2000 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, APRIL 18, 2000
Volume 18, Number 24
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The House met at 10:09 a.m.
Hon. I. Waddell: I call second reading of Bill 3.
IMPLEMENTATION ACT, 2000
Hon. D. Miller: I move that Bill 3 now be read a second time.
I know that all members use logic and reason to arrive at their conclusions, and I'm sure that after second reading, we probably would obviate the need for any further discussion on this bill. But let me proceed to try to outline to all members what is contained within Bill 3.
Bill 3 reflects our commitment to a new, modern direction for the provincial economy, which means fuelling the economic recovery in the short term and strengthening business competitiveness over the long run. Bill 3 also reflects the government's balanced approach to the priorities of today's families: protecting health and education, controlling the deficit and cutting taxes.
The measures in Bill 3 reflect a realistic and sustainable approach to provincial economic development. The government recognizes the important contributions that small business makes to the provincial economy in job creation throughout the province. To further enhance the competitiveness of this sector and spur job creation, the small business corporate income tax rate will be reduced for the second year in a row -- tax cuts. On July 1 the rate will be reduced from 5.5 percent to 4.75 percent for a total tax rate deduction since 1998 of 47 percent. This reduction means that the tax rate for 40,000 small businesses throughout the province will be lower than Alberta's and the second lowest in Canada. No applause? [Applause.] Very good, coming from the minister responsible for small business.
Hon. D. Miller: A little slow
However, these amendments do not completely solve the problem. Only the federal government has the constitutional authority to require businesses in other provinces to collect tax on all sales to British Columbians. But together with the collection of tax at international borders introduced last year, it is another step in the right direction.
Preserving our environment is a major government priority, and Bill 3 includes two amendments to help address specific environmental problems. The Motor Fuel Tax Act is amended to exempt natural gas used in compressors to inject acid gas into depleted wells.
This exemption will encourage the injection of this waste by-product, which is far better for the environment then venting it into the atmosphere. I might add that this is another part of the second oil and gas initiative introduced into British Columbia. Members will have noted that the revenue projections in the oil and gas sector are indeed very bullish. In fact, the improvement year over year in revenue from '98-'99 to '99-2000 was substantial -- close to the $300 million mark. We expect that industry will continue with the initiatives, this being one of them, to provide increased opportunity for British Columbians and attract significant capital investment into that sector.
I'm very proud as Minister of Energy to speak to this issue, because we have also not neglected the environmental side of the equation in the oil and gas initiative. The $5 million environmental fund was one of the features of that initiative. This and other measures that we're taking -- pre-tenure planning, assessments of wildlife, those kinds of things -- are very much part of our approach in the northeast part of the province. We think we can have a healthy, competitive, thriving and expanding industry and, at the same time, take measures like these, which will go a long way to protecting and enhancing the environmental values in the region as well.
The Waste Management Act is amended to facilitate a tax-shift pilot project to help find alternatives to burning wood residue in beehive burners and unmodified silo burners. The amendment in Bill 3 will enable the rebate of fees and charges paid under the act to encourage those paying the fees to invest in projects which are in the interests of the environment. This power will be used to implement B.C.'s first tax-shift pilot project, which will involve rebating emission fees paid by mills which invest in value-added uses of wood residue. The cost of the rebates will be offset through increases in emission fees paid by companies that continue to burn wood residue in beehive burners and unmodified silo burners.
This pilot project is an example of how government can encourage British Columbia companies to take a leadership role in the development of new environmental technologies. In addition, government will consult with stakeholders about other possible tax-shift initiatives over the coming months and continue to look for other opportunities to encourage environmentally friendly practices.
The efficient use of provincial resources is also important in the new economy. To maximize the recovery of natural gas from wells prior to depletion, the fuel tax on natural gas used in compressors to extract gas from wells and transported to processing plants will be phased out over two years. The removal of the tax, combined with the revised royalty structure for low-productivity wells, will encourage conservation of this important natural resource while enhancing provincial royalty revenue.
The Property Transfer Tax Act is amended to address a technical legislative problem, which recently came to light as a result of new and innovative marketing arrangements. Under the current legislation, these arrangements could significantly reduce the market values of property for tax purposes. The
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amendments ensure that the tax will be paid under these arrangements on the same basis that tax is paid on more conventional arrangements. An additional quarter of a cent per litre of the clear fuel tax revenue is transferred to the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority, under the Motor Fuel Tax Act, to help finance major transportation projects throughout the province. This amendment simply transfers provincial fuel tax room to the TFA. There is no change to the clear fuel tax rates paid by consumers.
The balance of the tax measures in Bill 3 are relatively minor technical amendments to improve clarity, certainty, fairness, administration and enforcement. I would anticipate discussing these measures in detail during committee debate or rather, the Minister of Finance would anticipate discussing these in detail.
Moving along, the non-tax measures in Bill 3 include the following, as part of the government's initiatives to encourage the province's oil and gas sector. Boy, we're doing a lot of work in the oil and gas sector -- good work, really. I know that the member for Peace River North has spoken often about how he appreciates the efforts of this government in his region. The Petroleum and Natural Gas Act is amended to allow the Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Northern Development to enter into agreements with the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority to rehabilitate public roads used by the oil and natural gas industry in northeastern British Columbia -- again, a significant initiative that will clearly enhance opportunity in the Peace River. Access to potential oil and gas sites is very critical for the industry. Part of the money will be used to improve access, but money will also be used to improve the general transportation for the travelling public. The road conditions in the northeast have not been the best. We did indicate, two fiscal years ago, a significant contribution to northern roads. I believe half of the rehab budget at that time was devoted entirely to northern British Columbia.
This agreement is fairly unique, because as we sat down with the mayors of Fort Nelson, Fort St. John and Dawson Creek and the regional district and talked about how we could improve the situation for the north, looking at the kind of revenue that's now flowing to government from the oil and gas sector, we realized that we could take some of that revenue stream and apply it to the capitalization of a road package. In fact, this measure constitutes a road package of $103 million over the next five years, with some $20 million forecast to be spent in this fiscal year.
The opportunity for British Columbia is, I think, significant. Those members who follow these issues may have noticed some recent press about oil and gas opportunities in the Northwest Territories. They may have noticed that the new leader of the Northwest Territories, Mr. Stephen Kakfwi, has indicated that his government now is desirous of seeing the Mackenzie Valley pipeline reinstituted. That was a debate that we had, and my colleague the Minister of Small Business, Tourism and Culture was counsel on the Berger commission that examined the Mackenzie Valley pipeline proposal at that time. The decision at that time was to not proceed. But Mr. Kakfwi spoke at a dinner I attended in Calgary a week ago last Monday. He indicated at the CAPP dinner that he was, as a young man, opposed to the pipeline but that now, having gone through several years and some transitions
We think that the measures we put in place in British Columbia -- the Oil and Gas Commission, the one-window shopping -- are unique arrangements. The MOUs with the Treaty 8 bands, the environmental fund -- all of these provide, we think, a bit of a model that the Northwest Territories might have some interest in looking at as they assume more and more responsibility for their own affairs. It's clear, given the gas finds on the territories side of the B.C. border, that the opportunity for British Columbia is significant. We have been working with the companies themselves. We've been working with Westcoast Transmission. We've been working with people in the region to ensure that pipelines come into British Columbia and that we can provide the opportunity to enhance job creation and extra economic activity through measures such as stripping liquids out of gas and the like.
Very much a part of the roads package will be significant efforts we want to make in improving the status of the Liard Highway. The Liard Highway between Fort Liard and Fort Simpson is a major corridor for the residents of Fort Liard. That is their natural corridor with respect to coming down to Fort Nelson. We think the work that we're doing now really lays the foundation and lays the groundwork for, as I said, continued enhancement of the oil and gas sector, which I think is really in its infancy with respect to what it can contribute to this province, both in terms of the direct revenue to government and in terms of the quantum of the capital investment and the opportunities for employment and economic development in the northern part of our province.
We will continue to focus a lot on this initiative to work with the industry in a positive way to expand the economy which, as I indicated yesterday in my opposing comments on the budget speech, is in fact performing very, very well and is projected over the next decade to outperform every other Canadian province in terms of growth of GDP. So we're delighted, and I'm delighted as the Minister of Energy and Mines to be speaking this morning on behalf of the Minister of Finance but to talk about a particular initiative that came from my ministry.
In keeping with the government's financial restructuring plan for the British Columbia Ferry Corporation, Bill 3 forgives $1.08 billion in debt owed by the corporation to the government. Elimination of this debt will help provide the financial stability necessary for the corporation to get on with the job of managing the province's essential ferry system. This is not without precedent. I think various governments in British Columbia over the years have taken these kinds of measures.
Although I was a very young person at the time, I do recall W.A.C. Bennett and the British Columbia Railway -- again, a resource railway that I think has done a lot to enhance economic opportunity in the central and northern regions of our province. But it was not without some cost. Clearly in the past B.C. Rail, or PGE as they used to call it, incurred some significant debts as they expended the capital to expand that railway north to serve northerners, to provide opportunities in northern British Columbia. Ultimately, those debts were absorbed by government.
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I think it's fair to say that all of us today in this House appreciate the value of B.C. Rail. All of us in this House appreciate that having this commercial Crown corporation to provide those opportunities and services to people in the interior and the north
Bill 3 also extends the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority rate freeze for basic tariffs for all classes of customers from March 31, 2000, to September 30, 2001. Interestingly enough, B.C. Hydro's rates have not been increased since April 1993 and remain among the lowest in North America. I venture to say that many jurisdictions in North America -- many provinces and states -- would look to this kind of record with some envy. I don't think
While the industrial sectors have lobbied somewhat in the past with respect to moving to what they describe as a market situation, it's interesting to note that were we to have the market situation that some have advocated today, I very much regret to say that the ability of the Crown to take this kind of stand in favour of all British Columbians would be severely curtailed.
In fact, I suspect that the power rates that we pay in this province would be significantly higher, and that, I'm sure, would be criticized by many as being negative to the opportunity to expand our economy.
So we're very pleased -- an enviable record, I must say. No increase in hydro rates since 1993 -- it's a tremendous accomplishment and one we're very pleased to see in this bill today.
The Financial Administration Act is amended to provide statutory authority for doubtful account provisions and the extinguishment of debts owed to the government. This will provide the necessary authority for such things as the Kemess mine write-down.
I might add, by the way, that with respect to the Kemess mine, while it was regrettable that the former owner incurred financial difficulties in terms of the cost of the project and ultimately was forced to seek the protection of the courts, I was delighted to meet with the new company, Northgate, that is now running the mine. I met with them in Toronto a number of weeks ago, and I had the happy occasion to fly into the Kemess mine a couple of weeks ago on a return visit I was paying to northern British Columbia. I can tell you that the management team in place
Sections 82 and 83 of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act are repealed to make the liquor distribution branch consistent with other government programs which are fully or partially funded by recoveries through the Supply Act and the Financial Administration Act.
As I said, if we give a comprehensive explanation at the outset, I am sure that it minimizes the kind of questions that will be asked. It probably minimizes the length of debate in second reading. I hope I've been able to provide that kind of clarity to members so that they do have an understanding of the essential elements of Bill 3.
I now move second reading of Bill 3.
G. Farrell-Collins: I thank the Minister of Energy, Mines and Northern Development for his comments. I did note that his comments on those areas of petroleum and mining were far more comprehensive than his comments in other areas, and I thank him for his wisdom and his enlightenment also.
He started his speech by reading from his script, though, and made reference to how this bill protects health care, education and families and is going to improve the economy. I've been through the bill in some detail, and I don't think health care and education are mentioned at all in this legislation.
An Hon. Member: He said they were.
G. Farrell-Collins: I know he said they were, but they're not there. I looked; they're not there.
There are a few things that tweak around the edges -- some provisions of various tax legislation that may in fact make certain sectors of the economy marginally more competitive. And the minister commented on two or three areas where there is a pilot project on tax shifting, which is something the government has trumpeted rather loudly, but the song appears to be fairly short.
I want to comment on a few areas of this bill that give us fairly strong concern. This bill -- Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2000 -- is sort of a miscellaneous statutes amendment act for the finance sector, in that it's a conglomeration of amendments to 16 pieces of legislation through a broad range, from the Tobacco Tax Act, the Motor Fuel Tax Act, the Waste Management Act, the Social Services Tax Act
As I said, first of all I want to speak about a couple of areas that give us concern. Two sections of this bill -- section 44, which amends the Motor Fuel Tax Act, and section 88, which amends the Tobacco Tax Act -- fairly significantly amend the provisions for search and seizure. Some of it's good and some of it's bad. Currently there is no requirement for a search warrant to conduct searches under either of those sections.
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This act attempts to put some security in there by requiring a process in which search warrants need to be obtained in order to conduct those types of searches. It also expands the areas or the items that can be searched for and seized. But it leaves a gaping loophole that results in the act probably not being much better than what's there now and in some cases perhaps even worse. It says that if a peace officer has reasonable grounds to believe it to be impracticable to obtain a warrant, he or she doesn't require a warrant. They can act of their own volition.
I would argue that by leaving that discretion in its entirety with the peace officer -- that they just have to believe it to be impracticable to obtain a warrant -- we're leaving the door open, as if we hadn't made any attempt to change the legislation at all. Rather, it should be impracticable to obtain a search warrant before the peace officer has the ability to do a warrantless search. The requirement for that, of course, is that there needs to be some test beyond just that one believes that it may not be impracticable.
For example, a peace officer could be feeling a need to conduct a search at 8 o'clock on Friday night when, without even making an attempt to obtain a warrant, he could decide, "It would probably be impracticable; I probably wouldn't be able to get a warrant," or: "I don't think I'd be able to get a warrant; therefore I'll conduct the search without a warrant." I think that provision needs to be tightened up; we'll be talking about that more in committee stage. That appears in two sections of the legislation and gives us some concern.
One of the other areas that I have a concern about, again, repeats itself through various sections of the legislation. Section 13 deals with the Hotel Room Tax Act, changes to the Motor Fuel Tax Act, the Social Service Tax Act and the Tobacco Tax Act. In each of those provisions there is similar wording. What it does is allow or require
Previously, the legislation stated that it was an offence to hinder or obstruct that investigation, audit or examination. I think that's a reasonable thing to be in the legislation. One of the things that has been added with this amendment is that it becomes an offence to fail to cooperate. So not only can you not hinder and obstruct, but you're required to cooperate with an investigation, an audit and an examination.
I think that's putting the onus a little too far. Quite frankly, I don't know how you can compel an individual to cooperate. I understand that you can require them to not hinder you and not obstruct your investigation. But to require them to be polite and cooperative and do everything they can -- as I think it mentions in one piece of the amendment -- to help with the investigation is going a little far. I'm not sure that government should be putting that onus on someone, particularly if they could subsequently be charged with an offence under this act. So we have some concerns about that which we'll be raising. I know that my colleague the Attorney General critic, the justice critic from Richmond-Steveston, will be commenting on that a little also.
One of the other areas that gives me concern is, again, amendments to the same acts that I spoke about before. It appears, I think, in five areas of this bill. It changes the way evidence is measured in court, in that it says that if, in the absence of other evidence, the government puts forward its statement in an affidavit, the statement of the government contained in that affidavit will be proof that an offence has occurred.
Essentially, what that's doing is reversing the onus in the case of someone being charged under these acts. No longer are you presumed innocent, and the government is required to prove that you're guilty, but rather the government can make a statement to say, "This is proof that you're guilty," and then the individual has to try and find evidence and put evidence before the court to prove the government wrong. So it's essentially guilty until you prove yourself innocent. I think that is a fairly onerous provision to put in legislation.
I understand that it may make things easier for the government. I think both of those two issues which I spoke about -- the requirement to cooperate and the evidence requirements -- will make it easier for the government to obtain prosecutions and to engage in investigations, audits and examination. But the question isn't whether or not we should be making things easier for the government; the question is whether or not what we're doing here is right. In both those cases I have very strong concerns, as do members of our caucus, and we'll be addressing those in greater detail in committee stage.
One of the other areas that gives me some concern, more from a regulatory burden point of view and an administrative point of view, is the new requirement that essentially anyone collecting tax for the government under these acts will now be required to collect that tax and hold it separate -- in a separate account. I'll be questioning the minister in more detail on how he sees that being done. But if it's requiring people to open up an additional bank account and hold the tax separate before they remit -- and their whole other set of books, etc. -- then that could be a problem. I think the provisions that are in this act may end up being far more onerous than is required.
There are also sections in the bill surrounding that, particularly the Hotel Room Tax Act, but also in others, which now require tax that's collected in error to be remitted to the government. The idea there is that rather than having people, if they accidentally collect tax on someone who wasn't taxable -- rather than having the business or the individual collecting that tax -- retain those funds pending an application for a refund by the person who was charged erroneously, those funds will go to the Ministry of Finance, the government, to be held there pending an application. I believe the intent of that is not to provide encouragement for people, collectors of tax, to collect tax erroneously, hoping that nobody will notice, and they don't have to remit it to the government, and therefore they'll make some profit on it. I can understand that as a principle.
But I'm not sure it's a big problem. I'll be questioning the minister about that -- how big a problem it is, what the costs are. Is this an attempt to solve one little problem in one case by making everyone in the province, every business in the province, every collector in the province, every agent in the province, go through a very rigorous and onerous paper process in order to achieve that? So I have some concerns about that, and I'll be raising those also.
The minister mentioned one other item, which I think is going to come back to this House again and again, and it's an issue on taxation that is gaining prominence in discussion
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worldwide and that is how to tax the Internet. How to tax Internet sales? It's a very difficult question that is being grappled with by countries from the United States to smaller countries, from provinces, states and jurisdictions right across the globe. People are trying to deal with it in different ways. Many people, particularly those that are in the e-business, would advocate that there shouldn't be a sales tax on sales over the Internet. Obviously domestic retailers in this province, for example, would feel that that was unfair.
The government has included in this bill amendments to the Social Service Tax Act that would require anyone selling products to someone who lives in British Columbia to collect the tax from the person who lives in British Columbia, who will be receiving those goods or services, and remit it to the government of British Columbia. I have absolutely no idea how the government thinks they're going to enforce that. They can put it here in legislation and pass it and put it in place. But to try and force a company which is perhaps located in Australia, selling who knows what over the Internet, to collect tax for the government of British Columbia is going to be impossible to do.
While I think I understand what the government is trying to do, they're fooling themselves if they think they are actually going to achieve it. Rather than put something like this in legislation at this point with no hope of actually enforcing it, I think it would be better to try and certainly work with the other provinces and the federal government to at least find something that works within Canada. It certainly should be part of the ongoing negotiations that are taking place right now in the United States between the government there and the 50 states.
It's a very complex issue; it's very complicated. The only way any governments are going to be able to enforce it is to come to some agreement on how that's going to be done. I think it's a huge nut that's yet to be cracked, and I don't believe that the legislation contained in this act is going to go anywhere toward solving it. We'll be asking the minister about that, obviously, in committee stage.
I want to speak for a few minutes, if I can, on two other provisions of this legislation that have crept in. One is, as the minister put it, the forgiving of $1.08 billion of B.C. Ferry Corporation debt. The Minister for Energy, Mines and Northern Development made it sound like that was a nice thing that sort of happens all the time and that it's part of building a province. He recalls W.A.C. Bennett forgiving debt of the B.C. Rail Company. Of course, B.C. Rail was built to help to reinvigorate the interior of the province and create some transportation infrastructure to get goods to market and people into the interior.
The difference is that we put that money into B.C. Rail and that we have a product. The government forgives the debt, but the rail line's there, and you can move goods. You can get from A to B on the line, and in fact it continues to operate quite well. The problem with the B.C. Ferry debt is that we sunk some $460 million into fast ferries that don't work, that don't get you anywhere. You can't transport goods back and forth on them in any reasonable way, and British Columbians are left holding the bag. For the minister to characterize the forgiveness of the B.C. Ferry debt as just one of those things government needs to do on an ongoing basis to develop the province is a bit ridiculous, quite frankly. I think British Columbians know otherwise. They're aware of, quite frankly, the huge disaster that project has been -- the massive cost overruns.
The fact that British Columbians are now being required to pay for that in their tax bill over the next however many decades is something that the minister failed to mention, and I found that interesting because he is the Minister for Northern Development, for northern issues. He's supposed to be the voice of northern British Columbia around the cabinet table and in this Legislature. I find that interesting for this reason: previously that ferry debt was there on the books of the B.C. Ferry Corporation, and it eventually would have had to have been repaid by people using B.C. Ferries -- by B.C. Ferries getting its operations under control, getting its costs under control and managing to turn a profit and gradually paying down that debt over time. Certainly the government has taken a number of provisions, including granting some gas tax provisions to the B.C. Ferry Corporation, as an effort to generate revenue for B.C. Ferry Corporation.
The reality was that the corporation itself, through its income and through good management, was going to have to secure and pay for that debt for itself. Now every British Columbian is going to have to pay for that in their tax bill. Those people up in northern British Columbia, who may never have taken a ferry and may never take a ferry, are now going to pay for the fast ferries through their tax bill. I think it's patently unfair to northern British Columbians or British Columbians who don't use the ferry system very much, if at all, to have to pay for those costs, and that's essentially what's being done here. The money is coming out of the B.C. Ferry Corporation and is being put in a pile of big debt that everybody in the province is going to pay equally. Those people who use B.C. Ferries less or not at all are now going to be paying the bill also.
If I may, Mr. Speaker, I've been given a note from one of my colleagues, who'd like to ask for leave to make an introduction. So perhaps we can let that happen.
V. Anderson: On behalf of the member for Oak Bay-Gordon Head
The Speaker: Could you ask leave?
V. Anderson: Oh, leave to make an introduction. Sorry, Mr. Speaker.
V. Anderson: I would like to welcome 29 grade 5 students from Campus View Elementary School, five adults and their teacher, Mrs. Sarah Gifford. They are here today and have just come into the House, having had a tour, and are delighted to know they we're active and involved. Thank you.
G. Farrell-Collins: I want to add my words of welcome to the students. The member for Oak Bay-Gordon Head would normally be here for this debate, but she's in a briefing, so she was unable to be here right now. I know she would like to extend her welcome to those students as well.
The ferries debt is something that I think British Columbians are going to remember for a long time. The fast ferries
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are an emblem, a metaphor for what this government has done over the last nine years -- a perfect example of a whole range of policies that they've engaged in and the resulting cost to British Columbians, who will be paying for generations. It is a sad, sad commentary, I think, on the way this government has managed its finances over the years.
So I was intrigued when the member opposite talked about how this legislation was going to protect families and help families in British Columbia, because certainly those families and the young people that are going to be paying that ferry debt for a long, long time -- including the students who are here today, quite frankly
There's one other area in here that I want to comment on, and that's the hydro rate freeze. The minister trumpeted as if it was a wonderful thing, a great thing they've done for British Columbians. If I can give a little bit of background on the rate freeze, the former Premier introduced the rate freeze just prior to the 1996 election, I think, and its been introduced each and every year since. What's interesting is that the first couple of times it was introduced, it created a cap on how high hydro rates could go and set a ceiling beyond which they couldn't rise above. That, to me, was a rate freeze that you could argue benefited the people of British Columbia, the ratepayers. But what was happening, Mr. Speaker, is that as the months and years went by, in fact the energy sector in North America -- particularly the electricity sector -- has been deregulated and has headed off in a much more competitive direction. As a result, residential power rates and industrial power rates have been declining across North America.
Now, normally the setting of hydro rates would have been done by the B.C. Utilities Commission, an arm's-length branch of government that would hear submissions from ratepayers -- both residential and industrial -- and from B.C. Hydro itself and come to a conclusion on what the fair rate for hydro power would be. That's done because Hydro is a monopoly, and if monopolies are allowed to set their own prices, we know what happens: the cost is generally significantly higher than a competitive market would have resolved into.
So that was fine, this little cap that the government had put on the rate freezes. But what was happening was that there was growing pressure -- and just pressure -- to reduce B.C. Hydro's hydro rates because of what was happening competitively in North America. In order to prop that up, the government came in a couple of years ago and amended the B.C. hydro rate freeze act to put a floor on it too. So now not only do we have a cap on the hydro rates to stop them from going up, but we have a floor on them that stops them from going down as well. Over the last number of years the government has, through their hydro rate freeze act, artificially held hydro rates higher than they would have been if those rates had been subject to some sort of measure of competitiveness relative to what's happening in North America.
As a result, the government has been charging people higher hydro rates than they would have normally been paying and has used the benefits from that to obtain, through dividend, money from B.C. Hydro to put into general revenue. So when you're paying your hydro bill, essentially you're paying an increase in tax.
G. Plant: For fast ferries.
G. Farrell-Collins: For fast ferries now, for other projects -- for the whole list of megaprojects that have gone awry with this government. The hydro rate freeze act and the characterization that the minister put it in is, I think, a little bit unfair and unclear, to say the least. The reality is that they're not protecting British Columbians from a rate increase; they're protecting themselves from a rate decrease, and from having to actually deal with the reduction in revenues to government and control their spending and manage their projects better. I think it's important that people understand that.
There are many other sections to this bill -- a hundred and some sections. Sixteen pieces of legislation are amended, and we'll be discussing many of those in committee stage of the debate at a later day. I'll save my more detailed comments and questions until that time.
G. Plant: I want to make a few comments about Bill 3, the Budget Measures Implementation Act, particularly in relation to the themes that were identified in the early part of the remarks of the Opposition House Leader, who just spoke. Those themes have to do with the way in which this bill, across a variety of provincial taxation statutes, makes it easier for the government to enforce the collection of the taxes that it levies. I do want to briefly go over some of the ground that my colleague covered during the course of his remarks.
I want to introduce those comments by pointing out that British Columbia is a heavily taxed regime. That's a subject, of course, that we have raised on this side of the House on many occasions, and we will continue to do so. One of the consequences of living in a jurisdiction that is overtaxed is that it becomes harder and harder for governments to actually collect tax from the people who are supposed to pay it. There is a growing societal reluctance to co-operate enthusiastically with the government in its revenue grab.
This is a phenomenon that is certainly well known to people. Most often it's talked about in terms of the growth of black-market economies as a kind of sidebar to the mainstream economy. People start to live their lives and organize their transactions around and outside of the mainstream economy, in order to avoid having to pay the taxes that they consider to be excessive. There's a fine line, and it's not always easy to draw that line.
Anytime you see a government coming into the Legislature and, across a wide variety of its taxation measures, making it easier for government to collect tax, making it harder to avoid compliance and adding to the efficiency of collection and enforcement measures, then I think we're seeing, in some respects at least, the symptoms of an overtaxed economy and an overtaxed jurisdiction. We're seeing perhaps a government that is having a harder and harder time collecting the taxes that it is extorting from the people of British Columbia.
There are three ways in which this bill does that across a variety of provincial tax measures. They were identified as part of the remarks of my colleague in the course of his speech. I want to just briefly remind you of them and say a few things more about them.
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The first is the search and seizure provisions that are contained in this bill that relate specifically to the Motor Fuel Tax Act and the Tobacco Tax Act. Mr. Speaker, I'm sure you know -- and most people following this debate would know -- that the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is one of the most fundamental rights available to us as members of Canadian society. It's in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as section 8. That's what section 8 is all about. It says: "Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure." The courts have had to give content to those words, not just since 1982 but for a long period of time. There is a lot of jurisprudence that points out that there are different levels of protection, depending upon whether or not we're talking about the search of an individual -- our person, our body -- as opposed to the search of our property or the search and seizure related to the place where we do business.
There's also a range of important and appropriate considerations that come into play according to whether or not we're talking about the right that peace officers may have to search and seize us when they are pursuing the investigation of a real criminal offence, as opposed to the right that officials of the provincial government may have to conduct search and seizure or that peace officers may have when they are enforcing provincial regulatory licensing laws that are quasi-criminal but not perhaps of the same order of magnitude as the traditional criminal law that we find in the Criminal Code.
Even with all of those subtle variations -- and they're important subtle variations and gradations in the law around search and seizure -- I think the fundamental principle remains: we as individuals in society, in whatever capacity we are walking the street, have the right to be free from the unreasonable intrusion of the state into our lives. Any time the state sets out to compromise that right, I think it's appropriate that the state be put to a fairly high burden to justify its incursion on those rights and principles.
From the perspective of government seeking to enforce compliance with provincial tax laws like the Motor Fuel Tax Act or the Tobacco Tax Act, I can understand how the civil servants and the politicians inside a government can be strongly attracted by arguments of administrative convenience. It's so much easier to enforce compliance with an act if the obstacles enforcing them, like those basic principles of fundamental justice, are eroded or compromised or qualified in some way. I don't think that's a totally unfair balance. It's always a balance that has to be struck between some reasonable level of administrative efficiency and fairness on the one hand -- to ensure that the laws around the collection of tax can in fact be enforced -- and on the other hand the rights that we all have as citizens, as business people, to be free from intrusion and interference by the state in the conduct of our daily lives.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
Whenever I am faced with an example of the attempt to strike that balance, I guess I'm from Missouri in terms of being someone who views with suspicion and distrust the argument the government usually makes in favour of administrative convenience. That's why, when I look at some of the provisions in Bill 3, I am suspicious. I am concerned, I have my doubts, and I think, at the very least, that there are some issues here which need to be pursued in committee stage when we get to them.
I want to give one example of the kind of problems we're talking about. In the Motor Fuel Tax Act, the changes I'm talking about are found in section 44 of Bill 3, and they're changes to section 49 of the Motor Fuel Tax Act. They have to do with the circumstances in which a peace officer could conduct an inspection of a motor vehicle without a warrant. As my colleague the Opposition House Leader pointed out during the course of his remarks, I don't think that we are completely opposed to the idea of warrantless search or seizure, but I think it's important that we put some pretty good and clear limits around when it is that a peace officer can exercise the power of search without having to go off to get a warrant from a judge or a justice of the peace.
In this case, the provision that the government wishes us to adopt will essentially allow the peace officer to conduct that search where he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that the act was not being complied with and that it is impracticable to obtain a warrant. So what that means is that the peace officer has to have reasonable grounds to believe that it is impracticable to obtain a warrant. That focuses the inquiry on what it is that the peace officer knows or believes at a particular moment in relation to obtaining the warrant. And I think the proper inquiry is not around whether or not the peace officer had reason to believe it would be hard to get a warrant, but rather whether it would be hard or impracticable to get a warrant. I think that if the court is to be faced with a challenge to a warrantless search, then the inquiry should not be into what a particular peace officer had reason to believe or not believe, but rather whether, in all the circumstances, it truly was impracticable to obtain a warrant.
I should point out in this context, by way of analogy, that when you look at some of the provisions of the Criminal Code around the ability to search and seize without a warrant, you don't see this idea of impracticability in quite the same terms.
Section 487.11 of the Criminal Code talks about the right to search without obtaining a warrant if the conditions for obtaining a warrant exist -- that is, the reasonable grounds to believe that there is an offence -- but, and these are the important words, "by reason of exigent circumstances it would be impracticable to obtain a warrant". I think that is the right way to focus the inquiry -- that is, to examine the circumstances and to ask whether those circumstances are sufficiently urgent or emergent to warrant the search without warrant, rather than, as the provisions here do, focus the inquiry on whether or not the peace officer has a reason to believe that it might be tough to get a warrant.
I think there is some significance in that distinction, and I think it's important. It may not be what the government intends. Sometimes it's hard to make sense of the drafting, because there are different drafting techniques used. I am quite certain that it is the effect of the language used. But it may be that the government
I want to spend a little bit less time on the other two issues. As my colleague has pointed out, this act, in a couple of
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circumstances, appears to now require that
To explain how that might work, if the material ingredients of an offence under one of these statutes can be proven by an affidavit, then you have the unhappy spectacle of someone who wishes to defend a prosecution under those acts going off to court, and instead of finding that the Crown has to call a witness to prove the offence, the Crown just tosses a piece of paper on the table in front of the judge -- an affidavit from the official -- and says, "Well, I've proven the offence," and sits down. Then the defendant is placed in the position of having to essentially disprove the offence. It's certainly convenient for government. It means that the official who may have done the work doesn't have to take a couple of hours out of their life to go off and appear in court to give evidence. I think it's an unfair imposition that the taxpayer -- in this case, the person charged with an offence under these taxation statutes -- essentially has to disprove the ingredients of the offence.
By way of final comment on this particular aspect of the bill that causes me this concern, I would remind you, Mr. Speaker, that this is how photo radar works. The operation of the photo radar system in the courts creates these reversals of the burden of proof. I don't know about you, but I lost count long ago of the number of people who have phoned my constituency office and said how unfair it is that when they go off to court to try and challenge a photo radar ticket, they're faced with what amounts to a fait accompli. They feel, then, that they essentially have to take on the whole burden of disproving something. I think the old rules about requiring the Crown to prove a case generally should operate.
If there were just one or two of these provisions in this act, I'd be a little bit less concerned than I am. The problem is that this does seem to me to be a persistent theme of this act. When you look at a bill that says it's all about implementing the budget, and when you listen to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Northern Development talking in warm and fuzzy terms about health care and education, and what you actually find is a bill that really is largely about tightening up the enforcement mechanisms, tightening the screws on the taxpayers of British Columbia to make sure they can't get away with a single gallon of illegal gasoline, I think the real intention, the real message here is that this government is having a harder and harder time collecting its taxes, and it's prepared to change the rules in its favour wherever necessary, in order to ensure that its overtaxation regime operates with the fullest possible rigour. I have some concerns about that.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I'm pleased to stand up to speak in favour of second reading of Bill 3. I wanted to make a few general comments. Committee stage, obviously, is the area where we can get into some of the details, but I will mention some of the specific acts that are being amended in this proposed bill.
As my colleague the Minister of Energy, Mines and Northern Development began in his opening comments, this budget bill is about carrying out the commitments in the budget and the throne speech around supporting economic growth. There are provisions within Bill 3 to encourage small business with this lowest tax. There are provisions in this bill to encourage the high-tech sector, and of course there are some provisions in this bill that will encourage the green economy sector in environmental technology. That's in addition to the announcement of the $5 million in terms of the environmental technology development fund.
But I want to mention just some of the pieces of legislation that will be amended as a result of this act and why I think it's really an important step forward in that regard. My colleague the Minister of Energy, Mines and Northern Development did mention some of the amendments to bills within his jurisdiction related to the mining industry. I think it is important to amend the legislation around the exemption for the compressor tax and also gas reinjection in the mining industry.
In terms of the green economy focus of this government and looking forward to that greener global marketplace that we're all living within, part of the goals of the green economy initiative is not only to increase environmental technology and new jobs in communities all across this province in environmental technology but also to assist existing industries and businesses to be more competitive. Clearly the world trends are indicating that those sectors, those members within each sector, who take environmental leadership, who embrace innovation, actually will become more competitive not less competitive in that greener global marketplace. The suggested revisions to those pieces of legislation will help the oil and gas industry actually compete in terms of that greener global marketplace.
The other portion of this bill that I want to mention, of course, is the amendments to the Waste Management Act. The Opposition House Leader just mentioned tax-shifting, suggesting that it was a loud song but a short song from this side of the House. I want to assure him, hon. Speaker, that this government is very serious about utilizing the tax-shift tool as a means of encouraging the kind of behaviour, in terms of environmental protection, that I believe all British Columbians -- and I hope that includes the members of the opposition -- would really support.
An Hon. Member: Sing us the song.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Sing us the song? My hon. colleague here says: "Sing us the song." Certainly people on this side of the House have heard that song from me many, many times
[ Page 15043 ]
over recent years. I am sure that the opposition members, who have always listened intently to each word I and all of my colleagues have said in this House, have also heard that song.
But it is part of the green economy initiative to use the tax-shifting tool on a revenue-neutral-to-government basis to actually encourage innovation and environmental leadership to ensure that those companies, businesses, sectors, communities, individuals -- whomever -- who continue to pollute or waste resources actually pay closer to the full cost of that behaviour -- the full cost to human health, the full cost to the environment and clearly the full cost to future generations. Make no mistake about it, somebody is paying those costs, and it is us. It is our children and our grandchildren. And in many cases I believe that tax-shift thinking applied to environmental impact can actually reduce some of the need for government regulation, because clearly then the marketplace would be sending out closer to a more accurate signal as to the costs of the behaviour.
The provision in the Waste Management Act would actually make amendments to provide authority to make regulations respecting rebates under the Waste Management Act. As members in the House will know, hon. Speaker, we have had a discussion paper out for several months now on the use of the tax-shifting tool. It can take many forms. One of those forms is a rebate form -- and this is the first pilot project that it will be applied to, as anticipated in the throne and budget speeches -- whereby a sector such as the beehive burner sector would experience increased waste-permit fees, again to try to approach more closely the cost to human health and the environment of burning waste in this way.
Increasingly there are several options for alternate technology, including the incentive that we are encouraging through ethanol production. Those members of the sector who took initiatives to invest in alternative technology would actually get a rebate of their waste management fees. I think that's exactly what British Columbians have been saying for many years: the principle of polluter pay. Our commitment is to using the tax-shift tool carefully and incrementally. This is not a radical change in the tax system. It's using the tool to actually ensure that our tax system does reflect the values of British Columbians and the principle of polluter pay.
So this provision of the Waste Management Act that's envisioned in Bill 3 will facilitate not only the pilot project around beehive burners that has been anticipated, but will also facilitate other potential tax shifts. One has already been anticipated in the budget speech: innovations and initiatives pursuant to the aquaculture sector, to encourage closed-containment technology. Moreover, it will provide the framework for revenue-neutral rebate tax-shifting approaches to other waste streams permitted under the Waste Management Act.
With those few comments, I am pleased to take my place and encourage all members to support second reading of Bill 3.
Hon. I. Waddell: I'll make this short because I have a kind of allergy today. I'm tempted to make some comments about some of the earlier repartee across here about the Minister of Small Business, but I'll leave that.
I would like to point out again that this particular bill does recognize the contribution made by small business to the provincial economy and particularly to job creation. Small business is the fastest-growing sector of the economy. It creates the jobs in the economy, and this government recognizes that.
In this particular bill, on July 1 the small business tax rate will be reduced for the second year in a row -- from 5.5 percent to 4.75 percent. That means a tax reduction for 40,000 small businesses in the province. It makes us lower than Alberta and the second-lowest in Canada.
A new exemption from the provincial sales tax is provided for purchases of software used to develop new software for resale. This exemption will enhance the competitiveness of British Columbia's high-technology and software development sectors, which are growing areas of small business.
Further, I do want to mention that we have worked with the federal government to provide one-stop shopping for small business. Business people have told us that they want quick and easy use and access to government services. We have used one-stop business registration, so that entrepreneurs can use an interactive computer workstation at the one-stop business shopping centres. In 20 minutes, they can get all the information they need and register their business. Then they're off to the races, creating jobs in British Columbia. That's one of the reasons we have the fastest small business growth rate in Canada. We're very proud of that.
I'll give you an example of how it works. The entrepreneur can register for the provincial sales tax with Canada Customs and Revenue Canada for the GST and payroll reductions, with the registrar of companies to incorporate and, with Workers Compensation, to clear that off. As a matter of fact, the program was so good that the one-stop business registration program won the 1999 Public Sector Technology Award for innovative partnerships.
Recently, when we opened one in North Vancouver, Judi Ainsworth, who is the president of the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, said this: "The North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce is delighted to provide this excellent service to businesses on the North Shore." So we work with the federal government, and we work together with the chambers of commerce to provide some real access for small business.
This bill helps small business in terms of taxation. We help small business with one-stop registration and also with cutting red tape for small business. I think that is one of the reasons why we're beginning to see again the new economy in British Columbia -- propelled by small business -- really taking off. We're moving towards substantial economic growth in British Columbia, and small business is part of the engine of that growth. I'm very proud to be the minister of that area, and I'm proud of the work of my ministry in promoting the growth of small business in British Columbia.
Having said that -- I think we've made about three motions already, but just to make sure -- I move second reading of Bill 3.
Bill 3, Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2000, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
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Hon. A. Petter: I call second reading of Bill 8.
AMENDMENT ACT, 2000
Hon. A. Petter: The Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2000, contains a large number of amendments -- mostly housekeeping in nature -- to a variety of different statutes. I'll go through them as briefly and succinctly as I can.
Amendments to the College and Institute Act, the Institute of Technology Act, the Open Learning Agency Act and the School Act provide a legislative basis for the new British Columbia adult graduation diploma. The amendments also help clarify that the provision of adult basic education is within the mandate of colleges and university colleges. Consequential amendments are made to the Independent School Act and the School Act. The amendment to section 57 of the University Act will authorize the boards of universities to make investments that a prudent person would make, consistent with the authority of the university foundations under the University Foundations Act, as well as with universities in other jurisdictions.
A housekeeping amendment to the Independent School Act eliminates references to the B.C. College of Teachers' letters of permission. This simply recognizes the fact that the B.C. College of Teachers does not issue letters of permission to teachers who teach in independent schools.
Another housekeeping amendment to the School Act will correct a drafting error made in 1997 that inadvertently removed the power to permit persons to report their belief to a superintendent of schools that a child registered as a home schooler at an independent school was not receiving an educational program.
The B.C. College of Teachers has created a system of subcommittees to help manage the workload of the three statutory committees established under that act and to preserve administrative fairness. The Teaching Profession Act is silent with respect to subcommittees. The amendments to the Teaching Profession Act will explicitly permit the B.C. College of Teachers to establish subcommittees and will set out rules for those subcommittees.
The amendment to the Commercial River Rafting Safety Act simply corrects a typographical error.
Four housekeeping amendments -- to the Coroners Act, the supplement to the Coroners Act, the Pension Benefits Standards Act and the Public Sector Pension Plans Act -- correct minor drafting errors in the Public Sector Pension Plans Act, remove obsolete provisions that were consequential amendments to the Public Sector Pension Plans Act and improve administration efficiency for new Crown corporations established under the Public Sector Pension Plans Act -- namely, the British Columbia Pension Corporation and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation.
Changes to the Unclaimed Property Act, the Public Guardian and Trustee Act, the Estate Administration Act, Financial Institutions Act and the Credit Union Incorporation Act are housekeeping amendments pursuant to the passage of the Unclaimed Property Act last year.
Amendments to the Employee Investment Act will permit the Working Opportunity Fund to invest more than $5 million into any one business, remove the $10,000 lifetime cap on tax credits available to individual investors and allow investors to continue to invest in the fund and receive the tax credit incentive beyond the current lifetime investment limit of $67,000.
The amendments to the Forest Land Reserve Act will facilitate the merger of the Forest Land Commission and the Agricultural Land Commission into the new Land Reserve Commission and will support the initiative to regulate forestry practices on private land by ensuring that the regulatory framework agreed to between the government and the Private Forest Landowners Association can be fully implemented.
The minor amendment to the Heritage Conservation Act changes the current six-month limitation for judicial enforcement into a two-year limitation period. The two-year period will provide needed time for the police to investigate and for Crown counsel to evaluate charges under the act.
The amendment to the Islands Trust Act adds first nations to the list of bodies with which the Islands Trust council may make agreements respecting the coordination of activities in the trust area. Currently the trust council may make such coordination agreements with the provincial and federal governments, local governments, school boards and the Francophone Education Authority. This amendment provides a mechanism by which the Islands Trust and first nations in the trust area can consult and agree to processes in order to sort out issues and any potential areas of conflict before an activity gets underway. The trust council is already working on such agreements with some first nations.
Two provisions in the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 1999 that are not enforced are repealed. The provisions were superseded by a similar amendment to section 112 of the Estate Administration Act made by the Adult Guardianship Statutes Amendment Act, 1999.
The Notaries Act and the Provincial Court Act are amended to reflect the new titles of executive members of the Law Society in the Legal Profession Act.
There are several amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act: amendments to clarify the exemption period for new and non-resident drivers from obtaining a B.C. licence and amendments to clarify that the 90-day driving prohibition is to be imposed if someone has been caught drinking and driving and subsequently fails a breathalyser test within three hours. I should clarify this provision, because it's been the subject of some misunderstanding, I think. The three-hour provision relates to testing with respect to alcohol that was consumed and was in the person's system while they were driving the motor vehicle -- not, as some news reports have suggested, to any alcohol that might subsequently have been consumed.
Amendments to provide for the appointment of the superintendent of motor vehicles under the Public Service Act rather than by the Lieutenant-Government-in-Council are also included in this package. An amendment to standards regarding the transportation of explosives, resulting in consistent B.C. standards identical to all Canadian jurisdictions, are also included.
The amendment to the Traffic Safety Statutes Amendment Act, 1997 will remove a redundant section from that act.
The amendments to the South Moresby Implementation Account Act ensure that the proposed expenditures in the South Moresby forest replacement account, whose purpose is
[ Page 15045 ]
to offset the losses in forest-based employment due to the creation of South Moresby National Park, can be carried out over the next five years.
The proposed amendments to the Petroleum and Natural Gas Act will correct the definition, provide greater certainty for oil and gas tenure holders, encourage faster turnover of undeveloped provincial oil and gas rights, and provide efficiencies for industry and government. The proposed changes have been discussed with and are supported by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Landmen and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Land Administration.
Amendments to the Highway Act will prevent the Trans Canada Trail from being deemed a public highway by the courts. If the act were not amended and the Trans Canada Trail was deemed a highway, the province would be open to a higher degree of liability. This amendment supports government's previous decision to provide funding for the Trans Canada Trail project, while preventing the unintended consequence of transforming the trail into a public highway by so doing. The amendments to Waste Management Act repeal a redundant provision and clarify that the GVRD may delegate its functions and duties under that act to its employees.
Hon. Speaker, with that, I move second reading.
G. Plant: Bill 8 is entitled Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2000. I want to say a few things about what a miscellaneous statutes amendment act is.
This particular bill amends 29 different provincial statutes; it's got 73 provisions. It is a way, I suppose, for government to deal in an expedient manner -- all in one happy and convenient basket -- with a bunch of business that needs to done, from government's perspective, to keep the legislation of British Columbia up to date.
In the hands of governments that aren't perhaps as concerned about the public interest as they might be, though, it is also a handy opportunity to slip a few poison pills into the laws of British Columbia under the ostensible premise that all that's being done here is a bit of housekeeping. We in the opposition here over the past few years have learned to be particularly alert when the government stands up and says: "We've got another miscellaneous statutes amendment act. Calm down, everybody. It's just another happy piece of housekeeping."
Goodness knows, Mr. Speaker, when the Legislature has to sit and the government has to come in and correct a few spelling mistakes created in the statutes provision process that's now three or four years old, I don't think anybody here is going to stop the government from doing that. But we've had all kinds of experience where miscellaneous statutes amendment acts have been used as a way of kind of backdooring, if you will, significant changes in public policy. There was a particularly egregious example of this a few years ago, when the government sought to overhaul the gaming legislation of British Columbia and to cure retroactively every sin it had committed in that area since the dawn of human society by provisions that I think rightly attracted public outrage.
One of the things that happens with the use of miscellaneous statutes amendment acts is that the Legislature is encouraged to believe that this is just tidying up. "This is housekeeping" -- whatever that means in the context of changing the laws -- and we should all be happy campers and go along with it.
It occurred to me as I was thinking about this the other day, when I was reflecting yet again on the comments that are made from time to time by the new Premier and members of the government about the new era of cooperation, that I'm beginning to understand what this government means by the new era of cooperation. They will continue to govern British Columbia in the same old way -- the same old non-consultative, non-respectful way, with the same bad public policy.
What we're supposed do on this side of the House is just cooperate. That is, I think, what the new era of cooperation means, and we can be friendly about it. The government on the other side of the House can abuse the rights and privileges of British Columbians to their heart's content, but our job on this side of the House is to simply smile and nod and say: "Gee, thanks very much for doing that." It's only when we on this side of the House look at something and say: "Gee, we don't like that
Well, when I take that particular perspective -- and I must admit it is a sort of skeptical perspective
An Hon. Member: Cooperate.
G. Plant: Boy, let's just cooperate. Yes, that's right. Let's just be friendly. After all, it's a new era of cooperation. "Why don't you guys over on the opposition side just cooperate? After all, we are governing in the best interests of British Columbia" -- or whatever it is that the government says in justifying the things that it's perpetrating on all of us.
We've had less than 24 hours to look at this piece of legislation which, as I said, amends 29 separate statutes. It has 73 provisions, some of which even the minister opposite during his opening remarks acknowledged were significant and substantive changes to the laws of British Columbia. We're expected to pass it. What an absolutely ridiculous way to govern the province of British Columbia! I can't imagine a less useful and less constructive way to govern the province of British Columbia than to drop a bill on the order paper and 21 hours later -- even though it purports to cover 29 separate statutes of the province of British Columbia -- to say: "Okay, everybody, time to pass it; it's just a minor piece of housekeeping."
After all, you wouldn't want us on this side of the House to think that this government didn't have anything else to do or that it didn't have any better ideas for how to govern British Columbia. Here they come; this is the eighth bill. This is a big item, obviously an important item on this govern-
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ment's priority list, because we've been asked not to just simply read it but to pass it with less than 24 hours to even look at it. That's really the important thing.
This isn't about us; this is actually about the public. If I had some sense that the government had been out over the past many weeks and months actively consulting on and taking ownership for the legislative reforms which are encompassed in this bill, then I might say well, fine, this is about the public interest. It's not about my convenience; it's not about the convenience of my colleagues. If the government has gone out and talked about these things and got the public informed and educated, then maybe it's the right thing. Maybe we should just make sure that we do our job -- ask a few questions but give the government passage of this bill.
But I don't see any evidence that that's happened. After all, in the less than 24 hours since this bill was passed, already one issue has arisen for public scrutiny. That was an issue having to do with some changes that are being made to the Motor Vehicle Act. They are changes that are intended to make it easier for the police to use the 90-day administrative driving prohibition, by expanding the time within which someone's blood alcohol reading can be taken in ways that the Attorney General very helpfully explained during the course of his second reading remarks.
Here's an interesting thing. This issue was identified by the folks out there in the press gallery as they quickly read through the bill shortly after it was introduced yesterday afternoon. Who knows? Maybe they have that same degree of skepticism about miscellaneous statutes amendments acts that everybody else does. So people out there in the press gallery thought, as representatives of the public interest in what it is that the government is doing here: Let's ask a minister what these provisions are all about. Let's just find out because, after all, we want to know what the government's proposing to do here. It was the Attorney General who introduced this bill, and this is a bill about law enforcement matters. Let's go ask the Attorney General.
The Attorney General throws up his hands and says: "Well, you know, I introduce miscellaneous statutes amendment legislation, but this isn't really my bill. The provisions are the responsibility of individual ministers. The minister responsible for pharmacies will deal with the pharmacy changes, and the minister responsible for the seed-growers protection act will deal with the seed-growers protection act changes. But don't ask me about the changes to the administrative driving prohibition. Go ask the minister responsible for ICBC. After all, this is an ICBC kind of issue."
As I understand it, what happened was that the loyal members of the press gallery trundled down and tried to get hold of the minister responsible for ICBC. She said: "Don't ask me. This is the responsibility of the Minister of Transportation and Highways." The Minister of Transportation and Highways said: "Don't ask me. This is an ICBC matter. Go back and ask the minister responsible for ICBC." And around and around and around we go.
People say: "This is a government in disarray. This is a government that doesn't know its right hand from its left hand. This is a government that doesn't in fact have any control over the way in which the laws of this province are being delegated and developed. This is a government that doesn't talk to its civil servants, that doesn't consult with members of the public. This is a government that is totally out of control." I think there's reason for that concern.
So 21 hours later, the great machinery of government has wound itself all up because questions were asked. Questions were asked yesterday, and questions have been asked this morning. There were no answers to those questions yesterday -- good questions about the changes that are being made to what is, after all, quasi-criminal law -- no answers from anyone over there to those questions yesterday, no answers in the early hours of this morning.
Now, belatedly, we're getting some answers, and I must once again say that I appreciate the Attorney General ministry. The Attorney General himself sees the civil liberties issues that are raised here. He's decided that even if no one else in this government is prepared to take any ownership for a matter of law or public policy, he'll step into that breach; he'll step into that void. It's a big void; it's a big empty place. It's a whole room of people who won't take any responsibility for anything.
In fact, yesterday in question period we had the hardest time getting anybody on the other side of the House to stand up and even answer a question. What a remarkable display of leadership. What a remarkable display of a new vision for British Columbia, a new direction. The new direction is: "We won't even answer your questions." The new direction is: "We have no direction." The new direction is that none of the ministers have a clue what they're talking about. What a disgrace! At any rate
An Hon. Member: How's that for cooperation?
G. Plant: How's that for cooperation? Yes, and I can just hear it now. The members on the other side will be saying: "Oh, if only the opposition would cooperate, things would be so much easier. If only the opposition would just keep its mouth shut and not bring public attention to the disgraceful disarray that's so obvious over there
If you ask even the simplest question -- "What does this amendment mean?" -- you can't find somebody in the government who will answer the question.
Why would you table a bill in this Legislature in circumstances when not a single member of the government is prepared
Miscellaneous statutes amendment acts are a wonderful thing. They're a great opportunity to correct the many typographical errors that this government has littered throughout the statute books of British Columbia. They're a great opportunity to do the necessary housekeeping that does in fact need to be done from time to time.
But they are not an occasion to make substantive changes to the law of British Columbia in circumstances where there has not been adequate consultation. They're not an occasion to ram through changes to the law of British Columbia, as we're being asked to do 211/2 hours after the bill has been passed. That is not the way to start and chart a new direction for
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government in British Columbia. It's the same old bad way, the same old bad chart, the same old no direction, the same old no vision. Nothing has changed, and nothing will change so long as these characters on the other side of the House continue to sit in government.
Hon. A. Petter: In closing debate on second reading, I want to say that I've never seen the member opposite so animated or entertaining. If it takes a miscellaneous statutes amendment act to get the justice critic on his feet exorcising, imploring and invoking, then so be it.
That is reason enough to have tabled this act in this House -- in order to see the critic opposite in such full flight. Far from decrying that kind of response, I want to say on behalf of all members on this side of the House that I welcome that. I think it is superb that the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2000, has provoked that kind of reaction. In my view, that justifies the decision to bring it forward at this time. We can benefit from hearing the member opposite not only describe what a miscellaneous statutes amendment act should be but engage in a very entertaining and discursive discussion about how members of the press interact with ministers around the chamber. I think it was a very, very interesting and fulsome discussion.
It didn't quite go to the substance of the act, but I assume that's because the member, in his heart of hearts, really doesn't have a lot of difficulty with the substance of the act. When you can't argue the facts and you can't argue the substance, then of course you hopefully engage in something that's discursive and entertaining, and I congratulate the member for having done that very successfully this morning.
This act does contain a number of different matters that are purely typographical and clarifying. There are some small items that are appropriately included within a miscellaneous statutes amendment act, because they deal with small substantive issues. There will be a full chance to explore and debate those during committee stage, as I know the member is well aware. I am sure he as well as I welcome that opportunity, so we can give full scrutiny. Certainly that is the appropriate opportunity to explore in detail the effects of these provisions.
Having said that, hon. Speaker, I move second reading.
Bill 8, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2000, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. I. Waddell: I move the House now adjourn for lunch.
The House adjourned at 11:52 a.m.
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