estimates, particularly after we get the report back on the capital review that I've ordered. One of the difficulties in health, of course, is that it is not as simple as the member says, and I think the member knows it. The actual funding of health projects is a shared responsibility of the provincial government, local health authorities and regional districts. That creates a level of
[ Page 14648 ]complexity -- the other things that apparently have hindered actually getting things underway. We are seeking to find ways of streamlining it. We will continue to provide budgets to get projects underway in Health and hope we can find ways of expediting them. But for the purposes of this estimate, the member is right: it's the underexpenditure in capital that has led to this savings in the ministry budget for '99-2000.
C. Hansen: I want to go back to something the minister said earlier, where he took issue with our ascertaining that these are in fact the same dollars. These are the same dollars. These are taxpayers' dollars. These are requests that go to Treasury Board. The ones for the fast ferry program get approved, because the money was already spent.
I have actually sat down with an individual who had to work through a health care project that was being administered by the Ministry of Finance. They talk about the micromanagement, talk about the nitpicking and talk about the inability to let managers manage and get on with the job of construction and get on with the job of providing a health care facility in this province. The controls that were put in place
Yet we have a fast ferry program that goes on totally without controls -- totally, just sort of saying: "Spend it; we'll figure out how to pay for it later." That's exactly what happened. Those are the dollars that got spent on fast ferries and were not spent on health care capital in this province. They have come out of the same pocket, and that's the taxpayer's pocket in this province.
I'm not sure that we're going to get much further on this issue. I certainly look forward to the minister's review. I would like a commitment from the minister that that review will be made public before we get into the Health estimates debate in this House.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Let me say it once and say it clearly for the record: there was no diversion of capital funds from Health budgets to ferries projects. That did not occur.
As far as the member's request that the capital review be made public, it certainly will be. Since I don't know when Health estimates are going to come up, I have no way of assuring the member that the timing will be that which he desires.
C. Hansen: Perhaps the minister could enlighten us as to when that review will be completed, then.
Hon. P. Ramsey: We're way beyond warrants here. The ministry staff have advised me they think they have about another two weeks of work with the consultants before I will have a report on my desk. I have not seen even a draft to date.
C. Hansen: Then when can we expect it to be made public?
Hon. P. Ramsey: When I receive it.
Schedule approved on division.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Bill 4, Supply Act (No. 1), 2000, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. D. Lovick: I move the House do now adjourn.
The House adjourned at 11:44 p.m.
MOTION WITHOUT NOTICEMoved by the Honourable Dale Lovick --
By leave, I move that the following Standing Orders be amended for the duration of the Fourth Session of the Thirty-sixth Parliament commencing on March 15, 2000:
2. The time for the ordinary meeting of the House shall, unless otherwise ordered, be as follows:
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Two distinct sittings:
10 a.m. to 12 noon, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Thursday:Hour of interruption.
Two distinct sittings:
10 a.m. to 12 noon, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
3. If at the hour of 6 p.m. on any Monday, Tuesday or Thursday, or 7 p.m. on Wednesday, the business of the day is not concluded and no other hour has been agreed on for the next sitting, the Speaker shall leave the Chair:
On Monday until 10 a.m. TuesdayRoutine Business
On Tuesday until 2 p.m. Wednesday
On Wednesday until 10 a.m. Thursday
On Thursday until 2 p.m. Monday
25. The daily routine business of the House shall be as follows:
Prayers (morning or afternoon sitting)
Introduction of Bills
Oral question period (15 minutes, afternoon sittings: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday).
Reading and Receiving Petitions
Presenting Reports by Committees
Motions on Notice
Written Questions on Notice
Proposed Amendments on Notice
[ Page 14649 ]Orders of the day.
The order of business for consideration of the House day by day, after the above routine, shall, unless otherwise ordered, be as follows:
MONDAY, TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY, AND THURSDAYPrivate Members' Statements
Throne Speech Debate
Budget Debate including Committee of Supply
Public Bills and Orders and Government Motions on Notice
Public Bills in the hands of Private Members
Adjourned debate on other motions
Private Members' Statements (6 p.m. Wednesday)
25A. (1) Every Wednesday at 6 p.m. a Private Member may make a statement, notice of which has been tabled no later than 6 p.m. the preceding Monday.
(2) The order in which such statements are to be called shall be determined by lot by the Speaker, before appearing on the Orders of the Day.
(3) The time allocated on Wednesday for statements and discussion thereon shall not exceed one hour, and the time for each statement shall be limited to 15 minutes as follows:
Proponent: maximum of 7 minutes(4) Private Members' statements shall not be subject to amendment, adjournment or vote.
Any other Members: maximum of 5 minutes
Proponent in reply: maximum of 3 minutes
(5) Statements and discussions under this Standing Order:
(a) shall be confined to one matter;Oral question period Friday.
(b) shall not revive discussion on a matter which has been discussed in the same Session;
(c) shall not anticipate a matter which has been previously appointed for consideration by the House, in respect to which a Notice of Motion has been previously given and not withdrawn;
(d) shall not raise a question of privilege
47B. This Standing Order is suspended for the duration of the Fourth Session of the Thirty-sixth Parliament commencing on March 15, 2000.
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