2000 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, MAY 30, 2000
Volume 19, Number 24
[ Page 15957 ]
The House met at 2:07 p.m.
D. Symons: I have three guests in the House today: Bob Tai, Aaron Leung and Frederick Chan, who are here to discuss issues relating to property tax. Could the House please make them welcome.
R. Thorpe: I'd ask all members of the House to please welcome a guest of mine, Mr. Rowan Shaw, a University of Victoria student and a resident of Westbank. Would everyone please make him welcome to the House.
The Speaker: Hon. member for Port Coquitlam-Burnaby Mountain
C. Clark: Close enough. Do you need a teleprompter, hon. Speaker? Or maybe that's me. In the gallery today are Blanche and Marcel Juneau, more recently from Harrison but originally from our area. I hope the House will make them welcome.
R. Neufeld: Actually, it's a pleasure for me today to get up and introduce someone to the House who is new to the world. It's a first grandchild on both sides of the family. We have a very proud grandfather in this House. He's a great fisherman and is trying to figure out whether the boy is left-handed or right-handed, so he can buy a fishing rod for him. His name is Joshua Dale. He was born May 20 to Pam and Dale, and the member for Peace River South is a proud grandfather.
G. Campbell: Hon. Speaker, between May 26 and May 30 of this year, the national Reach for the Top championships were held. I'm sure there are people in this House who are probably old enough that they remember what "Reach for the Top" was when it was televised on CBC. It's no longer televised on CBC, but it is carrying on. I thought that I would let the House know that my former alma mater, University Hill Secondary School, won the British Columbia Reach for the Top championship, and they placed fifth in Canada. They have just come back, and I hope the House will give them all of their appreciation and applause for their exceptional accomplishment.
E. Conroy: An old friend of mine, Wayne Peppard, who's accompanied by Tom Sigurdson from the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades Council, is in the House today. Would the House please make them welcome.
V. Roddick: In March of 1994 the Globe and Mail's Gary Lamphier wrote: "
On May 13 of this year B.C. and Canada lost someone who raised the bar for agricultural achievement, with the passing of Geoffrey Vantreight. He was a prominent figure in the Saanich municipality, serving on its council and on its police board. As the flower grower behind the Canadian Cancer Society's annual Daffodil Day, he helped to raise money towards and give hope for the day when that horrible disease will finally be beaten. On behalf of myself and the members for Oak Bay-Gordon Head and Saanich North and the Islands, I would ask that this House recognize and show its appreciation for a man worth remembering and take this time to respect his achievements.
Hon. P. Ramsay presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Income Tax Amendment Act, 2000.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. P. Ramsey: It is with great pleasure that I introduce Bill 19, Income Tax Amendment Act 2000. This bill will achieve two fundamental goals of this government. First, it will usher in a clear and transparent made-in-B.C. personal income tax system. Second, it will legislate the tax cuts announced in Budget 2000. The proposed amendments in this bill represent a historic step in provincial income tax policy. British Columbia will now, for the first time ever, have control over design of its own tax system.
Under the new system, the rate of tax that people pay will be clear and transparent, because provincial tax rates will apply to taxable income rather than federal tax. In addition, provincial support to taxpayers through non-refundable tax credits will be clear and will reflect provincial priorities. In addition, Bill 19 will legislate the tax cuts announced in Budget 2000. British Columbia personal income taxes will be reduced this year and again in 2001. The tax structure will be indexed to put an end to tax increases resulting from inflation or bracket creep.
By the end of next year, a family of four with two incomes totalling $60,000 will pay only 5.4 percent of their income in provincial income tax, and they will save over $450 with those tax cuts. A family of four with one income of $40,000 will pay only 4.9 percent of their income in provincial tax, a savings of $433, and a single-parent family with an income of $20,000 will pay a mere 1.3 percent in provincial income tax, a savings of almost $300. Mr. Speaker, 100,000 additional low-income British Columbians will no longer be required to pay provincial income taxes at all.
These tax cuts will mean more money in the pockets of all British Columbians, and the made-in-B.C. tax system means that British Columbians can make their income tax system more progressive and ensure that those who need the tax relief the most get that relief. The transparency of the tax-on-income system means that British Columbians will now know exactly what proportion of their income goes to support social programs like health, education and child care.
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 19 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.
[ Page 15958 ]
AMENDMENT ACT, 2000
Hon. A. Petter presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Electoral Districts Amendment Act, 2000.
Hon. A. Petter: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. A. Petter: The Electoral Districts Amendment Act corrects technical errors and omissions in schedule 2 of the Electoral Districts Act. Last year, when the Electoral Boundaries Commission tabled its final report on June 3, 1999, the Legislative Assembly accepted the report without amendments. The Electoral Boundaries Commission Act stipulates that the government must introduce a bill to establish the new electoral districts in the same legislative session as the report is tabled.
Consequently, the Electoral Districts Act underwent extensive revision last year under severe time constraints to establish new electoral districts for the province. Unfortunately, due to the compressed timetable in which the bill was prepared, there were a number of errors made in legal descriptions of electoral boundaries in schedule 2 of the act. This bill amends those errors in those legal descriptions and ensures that the legal descriptions more accurately correspond with the boundary descriptions in the Electoral Boundaries Commission report, which was, of course, the intention of the original 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 16 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.
NEED FOR CHILD PROTECTION WORKERS
IN CHILDREN AND FAMILIES MINISTRY
L. Reid: Just last week the University of British Columbia school of social work graduated 53 social work graduates. Yet not one of those 53 individuals has applied to work for this ministry in the area of child protection. Will this minister tell us how she expects to hire more child protection workers when not one of this year's graduates wants to work for her ministry as a child protection worker?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I thank the member for the question. I would like to inform the House that the ministry is disappointed that some of the UBC graduates aren't coming to this ministry. They're missing a great opportunity. I have had conversations with several members of the faculty at UBC and other universities. I'm very proud to say that other universities are indeed sending their graduates to this ministry and other ministries of government. This ministry is working very hard to recruit new social workers and workers for our process and our system, and we're anticipating 130 new people coming into the ministry this year.
The Speaker: The hon. member for Richmond East has a supplemental question.
L. Reid: Let's be clear that we understand the problem. There's a 44 percent vacancy rate across the north. The fact that the minister is disappointed does not warm the hearts of families today who rely on that service. It's a huge problem -- a huge problem.
Perhaps we can move to a remedy. Individuals today have to pay $180 to take part in this pre-employment orientation program to be part of this ministry as a child protection worker. Will this minister today get to her feet and commit to assume those costs, to cover those costs for individuals who might work in the province of British Columbia as a child protection worker?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The pre-employment program is one that we are rather proud of, actually. In fact, this year it's going to be graduating quite a number of people. I gather it's about 40 people the first session and over 100 in the second. It is working, and it is a tool that we are trying to use in the meantime in order to help us get the qualified people we need in the ministry.
SALE OF FAST FERRIES
G. Farrell-Collins: On March 13 of this year the NDP stood up and announced that they would be putting the disastrous fast ferries up for sale at a cost of about $40 million each. We've obtained a copy of the Ferry Corporation board minutes for March 3 -- ten days earlier -- where there was a discussion of a report entitled "Beyond Pacificat." It says: "The potential for sale of the Pacificats is limited." Will the minister responsible for B.C. Ferries tell us why she didn't tell the people of British Columbia at the time she announced this sale that the chance of ever selling them was limited at best?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Sorry, hon. Speaker. I freely admit I don't know the document that the member is referring to, so I can't in any way suggest that the way he's interpreting it is correct or not. What I do know is that we are selling the fast cats -- later this week we will announce the company that will be managing the sale for us -- that we are operating the fast cats as we speak and that the ships are considered to be well built. Again, we admit that they're not suitable for the waters of British Columbia. We'll be proceeding in the most cost-effective way to get the best price for the Pacificats.
The Speaker: The Opposition House Leader has a supplemental question.
G. Farrell-Collins: It took three months just to try and find somebody who would even agree to sell them.
The same board minutes
[ Page 15959 ]
Hon. J. MacPhail: In fact, all of those factors were announced at the news conference at which the Minister of Finance and I announced the sale. All of those factors were recognized and have been taken into account in valuing the vessels. So there's nothing -- absolutely nothing -- new in what the member brings forward. All of that was revealed at the time we announced that we were selling them.
C. Clark: You know, the only way she's going to be able to sell these fast ferries is if she has a push, pull or tow sale. That's the only way she'll get rid of them.
The board minutes also reveal that B.C. Ferries now has a policy of "rotating the Pacificats into service on a weekly basis," so that an engineering crew can work through the defects on the weeks that they're not on. So in other words, the fast ferries are spending one week on the water in service and then the next week in the garage getting fixed -- one week on the water and one week in the garage. Can the minister explain how she expects that anybody's going to want to buy these lemons when they're in such rotten shape that for every week they spend on the water, they spend the next week in the repair shop?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Again, old news, hon. Speaker. Pretty soon they're going to have to find something else to focus on -- perhaps things that the broad public actually care about.
At the time, we also announced
The Speaker: The member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain has a supplemental question.
REVIEW OF THE CONDITION
OF B.C. FERRIES VESSELS
C. Clark: There must be used car dealers across this province that watch question period, see this minister and say: "Boy, I hope she walks onto my lot."
You know, the fast ferries are almost a joke. They're almost a joke to people around Victoria. But real people in British Columbia pay the price for the incompetence that this government has shown with the fast ferries. Take the people up in Prince Rupert, for example, who used to be represented by the minister responsible for fast ferries. This government promised that they would replace the ferry up there by 1997. There is now a 34-year-old crate still plying the waters up there, and there is no approved plan to replace it. Will the minister tell us
Hon. J. MacPhail: Hon. Speaker, about two weeks ago the B.C. Ferry Corporation issued their five-year capital plan, in which it was also confirmed -- again something that the Minister of Finance and I announced at the time we said that the fast cats were up for sale -- that the corporation, for the first time -- yes, for the first time -- had done a thorough review of the stock of vessels. Not to accept the industry's standard of one vessel having a 20-year life or a 30-year life or a 40-year-life, the corporation actually went in and examined what the real life remaining in the various vessels is, including the ship that sails to Prince Rupert.
The good news, again, has already been revealed about two weeks ago. In fact, the critic for the B.C. Ferries actually said: "My gosh, the Ferry Corporation got this right." That was his public comment; maybe he forgot to tell them that he said it. What he said was: "It makes sense to do an actual review, an actual testing of the real life in the vessel."
That means that for $117 million this year and over the next five years about $400 million, we can extend the life of the current stock. And that is exactly what we're doing, hon. Speaker.
NURSING SHORTAGE IN QUESNEL
J. Wilson: Hon. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Health. The intensive care unit at G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital in Quesnel is closed indefinitely because of a nursing shortage. This means that critical care patients in Quesnel will have to take air ambulance to Vancouver and pay hundreds of dollars for their flight. Will the Minister of Health explain to the people of Quesnel why his NDP government has failed them?
Hon. M. Farnworth: We are working with the region and the health authority to address the issue around nursing shortages. That's why we are developing a nursing retention strategy to address the issue around the retention of nurses in the situation in Quesnel. We are dealing with it as expeditiously as we can.
GOVERNMENT PROVISION OF
LUBRICANTS AND CONDOMS
AT NEEDLE EXCHANGE CENTRES
M. de Jong: Actually, moments ago a pretty important deadline passed. Two o'clock today was the deadline for suppliers to respond to the Ministry of Health's solicitation No. 130576. The minister's asking: "What would that be?"
Well, it seems that the NDP has decided to begin offering free personal lubrication products out of needle exchange centres. At a time when there's not enough money for detox and other treatment centres, will the minister confirm that the NDP intends to provide free personal lubrication products? And how much is it going to cost the public?
Hon. M. Farnworth: I'll be pleased to take the question on notice and get back to the hon. member as quickly as I can.
The Speaker: The member for Matsqui has a new question.
[ Page 15960 ]
M. de Jong: Yeah, a new question, Mr. Speaker.
M. de Jong: Sadly, no -- to the member.
Apparently this is how this is going to work. Prior to finalizing the contract, people are going to be given their free lubricant and asked to assess it on the basis of "taste, smell, lubrication properties like length of time and stickiness
The Speaker: Member.
M. de Jong: In addition, Mr. Speaker, suppliers wishing to bid on the contract have been told: "Samples of the personal lubrication must be provided at no cost to the government."
The Speaker: Will the member state his question, please.
M. de Jong: To the minister: without disclosing any secrets about what actually goes on at cabinet meetings, will he explain how it is that spending priorities within his ministry could be so askew?
Hon. M. Farnworth: The question was taken on notice. I will, as I said, endeavour to get the member an answer as quickly and as expeditiously as I am able to.
The Speaker: The member for Matsqui has a new question.
M. de Jong: I don't want this to be one of those questions taken on notice that sort of slides off into the future without getting an answer. The point is this, Mr. Speaker
The Speaker: The member will ask a new question, please.
M. de Jong: I will, Mr. Speaker. Here we've got a government contract from a ministry that professes to not have sufficient moneys for a lot of important services on the downtown east side -- detox centres, schizophrenia, nurses, ambulance service. Today at 2 o'clock the government began receiving free personal lubrication samples. How much is the government going to spend on these particular items? Even today, can't the minister confirm that that money is better spent elsewhere within the health care system? Surely he can confirm that for us today.
The Speaker: The question was taken on notice. Members, any further questions? Question period is over.
Hon. A. Petter: I ask leave to table two reports, the 1997 annual report of the Ministry of Attorney General and the 1999 annual report of the criminal injury compensation program.
Hon. H. Lali: I have the honour to present the 1998-99 annual report of the Ministry of Transportation and Highways.
R. Thorpe: I have the honour to present the first report of the Select Standing Committee on Public Accounts for the fourth session of the thirty-sixth parliament, entitled "Government Financial Accountability for the 1997-98 Fiscal Year." I move that the report be taken as read and received.
R. Thorpe: Hon. Speaker, I ask leave of the House to suspend the rules to permit the moving of a motion to adopt the report.
R. Thorpe: I move the report be adopted. This report describes work conducted by the Public Accounts Committee with respect to three items. It reviews the auditor general's report of 1997-98, issued in November 1998; it considers a June 1999 report of the auditor general regarding the province's financial management, specifically
The Speaker: Excuse me, member.
Members, we can't hear the speaker. If members must leave the chamber, would they do it quietly, please.
I appreciate this opportunity to move the adoption of the committee's report. I would like to thank the Deputy Chair and all members of the committee for their input and dedication throughout the last session, as well as the office of the Clerk of Committees, for their ongoing assistance and support.
D. Symons: I rise to present a petition. I have a petition signed by 380 property owners of five strata title commercial properties in Richmond. They're seeking a fair property tax between strata and non-strata retail properties.
Hon. D. Lovick: In Committee A, I call Committee of Supply. For the information of members, we will continue debating the estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. In Committee B, we will be debating the estimates of the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Northern Development.
The House in Committee of Supply B; T. Stevenson in the chair.
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ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF ENERGY
AND MINES AND MINISTRY RESPONSIBLE
FOR NORTHERN DEVELOPMENT
On vote 27: ministry operations, $37,969,000 (continued).
R. Neufeld: There are a number of questions some of the other members have that maybe we can deal with right now, if that's okay. I'll just turn it over to the first one, the member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove.
R. Coleman: This is basically some information for the minister. I'm going to ask him if he could have his staff look into this, because it's a concern that's come to my office and also through a number of people living in the area of Boston Bar.
There's a gentleman who lives up there by the name of William Peter Gorko. William Gorko is basically, for all intents and purposes, what would be described as a hermit. He has lived in the area for some 22 years. Recently some of his claims in the area were overstaked. When the inspector came by, they didn't choose to go to all the four corners of the staking area that was overstaked and, obviously, didn't see the stakes where the original stakes were.
The problem is this: Willy obviously doesn't have a telephone. In the wintertime he could be in for two months. He snowshoes to town and to Boston Bar, which could take him a day, at the age of 70, to do that. He grows his own herbs and what have you. There seems to be a difficulty getting communication.
So I thought that what I'd do today, if I could, for the minister is just read into the record the tenure numbers, the owner number, the map number and the tag numbers and ask if the minister could have his staff look into this, because the difficulty is obviously communication with someone that is living in isolation in an area of British Columbia -- which is actually almost like finding one of our original pioneers. Here's a gentleman who actually grows his own herbs and items in the bush in British Columbia and has managed to eke out a living, living there in his own cabin -- doesn't run electricity, manages to survive with coal oil lanterns and food, drying his meat and what have you. It's quite an interesting story.
So the tenure numbers are: 235501 Willy; 245577, which I'll put the name "Ernie" beside, because there's a gentleman by the name of Ernie that has claimed some of these, and there is some difficulty with these claims; 346596, which is called Willy 3; and 369639, which is called Willy 111. The owner number is 110049. The map number is 092104E. The tag numbers are 391880M, 663649M, 707405M and 707406M.
I know there are levels of communication that have taken place on some of these things, and that's why I wanted to bring it to the minister's attention, because I find this to be a rather unique situation with an individual that's so isolated and doesn't have the normal communication available to him that Mines or anybody else would require of him.
Hon. D. Miller: Certainly we would be happy to look into the issue. For all members of the House, of course, I want everyone to understand that this should not be the only opportunity to raise those issues. At any time, if there are issues in your constituencies relative to my ministry, please approach my office, and we'll do our best to try to assist with any questions you have.
A. Sanders: I have a number of questions on behalf of constituents in the riding of Okanagan-Vernon, hon. Chair.
The first is concerning Granby Park, in the upper reaches of the Granby River, which is east of Vernon. This park has had removed a large block of prospective ground from exploration at the whim of someone in government. This move went directly against the recommendations of the CORE group working on the original study of the area and reinforced the belief that the CORE program and subsequent LRMP programs were smokescreens to keep people in large areas of the province unaware that land was being removed from the possibility of exploration.
To date, compensation has been very slow to individuals whose claims have been confiscated in the formation of parks, and this is certainly the case here. Last year the ministry requested applications from qualified individuals who were able to determine fair values for these claims. About six individuals in the province were deemed to possess suitable qualifications. During conversations with some of these individuals, I've learned that very few claims have ever been forwarded to them for evaluation. My question to the minister is: will the people in what is now Granby Park be compensated for their claims?
Hon. D. Miller: As I indicated in response to an earlier question, we have established through legislation the right to compensation for claims that are taken as a result of the creation of parks. We have a budget for the resolution of claims. I don't have right now -- hopefully, I'll get it later -- the current number that we have resolved. We're working our way through these claims, and I'm confident that everyone who's in the position of having an outstanding claim will find or will see resolution.
A. Sanders: What is the time line for the compensation?
Hon. D. Miller: Time lines often depend on the parties. Clearly we've resolved some; we're desirous of resolving them all. But as to the time line on any specific claim, I'm afraid I can't give you an answer.
A. Sanders: My questions are not about all claims; they're about Granby Park. Is there any possible date for these people to understand with respect to when they would be compensated?
Hon. D. Miller: As I've indicated, we have resolved a good number of claims. We're working hard at resolving those that are outstanding. We want to treat claim holders fairly; we've done so. We've reached understandings with a number of them. We will continue to pursue that course. Hopefully, the claim that the member is referencing will be amongst them.
A. Sanders: How many staff have left the Ministry of Mines geological survey branch in the last year?
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Hon. D. Miller: Well, I've just been advised we maybe had three or four retirements. I don't have any more information beyond that.
A. Sanders: Besides retirements, how many have moved to the United States or elsewhere to practise their trade?
Hon. D. Miller: Well, just a general answer: this ministry was cut back fairly substantially a couple of years ago. We did reduce the number of personnel in the GSB. I'll try to get more specifics. As to where people go, we don't follow people. It's not the job of the ministry to determine where people go after they leave the ministry. So whether they went to the United States or anywhere else, I have no idea. Nor am I going to expend any effort to determine that question.
Notwithstanding that, I think it's fair to say that the British Columbia geological survey branch is considered, both by the industry and others, to be one of the better branches in the country; they do outstanding work. As a result of their work, which is displayed at the Geological Roundup every year in February, there is generally a rush of staking. So we're going to continue to try to work with industry. There is an industrial committee that advises the GSB. As far as I know, things are working very well.
A. Sanders: I concur with the minister. The geological survey branch is one of the best governmental geological survey groups in the world. They are staffed with geologists who have among the best databases in the world; that is something that's available free on the Internet at an award-winning site, I believe. The data that they have there shows mineral showings in the province, maps of locations, geological maps, and claims for claim tenure maps.
All of these people in the geological survey branch are hampered by the lack of budget to carry out field programs. So they certainly can do the desk part of their job in a survey, but not any or very little of the field. How many field survey people do we have in the geological survey branch?
Hon. D. Miller: It's 44 FTEs. But again, I'd suggest that members ought to think a little bit about positions they take. Certainly I've heard many advocates on that side of the House say that the simple way that government can get "the fiscal house in order," the very simple way to do that, is to simply make cuts across government ministries, reduce their budgets, because after all, everybody knows they're fat; there's too much money being spent, etc.
You know, we made some tough choices a few years ago. It wasn't easy, I can tell you, as a minister, making the choices we made. We reduced the geological survey branch from a staffing of 66 down to 44; that was very tough. Those are real people. It's not easy for the managers in trying to do that.
Notwithstanding that, the GSB continues to be, in my view, the pre-eminent geological survey branch across this country. I won't go into any extensive detail in terms of the work that they do. I've already indicated the sum of that. But those are the very real issues you face when you're trying to manage a ministry and you're trying to control expenditures across government. So I don't apologize for the reduction in budget. I think it's a testament to the men and women who work in the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the GSB that they continue, even with reduced staffing, to produce outstanding work.
A. Sanders: Again, when we're looking at the individuals, there's no question about their quality. What kind of fieldwork they get to do after all of their learning is another question, under the auspices of the last decade.
I'd like to talk about the prospectors assistance program. If the minister could let us know, how many of the applicants to that program are actually funded?
Hon. D. Miller: Well, we're searching for a number, Mr. Chairman. But I can tell you that we've maintained the half-a-million-dollar prospectors assistance program, even through the budget cuts, and it's well appreciated. I've spoken to this organization and individuals from the organization on a number of occasions. Last year this half-a-million-dollar program provided assistance to 51 prospectors.
A. Sanders: My constituents tell me that only 25 to 50 percent of the applicants actually ever receive funding. Is that within the ballpark -- from the ministry staff?
Hon. D. Miller: Yeah: 120 applications, 51 grants.
A. Sanders: I think, just for the record for people, it is important to recognize that these prospectors do get supplied with $10,000 if they're qualified, to a total of $500,000 for the program, which is helping approximately half of those who would look for mineral investment in B.C.
Last year the government earmarked $5 million to pay expenses related to the B.C. 20 percent mining exploration tax credit. A reflection of the sorry state of the mining industry in the province is that these funds were not fully used. Is there any recommendation? Or has the minister considered using these funds, if they are not to be used there in the prospectors assistance program?
Hon. D. Miller: No. The amount of money made available under the legislation that I've referred to on a couple of occasions in this House earlier today was $9 million. The difficulty
In fact, all Mines ministers across the country have been urging the federal government to restore the flow-through provisions that used to exist in this country. And if you look at exploration expenditures in any particular province when the flow-through program was available, there was significant money spent on exploration. That's because on the flow-through, the tax benefits can be passed on not just to the principal company but to investors in that company. So I, along with other Mines ministers, have urged the federal Finance minister to once again restore that program in order to accelerate or increase the amount of money being spent on exploration.
So no, we're not contemplating taking any of that and making it available to the prospectors assistance program.
J. Reid: There's been concern in the community of Nanaimo with regards to a gravel quarry application in the Jameson Road area. The background of the dispute in this area is that initially the ministry assured the residents that the application would have to conform to local plans. There was the local official community plan, there was a growth strategy
[ Page 15963 ]
plan, and there were zoning bylaws. This area in particular was designated rural-residential. There were other areas that were designated resource extraction.
Later the ministry reversed this position, leaving many of the residents feeling very betrayed. The residents' particular concerns were with the road traffic safety noise. They presented their concerns quite thoroughly, I believe, to the technical review committee looking into this project. Could the minister explain why the initial letter was sent out? I believe there was a directive at that time that the local zoning should be considered. Why was that position reversed? At what stage of the process is the application at this time?
Hon. D. Miller: The member is correct: I did send a letter out. I felt a little bit embarrassed by it, actually, because I did say in that initial letter that we would be waiting for the results of the official community plan. Subsequent to that I was advised that the letter was in error and that, in fact, legally the ministry was not allowed to take that position. We were obliged under the law or under the legislation to proceed to consider the application. As I say, I did feel a bit embarrassed about it, because I don't like to be put in that position. Be that as it may, there were some extenuating circumstances. I think the planning process took much longer than anyone had contemplated.
If I could move beyond Jameson Road, I think there is a larger issue in that we are the permitting agency. Many municipalities and regional districts around the province have tried a variety of mechanisms to limit activity within their boundaries, soil removal bylaws being the typical vehicle. But soil removal bylaws
I'm not exactly certain where the Jameson Road issue is at the moment. The reason for that is that I do not personally take a hand in these matters. You'll appreciate -- and again it may be an area that ought to be or could be open for debate -- that my view is that if you have a good process for making decisions, you ought to leave it alone politically. In other words, it shouldn't be directed by a politician.
As a matter of course, I rely on my ministry staff. There is a good mine development process, I think, in the regions, run by my ministry. They do try to consider the broad public interest with respect to areas like traffic, dust and noise -- those kinds of things. I don't direct them politically in terms of their decision-making. So it's in process -- where, precisely, I'm not certain. I could consult and try to get some answers to your questions later from the chief inspector of mines, and I'll attempt to do that. But that's generally the state of things.
J. Reid: I think this dispute has been more upsetting to the area because, as the minister said, that letter did go out initially, which misled a lot of the residents. In fact, at that time some properties were purchased under that assurance. Now there are definitely concerns in the community about the impacts of the process. Understandably, there is this tool the minister is referring to -- soil removal bylaws that can be used in communities to prevent this kind of situation occurring. The minister recognizes that there are concerns.
Is there anything that can be done in this particular situation, acknowledging that we're not looking for political interference? We're looking for process. But there are the legitimate concerns that the minister realizes exist on the part of the residents and the local government and the jurisdiction of the ministry. If the minister could suggest anything else that could be considered or that the residents should be looking at in this particular situation
Hon. D. Miller: With respect to any decisions made by private property owners, I don't think
Again, I am somewhat concerned. You know, we like to and did have an exchange this morning about how sometimes it's particularly difficult to make decisions about quarries. I find around the province, particularly in the lower mainland and particularly where the areas have become urbanized, that people are demanding that even existing quarries be shut down. So you can appreciate that it's not always easy.
You have to give, I think, due consideration to the rights of property owners, and I say that with respect to the people who have property they want to quarry. In other words, you can't
However, I've noticed anomalies that are starting to develop. I was somewhat bemused that the city of Surrey, for example, gave approval to a gravel mining operation within their boundaries, and they had no right to. The applicant never even applied to the Ministry of Energy and Mines. Yet it was a big, contentious issue in Surrey. So clearly there's a broader issue that we perhaps ought to be looking at. I've talked to some of the mayors about the issue and whether or not we ought to be looking at reviewing the legislative authority and looking at whether or not municipal or regional government ought to be involved in the approval process. But it's a pretty tricky area.
We also know that we need a certain volume -- a certain supply -- of gravel annually in this province. That ranges from everything -- from the ordinary homeowner who may buy a truck of gravel to the municipal government that's paving roads or the provincial government that's paving roads or people who are building buildings. And we know that there's a price for that. I guess if we unduly constrain the supply of gravel, then we have to ask ourselves: "Is everybody prepared to pay the price increase that might ensue?" It's not a simple or easy matter to deal with.
[ Page 15964 ]
I'm weighing and mulling a lot of these questions. In the meantime I am relying on my officials to do a good job in assessing applications and hopefully making decisions that are reasonable, given all the facts.
D. Jarvis: I guess before the break we were talking a lot about LRMPs and different aspects of that. There doesn't seem to be any question that mining appears to be in trouble in this province. You know, I guess the big question is how far we are going to go before we stop mining in this province. Last year they had a tax loss -- a big tax loss -- of about $133 million after taxes. There is literally no investment in mining in this province. Exploration is down to $19 million to $25 million.
Actually, only $1 million of that, from what I understand, was in grass-roots exploration, where prospectors went out -- only $1 million of that, which is very little.
The fact that the area they have to go prospecting in is slowly being crunched into being closed off
You told us earlier today that parks have now reached a stage of -- I'm not quite sure exactly what that figure was, but it was very little -- about 11.3 percent, I think, in this province. That only represents 60 percent of the province; another 40 percent of the province has not even gone through the resource land use process. So that ostensibly means that we are going to see, as you said, more than the 12 percent of parks that was contracted for with the people of British Columbia and the mining industry.
On your original mandate when you sought election back in 1991, you said that we were going to put 12 percent into the province into parks, and everyone bought into that. Now we see it's extending, extending, extending. We're probably going to see 30-plus before we're finished; it almost appears that way. Heaven knows what they have planned in the other five or six, seven or ten land LRMP process groups that are going, like the Stikine, Okanagan, Lillooet and those. I have not seen any of the reports on it or maps or how they divided it up.
But there are a couple of questions I did have on that LRMP process. The minister could give me what the costing is to this province, say, directly. How many million dollars a year is it costing for this LRMP process -- for the funding, the salaries, expenses of government staff and the consultants? And if they are paying any non-government officials to speak at these hearings, and if they have an approximate cost of what it cost last year
Hon. D. Miller: Just a few questions were asked there. With respect to the level of activity
Oh, first of all, let me deal with gravel. There's an amazing statistic, actually. The average per-capita usage of gravel is 110 tonnes per year per capita. So you can appreciate that that's
The member for Peace River North might appreciate this. I was in Fort St. John the other day and just outside, on the B.C. Railway spur, is a huge pile of gravel, because we're doing outstanding work in that member's constituency. The member was there. I was pleased to announce the first expenditures of the $103 million highway development package for northeastern B.C., pleased to announce that we're paving the Liard Highway over five years. But clearly in an area of the country where there's not a lot of gravel, they've had to bring it up from the South Peace. That rather modest pile of gravel that I looked at was worth $3 million. So it kind of gives you a picture of both the magnitude of the volume we use and the costs associated with that.
Of course, for constituencies like North Peace, any dramatic increase in the price of gravel means that it's going to be a lot more costly to pave roads and to build those base roads in that member's constituency.
Now, on the issue of the level of expenditures and what the contributing factors are, we touched on that this morning. I really was remiss in not reporting that one of the problems faced with the resource sector -- quite frankly, this really spreads across not only mining but forestry and other sectors as well -- is the current state of play with respect to the stock market. What they call the dot-com stocks have really sucked up -- they've been a huge vacuum cleaner in sucking up -- capital from investors. It's a serious problem, and the industry dealt with it extensively at the Prospectors and Developers Association conference in Toronto a number of months ago.
I say that that's shifted somewhat with the corrections taking place in the market. The lustre has gone off some of the dot-com stocks, but still it's a serious problem. I think that for any resource company that's performing reasonably well these days, their stock is probably very much undervalued. Go to any of the forest companies that operate in this province, or any of the others -- the mining companies -- and look at their results. In other words, what are their actual performance results? Then look at the value of their stocks, and I think you'll agree that those stocks are significantly undervalued.
I'm not here advising people to buy resource stocks, but were I to play the market, which I don't, that would be an area that I'd look at with keen interest, because some of the returns
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
It's also interesting to note that we anticipate
But let's listen to some figures from other Canadian provinces, because I think we in British Columbia tend to get a little fixated on what happens here and to think, I believe quite erroneously, that it's only in British Columbia. I'll just read the following figures in terms of exploration expenditures in other jurisdictions to illustrate -- and these are really '99 versus
[ Page 15965 ]1998 -- that the member really shouldn't be too despairing that it's only in British Columbia that the impact of low commodity prices and these other questions, these land use questions
Now, if we accept the fact that we have the best government in Canada in Ontario, which I often hear those members saying, then what other explanation can we possibly come forward with that would cause a 25 percent reduction in exploration expenditures in Ontario? The member can perhaps see where I'm going here: Quebec, down 14 percent; Northwest Territories, Nunavut -- even with the spectacular diamond finds -- down 13 percent; Newfoundland, and my old friend Brian Tobin, down 32 percent.
So, really, I'd ask the members to sort of keep things in a relative context. I know the zeal with which the members would like to criticize this government, but I think it's important to try to maintain some kind of balance with respect to criticism, if for only one reason -- and I've really tried to
You know, people, all that the mining industry says in B.C. is: "Don't come to B.C. to make an investment
And certainly, the fact that we appear to be on an upswing with respect to the level of exploration activity and the 30 percent increase in new mineral tenures, plus some very, very interesting activity, particularly in areas like Wells, B.C., where there is a significant amount of new activity
So the member had one other question, and I'm trying to recall what it was. He asked so many in his varied comments. It was something to do with the cost
Hon. D. Miller: Okay, the cost of the LRMP process. Again, if I had it at my fingertips or if my staff had it, I'd give it. But with all due respect, Madam Chair, it is a more appropriate question for the Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks, who is responsible for the land use coordination office. That's where the funding is. I would respectfully ask the member to direct the question to the appropriate minister. As I say, if I had it here I'd give you the answer, but I simply don't have it.
D. Jarvis: What I was more or less asking about
It was an interesting part of your answer, and I agree with you, first of all, on the gravel aspect. I hadn't realized that that many tonnes were used. But isn't it fortunate now that the opposition party finally convinced your government to have a policy to deal with the gravel situation? Now, there's a positive. If that hadn't happened, guess what. We'd still be out wandering the wilderness, and everyone would be in a state of confusion. But one of these days it's gonna be
The other thing, Madam Chair
D. Jarvis: Well, through your land use programs, you will certainly not be able to put new roads through.
D. Jarvis: As was said by the member for Chilliwack, we're deactivating roads. We went through that earlier today. But that's how you expand your province: through roads. And here you are cutting off, with these land use programs, access into areas all across our province. That's certainly a negative way of trying to create development and exploration.
Ontario is going to reduce the Ontario mining tax from 20 percent down to 10 percent over the next five years. Now, there's a positive thing that Ontario's doing. Ontario's going to increase tax incentives provided to investors through a flow-through shares program. Ontario's going to provide a ten-year tax holiday for new remote mines. It's pretty good. We're not doing that, are we? Perhaps he can answer me on that.
Ontario's going to create a new geoscience information
[ Page 15966 ]
mineral exploration in British Columbia. I wonder how successful that has been. And that will be one of my questions. Where have you expanded that, and have you kept track of what's going on and how your task force has done?
Going back to Ontario again, Ontario will provide $3 million for advanced technologies for mineral exploration. Ontario is doing a good job out there. It only took them two years to get a land management program in their province. Here we are in our eighth year in this province, going on nine, and we've only got the 60 percent. I'm not complaining about it; I'm just saying that's the actual facts. You said you wanted to hear about those things. So obviously something drastic is happening, is going on, that's not really proper in this province.
I ask the minister if he can tell me, with regards to his press release back in July 1999 that he was going to have a task force formed to help mineral exploration recovery in B.C. mines
Hon. D. Miller: Perhaps the member might send a copy my way. I'm trying to decipher which document you're referring to. Perhaps I could ask the question.
We did sit down with some explorationists, such as J. Paul Stevenson, who made what I thought was quite a good proposal to try to work in a particular area of the province with some first nations, to try to develop a better relationship with first nations and the mining industry. We provided some funding for that; the industry itself was also supportive. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that's the document the member is referring to. If you could send a copy over
D. Jarvis: It's out of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, for immediate release on July 7, 1999; the number of it is 029. It's: "Task Group Formed to Increase
An Hon. Member: That's it.
D. Jarvis: That's what I'm talking about. I just wonder if the minister could tell me how that's developed. Have any results come from that -- specific results? Did he track it?
Hon. D. Miller: I don't know that we can report any final conclusions. There was an attempt to develop a draft kind of agreement. I think the work is continuing, and I think the effort by people from the exploration community to work on this particular topic was quite worthwhile. It's the kind of thing that we try to support in the ministry.
We all talk about land use issues and the difficulties that ensue. Certainly the member has talked to me and others have written to me about some of the issues around aboriginal rights and those kinds of questions and the occasional conflicts that arise there. Any attempt to put people together to try to work out an understanding so they know each other better and so first nations develop a understanding of the opportunities in the mining sector is, I think, worthwhile. There's no significant outcomes from that. But it's the kind of work that we like to support.
D. Jarvis: With regards to the LRMP meetings, I understand that the ministry sent the geological experts from the ministry to some of these LRMP meetings. If not, why
Hon. D. Miller: Yes, our role is really twofold. One is to provide the baseline data -- in other words, to supply the geological maps to indicate where the mineralization is. Second, we do have people from the regions at specific LRMPs.
D. Jarvis: Those geological experts that went in
Hon. D. Miller: Yes.
D. Jarvis: The minister will probably remember -- and it's only a few weeks ago I guess when he spoke out quite strongly against some secret deals being made between forestry and environmental groups, etc., in the central coast area
But anyway, was the minister aware that
Hon. D. Miller: With respect to the first issue, the member ought to read the paper today. If you read the Vancouver Sun you'll see there's an article citing some representatives of forest companies and environmental organizations, in which they've agreed that they are going to, I'll say, stand down or suspend their secret discussions and go out and apologize to everyone for having them in the first place. We'll see where that goes. I think I was quite appropriate in speaking out against that endeavour.
I spoke earlier about the difficulty of the LRMP process, the difficulty, generally, of coming to grips with a land use plan in any particular region. This province has been populated extensively by non-aboriginals for some time. We've got a fairly well-developed forest sector, mining sector and others out there. Making decisions now about areas to preserve and parks to set aside is a very difficult exercise, but one that I think, again, has the overwhelming support of all British Columbians.
We try to provide, from my ministry's perspective, the baseline data, the solid information. Where is the mineraliza-
[ Page 15967 ]
tion zone? Where is the oil and gas? And we do that to inform the table, just as the Ministry of Forests provides data with respect to the forestry resource values in any given region. Others, as well, bring their perspective or their factual information in terms of wildlife population, in terms of critical habitat, in terms of unique zones. All of that information is there to inform the table, which then grapples with all of that and tries to formulate a broad-based land use plan.
There is some discipline at the table. There are trade-offs at the table. And while they may be difficult to achieve, the end result, I think, is laudable. Who could argue that we ought not to have done a land use plan for Vancouver Island? Who could argue that we ought not to have done a land use plan for the Cariboo? Who could argue that we ought not to have done a land use plan in any particular region where we have one?
Despite the difficulties, despite the conflicts and the tensions that arise out of that process, there is not a British Columbian -- well, maybe there are a couple -- who would say: "We ought to abandon this; we ought to shut it down. We shouldn't even have started it." We've got to finish the job.
So we provide to the table that kind of information. They wrestle with that in terms of trying to formulate a plan that achieves as much as possible those kinds of objectives, both with respect to preservation and with respect to maintaining economic activity. Along the way, as has happened in past land use plans, there are sometimes areas that forest companies would like to harvest that are removed. There are sometimes areas that mining companies would like to explore that are removed.
But I guess that when you're trying to put this together, that is one of the natural results. You cannot, in the age-old example, cut the baby in half to resolve a dispute. It requires compromise. For the most part, I've been quite pleased with the result -- for the most part. So we'll try to continue and, hopefully, to make the right kinds of decisions.
I would point out to the member that we have created in northeastern B.C. some of the most magnificent parks in this country, in the world, in my view. At the same time we have an oil and gas sector that appears to be able to accommodate that.
The member talked about the negatives. Well, what about the positives? What about the fact that the revenue for '99 over '98 -- and this is just direct revenue to government -- increased from about $360 million to $600 million?
What about the fact that I was in Fort St. John on Friday announcing a further $103 million road infrastructure package to assist the industry to find access to pave, for the first time, the Liard Highway? I can tell you, I talked to the mayor of Fort Nelson, I talked to the mayor of Fort St. John, I've talked to lots of the local politicians and I talked to industry. In fact, I even talked to the member for Peace River North, who appears to be quite pleased about the submission. So we are doing what the member talks about. The results speak for themselves.
We do lots of things to try to assist communities. Sometimes those are in areas where communities are threatened. It's much to my dismay, although I don't let politics get in my way. I don't let critics deter me from what I think may be the right course of action. When your party said we shouldn't have gone in and tried to work with the communities of Smithers and Hazelton and Terrace and Prince Rupert to save Skeena Cellulose, I ignored you. You were wrong.
I was delighted to be home last weekend and the weekend before that and the weekend before that. I was delighted to see that that company is thriving, that in today's pulp market they're making money. Those jobs in my community and in Terrace and Smithers and Hazelton are more secure than they were. We're not out of the woods yet. It's not fixed completely. But I was delighted that that's happening. I reminded myself again that despite the criticism from Liberals, we did the right thing.
We try as much as possible to work with the industry, mindful of the valuable commitment and the value that mining brings to British Columbia. It is an important industry; it's an important resource. It's going to be here for a long, long time to come. It's gone through some difficult times in terms of commodity prices and a few other issues. But I have absolute confidence that the industry will continue to grow and prosper.
[P. Calendino in the chair.]
D. Jarvis: First of all, the member from the Peace here was going to discuss that Liard road; he'd like to make a comment on it.
I wasn't speaking of those aspects of going out and paving existing roads. What I was talking about was Ontario's plan. The result of these LRMPs is that you have effectively cut this province into big chunks with your special management zones, your new designation of wild land and parks. We can't open the north of B.C. to create a road system for exploration or for tourism or whatever -- for hunters, trappers or just general recreation. I've also got to remind the minister that God created parks; you just designated them. You've got to remember that.
Unfortunately, the special interest groups have sterilized this province with these LRMPs. You cannot go from one area to the other, because of the rules and regulations that you're imposing. So I wanted to know with regards to
Hon. D. Miller: I think the member's wrong. As I indicated, we do attempt to ensure that people understand the values that are out there and, to the degree possible, that those opportunities are preserved for the future.
D. Jarvis: That's why I think the mining industry is so upset. The fact is that all these new rules and regulations and advisory boards, etc
[ Page 15968 ]1990, 14 metal mines have gone down. Now, I think, one or two coal mines have gone down. And only seven have started.
I don't want to be negative, but we are in a negative position when it comes to mining in this province. No matter what you say, your process is not a good process, in the sense that you are not creating any certainty in this province that would encourage development and exploration in British Columbia.
You said that you were doing this process of setup and that you had approval of the majority of the province. Whether you took a poll or
We have a system set up now, and you know full well
When the minister says he has the full support of the people in British Columbia, I question that, because this latest poll says they want mining in this province. They know that mining in this province is going to help our health and education and all our other social programs. There's no question about that at all. If we don't have it, we won't have those programs. They won't be able to succeed if we don't have good resource production in this province, because we're not as -- how would I put it? -- sophisticated as, say, California, in being able to get into this high-tech.
D. Jarvis: That's a fact. Not that we don't have the brainpower, because our brainpower is down in California now. You know that. It's moving down. We have a few of them. They're way ahead of us. I think California would give its eye teeth to have the resources that we do to offset some of the ups and downs that they have in their economy.
I'm looking around here, and I wanted to ask the minister, again, going back to the LRMPs
I wondered if, in these processes that your ministry was involved in to a certain extent -- although it was probably headed by the Environment ministry
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
Hon. D. Miller: I want to refer back to the polling data the member referred to -- the 96 percent who are in favour of generalized mining. To some degree, I don't think that's really the issue. The member's from North Vancouver, I believe, and I think he may find over time, or the members of his caucus may find over time, that there's probably more of a regional divide than a political divide in this province.
I don't think the real question is: are you generally in favour of mining, in the sense that isn't this nice that we have mining, and here are the benefits? It's sort of about motherhood. You know that saying: "Everybody's in favour of motherhood." The real question is: do you want to have a baby? And that kind of changes the focus; it kind of changes the question -- because then you're asked to actually participate, as opposed to sort of being aloof and removed, and that really is the issue.
We supply information to the tables. We are not members of the table, which is why, when I go back to what I said earlier, I think it is so important for the mining industry to be represented at the table. If they're not there
We can only try to provide the information. We try to ensure, as we have from the beginning, that land use planning is intended to balance the interests of the economy and the environment. We hope that the tables understand that sufficiently, that there's enough discipline in there and enough intelligent discussion to arrive at decisions that make sense. Most often there are. I know that in my discussions with people in the industry
D. Jarvis: Boy, a shift has happened there every five minutes, hasn't it? It's a good thing that I'm right on the ball. Mr. Minister, are you tired? Perhaps you want a break. I can see you fumbling into your pockets; that usually signifies that you're looking for a smoke break.
You know, there's a definite reason why the mining industry is not sitting at the table now. The reason they're not sitting at the table now -- and it has only been since the first of this year; they have all the previous years, the last eight years, before this -- is that they have felt that the process was not right, that the process was unfair, that they were outweighed.
[ Page 15969 ]
When they would come up with statistics on the mineral locations in there, they were turned down. They'd overlook it; they wouldn't
And what they did was walk out, but they contacted you, and they sent you a long letter. I haven't got it here now, but I remember reading it, because I was given a copy of it. They appealed to you, as the Minister of Mines, to go in and, as they have told you, say: "The system is unfair." It's so heavily weighed against them that there's no use in them being there, because whenever they put up suggestions, they were ignored.
I want to read you something here by a gentleman that
"Over the past five years, the tables suffered numerous setbacks, usually for changes in the process or from new facilitators. The same zones and concerns were covered and then gone over again with each change. In the past year the process and direction have fallen apart. A definite bias against mining was shown with each new issue. Injustices were heaped upon injustices. The rules of our table were ignored, and all was detrimental to the mining industry."Okay, there's someone who was at that table who has come out.
So when you say that your ministry is not a part of it, I can sort of appreciate that, in the sense that it was probably all
While they were there, as a result of it, was there any, that you're aware of
Hon. D. Miller: As I've already indicated, Madam Chair, the process and the discipline of the process, really, from the outset, is a balance of environment and the economy. You know, tables, when they do reach consensus, put the plan out for public comment. Following that, it's referred to government for a final decision. We've done that on a number of occasions; plans have been finalized, and that process will continue.
I don't discount -- I've never, in fact, discounted -- the sentiment of the mining industry and the difficulties of trying to reach agreement at these tables. It's very, very difficult work. But I can only repeat and repeat -- and I think I've probably done it too much -- that they'd be better off being in attendance at the table as opposed to not being there and complaining about the process. That's just my general sense. I think that's probably how the public tends to view it.
Beyond that, I'm always open to suggestions as to how any particular process could be improved. I would presume
I didn't get an answer. I'm still open. If the member has some specific suggestions to make, I'd be happy to hear them. I think I've tried to explain, and probably have repeated myself a bit in explaining, the stance that I and my ministry take in these matters.
D. Jarvis: I don't know, really, how to say this without upsetting the minister, but it appears, then, that you -- as the minister of mining in this province -- really didn't have any input into this process at all. And if I was in your position, I would have said: "Okay, my mandate is to encourage mining in this province. Therefore I want to know what's going on, and I want to put my experts and my staff in there and find out what's going on."
Failing that, I'd go in there myself and find out what's going on and see if they have done any kind of a study or an audit to see that what concerns the mining industry is being attended to. I wouldn't sit back, as it appears that you're doing, and say: "There's nothing I can do about it. The Environment ministry is controlling it. And yet my ministry is being virtually closed down."
These processes that are going through are sterilizing the whole north of British Columbia. There is not going to be any more -- I shouldn't say any more -- exploration or development in this province in those areas in the northern part of B.C. that to any extent is going to get us out of the doldrums that we're in until such time as the land use problems are changed.
Really, we've got the big aboriginal problem here as well, and there's no certainty there at the moment. And this makes it all the worse for it. They're not going to see the people with the money to develop coming in and putting hundreds of millions of dollars into British Columbia when you're saying: "You're allowed to go into the wild lands area. If you want to go into the wild lands area, you can go in there. But we've got a special little committee that I know nothing about that will make a decision on whether your spending $100 million in there is worthwhile." Or you go into another area, the special management zones, and you get a permit, finally. But you drive a road and you make one turnaround or cut down the wrong tree, and you'll be shut down and closed down.
I mean, this is an uncertainty. Of course, you probably don't understand it, minister. The fact is that if you've ever been out there, you've never had a business to look after to see that you've got to finance it. It's a different story sitting over there where you are, receiving your paycheque every day from the taxpayers. People out there that are paying their taxes are footing the bills all themselves, and they can't spend money recklessly like the government people can -- at least the present government.
Hon. D. Miller: We're beating a dead horse here. If we want to disagree, let's disagree. I did speak of the work that the ministry is doing, in all good faith -- very earnest work
[ Page 15970 ]
with the mining sector, recognizing some of these difficulties. I've not shied away from them; I've been quite candid, publicly, about them; I've talked openly about them.
We put out a brochure, "Special Management Zones and the Mineral Sector." I don't know if the member has had an opportunity to look at it. The member then knows that some of what he's saying is incorrect. We've not sterilized the north. This brochure contains nine case studies of mining companies working in a variety of special management zones on agricultural land, in wildlife habitat, in wintering range, water quality areas, caribou habitat, fish spawning habitat, caribou habitat again, remote fishing experience. These are concrete examples of mining companies working in special management zones and doing it successfully.
Now, I want to make another point with respect to the LRMP process. The member says: "You obviously had no hand in this." In fact, I did. I was the Minister of Forests when we started this exercise, and I recall -- and this is illustrative, member -- the criticism that came from the forest sector then: "We shouldn't be doing this. The odds are stacked against us. Let's not do this at all." Then I see, not long ago, that very same forest industry that were vocal critics of land use planning meeting secretly in Vancouver with some environmentalists to plan a land use plan for the coast of this province without even bothering to consult aboriginal people or people who live in those coastal communities.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
The lesson might be that it is important to recognize the value and the contribution that various industrial sectors make to our province. Certainly forestry and mining are two of the best. Without the kind of export income we generate in this province, all of us would be far worse off -- if we didn't have those two industries. Sometimes I think there's a disconnect, and people tend to forget about that. I think people in the regions are much more in tune. People who live in those regions and suffer the ups and downs of those industries are much more in tune with the value of those particular sectors, and we work very hard in both of them.
It's not always government's fault. It's a bit of a singsong you guys have got over there that somehow everything that happens in this province is the fault of the government. That is nonsense. Government doesn't control life to that degree in any jurisdiction, particularly in Canada. When you get the spectre of the private sector companies like the forest industry, who used to criticize what we were doing, sitting down and doing far worse themselves, it causes you to ponder and think a little bit, member, about just how far you go in terms of extolling the virtues and the benefits of one particular sector.
Maybe you ought to try to mute your criticism a little bit. I'd suggest that you start with your advice, perhaps, because if the two sides of this House switch -- which I know you'd dearly love to have happen; if that happens -- then you're going to have to, or somebody's going to have to, deal with it. You're going to have to decide what kind of advice you're going to give the mining industry or the other industries. In fact, you're going to have to decide what you want to do about the LRMP process beyond talking about it and beyond criticizing from your chair.
You're actually going to have to make decisions. The best decision you can make -- and start early if you think the sides are going to switch, hon. member -- is to advise the mining industry to take their place at the table with the forest industry, the oil and gas industry and ordinary British Columbians to try to deal with the particularly difficult problem that is land use planning in this province. I think you'd be further ahead, and all of us would be further ahead, if you wanted to think about it in those terms.
D. Jarvis: Well, minister, I guess all I can say is that some of those deals took place and all the rest of it, but there must have been a reason for it. It's obvious that we have beaten this LRMP process, or the land management resource process, to death today. We've gone at it for about four or five hours now. It's obvious that the minister cannot or will not, one or the other, do anything to help the mining industry in this province. They're dead in the water when it comes to land management and assistance from the Minister of Mines -- only because the mining industry has gone down and down, and it's in deep trouble. We know it's in deep trouble. We're all trying to find some way to recover. It doesn't look like they can recover by having assistance from the Minister of Mines.
I know that sounds as though I'm being critical of you. I don't mean to be critical. What I'm trying to say is that the people of this province are going to have to wait until they get a new government, because I'll tell you, when we get in there
I was wondering, before I close out of the mining sector of these Energy and Mines estimates and before my friend from the Peace gets up on gas, if you could tell me a couple of little things here.
Could he tell me exactly -- I've got a list here, and I can never make head nor tail; things are changing so fast -- how many metal mines and how many coal mines are actually in British Columbia? Do you have that? Would you have that information, or would you have to refer back to the Minister of Environment for that?
Hon. D. Miller: I believe the answer is 17 and eight. If it's different from that, we'll let you know.
D. Jarvis: I always get different figures all the time, so it's hard to come down to the details on it.
Hon. D. Miller: Nine and eight, Mr. Chairman.
D. Jarvis: So we have nine metal mines and eight coal mines. What a sad state of affairs. Kind of sad, isn't it, and this government is doing nothing about it. The point of the whole exercise here today is to show us that the minister really isn't doing anything and is not an advocate for mining in this province. That's the sad, sorry state that we have in this province.
I don't know what to say other than that I'm really disappointed in you. I thought that you would have a positive
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approach to what's going on and that when you saw something that was being detrimental to the mining industry of this province, you'd get up on your high horse, like you usually do, and tell them to back off. Let's look at this in a proper manner -- do a complete audit of British Columbia with regard to these processes that are closing off the mining industry and making investment in this province a bad bet.
On that basis, our friend from Vernon would like to ask a question. I thank you for your time.
A. Sanders: How much time does the minister spend in developing provincial-federal relations with respect to the mining industry? How much time in the ministry is devoted to looking at that specific issue?
Hon. D. Miller: The question is a bit incomprehensible, Mr. Chair. I don't mean to be rude about it, but I'm not quite sure what it means.
A. Sanders: It's certainly not meant to be incomprehensible. Mining comes under the auspices of the provincial government, but also under the auspices of the federal government. How much time is devoted in the provincial government ministry to solving the problems that miners in British Columbia have with the federal government, where that interface occurs?
Hon. D. Miller: Again, Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, mining is provincial jurisdiction. We're not preoccupied with the federal government at all. There are occasional issues that might arise with respect to DFO and others. I've had conversations with the Minister of Natural Resources on a number of occasions. I've also travelled to Japan with the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources to fight for the continued operation of the northeast coal mines. But it's very difficult -- in fact, I would say it's impossible -- for me to go back and do some exercise and quantify how much time. Perhaps the member, if she has some specific questions, might just get to the point.
A. Sanders: I will get to the point. We have lost some residents of Vernon who had been in Vernon all of their lives. The gentleman that I speak specifically about is a young man named Kevin McNabb, who has a geological survey company. His problems began three years ago when Revenue Canada audited his business. The audit determined that firms that work internationally can't claim the small business corporate tax credit. His company, with six employees, was taxed at the same level as Esso or IBM by the federal government. They were not asking for special treatment; they were asking for the same kind of treatment that a company of commensurate size would be taxed at. Without the small business corporate tax credit, MacNabb saw his tax rate climb from 22 percent to 40 percent, and he owed $25,000 in back taxes for two years. His evaluation was that he was being taxed for being successful. He was not trying to dodge taxation but was having difficulty, because they were bringing money into Canada.
To the minister: is this a common problem that the ministry in British Columbia hears with respect to our mining people?
Hon. D. Miller: I'm advised that the gentleman in question never approached the ministry, so I'm not in a position to comment.
A. Sanders: If the gentleman did approach the ministry, what help would there have been for him?
Hon. D. Miller: Mr. Chairman, this clearly is an issue involving Revenue Canada. I can't say. But if we try
As I indicated earlier, we have been lobbying the federal government to restore the flow-through share provisions that used to be in place in this country that really created a fairly significant level of investment in exploration. But as to the individual problems that any particular company may have with respect to Revenue Canada, you'll appreciate that it's not the ministry's job to care for those internal issues in any given company. We are open, and if somebody wants to approach us, if they think that we can offer some advice or assistance and help, then we're happy to do so. In the absence of that, it's very difficult to comment.
A. Sanders: I'm interested that the minister would say, "Well, the gentleman's never approached the ministry," and then say, "We couldn't have done anything for them anyway, so I'm not quite sure why he would have approached us" -- which is exactly what he didn't do. There was nothing there. This was a federal issue -- I understand that very clearly -- but in the same way that citizens in British Columbia are now having a terrible time trying to get a plane to anywhere from the outskirts of Vancouver and Victoria. It's a federal jurisdiction, but it's a provincial problem. I'm hoping that someone on that side is looking at that particular federal message to British Columbians and hopefully saying something on our behalf.
With respect to this particular issue, the minister has not mentioned that anyone else has had it, so I'm assuming that there's no other people in the province with this particular problem. I'm quite surprised that that would be the case.
One other thing that is of provincial interest is a provincial problem that Mr. MacNabb brought into the constituency office. He was looking at a job that he was to carry out, a two-day job that he had been asked to do in British Columbia. In that recent two-day job he was required to spend three days filling out paperwork and to pay a fee of $1,300 for the privilege of doing so. The fee was half of the cost of the survey. To the minister: does that seem like a reasonable cost for doing business?
Hon. D. Miller: First of all, I want to stress
I'm not dismissing or belittling or trying to downplay any problems that Mr. MacNabb may have. I'm just simply saying that he didn't approach the ministry, and therefore we're a bit
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mystified in terms of what the real issues are or even indeed whether, if he had approached us, we could have helped. Without the person coming forward, you can appreciate that it's very difficult for us to offer opinions on this subject.
Similarly, the member cites fees that this individual had to pay. I don't know who those fees were payable to; I don't know what they were payable for. It doesn't sound like it's something within my ministry. It sounds as though it may be resting with some other ministry. But I simply don't know.
Perhaps the member will appreciate that we're happy to look into these questions. Sometimes raising them here is important for the member in terms of ensuring that her constituents know that she's acting on their behalf, because it's recorded in Hansard. But I find that if there are issues, as I said earlier today in the House
A. Sanders: I will forward all of the information to the minister's office. I think this is something that's probably happening quite commonly. This gentleman is the owner of MWH Geo-Surveys, and he has since merged with a company in Boston. His family will be moving there, if they have not already done so right now, and they will be operating their business under a much more competitive regime.
The checklist that Mr. MacNabb provided for me for his two-day job -- which he never did, because it was going to cost more to do the survey and go up there than he was going to earn in being there
And within each of the sections there were a number of boxes that had to be checked off. There were 30 items that had to be done -- literally three full working days of work for this gentleman -- including copies of logging plans, maps, tenure agreements, road permit uses and much, much more. Just to the minister: in final comment, this is why nothing gets done in British Columbia. This is exactly the reason that business is going elsewhere.
Hon. D. Miller: I really would caution drawing a conclusion, as the member just has, based on reading that list. It sounds to me and my staff -- we don't have a copy of what you have -- as though it is a well authorization checklist. I don't know that. The member leaves me somewhat handicapped in being able to respond with more information about the issue, because you've got some material in front of you that I don't, and we've not had the opportunity to check into the issues that the member seems to be raising. I would simply say this: I do caution you about reaching the conclusion you've just drawn.
There are good, legitimate reasons why people who are working on Crown land have to ensure that they do the work properly. That sounds like a BCAL list to me. We have to ensure that if someone goes on Crown land and wants to build a road
D. Jarvis: I just want to add a quick couple of questions here that you could probably answer very quickly, I guess, or have one of your staff come back to me. It is in regards to a constituent. It's the Ainsworth mill rehabilitation improvement program. He's gotten his permits from British Columbia and from the Environment department and Energy and Mines. It's the Ainsworth Hotsprings area, just south of Kaslo.
Now, he's got all these permits, but I think he's being held up by DFO. That leads to another question: are we doing anything to try to mitigate these problems by assisting the citizens of British Columbia when they run up against the DFO, which is the federal Fisheries? And at the same time, can you tell me what status we are with Prosperity, which has a federal fishery problem, and with Tulsequah. I'm asking about the status of Tulsequah and Prosperity and tying in with the other question with regards to the federal Fisheries.
Hon. D. Miller: As I recall, just at lunchtime I was looking at a file that came into my office, and there was a letter. Is it Canim corporation?
An Hon. Member: Yes.
Hon. D. Miller: Yeah. I just noticed it was there. I didn't have a chance to even look at the letter, so it's pretty hard to comment.
I think it's fair to say that one of the areas that's been referenced by the mining industry is, they feel -- by their own admission -- the issues around DFO. That's a difficult issue as well. As you recall, we had some discussion this morning about a company called Mainland Sand and Gravel. It's kind of an interesting issue because
I appreciate the member's question. But it's interesting that in Mainland Sand and Gravel's case they purchased, from another company, a gravel mine that had been permitted in 1990. That gravel mine in the Pitt River had been permitted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and by the provincial agencies. They said: "Yes, you can go ahead. You now have official sanction to go ahead and mine this gravel."
The original company had a licence. Then they sold to Mainland. Mainland purchased the original company and applied to amend the permit to change their name. Two weeks ago the Leader of the Opposition rose in this House and demanded of this government that we arbitrarily cancel their permit. And the federal MP Lou Sekora went out and visited the site and said that this should never have happened. Yet in that particular instance, going back to 1990, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had approved the project. The Leader of
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the Opposition stood up in this House and said: "I don't care; I don't care about that. Shut it down." You can appreciate, member, that in that particular instance your leader took a position that he thought was politically popular but, in my view, ran roughshod over the rights of the owner. Now you're asking me, on the other side, what we are doing to defend the rights of the owner against DFO. I find it somewhat paradoxical that we would have this shift in position.
Hon. D. Miller: Somewhat paradoxical; others might find it even more paradoxical.
But let me reaffirm what I've said in the past. I've said this in a gathering of the mining industry, whether they be prospectors or whatever. If you've got a problem and you think that myself or my ministry can help you, I want to hear from you. Obviously that must have gotten out, because there is a letter in my office from this Ainsworth or Canim company.
I don't know what we can do. It's a federal jurisdiction; it's the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I quite honestly couldn't tell you what we can
An Hon. Member: How about Tulsequah?
Hon. D. Miller: Tulsequah is a proposal up on the B.C.-Alaska border that would see the reopening or redevelopment of a mine that was shut down in the 1950s. I think that that mine currently has some problems. It's an old abandoned mine. The company, Redfern Resources, I think has done outstanding work in saying: "We will go in. We think there are lots of reserves left in there. We want to restart the mine. We will clean up any problems that exist there." They've been given approval by our environmental assessment office to proceed in principle, subject to permitting of the road into the mine and the subsequent permitting of the mine development itself.
The governor of Alaska took exception to our approval and has asked that that project or issue be referred to the International Joint Commission, which is a commission that has been established between Canada and the United States to resolve cross-border issues, particularly where water or environmental issues are concerned. We've rejected that approach. We've very strongly made our views known to the government of Canada.
Late last year I took the opportunity to fly up to Alaska to meet the governor, to explain British Columbia's position and to also say to the governor that between the two of us, because we have a lot in common between southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia, we ought to be able to sit down in the spirit of cooperation and resolve issues between ourselves. In this case we're talking about an issue on the Canadian side of the border, but it's conceivable that there might be an issue on the Alaskan side of the border. And rather than refer issues off to some commission that might take years and years and years to resolve, why don't we develop a process so that we can resolve these questions ourselves?
I also note that the Alaska House of Representatives, which albeit is controlled by the Republicans, has passed a motion rejecting the governor's request to refer that issue to the IJC. We're going to continue to work, because I do believe that we do have a lot of issues that we ought to work on together between Alaska and British Columbia, across a wide range of areas. Fishing
To this date it has not been referred to the IJC. I have made representation, as have previous Premiers and members of our government, not only to the Canadian government but directly to members of the U.S. consular corps. I've met a number of times with the consul general, Hugo Llorens, on the question. I've met with a senior official from the U.S. consulate in Ottawa on the question. We're very, very active in terms of trying to support the development of this mine.
We are also trying to work very closely with the Taku River Tlingit, which is the aboriginal group in the region. I was up there last year and met with the band. We've made some strategic moves, I think. There was a piece of land that was adjacent to their reserve -- fronted the lake. It's clear if you've been there, member. You'll appreciate that long before colonists came to the land, aboriginal people in that region enjoyed unencumbered access to the lake, and yet here's this piece of land right beside the village council office owned by someone in Calgary, and access to the lake is limited. So we bought the land. We went and bought the land off this individual. We leased it, I think, to the band for a dollar. No doubt it will be part of any future treaty settlement. We've been working with the band to have them fully involved with respect to any industrial activity that might take place in the region. We're going to continue with that kind of position. There is some interest. Sometimes these matters move more slowly than you'd like. But that's what we've been doing generally on the Tulsequah file.
On the Cariboo project, again, there are some issues with respect to DFO. The proposal is to drain a lake. The company looked at a number of options. They looked at about five different options, from complete drainage to partial drainage to trying to look at ways in which they could develop what I think could potentially be a world-class mine development.
The plan is to provide 250 to 700 jobs during construction, 400 to 700 jobs per year during the projected 21-to-25-year mine life, plus an estimated 900 to 1,500 indirect jobs, at an investment of $900 million. Clearly this potentially could be a huge, huge mine-development project.
We obviously started our review under our Environmental Assessment Act, Canada under theirs. It's unclear to me at this stage whether the Department of Fisheries and Oceans would accept the current proposal with respect to draining the lake. The question there is: is it habitat that can or cannot be replicated in the adjacent area?
The issue is with DFO. There are some policy questions, and I think there's been correspondence between the head of the environmental assessment office and the Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. I don't have a current status update on that, but we're continuing to work with Taseko, looking at these questions. I certainly hope that it's something that can come to pass. It would be a very large project in the Cariboo, one that would provide significant benefits and jobs to the region. As long as it can be done in a way that does not compromise the environmental values, hopefully that will happen.
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I did have the occasion a number of weeks ago to have a very brief discussion on the question -- not a substantive discussion, quite frankly -- with the federal Minister of Fisheries, Mr. Dhaliwal. I didn't really ask him to do anything, but rather we chatted generally about the project. He certainly has knowledge of the project.
R. Neufeld: I wonder if the minister could maybe just give us an idea of a time frame for the
Hon. D. Miller: I wish I could tell you there is. Quite frankly, my experience on this file -- and it's been going on for some time -- is that we need to get a resolve on the question of a referral to the IJC. While that issue is hanging out there, you'll appreciate that it's very, very difficult to raise capital in the marketplace. There's another meeting in mid-June with U.S. officials. I personally have been very aggressive on this file. I feel quite strongly. I think that Redfern is a very good company. I think they're
An Hon. Member: They're all good companies.
Hon. D. Miller: Well, they're all good companies, but at least
R. Neufeld: The minister spoke earlier about pressuring the federal government to get on with it. I can assure the minister that we, as the official opposition, have done the same thing and have asked them to get involved more, to bring some kind of resolve to this issue. So as we continue, I guess, to work together to try and get some resolve to it, maybe it will come -- hopefully sooner than later.
I have a few more questions about mining, and I'm going to ask a couple of questions about your performance plan for this year that was given to me. Actually, on page 6 -- I'm sure you have one there -- under "Goals" it says: "2. To revitalize the mineral industry." That's one of the goals of the ministry, and I know the critic has talked at length about some of the problems that he sees and that the mining association feels are hindering their exploration in opening mines, notwithstanding the price of commodities, which plays a huge part also.
Maybe the minister could briefly go through a few of the initiatives that he plans to take on to revitalize the mineral industry in the province of British Columbia.
Hon. D. Miller: Well, Mr. Chairman, in many ways we really have covered a lot of this ground. I spoke about the mining initiative; I spoke about our ongoing efforts. We're playing a much more prominent role, I think. We're actually spending a bit more money. We've had, I think, a significant presence at the PDAC conference in Toronto. We were noticed. I met with senior representatives from major mining firms who are coming back into the province. We've maintained the kind of funding -- the prospectors assistance program funding -- that the member talked about. We put the brochure out with respect to the SMZs. There are any number, in some ways, of new areas. It's more on the oil and gas side. We're continuing to look at ensuring that the legislation is implemented properly. In other words, my ministry is a one-window shopping centre with respect to getting approvals for access and those kinds of questions. We're working on the deregulation -- the forest decommissioning -- issue. We've mentioned the Tulsequah Chief. We'll be reviewing the mineral exploration code.
That's a pretty thumbnail sketch, but we've really talked, in a lot of ways throughout the day, about the initiatives that the ministry is involved with.
J. Wilson: I seek leave to make an introduction.
J. Wilson: It's a good occasion today. I have a class of grade 7 students from Nazko Valley Elementary School visiting us in the gallery. They're accompanied by the principal, Dan Kishkan, and a parent, Sharilee Golob. Nazko is a small community in my riding which is 60 miles west of Quesnel, and it is mainly supported by ranching and forestry. I ask that the House make them welcome.
R. Neufeld: I don't want to get in and rehash a bunch of the things about the LRMP process. Basically I want to say that I think working that process through, with local people and industry involved, is a positive way to do those things.
But probably the biggest problem that's taken place with that issue is that the initial set-aside at 12 percent was never given to those regions or those tables -- that they were supposed to come up with X percent of the land base. That's why we are now experiencing probably going to twice that much through the process. And I'm sure the minister's quite well aware that it could hit easily twice as much or even larger by the time the seven tables report out and the five more that haven't even been struck yet report out.
And those are probably, without trying to get into a whole argument about it, some of the underlying currents within the industry -- whether it's oil and gas, forestry or mining -- with some of the problems in trying to access land. And that's one of the problems, I guess, notwithstanding the aboriginal land claims that have to be settled in the province of British Columbia yet. That's probably stalling a lot of exploration that could be happening that would be beneficial for all of us.
On page 14 the ministry talks about performance plan details for increasing or revitalizing the mining industry. They talk about a 25 percent increase in exploration expenditures. I believe exploration expenditures last year were about $20 million, something in that neighbourhood.
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R. Neufeld: Twenty-five? So we're actually not looking at very much of an increase. But I guess it's something, which is better than nothing. Could the minister just tell me briefly: is that exploration taking place generally all over the province, or is that exploration taking place in areas where land use plans have been more or less settled to a certain degree, and in the core regions? Or do you have that information?
Hon. D. Miller: First of all, with respect to the increase, I'm actually optimistic. I should know better, I suppose. But I'm optimistic that we might actually see a doubling of the exploration expenditures. I cited numbers earlier today indicating a fairly significant increase so far this year: a 30 percent increase in claim-staking. So let's hope that that does happen.
The work that generally takes place is
There's some interesting work being done in the Kootenays. The Sullivan mine, of course, is at the end. I've talked to some explorationists in the region who think there's another Sullivan mine there, and they'd like to find it.
And I mentioned the activity up in the Wells-Barkerville area as a result of some of the claim-staking work or the exploration work that's been done with respect to potential for significant gold deposits in the region. So you can appreciate that there are three areas where you find work.
I mentioned Rio Algom. I don't know which company it was now. Rio Algom, I think, are doing some work in the northwest corridor. We have, in Eskay Creek, one of the richest gold and silver mines in Canada. Clearly that region has significant potential in terms of new development, so there's work taking place in that area.
And in the case of the Cariboo, the work is taking place where there is a land use plan in place. I think there may be some final issues yet to be resolved, but to all intents and purposes, there is a land use plan in place in the Kootenays as well. The staking activity in SMZs is, I think, reasonable. I don't have an absolute number in front of me. So at the end of the day, it's where people think they might get a return. I think that's where you get people looking.
[J. Cashore in the chair.]
R. Neufeld: The 25 percent increase that we're speaking about
Hon. D. Miller: Good question, actually, and I don't have the answer.
Hon. D. Miller: The critic thinks he has it.
Certainly most companies normally carry out some exploration work if they think that there's more to be found on their existing properties. Boliden last year, I believe, carried out some reasonable work. I'll try to get that, though, but I don't have the answer right now.
R. Neufeld: I understand that it's about $1 million in grassroots exploration out of the total increase. If we could confirm that, that would be great.
I'd like to go on to page 18 of the performance plan details. One of the goals is to increase aboriginal participation in mining by 10 percent. Could the minister explain to me briefly how he's going to go about increasing aboriginal participation in mining by 10 percent? And what areas are targeted?
Hon. D. Miller: I mentioned earlier in the estimates the work we did with J. Paul Stevenson in the Babine region, which was an attempt to develop a better kind of working relationship. I've mentioned the work that we're doing with the Taku River Tlingits with respect to the Tulsequah Chief operation. We're also part of a cross-Canada look, in conjunction with other provinces, at how we might increase aboriginal participation in the mining industry. I think there is some interest there, quite frankly, in some of the conversations I've had with aboriginal representatives. I think there is an interest.
Probably the best example in British Columbia is the Tahltan, the Eskay Creek, where it seems to be working quite well. When I was in there a few years ago, the band, in addition to fairly significant employment levels at the mine itself, carried the catering contract. I think they were doing some of the trucking work as well. So there's some real opportunity for first nations to participate, and we'll try to encourage it at every level.
R. Neufeld: I know that the Tahltan are quite involved in the operation at Eskay Creek, which is good. I think the more that we can involve the aboriginal communities in that kind of work, the better off we are. So I was really interested to know exactly what we're going to do. If we're talking about stuff that has already taken place, that's a different story, but if we're trying to encourage new involvement, that's great.
I want to go on to another subject now, and it's on page 22. Without taking a chance on getting into another argument about gravel
Also, what we spoke about earlier
Hon. D. Miller: I've had some discussion internally in the ministry for some time now about the broader issue, and I
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think we even touched very briefly on this last year, if I'm not mistaken. We're still weighing a number of options, but one approach might be to
It seems to me that it's not a simple matter. I've been contemplating a review that might include representatives of UBCM and might include representatives of other organizations. Clearly we require a certain volume of gravel every year, and we're increasingly faced with areas of conflict. My own sense is that most of those are issues around urbanization. You generally don't find too many problems in the northern part of the province or in the regions. But if you look in the lower mainland or lower Vancouver Island or some of the more heavily populated areas, you'll find increasingly that people simply don't want it. That's a phenomenon that is sometimes referred to as the NIMBY sentiment -- not in my back yard. I in my own mind haven't really come to a resolve on what the best approach might be to take a look at this broader question.
I have spoken to Mark Angelo, who is really a champion of rivers. He's suggested that we need to be more strategic. There are lots of issues of the Fraser, the Coquitlam, the Pitt -- those kinds of things. Again, it's not a simple matter. We do know, for example, that there has to be a certain amount of dredging that takes place in the Fraser to prevent flooding. In addition to that, there is cross-jurisdiction.
So we're kind of looking at all those questions to see what might be the best approach to take, but we haven't yet really arrived at a final conclusion.
R. Neufeld: I actually would appreciate having your staff keep me informed on how we're doing and working in that area. I know it's a huge problem, not just where I come from but in many other areas of the province. There are different issues, but it's the same thing: "not in my back yard," or "we need gravel
There are a few other mining issues that I'd like to deal with. There's Ecstall Mining Corp. I don't know whether the minister is aware of it; I'm sure he is. This company has had land since 1978, this gentleman says, and has had many work programs over the last 22 years. All of a sudden he receives a letter from the Kaska Dena, from their lawyer, saying that they cannot go on the land anymore, that they cannot do work programs, that they could be sued. It's actually a letter from the lawyers Cook Roberts. I guess that's who's representing the band. It's fairly dramatic, actually, what it says to this company. I'm wondering, because the company has forwarded it to me and to the critic, to ask what can be done about it, if the minister can take me through the steps the ministry has taken to try to resolve this issue.
Hon. D. Miller: There is some work being done with respect to the ministry and Ecstall. Let me try to deal with it in broad terms. This is not an unusual occurrence in British Columbia. It can happen from time to time, whether it impacts on mining or forestry or any other level of activity. From time to time, an aboriginal group will send a letter saying, in a variety of ways, "This is our territory, and you can't come on it without our permission," or words to that effect.
We are obliged to deal with facts and with the law as we understand it. The law as we understand it is really Delgamuukw in terms of this question. We have a responsibility; we know that. We do have responsibility conferred by the court to meaningfully consult with respect to ensuring that aboriginal interests are not impacted or impaired. That's not quite the right terminology, but we do have responsibility to do that consultation prior to making a decision to issue a permit for activity on the land. That applies in forestry, in mining and in all kinds of other areas.
Notwithstanding the letter, our stance is: we go back to first principles. What is our requirement under the law? We take that seriously. There have been court cases. As a matter of fact, there was a court case in the oil and gas patch last year. I can't remember the name of the company just offhand. We had issued, and this is important, an authorization to proceed -- I think it was to drill -- that was challenged in court by an aboriginal group. The judge decided in our favour. The judge concluded, after listening to all of the evidence, that in fact we had followed the law; we had consulted as per Delgamuukw, and our decision to issue that permit was upheld. So you can appreciate that it is important that you do your job well prior to issuing permits for that kind of activity on the land. That's the position we take. I can't prevent aboriginal groups from sending letters saying whatever they want, but our position is: we follow the law. If we do our job properly, then if those issues are challenged in a court of law, our position should be upheld.
R. Neufeld: I appreciate what the minister says about Delgamuukw. I guess that is also a matter of interpretation. I think what Mr. Graf is looking for is some kind of assurance from the province that he can actually go ahead and do some work on this land. I guess what I'm wondering is if the minister can tell us so we can tell Mr. Graf that yes, he will be fully covered, and yes, he has had the right to go in there for 22 years -- that he has spent an awful lot of money in there and can do that without any problem and that if there is some problem that arises, some legal or court action, he or his company will not be the recipient of a huge legal bill in trying to deal with that issue.
Hon. D. Miller: The Crown is really not in the position of giving that kind of indemnity. I hope the member would appreciate that we simply cannot do that. That would simply mean, I suppose, that the Crown would have to give that kind of indemnity to every level of activity on the land base. We simply could not do that. The law is the law. We, as well as private sector companies
In the case of a forest company, for example, which may be looking at developing an area for a cutblock, they are obliged
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R. Neufeld: I guess this, again, is one of those issues that we spoke about earlier -- that is, withholding expenditures in the province in exploration, in mining and forestry and oil and gas.
Now this gentleman, as I understand -- and I have no reason not to believe him -- has received work permits over the last 22 years from the province, and obviously must have, to go in and do work on that property. I know you can't indemnify everyone, but obviously there must have been some consultation of some kind, at some point in time, with the native band over this issue over the last 22 years. It hasn't just been out there and no one's ever talked about it.
So I think that what Mr. Graf is really concerned about is that he can do all the consulting and has obviously done some, but still is left with
Hon. D. Miller: I do believe some work is being done by the aboriginal relations branch of the ministry.
But I'll go back to the fundamental point. Again, you can't treat this too lightly. I guess I'll have to ask this question: if roles were reversed, would a Liberal administration be prepared to grant that kind of indemnity to every company in British Columbia? I suspect the answer is no, and the member knows why the answer would be no.
I can only say, in defence of an issue that I feel very strongly about, that these issues don't arise in Nisga'a land. There's no uncertainty on Nisga'a land. You can sit down, and if you can do a deal with the Nisga'a government, then there is no uncertainty. And that's the ultimate and lasting resolution of these questions of uncertainty. I know it's been slow, and it's unfortunate. I wish it could go faster, and that is the resolution of land claims by negotiation. That ultimately will really get rid of the uncertainty question.
R. Neufeld: I guess asking me those questions on what I would do or what my party would do
But regardless, and we can beat this around, I think there are some real issues here. This is probably an example of why we don't have some good exploration dollars being spent in British Columbia. It is because of that kind of uncertainty. Even though this person
Another one that maybe I'll just bring forward to the minister
"My company is being sued by the district of Squamish in respect of zoning matters on a 16-acre site on Crown land which we have under mineral lease in the district. We were successful in the Supreme Court of British Columbia at the hearing on February 1, 1999, and the Squamish appeal is scheduled for April 14, 2000.I go on from the letter:
"Although our tenure has been issued by the Crown, perversely, the Attorney General has recently intervened on behalf of the Squamish."
I'm reading directly from the letter, so I'm not meaning to imply anything about staff. This is just something that I'm sure that the ministry has received and that it has read the letter. Maybe the minister would like to comment on this issue and see if we can resolve this one.
"I have been attempting to clarify with the government the series of events which has led to the intervention by the Attorney General, but to no avail. We understand that Ministry of Energy and Mines staff have strongly recommended against the government's position, but the Ministry of Municipal Affairs prevailed at cabinet level. The Mines advocate has been gagged; the Assistant Deputy Minister of Mines will no longer provide information. The staff at the Attorney General's office do not return telephone calls. All attempts to get the minister's attention have failed, and I can see no alternative but to go public the best I can."
Hon. D. Miller: This is a very complex issue, as the member will appreciate. I have the Court of Appeal decision. I'm actually somewhat hesitant, Mr. Chairman, in getting into it too much, given that it is an issue before the courts. There are some complex issues. The question: "Because the Crown is exempt from municipal bylaws, does a tenant of Crown land, therefore, have the same enjoyment as the Crown would
So there are very complex issues afoot here. It's not a simple matter, and I think the position of the Crown is the correct one, even though some may not appreciate that the Crown has joined the district in this particular case. So I probably couldn't give a good explanation anyway. As I say, it's a very complex, legal, technical question. I can only offer the member the opportunity to sit down with
If the member's satisfied with that, I would really rather not attempt to get into any kind of detailed, technical discussion around this particular issue.
R. Neufeld: I appreciate that. I wasn't aware of it, but I was just told that the appeal was done yesterday, and the case was reversed. The Attorney General ministry did get themselves involved in a Crown land issue in a community and, again, stifled some development. So I appreciate that the minister says it's a difficult issue, and I can probably get a briefing from the Attorney General ministry on why they got involved in this issue in the first place. We'll go from there.
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Dan, did you want to
A couple more, actually two more, issues that I'd like to deal with. One is the Endangered Species Act that the federal government is bringing forward. I'm not exactly sure of the bill number, but there is a great fear within the mining industry and other industries -- the forestry industry, the oil and gas industry and the agricultural industry -- that some of these issues in this legislation that the federal government has put forward about endangered species could actually have a very negative effect.
I'm just wondering what the Minister of Energy and Mines is doing on this issue to
Hon. D. Miller: We are aware of the concerns that have been expressed. Again, I want to go back and refer to some of our previous discussions, because whether we like it or not, there is a lot of overlap in this country between what we do in one area and in another area. We've been talking about land use planning. The members have generally expressed a level of dissatisfaction about the land use planning process. They've complained that it doesn't give due consideration to the interests of the industrial sector -- mining, etc. -- and gives undue interest to what they refer to loosely as environmental interests.
Yet we think we're well positioned with respect to the federal legislation, because we have done the work in British Columbia. We are engaged in land use planning. We have got good rules under Forest Practices. We have brought in fish protection legislation. In other words, in our own province we've dealt with these issues. I think that serves us well, particularly given that B.C. has a significant amount of wildlife relative to other provinces.
So personally, I guess the area we have to watch is federal intrusion. That's the area that I'm watching. I think other provinces are also watching that question of federal intrusion. I think that as long as the federal government recognizes the outstanding work we've done here with respect to habitat protection and those kinds of questions, and fish and other things, there ought not to be a significant or negative impact in the province. But like the member, I like to kind of keep a close eye on this and make sure that
R. Neufeld: I agree with the minister that we have to watch this closely, because although some of this is meant to
Maybe the minister could provide to me what documentation the ministry has had, letters they've had with the federal government or some documentation of some meetings that they've had with the federal government. I'm not trying to second-guess the minister, but I'm trying to work along with the ministry more than anything to make sure that these issues are addressed. Rather than having to research from all over the place, it would help if the ministry has some information on this that they have actually conferred with the federal government on, I wouldn't mind having copies of that, if that would be possible.
Hon. D. Miller: We'll see what we have. I would advise the member, though, that in terms of lead agency -- from a corporate point of view -- one ministry has to be designated as lead. In this case, it is the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. The member may wish to raise that or similar questions in the process of estimates. I'll ask my staff to canvass that question and see what there is that we might be able to provide.
R. Neufeld: I appreciate that. I asked the minister simply because of the effect that it would have on his ministry. I understand that the Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks will be dealing with it.
Probably the last question I have that deals with mining is the outstanding issues in the Tatshenshini. We spoke about it last year; in fact, I think we've spoken about it every year. I don't have to go through it with the minister at great length, I don't think, because we have every year. We're still dealing with, as a ministry, some of the things that took place in the Tatshenshini with some of the people that held permits to work in there. I know that some have gone to court. There are some huge amounts, as I understand, that may have to be paid by government over these court issues.
Maybe the minister could bring me up to date on
The Premier of the day, Mr. Mike Harcourt, who promised that he would set up a fund to pay out those miners
Hon. D. Miller: Well, I think we're making good progress. There was a total of 171 titles held by 25 owners: 25
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Crown grants, 136 mineral tenures and ten placer leases. Funds were allocated; we have been negotiating settlements. We have reached settlements on 119 of the 171 titles, leaving 52. Fifteen holders of titles have not yet been compensated.
Some of the reasons for the pace of negotiations are
R. Neufeld: I appreciate that information. If the minister could provide me, for the ones that are still outstanding, information on exactly where they're at -- whether they're in court or whether they're still being negotiated privately. And I have one
R. Neufeld: Yeah. It actually ran into quite a few millions of dollars, somewhere in the $10 million neighbourhood, because of the expropriation rights that people have and that the government never lived up to under the Expropriation Act. You have to evaluate the land within a certain amount of time, pay the owner that amount of money and then negotiate. As I understand, the government elected not to do that and in fact just expropriated it and turned it into a class A park.
There are some huge discussions around that issue, because the interest rate actually doubles on the money owed after a certain period of time. So I believe that's the one that was outstanding and that there was a fairly large award on. I could be wrong, because I don't have my original papers with me, but I believe it is. Maybe the minister could let me know and, if he would, give me that information about where the rest of the other ones are at.
Hon. D. Miller: I'd be happy to provide
R. Neufeld: I think we'll move along and get into some of the energy issues and those kinds of things. Actually, the minister was just in the north. We know that the oil and gas industry is actually doing quite well. The commodity price for both products, I guess, is fairly high and is driving most of that kind of development in the northeast, because they're getting a very good price for their product.
There are just a couple of things in the "Natural Gas Industry Competitiveness Study" that was done this last fall. Actually, the study showed some positive and some negative. I have one question out of the report, and that's the environmental assessment thresholds and what changes have been made in legislation to facilitate what's in the report about changing some of those thresholds -- environmental review process.
Hon. D. Miller: There were some changes with respect to EA thresholds, as I recall. It's been quite some time since this issue was dealt with, but there were some changes with respect to threshold levels, size of plants, gas-stripping plants and those kinds of things. We'd have to go back and get that information. I'd be happy to do that, but again, I'd point out it was quite a number of years ago that we made those changes.
R. Neufeld: Actually, I want to talk about those changes a little bit, because
I think there are some issues there that we could simplify, rather than having to make them go through that whole process again. The size of the gas plants is a different issue, but the pipeline and the pipeline right-of-ways
Hon. D. Miller: No, but I would certainly be prepared to. In addition to the changes that were announced some time ago, I think there has been, actually, two announcements with respect to changes in terms of EA, one involving threshold sizes. Last year we talked about the size of quarries. We made some changes there. I think there's a project proceeding in Armstrong as a result of that.
We're quite open to look at whether or not it's appropriate to take another look at this particular sector, to see whether, in conjunction with EA, we can streamline the process. I'd be quite happy to look at that. We've indicated to the oil and gas industry that we've done two initiatives now -- oil and gas 1 and oil and gas 2. Perhaps this might be contemplated as initiative under, say, oil and gas 3.
R. Neufeld: Okay. I appreciate that, because I think that would lead to a big simplification of what some of the companies have to go through right now to get a pipeline right-of-way.
I guess the other issue that I'd like to talk about is
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Hon. D. Miller: There are about seven basins in addition to that basin that the member refers to, which is, I think, the Bowser basin. Potentially, all of them are areas where we may see oil and gas activity in the future. Right now the industry has been focused primarily in the northeast sector.
We've had some expressions of interest in the Kootenay region on coal bed methane. Again, that's an area that needs a regulatory regime around it to proceed. It's quite conceivable
R. Neufeld: I appreciate that. Can the minister tell me whether we're going to start doing a little bit of public consultation, then, in other parts of the province and start looking at letting some more property out for companies to bid on? I mean, they may not even be interested in going into that area to do some drilling. I know that in the Kootenays there has been some interest for a long time. It would certainly add to some of the economic development in the area that, I think, they would probably like to see. If it is the wish of the government to do some consultation, is that anticipated to be done here in the near future?
Hon. D. Miller: There have been some discussions about that. No final decisions have been made. The ministry really does respond. In other words, if there's a reasonable enough level of request for land sales, for example
R. Neufeld: Has the ministry been in touch with the economic development commission in Terrace or the Smithers area in regards to maybe looking at this type of process? And how long ago was that?
Hon. D. Miller: Not as far as I know.
R. Neufeld: Could the minister tell me who the initial
Hon. D. Miller: No, I didn't say that.
R. Neufeld: I just want to get that straight. I don't want to misrepresent what the minister says.
The other part -- and the minister mentioned it -- is the coal bed methane, and the other one is the geothermal
Hon. D. Miller: No. I did indicate that there have now been some expressions of interest in the Kootenay region. And as well, I think there are some on Vancouver Island. But we've not attacked the issue in any significant way. We have had some discussions internally in the ministry about the question and how we might proceed.
Other jurisdictions, U.S. states, have dealt with the issue of coal bed methane. It's far different than drilling for oil and gas. We have been working very, very hard on the issues in northeastern British Columbia -- the oil and gas initiatives. That's really dominated the time of that branch of the ministry, with some very positive results, I think.
So we're aware of the issue. We don't have a schedule for moving out or looking at it in a more focused and serious or intensive way. But suffice it to say that there are some expressions of interest. We know that it's going to be required, at some point, that we have a regulatory regime to deal with this resource.
R. Neufeld: The reason I was asking the questions around the promotion of opportunities in other parts of the province, in other basins, is because of a letter that was written by the ministry in September of 1999 to Kate O'Neil, the president of the Fort St. John and District Chamber of Commerce. In fact, I'll read it. It says: "We are now considering a number of proposals including the following
But if there is a process underway and we're starting to look at those issues
I had some questions in regards to the road improvements -- that oil and gas 2 initiative -- that the minister just talked about in Fort St. John this last week. I know what the minister said about the Liard Highway, and again, the people in Fort Nelson are appreciative of the fact that the province is starting to look seriously at the major roads. It's not so much just roads to get into the oil and gas patch. That seems to be what a lot of people think: that these are new roads going into different areas. This is money to fix existing roads that access not just oil and gas but forestry and the general public, and a highway that links the Northwest Territories, right back around to Alberta, with British Columbia.
I listened to ministry staff the day before the minister arrived, and unless I misunderstood
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Week. I was told that the second $500,000 was actually an allocation out of the $103 million. It was just done early. If the minister would confirm that and, secondly, that the $3.5 million worth of gravel that's been moved or crushed in the Fort St. John-Buick area is actually money that, although the majority of the work was done in last year's fiscal year, will be coming out of the $103 million. If the minister could just confirm that for me, please.
Hon. D. Miller: I'll pay tribute in the House here, as I did in Fort St. John on Friday, to the northern-most task force and the regional district and the municipality of Fort Nelson, because they really did a lot of very good work. But we were moving very quickly. I think it's one of the quickest implementations that I've been involved with from inception. In other words, from me sitting down with Fort Nelson, listening to what they had presented and translating that into an active program, to delivery was one of the quickest turnarounds I've ever seen.
Obviously when you're getting this kind of program together, there's lots of work that needs to be done in terms of Treasury Board and those kinds of things, but I wanted to demonstrate to the people of the North Peace that we were serious. I was very confident that we'd put this package together but wasn't in a position to announce the whole package, so we jump-started. The budget for Liard
R. Neufeld: So do I understand, then
Hon. D. Miller: Well, let's not get hung up, really. The package is $103 million. Technically, I think I said six years in Fort St. John, because of what we did last year -- the $500,000 and the $3.5 million for the gravel. If you want to do it another way, describe it another way, put those in this fiscal year. It's $103 million. It's roughly $20 million a year.
The decisions about where the money ought to be spent, bearing in mind that this was part of the oil and gas initiative
R. Neufeld: I appreciate that. I'm not trying to cut fine hairs with the minister; I'm just trying to get some sense of what will be spent this fiscal year. If it's about $16 million, that's fine. The biggest fear was that that money would replace what the Ministry of Transportation and Highways had normally put into the northeast, which was about $6 million a year in the North Peace area. So I just wanted to get some sense of the number of dollars that were actually going to be expended this year so that we can monitor that and make sure that, as I say, the rubber hits the road, and so does the gravel.
I know that when the minister was in Fort St. John, he announced some of the roads that were going to get the work. I would appreciate it if the ministry could forward to me the amount of dollars that are expected -- it doesn't have to be exact, but at least the number of dollars that are expected to be expended on each one of those routes. Like I say, it doesn't have to be exact but fairly close. If I could get that information from the minister, please
Hon. D. Miller: We'll be happy to provide as much information as we possibly can with respect to both areas of activity. I talked about 41.7 kilometres of Liard Highway. Essentially that's building up the base. The member knows that over the years the base had deteriorated badly on that highway. So 41.7 kilometres and the roadwork associated just in the north of the Fort St. John region
R. Neufeld: I know the road base had deteriorated. I lived there for 19 years and drove it fairly steadily. So I appreciate that.
The other issue that maybe the minister could brief me on or let me know where it's at is a memorandum of understanding that's signed between B.C. and the Northwest Territories. I know that the minister briefly touched on that when he was in Fort St. John. I wonder if we could have a copy of the memorandum of understanding or the working papers that go along with the agreements that are being made between the Northwest Territories government and B.C. Is there a similar process taking place between the Yukon and British Columbia? One tip of the Yukon is serviced out of the Fort Nelson area through the Beaver River gas field.
Hon. D. Miller: There is an existing MOU with the Yukon, which I think is public. We've not yet concluded or signed the MOU with the Territories, unfortunately. I've had discussions with Jim Antoine, the previous leader, and with Stephen Kakfwi. The last time I talked to Mr. Kakfwi was in Quebec City last year at the Premiers' conference. I was delighted with the conversation, because I think we do share an identical vision with respect to the development of northern B.C. and the Territories. The member will appreciate that getting Premiers or leaders together to formally conclude these memorandums is sometimes difficult, but that's what's being worked on now. So I hesitate to say I'll release it before Mr. Kakfwi and the Premier have formally signed it.
Notwithstanding, the vision I outlined in Fort St. John is one that I think is exciting for this province. Our goal was to increase the level of investment in the oil and gas sector by $25 billion over the next decade, and I think we're well on our way to achieving that target. As the member will appreciate as
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well, it seems to be an industry that, while it's significant in its size and its contribution -- 32,000 people employed in the industry; billions of dollars of investment annually; significant increases in revenue for the Crown -- not many British Columbians know about the industry at all. As I said up there, maybe that's a good thing.
But I think that with the opportunities between our two jurisdictions -- Northwest Territories -- clearly what I want to see is the gas in the Territories, and in future gas even farther up, going up to the Mackenzie and piped into British Columbia, not Alberta, so that we can take advantage of any opportunities to maximize the returns you can get on that gas. That's our strategy; that's our vision. Hopefully we can get the two leaders together sooner rather than later to formalize that and get on with the work.
R. Neufeld: Thank you. I look forward to receiving that. I think it is important that we work together as much as we can, because I agree that we want to bring as much of that gas through British Columbia as we possibly can and keep the service activity coming out of the Fort Nelson and Fort St. John area. It would be very easy for these people to build a road that would just circumvent British Columbia altogether. We would lose a lot of that opportunity, specifically for Fort Nelson, and it would result in some lost activity for people in Fort St. John.
I think that we have to be very careful about how we build our road links into Alberta. The minister is very aware that the cost of doing business in Alberta is much less than it is in the province of British Columbia and that building roads that connect us to Alberta will only encourage a lot more activity from Alberta coming into British Columbia and taking those solid jobs away from British Columbians, the tax revenue away from British Columbia, and the opportunities for industry and small business to be able to expand in the province. It is an issue. I know the minister may not believe me, but we'll get on in estimates, and we'll show a little bit of those issues that we have to deal with.
I want to go on to one other question, and then I think everybody's chomping at the bit to go to some show tonight. That I can understand, and I'm certainly appreciative that the Minister of Labour would rather listen to me than go to the hall. We're looking forward to that.
The other question I have is the Beaver River gas pool and the agreement that was signed with government and industry to give it a three-year royalty exemption to develop the Beaver River gas pool. That was done a while ago, and I'm just wanting to know how that's working out, and if it's actually working out to what the government thought it would be by having the three-year total exemption to royalties for that proposal.
Hon. D. Miller: The staff are looking through these voluminous briefing binders, Mr. Chairman, and if I get the answer before I sit down, I'll give it to you.
I would say, with respect to the issue of competition, that I'm not as fearful as the member. I understand the issues. We've done a great deal of work in terms of our competitiveness study to ensure that we in fact are competitive in northeastern B.C. Even given the advantages that may exist in Alberta -- for example, the lack of sales tax -- I think that increasingly we're more and more competitive. Our terrain is different; we're not Alberta -- steeper wells, tougher topography, all those kinds of questions. But I'm quite bullish. I don't fear competition from Albertans, quite frankly, or anybody else. If we can continue to develop the expertise in British Columbia, if we can continue to strengthen the access question through the road package that we put together
What does this tell me here? It doesn't really tell me anything, so I'll try to get some more substantive information on the Beaver River issue. If we can't get it today, then tomorrow.
I see people are starting to wander in. Mr. Chairman, never being one to want to get a head start on a party myself, but bearing in mind that others in this chamber are not like me, I would move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Committee B, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. D. Miller moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:50 p.m.
The House in Committee of Supply A; D. Streifel in the chair.
The committee met at 2:42 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE,
FOOD AND FISHERIES AND MINISTRY
RESPONSIBLE FOR RURAL DEVELOPMENT
On vote 14: ministry operations, $61,097,000 (continued).
B. Barisoff: I think we left off this morning with the minister indicating that there was no reduction in the budget. I'll move on to the strategic directions and their resource protection preserving the land base. The third bullet there: "Implement operational changes to reflect the existing and changed roles and responsibility of the Land Reserve Commission." Could the minister indicate the operational changes that will be reflected here?
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Hon. C. Evans: The ALR amalgamated with the FLR, which created a larger board and precipitated, I think quite happily, the move to regional panels. So now there is a three-person panel assigned to two regions each so that in future, hearings will be held, in the main, in the region and ratified by the board later. I hope this will develop a healthier working relationship with municipal and regional governments and regional interests generally and give a feeling that the two commissions are servicing each of the regions in a more personal way and reduce that feeling that people are answering to Burnaby.
B. Barisoff: Moving down to "Resource Utilization," in the second bullet it says "act as an advocate for farmers and forest operators with local governments and other communities of interest." Can the minister indicate where the Forest Land Commission would be advocating for the farmers and in what role and what they would be doing?
Hon. C. Evans: Yes, I can, quite happily. The most immediate case, although I'm not necessarily sure it's the most important
A more sort of progressive example might be Kelowna, where the farm community had considerable problems with municipal bylaws related to sound, noise, smell, hours of work, bird damage -- all kinds of things that the municipality or the regional districts wish to regulate. And the municipality, in its turn, had considerable problems with the agricultural land reserve and the inability to fit the agricultural land designation with the existing municipal plan.
So some years ago the two organizations got together, and the Land Commission, basically acting as advocate for farmers, and the municipality, acting as advocate for their citizens, developed an agricultural plan -- really making Kelowna, rumour has it, the first city in Canada to have an agricultural plan melded with their official community plan. It's really good news and bringing down the heat on all those sort of hot-button issues and making it so the farm community can work with a growing community.
B. Barisoff: I think the minister has partially answered. The next is to: "increase the understanding of, and support for, and needs for working farms
Hon. C. Evans: There is a pamphlet in my office I would like to distribute to the hon. member -- and maybe hon. members. Generally, the Land Commission and our staff created a pamphlet for real estate people to distribute anytime anyone is interested in land use planning or purchasing rural property or to give to municipal people, elected people, around the province -- to understand farm-urban interface issues generally and to try and decrease everywhere in the province those kinds of issues.
Lastly, as I think the hon. member knows, the Fraser-Fort George regional district and the Land Commission have a memorandum of understanding that they are working towards a unified community plan and agricultural plan which might even result in devolution to the regional district, at some point, of empowerment to enact the plan and I hope act as a model for other regional governments around the province.
B. Barisoff: "Resource security: keeping resource options open for the future," and the first bullet: "Promote the long-term management of land and water resources needed for sustainable agriculture and forestry for future generations
Hon. C. Evans: I think that the Water Act in British Columbia is 100 years old, give or take five years. It was originally written for the mining industry and is essentially a placer act, making it somewhat difficult for agencies and institutions and individuals to work within the context of the law in a modern age. The role of the Land Commission heretofore has simply been to act as a sort of advocate to the farm community to attempt to deal with a piece of legislation which is really out of date and not coordinated with the needs of agriculture generally.
In addition, of course, the Land Commission works with government to try to figure out ways -- for example, when the Fish Protection Act was being considered -- to isolate or protect agriculture from some of the regulatory regime that is imposed on the rest of society, because the Land Commission recognizes this as part of their mandate.
B. Barisoff: One of the business goals of the Land Reserve Commission is: "To ensure that commission decisions effectively preserve agriculture and forestry resources and promote a healthy farm and forestry economy." One of the action items is: "Develop policy guidelines and/or general orders for agritourism, on-farm processing and double-wide mobile homes
The double-wide mobile homes is an issue that, I think the first year that I was here, we brought to the minister's attention, when my colleague from Abbotsford was the critic for Agriculture. We brought this issue a number of times to the minister -- and the fact that a lot of families, when they are wanting to pass down from one generation to the other
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tourism, the farm processing and the double-wide mobile homes as something that would, in today's day and age, with people wanting to stay on the farm or wanting to build another home, or something of that nature
Hon. C. Evans: It's my understanding that the general orders on agritourism and on-farm processing have been completed and are available but that the double-wide policy remains, at present, still the single-wide rule, and it is being considered by the commission.
B. Barisoff: How long will it be before I can get a copy of the agritourism policy and the farm processing policy? I would like the minister to comment directly -- I know he commented directly three years ago on what he thought should happen with the avenue of double-wide mobile homes -- on what he thinks should happen in this particular area.
Hon. C. Evans: Of the three policies that I mentioned, agritourism is completed, passed, printed and will be given to the hon. member tomorrow. On on-farm processing, I was incorrect. It is in process itself and being considered, and I'll share it with the hon. member as soon as the Land Commission reports out. On the third, the hon. member wants to know what I think about double-wide homes. I don't remember what I said three years ago, so I'll tell you what I think today and hope that it bears some resemblance to whatever you have on the record.
I don't see any difference between
The real issue is whether you put a big cement foundation underneath and stick it on there and leave it forever or whether it is temporary housing. I personally think it would be dumb if we
B. Barisoff: Moving on, another one of the business goals was to improve the communication and consultation with local governments, first nations, the public and other community interests. One of the action items was to evaluate the means of permanently increasing the commission's regional presence. Could the minister indicate to me -- I know that we are moving in that direction -- what would happen with the regional presence and how he sees this evolving?
Hon. C. Evans: Three points and all of them canvassed, so I'll do it fairly quickly. Firstly, up until very recently we didn't have a large enough commission to ever represent all of the regions. We represented regions a little bit according to the minister of the time making sure there was somebody from their area, but we always left out some geographic area. The hon. member from the Peace, who recently joined us, will know that for the three or four years that I was minister
Secondly, by moving to a panel kind of process rather than requiring, as before, that all the commissioners be together, which meant you pretty much had to be in Burnaby
Thirdly, as I was just talking about, we're trying to make this pilot with the regional district up north work so that we can develop a model whereby regional districts can actually be part of the ongoing regulatory mechanism for the agricultural land reserve and the forest land reserve.
B. Barisoff: One of the action items is: "Respond to all inquiries from the public, other government agencies and communities of interest by providing appropriate information in a timely manner." Can the minister just give me what we see as a timely manner? I know that on some of the issues we went from six months to two years, with BCAL. I'm just wondering what a timely manner would be for the Land Reserve Commission.
Hon. C. Evans: The commission considers 90 days to a yes or a no to be the reasonable target.
B. Barisoff: One of the goals was "to improve the administrative efficiency in customer service," and the action item was: "Assign incoming correspondence to the appropriate staff and format and mail outgoing correspondence within performance targets." Can the minister indicate what performance targets those would be?
Hon. C. Evans: The target is that every letter is answered within a week, and the success rate on the target is 80 percent. It is the intention, where possible, to include in that letter a date for intended resolution of the issue.
B. Barisoff: One of the business goals was "to coordinate the [Land Reserve Commission] activities with the activities of other government agencies." Can the minister indicate to me what the Land Reserve Commission is doing to incorporate these other government agencies?
Hon. C. Evans: No, I don't have a list. I'll endeavour to get it.
B. Barisoff: Another one of the goals was, "to ensure that commission decisions effectively preserve agriculture and forestry resources and promote a healthy farm and forestry economy," and the performance goal was: "the degree of freedom farmers and foresters have to operate within the ALR and FLR and to diversify farming and forestry operations
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without undue restrictions." Can the minister indicate to me the degree of freedom that they would be looking to give farmers or foresters on the ALR land or FLR land, and the "diversify farming" and then the "undue restrictions"
Hon. C. Evans: One of the things that we inherit from the fact that we administrate two acts and historically two different commissions is this idea that on the agricultural land, for example, you're not supposed to grow fir trees. And if you do, that's not a farm crop and it doesn't count in your assessment of what is a farmer. And similarly, if you own forest reserve land, you're not supposed to grow grass, and you certainly can't remove trees with the intent of growing grass. And you can't grow kinnikinnick or Oregon grape or anything underneath the canopy that you might call a crop, because the forest land reserve is very limited in its definition of what is a forest to trees.
Consequently, you can see that even though we all live in a rural way and sometimes we farm, sometimes we log, and sometimes we harvest by-products, the regulatory regime assumes that these are professions, and never the twain shall meet. My objective is to knock down those walls, and bringing commissions together is the very first step. I'm really pleased and proud of our accomplishment, because Dean Quayle suggested that it would work. A lot of people said that it was too risky. It appears to have made the board a better organization in delivering its service to people. Next, I hope that the government will address the question of why it is that trees aren't considered crops and why we have these regulatory differences in the kind of work we do. The board is actively engaged in working with the ministry and us in looking at those questions.
B. Barisoff: Further along that goal, one of the performance goals was the amount of ALR land approved for farming through the commission's decisions and then to measure that they had a change in number and average size per farm. Could the minister indicate to me what the Land Reserve Commission thinks the average size per farm is? Do we have a minimum-sized farm? Do we have a farm that can be too large or too small? Could the minister make comment probably more along the lines of the minimum size?
Hon. C. Evans: I know that there are detractors or people who disagree, but it's generally assumed that a larger farm size is more economically viable or can compete with farms in other jurisdictions for product price in a better way. So the Land Commission tries, in its sort of adjudication role, to aim for larger lot sizes.
I'll give you an example. Suppose that you were a farmer. You owned two five-acre lots, and you wanted an exclusion. The Land Commission might negotiate with you to say, "Well, we'll think about your exclusion, if you'll take down that line and make one ten-acre lot out of the remainder" -- ergo increasing the farm size and hopefully the viability.
B. Barisoff: I guess the reason I bring that forward is because one of the cherry growers -- one of the ones that I mentioned -- indicated to me that a lot of the three- and four-acre parcels of land that are out there, he finds, are quite viable with the new cherry varieties. But when the Land Reserve Commission looks at some of these things, they don't look at a four-acre parcel or a five-acre parcel.
The reason I bring it forward is that some of the retiring farmers that have been on their land prior to 1972 who are able to subdivide off, or whatever, their land and house, can't do such a thing -- from what I understand, and the minister can correct me if I'm wrong -- unless they end up with ten acres of land in the new piece that's left. I'm getting comments from these kinds of farmers, and I know that in the greenhouse industry there's a lot of three- and four-acre greenhouses that are very viable operations -- family operations. They're not corporate operations, but they are very viable small-farm operations. The same thing applies to some of these small cherry blocks.
I guess the questions I'm asking the minister are: (1) is it true, if you do cut a piece off of land reserve land, that the remaining portion has to be a minimum of ten acres; and (2) would they look at smaller acreages because of the new types of farming, such as greenhouse or the high-density cherries?
Hon. C. Evans: I am unaware of a ten-acre rule. If the hon. member has a case where a person was denied homesite exclusion because of a ten-acre rule I'd like to see it. Then I would be able to better understand the situation.
B. Barisoff: It was an old one, and I definitely will dig it up again. I know the gentleman had been trying for a number of years to
One other thing here is: "Under the commission 'net benefit for agriculture policy', the exclusion, subdivision or non-farm use of lands within the ALR may be allowed where a neutral or positive impact on agriculture can be achieved through trade-offs or conditions of approval. The trade may be in the form of land-for-land, the consolidation of farm parcels, drainage or other considerations such as local government's commitment to undertake agriculture strategy."
I'm wondering whether the minister or the Land Reserve Commission has fully looked into a lot of these areas and where they could
The reason I bring this forward is that I know that the Thomas Ranches in Okanagan Falls has sold their entire ranch to the wildlife nature trust, or one of those groups, and simply because he knew it was in
Hon. C. Evans: The hon. member brings up a point that is truly salient to the times everywhere. It's not just in the lower mainland. The East Kootenay, for example, tends to be ranches assembled coming out of the Depression -- out of 160-acre quarter-section lots, into 1,000- or 10,000-acre blocks
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that are large enough to make a living on. As times and cultural desires change, there's increasingly a desire amongst people, say, in Calgary to have a summer home. Increasingly they can afford one of those 160-acre blocks. So you might have not only what in the lower mainland might be a person's desire to buy ten acres of a 40-acre block in the East Kootenay; it might be to buy 160 acres, yet for no more purpose than privacy or even recreation. There are ranches in British Columbia which are literally made up of more than 1,000 individual titles.
In answer to the specific question of whether the Land Commission in a proactive way attempts to influence consolidation -- in other words, to go out and find situations like this and enter into discussions with the owners -- no, they don't. Do they attempt to encourage consolidation when a municipality or regional district or a developer or an owner comes to them with a plan? Yes, they do. Does the ministry attempt to affect consolidation? The hon. member will know that some time ago, we were both
I met some resistance, because of course the farm community knows very well that their equity is increased by the number of lines that divide their property. I would be pleased to work with the hon. member to reverse that position. If he is saying that it's in the interests of society and food production and the agricultural land reserve to consolidate properties, I would agree with him.
A last point: there is another measure that I think we can take. It's somewhat punitive, but I am in favour of it and don't mind putting it on the record. It's called home and homesite taxation. It's been put forward by various agricultural organizations over the years. It basically says that we sever off the value of the home that you put on that land, and we tax it separately from the rest of the property. So if you put a mansion on ten acres of land, even if you're farming the ten acres of land -- by making $2,500, say, renting it out to somebody to put some sheep on it or something -- you're still going to pay mansion taxes on the building you put in the middle.
I personally would be in favour of that. I don't mind saying so; I've always said so. But I would rather not impose it on people. I would rather come to that in agreement with the hon. critic from the opposition and with the leadership of the farm community as a way to solve problems and to deal with encroachment. I make that offer. If the hon. member would like to lead, I'd love to follow.
B. Barisoff: There's no doubt in my mind that we're certainly looking forward to the opportunity to lead, but we're hoping that's coming in the future. But to correct the minister
Hon. C. Evans: But you're going to duck the issue at hand, aren't you? I don't think that's how you get to lead.
B. Barisoff: To correct the minister on the amalgamation of titles, it's not that
If we just look at the performance measures in the business plan, in No. 7, in the last line, on the bottom line, it says: "However, trends may give an indication of how the commission's policies and actions affect farm and forestry land utilization." I guess further back in that, we have the ability to find markets for farming and productivity per acre.
I think that if we take No. 7 and look at it as
Hon. C. Evans: I either don't understand the question, or I don't agree with the initiative. Maybe the hon. member wants to explain it differently. If he is suggesting that because you can make money on one acre that used to take ten acres -- ergo the other nine don't need to be preserved -- I don't agree with the principle. But I may have misunderstood the question.
B. Barisoff: No, you didn't misunderstand it. The question, I guess, goes back to the homesite severance and the amount of land that actually makes a viable farm. When I look down here and see that the commission itself is looking at the productivity per acre, what I'm saying is that in a case of a homesite severance, it might be substantially less than ten acres. The minister is saying that isn't a criterion, and I will definitely follow that up with the Land Reserve Commission. I know they have told me differently -- that nine acres, eight acres or even a five-acre parcel of land can be used as a viable piece of farmland. A five-acre parcel of cherries in Oliver
The last thing I want to do while we've got the Land Reserve Commission here is
There's some serious concern with a number of adjacent landowners in the agricultural area about the potential impact
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of the trail on agriculture operations. In the Okanagan, it actually funnels right through the centre of some people's orchards.
Hon. C. Evans: Hon. Chair, I'm at a little bit of a disadvantage, since I'm not holding the letter from the Ag Council. I'm going to answer the question, but then if the hon. member wishes to share the letter, I'll try and answer it again in the context of the letter.
I think the issue is: who has jurisdiction over the Trans Canada Trail, and are there appropriate mitigation measures in place to ensure that the trail will be used in a way that is at least benign and perhaps even beneficial to agriculture? I'm really concerned about this. The hon. member from Delta will know that it's an issue down there, because we already have trail use on the dikes -- people throwing bottles in fields, people parking cars on side roads. You can't move equipment. People are allowing their dogs to run livestock. It's an issue in parts of the Merritt area; it's an issue in parts around Penticton. It's an issue coming down into Rock Creek for all those reasons, and also issues of hygiene, issues of signage and the like.
A question of fencing
These are all big issues. I'm really proud of the $5 million that's been allocated to the trail thus far. It's my understanding that $2 million of that is for mitigation measures in order to address all those questions. Personally, I'm a fan of the idea that Canada would have a way for people to see the country.
Secondly, I think that if it's done correctly and respectfully of agriculture, it could even be a benefit to agriculture. We're trying to skew the investment so that it is at least benign and maybe beneficial to agriculture.
The other part of the question is: whose jurisdiction is it? As far as I'm concerned, it is the jurisdiction of the Land Commission; it's not the jurisdiction of the government. It ought to stay the jurisdiction of the Land Commission. Their role ought to be advocate for agriculture, as we have been discussing for an hour and a half now. If they don't feel that we're using the trail in a way that works for farming, they ought to be the people that speak up and say to government: "Hey, you're not living up to your commitment."
B. Barisoff: I think we are in agreement there -- that there is definitely a lot of support for the Trans Canada Trail that crosses
With that, I know the member for Delta South has a question on this also.
V. Roddick: This is more or less along the same lines as we've been talking about as to whether you consolidate lands or what the Land Commission does to help the farmer. You can protect the agricultural land, but if it's not farmed by a farmer making money, it's no longer agricultural land. Now, I would really like to ask the minister and the Land Commission
We in the farmland own our mineral rights. You can sell them or keep them yourself and develop them, should you develop oil. The farmers, in this time of trying to take off for their housing to retire
Now, I understand that the Land Commission is not keen on allowing a farmer, at his choice, to appeal to conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited or the Nature Trust or the Land Conservancy or the Islands Trust to make virtual covenants on that land -- i.e., no greenhouses, for instance, or no intensive barns for hogs, chickens. And they get paid for that. In other words, the land is now so valuable, especially in Delta South, where at some stages it's $21,000 an acre
So I would like the minister to work with the Land Commission to look into these conservation covenants as a means to solve some of the ongoing cash flow problems. And this is a choice. The farmer isn't being forced into this; he's coming to these groups and asking.
Hon. C. Evans: Well, hon. Chair, this is another one of those cases where the good people to my left and my right have been beating down my biases and convincing me that this is a good idea. I guess I would have thought that selling out the rights to be able to do something in the future -- limiting the use of land of future generations -- was a way of limiting agriculture and not a good thing. But the good people sitting here with me giving me advice say that it's a lot better to do that than to do the alternative, which in lots of cases is to have to sell the land itself and lose control of the land for agriculture for all time.
So I guess there are arguments on behalf of these covenants which I did not understand. I'm advised that the Land Commission doesn't have a hard-and-fast policy for or against -- that they have accepted some and that they have turned some down. Obviously you can tell from my remarks that I have not been seized of this nature covenant question before, and I'd be pleased to learn more about it. I'd be really interested in reading any correspondence that suggests there is a hard-and-fast policy on this matter at the Land Commission.
J. van Dongen: The member for Okanagan-Boundary raised the issue of multiple legal titles on farms and ranches,
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otherwise known as historical subdivisions. I just wanted to give the minister a quick illustration of where I think a proactive policy of trying to provide some support and some enabling help, I suppose, to farmers might be a good thing.
I have a farm in mind that's in your riding, hon. Chair. It's a 48-acre dairy farm. It was built up over many years -- a very good operation. But it's 48 acres; it's seven legal titles. It has a full complement of dairy buildings -- a very good family farm. The father died two years ago, and after a great deal of difficulty the family negotiated an arrangement whereby the younger son took over the farm and paid out a certain amount of money to the other four brothers. He's sitting there now with a significant debt, barely able to keep the farm running and is considering looking at selling the farm. And when he does that -- when he's forced to do that -- that farm will end up being seven little legal titles and a number of houses being built, and we'll lose a very viable dairy farm.
What we'd like to see, and certainly what I'm suggesting that the commission needs to be more proactive in looking at, is sitting down with that farmer in his particular situation and seeing if those property rights in those multiple titles couldn't be moved somewhere else to some lower-capability land or to the edge of the ALR -- but some proactive program to provide some assistance to that farmer to consider that.
I think that over the last five years or so, the commission has been more flexible in looking at these individual situations and providing some opportunity to move lines around, if you will. I just simply wanted to submit that as an example to you, minister, of where I think we could save an existing farm and come up with some better land use within the ALR and facilitate this family's situation.
Hon. C. Evans: I don't think there's a question. I do understand the issue. It's similar to lots that exist in my own constituency, where -- especially in the area that the Chair knows about, in Creston -- one grower may own seven different lots and not even have them be connected and be viable in that fashion. So I thank you for the information, and we'll make sure that we try to encourage both the ministry and the commission to find innovations in that direction.
J. van Dongen: There's just one other issue that I want to raise with respect to the Land Reserve Commission, and that is the Williams-B.C. Hydro pipeline, a gas line which is going to be built from Sumas through a part of Washington State and across the water to Vancouver Island. And as I understand it, it's going through about 40 properties on Vancouver Island.
Now, I'm expecting that some of those properties are in the agricultural land reserve, but I wonder if the minister could tell us if the commission is involved in this project. Certainly the reason I raise it is because I think, historically, there's been some problems in terms of the commission's efforts to protect agriculture in those processes. Certainly I want to flag it as something of a concern that the commission should be aware of, if it involves ALR land.
Hon. C. Evans: You know what I suspect. I suspect that the hon. member who represents this area in Cobble Hill put the hon. member up to this question. No? It wouldn't have surprised me.
Anyway, absolutely, hon. Chair -- the commission is seized of the issue. I agree there have been events in the past where the subsoil wound up on the top and the topsoil on the bottom, and the whole lot was compacted into something that wasn't productive or was even turned into a swamp. It's our job -- it's the commission's job -- to see to it that those kinds of activities don't take place. And a member of the ministry staff has been to all the public meetings. I don't know if it's because she's such an excellent employee and gives up her evenings as well or if it's because it's her neighbourhood. But at any rate, we're dealing with it, and we'll try to see to it that it goes well.
J. Wilson: I had a question on the Trans Canada Trail. Is the trail laid out and designated? Is where it goes established, and does it have a heritage designation?
Hon. C. Evans: We don't know of any heritage designation for the Trans Canada Trail, although there are heritage trails in the province, and so I don't wish to say that none of it is. Between Salmo and Creston, for example, parts of the trail are going to follow the old Dewdney Trail, and that may have some designation. I haven't heard of it.
The second question: is the trail laid out? In the main, the trail is laid out across Canada. However, British Columbia, like other provinces, is still working out the specifics in many areas of location. For example, there are areas where it is anticipated that there may be land acquisition to go around a property that's seen as inappropriate for the trail. I know that in my own area, there are places where the trail's going to follow a highway, because there is no appropriate land available.
I don't believe -- I stand to be corrected -- that there is cabinet designation for the length of the Trans Canada Trail in British Columbia, except for those pieces which may have been designated for similar use in the past and will then be rolled in.
J. Wilson: If the trail hasn't been laid out, it's imperative, I think, as far as agriculture goes, to lay the trail out so that it does not cross agricultural land. You can go around it or bypass it somehow down the side. Earlier the minister referred to problems created by people with their dogs and their garbage -- this kind of thing. What he didn't allude to was that if you designate a trail through a piece of agricultural land, from that point on you'll probably stop all development on that land.
If the owner wants to build a road that crosses that trail, he won't be able to. If he needs to construct a building or any other improvements on that land other than growing a crop, then he will probably be required to move off the trail, the width of the trail. It makes it virtually impossible, in many cases, to operate. I ask that the minister would keep this in mind and that if the ALC is going to be the lead agency or the voice for the agricultural interests here, they keep this in mind.
Hon. C. Evans: We are trying to respect the concerns that the hon. member raises -- happily, I think. In the main, the trail will follow railroad grade -- happily, abandoned railroad grade -- so that it has already historically been severed from the land adjoining. Where owners own land on both sides of the trail, happily that's a historical situation and not a new
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situation. Where new trail needs to be established, we are of course cognizant of the hon. member's concerns that we attempt to not bisect properties where possible.
J. Weisgerber: I have a couple of issues I'd like to raise with the minister. The first is the issue of wildlife damage to crops. I know that earlier in the estimates the minister touched on it. I also know that the minister has taken a lead role, and I want to commend him for doing that, particularly in the area of elk damage to crops in the Peace country.
I'm wondering if the minister can tell me whether or not he has been able to find any resolution to the problems around fencing for haystacks, particularly as they relate to elk but also to other wildlife ungulates. I'm also wondering whether or not the minister, having gone that far, has started to look into the area of waterfowl damage to crops, particularly in the Peace country.
Hon. C. Evans: Firstly, I'd like to say to the hon. member: congratulations on the happy news that we heard today on his behalf.
On the specifics of the issue, no, I do not have a resolution to announce in terms of ungulates in the Peace. However, I'm in possession -- as I think probably the hon. member is; otherwise I'll share it with him -- of an excellent proposal from the Peace River regional district, which they brought here just weeks ago, to show that they now have administrative capacity and a timetable and a cost for dealing with stockyard fencing. My officials now have a budget, as we announced two weeks ago on Ag Day. We are attempting to put the two together. I hope there will be some resolution in the near future, but I can't say I have one today.
The hon. member's second question was: had we moved beyond that to considering wild fowl damage? This is an important question, not just in the Peace but in Creston, Delta, Courtenay -- names just off the top of my head. I had this little rant yesterday. The hon. member missed my little rant about Burnaby and New Westminster. I was trying to say that the
Part of what we announced two weeks ago was that we were going to put $1.5 million forward in an environmental fund, I hope, for mitigation. We are negotiating right now and over the course of the next few months with the federal government to see if we can't get them to match our dollars and in fact exceed them by a bit and create a perpetual fund for wildlife damage. My preference in the short run would be to work with the ten-point committee of the B.C. Ag Council and invest that $1.5 million in mitigation measures.
If it becomes a larger fund, we may move in future to paying on some damages. But in the beginning I would at least have said I'd like to see it invested in, for example, lure crops to try to move wild fowl off of productive land and onto adjoining property.
J. Weisgerber: With respect to the federal government's involvement, particularly on migratory birds, it seems to me that the stamp that hunters buy for migratory birds -- similar to a salmon tag that you would get here with your licence -- is designed particularly to deal with waterfowl damage. Does B.C. get a share of that? The Prairies, I think, participate quite broadly in things like bait crops and compensation for damage to crops outside of those lure crops or bait crops. I'm wondering: is B.C. a participant in this program?
Hon. C. Evans: I'm actually ignorant of where the federal government assigns those moneys. The initiative that I was describing has to do with agriculture-to-agriculture negotiations with the federal government and hasn't extended in this respect for agriculture to environment or whatever. I just want to add that I am aware that the federal government has lots of programs in British Columbia. They used to pay for half the costs of the Creston Valley wildlife management area. They've now cut that, but they used to. They are invested in the airport lands in Delta and the like.
J. Weisgerber: Perhaps the minister
Certainly the issue of elk and damage by elk to hay crops has become the predominant issue in that area. Ironically, I want to kind of move to an area that seems almost contradictory. While there are farmers who are greatly concerned about the damage that has been done by wild elk herds in the area, there are also people who would very much like not to fence the elk out but to fence them in. I'm wondering if the minister
Hon. C. Evans: I'm aware of the issue. I don't know if the Straskys are the member's constituents, but there's a gentleman, Rod Strasky, who made quite an excellent argument that if we would simply allow farmers to fence the elk in, we wouldn't have to pay anything for damage, because they would constitute a revenue stream. You'd put out your haystack, 600 animals would come, you'd throw a fence around them, and then you'd have a way to make a living -- farming the elk. Unfortunately, as recently as two weeks ago our staff met again with Environment staff, and Environment staff remains convinced that elk are an indigenous species. We canvassed this same issue for the caribou yesterday. I have not moved them off of that position.
One thing I will say is that we do not wish to be overly critical of their position, because in the Peace we are now able to issue a kind of hunting permit on private land, out of season, on elk, which -- well, I wouldn't say on the record it
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constituted farming the elk -- does constitute a recognition that the elk have value to some people in society who will go and hunt the elk if allowed.
That is as much progress as I can say we've made. We also canvassed yesterday the bison issue. I might be wrong in saying so, but it sort of feels to me like bison are less contentious than elk, because at least we have agreement that they can be raised legally on fenced and cleared land.
J. Weisgerber: There's no doubt that bison are less contentious. I think there is a longer history. Since they were on the brink of extinction, they have in fact been confined in one way or another -- whether it be in parks like Elk Island Park in Alberta or ultimately smaller ranching facilities -- whereas I think elk are both indigenous and tend to be closer to the wild state, even those that are farmed. I do think it's an area that has some potential, and I think people in the Peace will perhaps look toward the minister as an advocate in that area.
It must be the arrival of a new member of my family that's mellowed me out today, but I want to talk about one other issue and again start with a compliment to the minister, and that is with respect to the return of funding for weed control to the regional district. Apparently the return of funding there has allowed the regional district to continue with weed control. That's an event that happened a couple of years ago, but it's an important issue.
I'm wondering -- going beyond the activities of the regional district with respect to enforcing weed control and weed management on private land, which is important -- whether the minister has wrapped his mind around this issue of public lands and weed infestations on public lands. I'm thinking about road rights-of-way, gravel pits. A lot of them fall under the Ministry of Highways, which the minister had some experience with, I believe.
But there are also railways lands, the BCR lands, the public lands along rivers that are not settled land or private land. I'm thinking of the Pouce river as a classic example. It runs through agricultural land but is public land for a mile or so on each side of the river. There are often very serious weed infestations on our public lands, which we seem to apply a different standard to than the enforcement agencies apply to the private land.
Farmers say to me: "It just makes absolutely no sense for me to go out there year after year, spraying and cutting and managing the weeds, and your weeds are growing right across the fence. Every time the wind blows, the weed seeds are blown back onto my property, and I start all over again."
I wonder: has the ministry looked at, in some fresh manner, this issue of weed control on public lands, particularly those adjacent to agricultural land?
Hon. C. Evans: I don't actually think that the ministry or the minister deserves credit for what's happening in the Peace. I think we should shift the credit off to the regional district. The reason that funding is fully restored there is simply because that's the municipal jurisdiction that stepped forward and offered to deliver the partnership in the most proactive way. So give credit to the regional district.
Yes, the ministry and the minister turned their mind to this subject and even have threatened
But the larger question of weeds
So when I think about it, we need to come forward with some kind of language that uses the word "alien" or "invasive" or something, like frogs brought to Australia, in order that the people who actually need to contribute the dollars to solving the problem get it that we're not just talking about weeds that have gone from their lawn into their flower garden.
J. Weisgerber: Well, let me just finish by saying that I think the minister has a good point. The reality of what's happening, though, is that as budgets are constrained, line ministries -- particularly Highways -- are moving away. At least, they used to have a contractor for the purposes of appearance to go out and cut the grass in the ditches two or three times a year. The effect of that was to keep weeds from maturing and seeds from blowing around. One of the ways that highway contracts have been modified is to remove the requirement for mowing of grass. So that has exacerbated or added to the situation. I know it's not the minister's issue. It's the minister's clients or the industry that he serves who are really paying the price for that economy.
Hon. C. Evans: I didn't discern a question. The member's quite right: it's my job to get the other ministers to recognize the issue, and I accept the responsibility.
R. Coleman: I have a number of issues which I'd like to canvass with the minister this afternoon, to do with ducks and chickens and a couple of things like that which have some effect on my riding and also some effect on the processing industry. I'd like to get some clarification on some of our positions on the part of our representation to the national and what have you.
Before I do that, though, I'd like to tell the minister about an opening I went to on the weekend. We opened an equestrian centre in the township of Langley, in my riding of Fort Langley-Aldergrove at 248th and 72nd, which will, frankly, rival or be better for the equestrian and horse industry than Spruce Meadows, outside of Calgary. On the weekend there was a small event there -- 600-plus horses from every age group, children, all the way through to a Grand Prix event. There wasn't a hotel room to be had.
This facility was built by George and Dianne Tidball, who've had a long commitment to the equestrian industry in
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British Columbia and across Canada for many years. I think it's great because, frankly, the Grand Prix events that will be held there -- a major one in August and five Grand Prix events annually -- will be free to the public. So people will get the opportunity to see the horse industry, to see how that industry is on the land and the farming and is part of that whole agricultural complex. And it was actually a very interesting thing to see, to see it actually live for the first time on that type of facility and know that it's now going to be in our community for the next 20 to 50 years and to grow and be very successful.
I'd like, first of all, to start out today talking about ducks. The reason I would is because duck farming seems to be something that's coming into its own within the agricultural complex. I have a duck farm that's recently been built in my community that has brought a number of issues with it. I thought I'd give the minister a little bit of background about duck farming, because it's a bit different, frankly, from some of the issues we've had to deal with in the past.
First of all, this particular farm, just so the minister understands, is a very nice-looking barn on a farm in the middle of the agricultural land reserve. I don't think there's any argument about the fact that it has the right to be there. It basically has a six-foot basement or pit underneath the barn, and the ducks walk on a grate above that. The ducks are basically in an enclosed barn with these grates. Then there are stacks outside the barn.
The difficulty with duck farming, compared to chicken farming and other farming, is that duck excrement is quite liquefied. It's much more like a swine herd operation than it is a chicken operation or a turkey operation. The difficulty with that, of course, is what comes out of the stacks, and that is the smell. The smell is extremely intrusive. I'm just wondering what the ministry's status is on this, because I know the ministry has had some dealings with this particular farm. We've all recognized in this area that this farm is going to be the test for all of us to decide how we're going to deal with the growth of this particular industry. By chicken standards, this is a small operation -- 10,000 birds, versus when we get into 60,000, 70,000, 80,000 and 100,000 birds and chickens.
However, it happens to sit in an area where we have a very odd inversion of air, which moves the smell from this farm to a larger area of the neighbourhood in quite a dramatic fashion. I'm just wondering what the ministry's status is as far as attempting to work with the farmer to find solutions to being able to control this trespassive smell to the rest of the community, because I can see it, down the road, becoming a huge issue for all of us as more and more duck farmers appear.
Hon. C. Evans: Firstly, I thank the member for his comments about the equestrian investment in his constituency and congratulate him for the good news.
The duck farming issue that he raises -- my understanding is that it's before the Farm Practices Board at present. It is my hope, as it always is with these issues, that a voluntary solution can be found that doesn't require ministerial intervention or even my musing aloud about what the solution ought to be. It's my understanding that the producer is quite a reputable individual, that the Farm Practices Board is kind of searching around for a best-practices solution. I would agree with the hon. member that if a happy outcome can be found, it bodes well for the expansion of the industry. And if we're unable to resolve the question or if it requires some kind of intervention, then it's not good either for the neighbours or the farmer or the economic viability of similar operations in future.
R. Coleman: The minister is right about the farmer actually being a cooperative individual and trying his best to do what he can. I'm just wondering: where does the minister see
I'm just wondering where the minister sees the responsibility of the ministry in preresearch to some of these farm operations coming into practice, to have some of these solutions sort of predetermined from other jurisdictions that have already had to deal with this, or to have at least a base of research or information available when these people come into the industry, so that they can say: "This is what you can expect. There are going to be difficulties with this type of farming. These are the solutions that were found, let's say, in Carolina or Alberta or some other jurisdiction, to the difficulties you're going to run into prior to you making this investment and then finding out you have difficulty with the investment."
Hon. C. Evans: I don't think I have a satisfactory answer. I don't want the hon. member to think that the 300 or 400 people that work in our ministry and with our ministry are not engaged in ongoing research all the time, especially in terms of evolving commodities or economic opportunities.
However, the nature of farming, except when government in a very extraordinary way, like mushrooms, goes through the process of appointing an individual or a group to create a regulatory regime expressly for an industry
So you might wake up one morning, and the person next door to you, in a legal way, is making surimi or processing fish waste or storing manure or making noise, and it's legal. It does not, in the main, require on-farm a prerequisite preinvestment application process. In other words, we don't vet it. If it's farming, you can put your money forward.
Often, the situation that staff and the Farm Practices Board find themselves in is that they are following the investment; it's already there. There are many different ways of manure storage and manure treatment, in the atmosphere and also in the absence of oxygen. There are lots of different ways. Often, as is the case here, we learn about it after the person has chosen the method of technology and made the invest
I don't think, at this time, that it would be acceptable to the agricultural community to go to a preinvestment regulatory regime for most commodities. We try to manage with the Farm Practices Board, with the research capability that our staff have at whatever point they are approached, and lastly with the peer review system to deal after the fact with changing business practices.
[ Page 15992 ]
R. Coleman: At this point, are the Farm Practices Board or the officials from the ministry trying to work with the particular duck farmer to find a solution to how to mitigate some of the smell in that neighbourhood, so that they'll have a solution for other duck farmers that want to develop in the future -- so there'll be an example out there we can point to that says: "We had a problem; we've actually successfully solved the problem. Now that we've successfully solved the problem, here's the solution for all of you or for a number of you, if you choose to use it"?
Hon. C. Evans: I think the answer is yes.
R. Coleman: I always find the odour side of farming, when it's in and around an urban area, an interesting discussion. In my real estate background, what constituted as a trespass could be odour or something intrusive coming over a property line. In my community of Aldergrove, I still have one outdoor composting operation, and mushrooms, that actually filters over an entire community of 10,000 people; that one has not been fixed like the Money's issue, and all the rest of it.
I'd like an explanation from the ministry as to the difference between civil trespass of odour or smoke or whatever that would normally be considered to be a trespass across property lines in and out of the agricultural land reserve -- in other words, from agricultural land reserve into a long-term impact on an area. I'm not saying where you spread manure, and it lasts for three or four days, but something that's daily and lasts daily from a farming operation. It falls within the similar definitions of trespass that you'd find in a normal civil situation, from one landowner to the other.
Hon. C. Evans: We try to come up with best practices for all commodities as they evolve. We try to do so in order that people like farming and accept farmers in their communities.
Just so anybody who thinks to the contrary understands, I do not encourage people to farm in such a way as to create smells in order to stop the encroachment of urban civilization on farmland, get in people's way, push the farmers out of the communities and basically make it impossible to work in rural areas. It's not true that that's what I think. I have never told somebody that pig farming would be a good idea, or maybe raising cauliflower or Brussels sprouts and then letting it rot in the field -- nope.
Every time one of my colleagues says, "Let's start a mushroom-composting business next to this subdivision in order to protect the farmers behind it," I say: "No, no, that's not the right way to treat those urban people. We don't want to smell bad on purpose." We've never gone in that direction. Like, when my colleagues say, "You know, we could use noise; we could create noise to slow down the encroachment of Victoria out into the Saanich Peninsula or out into Colwood," I always say: "No, you can't use bird bangers just to offend the urban people and to protect the farmland." Sometimes my colleagues say: "You know what, minister? I want to run tractors around on Sunday morning really early, at 4 o'clock in the morning, so these people will understand that we have
Because I have been limiting my colleagues to stop this kind of intrusive behaviour, in order to try and protect the people of the land from the people of the city, I'm offended by that word "trespass." We aren't going there, hon. Chair. We are not going to extend the use of the word trespass to include noise and smell. We're going to try and solve all these problems in an honourable way, not an offensive way. So I don't want to use that kind of quasi-legal word.
Certainly in the absence of the settlement of treaties in this province there is a group of people who have sort of a proprietary right to the word trespass, and I don't like to hear it there either. Whether it's the hon. member from Cobble Hill trying to keep Duncan at bay or what have you, let's try to solve these problems without heavy-handed legal words like trespass being used in terms of farming people.
R. Coleman: I don't actually find that word to be heavy-handed. And just so the minister understands, there aren't subdivisions growing towards any of this, because this entire community is surrounded by the agricultural land reserve and can't grow and has not been able to grow for 20 years, actually. It's only got a land base within itself.
It was a question as to how we were going to deal with that interpretation relative to how the Real Estate Act and other acts already use that interpretation in the training of its people -- and it does. Whenever somebody takes a course in real estate or a course as an agent, that's one of the sections that they have to deal with, relative to how they are allowed to sell land and to disclosures on land relative to a use that's in the area that may affect the quiet and peaceful use of a person's property. So I don't think the use of trespass is an issue here.
I wanted to move on to
Hon. C. Evans: I am, and I think British Columbia is, committed to re-entering the national agreement. It has to be fair terms when we enter the national agreement. The Chicken Farmers of Canada and our officials are meeting at this time. I expect there to be an agreement by Christmas. We're not entering on any terms at all but on fair terms. I think I have advised the producers, the regulatory agents in terms of the Chicken Board and also the superboard and the processing industry -- all the same information.
R. Coleman: Could the minister clarify for me what officials and what groups are actually conducting these meetings to negotiate, or whatever it is, to go back into the national agreement?
Hon. C. Evans: I apologize for the time. It's somewhat complicated. I take the question to be: "Who are the officials in this province and other provinces that are meeting? How will the issue move towards resolution?" Right now the officials that are meeting are the Chicken Board of British Columbia and the chicken boards -- their colleagues -- of other provinces; then the Chicken Board of British Columbia will meet with the superboard of British Columbia; that's the proper name.
In July, Agriculture ministers across Canada will meet and discuss the issue. It is British Columbia, at my request, that has put this issue before all the other ministers of Canada.
[ Page 15993 ]
Following that time, then, the superboards of all of the provinces will meet to review together the recommendations of their individual boards. Lastly, it is my expectation and guess that there will be a meeting of federal-provincial ministers sometime in the winter, in November or December, to review a final draft that would evolve out of this process.
R. Coleman: I just want to clarify that a little bit. So the Chicken Board of B.C. is presently in these discussions. Chicken Board, so that the interests of the industry are being properly represented at the table?
Hon. C. Evans: I think the hon. member knows and is probably alluding to
The Chicken Board, however, has advisory groups with growers and processors on them. It would be my preference in a better world that they were all sitting in the same room, but at least they manage to have advisory boards. They give advice to the Chicken Board. The Chicken Board uses that advice to negotiate.
R. Coleman: My understanding is that one of those committees, which was made up of growers and processors and had a chair, was close to coming to some agreement on pricing and some of the other issues around this. They were told to have a report ready for the minister to go to this national meeting, and then were told to suspend their work. Basically they were shut down by either the Chicken Board or the superboard. Is the minister aware of that committee that was basically told not to continue their work, because one individual on the board was going to be on holidays outside a deadline? They asked for an extension to come back with what they thought their solutions were and were told not to bother.
Hon. C. Evans: No. I'm unaware of that situation, and I thank the member for enlightening me.
R. Coleman: As a person who represents a riding where there are a lot of chicken growers and having met with all the processors in this particular game, I find this to be a very frustrating situation relative to quota, relative to pricing and relative to what the processor can or cannot make as a living. Therefore I have some concerns around the industry.
As we re-enter the national -- if we're allowed to re-enter the national -- the live price in other provinces is substantially lower than the live price in British Columbia. As we re-enter the national, how would we deal with that live price that is substantially different in other jurisdictions relative to our producers?
Hon. C. Evans: There are two answers to the question, and they're both equally correct. The official answer is that the price is negotiated by processors and producers in British Columbia; there's a process for that. It's an order by the Chicken Board. It ends up in final offer arbitration, and that's how you set the price of chicken. That answer is absolutely correct.
There's another answer which is equally correct, and that is that, increasingly, processed chicken moves across borders. And to the extent that British Columbia is offside from the rest of the country in future years, we are less likely to sell our equal share of chicken. However, I think it would be inappropriate for anybody listening to my comments -- I hope nobody disagrees with me, but even if you do -- to think that one or the other of my answers is more correct.
What's happening is that we're in a time of evolution. Changing technology, the federal government's hugely unfortunate abandonment of their freight transportation regulatory regime and a rapidly growing market share -- I think 7 percent per year or something internal to the province and probably in excess of that offshore -- all create a rapidly changing operating regime and makes the negotiating process we have historically used and the need to evolve to a closely competitive Canadian price equally valid. It makes this moment that we're living through -- that the hon. member alludes to as somewhat frustrating -- a time of transition and a time of trial and opportunity. The trial is that we get it right, or we may lose market-share. The opportunity is that we get it right, and we have the opportunity to grow the industry, I think, beyond anybody's expectations of years passed.
R. Coleman: Relative to that, I'm in some agreement with the ministry. My big concern, of course, is that there are well over 1,000 jobs in processing in B.C. I'd rather see us competitive so that processing jobs, along with the growth in B.C., stay in B.C. I have a concern because
[V. Roddick in the chair.]
Hon. C. Evans: I think there is a perception of rancour in the industry. In part, that is because the people who are in the industry are strong personalities with strongly held views, and there's a lot of money at stake. Some of the people don't like each other very much. There's another way of looking at it, and that is that ever since the final-offer arbitration system was brought in, we haven't had a court case on pricing -- for a year, or maybe it's a year and a half. I would agree that the hon. member's right: there's a perception of rancour. That perception makes my life quite difficult, especially because some of those people who don't like each other very much actually have my phone number.
I think -- and I would like the hon. member to tell the story to the world -- that we may be moving in the right direction, because that tendency to litigation may be on the decrease. We may be moving towards a system where people get along better.
R. Coleman: I do believe a number of those people also have my phone number. That's why we're having this discussion.
When you move towards re-entering the national program, what is the mandate to the discussion on behalf of the ministry relative to what happens with the export program that has been built up by the industry today?
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Hon. C. Evans: I can't wait to solve this problem. The Chicken Board will come forward with some suggestions on the export program and the future of the export program, and I will consider those suggestions when the Chicken Board comes forward with its report.
Of course, I understand that what they think has to be considered in terms what all the other provinces think. The wonderful thing is that we're engaged by this issue, and we're moving in that direction. The difficult thing is that we're moving towards the moment where those hard decisions will have to be made. But at least we're making them in public. We're discussing them. I think that this is the first time that the export program or the national agreement has been a subject of debate in estimates. That shows that we are now having this discussion in the open, as we should have in years past.
R. Coleman: You did a great dance on that one, I must say.
An export program's actually an interesting anomaly. You have a market
As we go into this discussion on a national basis, I'd be really curious as to what direction the officials that are going
How are you going to approach the whole attitude towards that investment in creating that market relative to maintaining a domestic price that may yield a higher price for both our grower and our processor?
Hon. C. Evans: If the hon. member is just putting this stuff on the record because he wants to advise some constituents of his that he raised it, then that's fine. If there's actually a question in there -- in which the pronoun "you" means "How am I going to instruct the Chicken Board to resolve this?" -- then I need to bring a stop to that here and on the record.
I fired the Chicken Board not because of any irregularity or anybody doing anything wrong. They were wonderful people and honest people. I did so in order to create an environment where we could address these questions with some independence, and I felt that the relationships there at the board were incapable of doing so. But I didn't replace it with a judge and an independent board in order that I as minister could then tell the judge how to resolve this question.
I need to say that if the pronoun "you" was used to say "How will I, or the ministry or the board, tell the judge to solve this question?" that's not what's going on. That would cost me my job, and it would be a fool's act anyway. There is a judge and an independent board that have been appointed. They are addressing this question. They will report out, I will make their report public, and I will not interfere in the process in the meantime.
R. Coleman: The pronoun "you" did not refer to the minister but to the ministry. Language can be difficult. But this has got nothing to do with getting something on the record for a constituent. It's an interest I've taken because there are hundreds of constituents in my area that are affected by chicken farming. Also, there are hundreds of people with jobs in the processing industry and the feed industry and in the land base and all the rest of it. Obviously this is an industry that has some concerns.
If we move away from the pronoun "you," maybe the question should be: are there some terms of reference established for negotiations for the Chicken Board to go and look at getting back into the national program? And what are the terms of reference relative to the export program in those terms of reference?
Hon. C. Evans: I respect the hon. member's intention in wanting to discuss this issue on behalf of all the producers and all the processors and protecting all the jobs. I acknowledge that that is his interest.
However, the terms of reference with which the Chicken Board is addressing the export program are developed by the Chicken Board. The Chicken Board's report will go to the superboard, and the superboard will report to me. I will take those recommendations and enter the national program -- which is where we started this discussion -- or not, based on my own and, I guess, cabinet's evaluation of fairness with other provinces in Canada and a desire to protect the growers, the processors and the workers in the industry and the market share that has been developed and to try to re-impose a system of fairness that acknowledges the value of supply management in this industry and in Canada but doesn't sell out British Columbia's interest.
I am unwilling to enter into sort of musings or dialogue about my thoughts about the export program, in part because I am afraid that that might colour the research and deliberations of the Chicken Board but also because I think the Chicken Board may come up with solutions to the export program that I've never thought of and nobody here has ever thought of. They may work and, in a perfect world, bring the industry back together again, internally to British Columbia and then within Canada. I think all of that hope would fail if anybody thought that there was a political direction.
R. Coleman: So the Chicken Board is moving forward as an independent without influence from the ministry relative to this. There was also the reference earlier that officials were involved in looking at going back into the national program. Is there any requirement for the chicken board to communicate to the industry its terms of reference as it moves forward? Is there any requirement for them to actually communicate to processors and growers and suppliers within the industry or have any discussions with them as they move forward to enter these discussions at the national level?
Hon. C. Evans: No, there isn't. However, there is a process that the Chicken Board has voluntarily entered into to communicate with the industry.
[ Page 15995 ]
R. Coleman: I'd like to move on, then, because I think we're just going to beat that one
I'd like to move on to Vancouver Island for a minute. There has been some comment made that because of the loss of processing on Vancouver Island, that quota may be able to be sold on Vancouver Island and replaced with a permitting process, so people would be allowed to sell quota but still have permits to grow chicken. I wonder if the minister could comment on that.
Hon. C. Evans: I'm at somewhat of a disadvantage to lay out the specifics of the program, because we're still in discussions, but I will explain what it was that I announced and what I think the chicken industry here and on the mainland expects.
The hon. member is quite right: what I announced was that, through a process, a quota would be allowed to flow throughout British Columbia or essentially off the Island. That answered the question of whether we were going to freeze quota to the Island, which was the wish of some people both in the industry and in the municipalities -- and perhaps MLAs -- who were concerned that without an arbitrary, geographic freeze on the sale of quota, Vancouver Island could lose its chicken business. I said no, we were going to lift that freeze and allow quota to move off-Island. However, in order to give some encouragement that critical mass could be maintained on the Island to develop enough chicken to develop a processing plant here some day, I also said that quota that left could be replaced with permits that were specific to Vancouver Island.
I want to make some comments about the difference between quota and permits. Essentially the difference is that quota, as everybody here knows, has a resale value. It is equity. That's what the dispute has been about: the equity or resale value of quota off-Island has been higher in recent years than on-Island. In the business community, there is an argument that the freeze of quota on-Island is arbitrarily disadvantaging Vancouver Island processors in terms of the resale value of their business.
Permits, on the other hand, have no value. They are signable through the existing permit system and can have whatever restrictions placed upon them
R. Coleman: That step brings me to my requirement as to explanations -- what I want to understand here. Basically a quota is worth about $28 a bird on the mainland. It ranges between $25 and $28, so if you have a 10,000-bird quota on Vancouver Island and you sell it to the mainland, that's a quarter of a million dollars that you can receive for your quota. Is it automatic that if you sell quota, you get a permit? Is a permit only going to be made available if somebody's prepared to make the processing investment on the Island, or is that permit automatic if you sell your quota?
Hon. C. Evans: What I was trying to say is that the rules or regulations around the issuing of permits are still being worked out, so nothing is automatic and nothing is cast in stone. I will communicate the answer to that and lots of other questions to the hon. member as soon as the consultation with producers and staff is complete.
However, I do want to expand the discussion just in one respect. It is my hope that the permit system can be accommodated by natural growth in British Columbia and will not constitute any destabilization of the concept of supply management on a provincial scale.
R. Coleman: That will be the major challenge of the permit system. If quota gets sold to the mainland and then that total amount of production is replaced because somebody decides to now put another processing plant on Vancouver Island, and we permit it, we now put that much more product into the marketplace.
I guess there are two concerns there. One is how that affects or stabilizes or destabilizes the British Columbia marketplace. Also, how does that affect
Hon. C. Evans: I expect that when I go to the meeting of ministers, they're all going to say: "Well, how's this working?" The hon. member is quite right. If you want to enter the national program, you have to be able to show that your province respects the principles of supply management, which is essentially that you produce up to demand. But I reiterate, that, happily, it is my expectation that we're only dealing here with permits. Even if they're called for, even if quota moves off-Island and people actually apply to have permits to replace them, it will be absorbed within provincial growth.
If that can't be done, then the hon. member is quite right, the other provinces would say that the permit system was unfair to the principle of supply management. So we have to be really careful that we don't issue permits in excess of growth.
R. Coleman: Just a word to the wise for the minister. The other argument you would hear from the farming community is that if you go permit a bunch after you've allowed somebody else to buy quota, and the growth of the industry which traditionally has been passed on down to me the farmer, where I've been allowed to grow my business a little bit a year, that is reducing my ability to grow. You're permitting somewhere else, and you actually take away my opportunity that I've had in this industry for the last 25 or 30 years. That's an argument you'll hear, and it's not one I think we want to
[ Page 15996 ]
debate today. But you will hear that statement and that argument -- no question whatsoever -- from the farmer who has already got quota and bought quota. He will say: "Now you're permitting, and you're taking away the growth opportunity in my farm, because you're giving it away to someone else." Expect that discussion.
Just before I leave this subject, the minister just made one comment
Hon. C. Evans: We haven't resolved that question; it's one of the issues to be addressed. I misspoke myself if I gave the hon. member the impression that there was an automatic cost. What I should have said is: permits can come at a cost, and the cost can be determined by the minister.
R. Coleman: I see my critic giving me the eye here every once in a while when I stand up. But he was well aware of the fact that I wanted to discuss some of these items that affect my community, so I'm just going to move on -- because, frankly, I'm his whip and
B. Barisoff: And I don't want to do night duty.
R. Coleman: I only have a couple more quick questions, though. It has nothing to do with chicken farming or duck farming, of course. It does have to do with an issue that hits a community like mine, which is basically on the edge of the urban area, with a 155-square-mile municipality with pockets of residential land that are surrounded by agricultural land. Most of my community is agricultural land, but I also have a community of over 100,000 people. It has to do with what some people have called the industrialization of the farming complex, which some people have made other comments relative to.
I know the minister has had some comments about common sense and cooperation within the industry relative to community when large farming operations grow up in a community. We haven't, unfortunately, seen the commonsense application to that in my community relative to setbacks or berming or stacking the traffic on a property. I don't know where we can find a solution, but I believe that in order to protect the farming complex long-term in communities like mine, where we actually do support farming but we have some concerns, somebody has to step up to the table and say: "You will apply this common sense."
If you have 80 acres of land and you want to build a massive warehouse barn operation, like a mushroom barn, don't set it 15 feet back from the road. Berm it. Stack your traffic so that it's back far enough from the road that it's not causing a hazard on the rural roads when you have 20 or 30 employees arriving on a jobsite every day, 365 days of the year, and then the supplies that come in and out.
It's a huge challenge that we face more in an area like the Fraser Valley than you do in a large area where you have more land, in the interior. I don't know where we go with it, but I'd love to hear the minister's idea on that. Frankly, it's coming to the point where we either come to the commonsense solutions and we get to some way that we can get some leadership in the industry in this area, or we're going to get this huge resistance to something that's very vital to the long-term viability of our province, and that's the agricultural complex. I deal with this on a daily basis, or at least a weekly basis, in a community where we actually believe in farming. I'm just wondering what the minister's comments are.
Hon. C. Evans: Once again the hon. member has raised an issue which is impossible to address in a really short time and one that I think about all the time, although perhaps it's not as close to home as the hon. member experiences it.
My thinking has evolved somewhat since I've had this job. I think that four years ago I thought my job was almost solely limited to one of trying to expand -- viability questions. My feeling was pretty much: "Anything goes. Anything you can do to make it pay is okay with me." I have, over the course of the last two years, I'd say, heard more and more from real farmers concerned with other farmers in their community turning the act of farming into an industrial activity and thereby limiting the viability of the farmers in the community.
I imagine the hon. member probably knows the case of the processing plant on-farm, which I was very supportive of, which was built to process blueberries and then started having many thousands of trucks delivering oranges to the door to process. I have a difficult time justifying the processing of oranges on British Columbia agricultural land, since we don't grow them here.
In answer to his question of who's dealing with it, our staff are dealing with it all the time. In the lower mainland especially, it is a municipal issue, and we are seized with it, trying to come up with some kind of definition of what is processing and what is legitimate on-farm processing. The Land Commission is seized of it. They're trying to come up with a definition of how much of a percentage of the food processed on the land had to be grown on the land or within what distance of that piece of land. The UBCM is seized with it, because from the other side, they have the same problem.
If the hon. member wonders what my thoughts are about how we might resolve it, the only solution I can think of to resolve it is an agriculture-driven sort of task force method, where the Land Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ag Council and UBCM, representing the municipalities, work together to come up with regulations defining these kinds of things and mitigation measures. The hon. member is quite right that if you can protect the sound and dust and traffic measures, people in the community will go for almost anything that makes farming viable.
I. Chong: On different subject matter -- and I know the minister has been here a long time; I'm mindful of the time -- I just have a few questions. If you would provide some answers or perhaps some direction which has to do with follow-up on some questions I had last year on the aerial spraying of the gypsy moth, which I did canvass in Forests, but from the Agriculture perspective. I want to, first of all, follow up on a question I posed to the minister last year, which was whether or not he or his ministry were able to look further into the ingredients involved in the emulsifying agent added to the Btk prior to it being sprayed.
As I understand it
[ Page 15997 ]
[D. Streifel in the chair.]
We agreed last year, through the Chair to the minister, that the difficulty in this was because of the emulsifying agent that was added. I believe the minister did commit last year that he would do everything in his power to try to find out what that was. I'm just wondering if the staff has been successful at that.
Hon. C. Evans: The hon. member is quite right. She asked last year if we would attempt to define the emulsifying agent, and we did so. The decision was that the distributor desired to sell product in British Columbia in future and so agreed to disclose the contents of the product to the federal government -- to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which is the certifying body. Those people advised our staff that they certified the emulsifying agent as acceptable for use in organic applications, but they will not tell us what it is. So I cannot give the hon. member a personal or even a staff recommendation that we know what the chemicals are.
We did do what we said we'd do. We have followed it up to the point that if we believe Canada, then the hon. member ought to be able to give her constituents some faith that no use of this product anywhere near an organic farm or on organic food should alter the acceptance of that product in the marketplace.
I. Chong: I thank the minister for those comments. I was somewhat concerned as well by the effects of the spray on the organic farming industry. They were concerned that they would lose their certification as being organic produce. I haven't heard of any major difficulties in that area here, where we do have organic farming growing and expanding. So until I hear that, I'll accept that. If I hear anything, I will pass it on to the minister.
I am disappointed, though, not from the perspective that his ministry is not able to provide us with the information, but that Canada would not provide it to the public, because clearly this is where the concern is. Transparency and disclosure would warrant that if this was safe and there wasn't a problem, we should at least be able to allay those kinds of fears. I'm not disappointed in the staff's effort, but I am disappointed that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency wouldn't agree to have that publicly disclosed. I don't want to pursue that to that extent.
I do have another question in this area. I would like the minister to advise whether his staff is aware of any adverse effects of the spraying here in Victoria on agricultural farms, whether they be produce farms or animal farms -- whether his ministry has heard of any complaints, firstly.
Hon. C. Evans: I'm sorry for the delay. It's kind of complicated information. For the interest of people who may not follow exactly what's going on here, we sprayed last year in the Victoria area, and there is a spray program this year in the Burnaby area. So that's why these matters.. . We may have to spray in the future. So we took the issue very seriously when it was raised in these estimates last year.
Now, it is my understanding
"The results of this project did not show a relationship between aerial spraying of Foray 48B and short-term human health effects. Although some people self-reported health problems that they attributed to the spraying program, the research and surveillance methods used in the project did not detect change in health status that could be linked to the spray program.There was also a concern raised about the impact of the spray on
"Our results showed that many of the health complaints people reported during the spray were as common in people before the spray as they were shortly after the spray. This conclusion is consistent with those of previous studies of the possible health effects of Btk-based pesticide spray programs."
I think that the hon. member is to be congratulated for raising these issues last year in order to convince three ministries of government to go through the research necessary to prove the hypothetical benign nature of the spray. Everyone in future should take some comfort that because of the efforts of the hon. member, the science is now clear, the spray is safe, and we can continue to manage the gypsy moth in British Columbia.
I. Chong: Not that I want to take ownership of this issue
I did ask the minister whether he was aware of any complaints of adverse effects on agriculture in terms of produce or in terms of animal farms. I wasn't trying to set him up, but because he doesn't seem to acknowledge that there were any problems, I will now raise one that I have been informed about. This has to do with a farm in Saanich. Again, I think it was in the Prospect Lake area represented by the member for Saanich South, the Attorney General -- his district.
I understand that as a result of the aerial spraying, there was in fact a hobby farmer by the name of Mr. Hannay
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First of all, I would like to raise this with the minister. If he's not aware of it, I don't need an answer immediately. If he would like his staff to look into it and get back to me, I would appreciate it. If he is aware of it, certainly his response for the record would be most welcome.
What I'm looking for is to find out, first of all, whether this is in fact true -- I happen to believe it, because someone wouldn't call me if it were not -- and what steps the government took in order to determine whether there was this adverse effect. In terms of the autopsy, what kinds of toxicology, blood screening or blood tests were done to ensure that in fact it was not caused by the gypsy moth spraying? It questions one's thoughts when a hobby farm has a number of lambs, and those that were in the barn were not affected but those that were outside were affected. If they were all treated in the same manner, the only difference or comparison or conclusion one could draw as a result of this is that there was an adverse effect.
If the minister is able to find out whether in fact there was a correlation or confirm that this incident was a result of aerial spraying, I think it's incumbent upon him to share with all of us in the fullest and most possible way that there is no need for concern. With that, I'll ask the minister to see if he wishes to respond or if he would like to get back to me. I would appreciate him and his staff doing so.
Hon. C. Evans: I would like to assure the hon. member that I will get the autopsy information and the veterinarian's report and will share them with her. I also want to say that the information that the hon. member has just shared with the committee and put on the record is anecdotal. It is in no way an indication of any risk to animals of an application of Btk, aerial or otherwise. I am convinced that the use of the compound is safe for people, for butterflies, for birds, for farm animals. I'm also convinced that the risk to natural ecosystems in British Columbia by not treating gypsy moth is far in excess of any risk that might ever exist by its treatment. I don't want anybody listening to these estimates or reading the Hansard to assume that there is any correlation whatsoever, besides anecdotal or oral, between the information supplied to the hon. member by her constituent or informant and science -- the reason being that the information she has just supplied follows reading into the record the fact that we did the biggest study of this application anywhere ever and found it absolutely benign.
We need to be able to continue to have the use of this compound in British Columbia for organic production of food crops sold to people as organic and, secondly, for the management of gypsy moth, in order to maintain natural ecosystems which are under serious threat by this invasive pest that is not indigenous to British Columbia.
I. Chong: I want to assure the minister that I too am concerned and very much aware of the risk associated with not dealing with the management of the gypsy moth, to the natural ecosystem and to our economic potential here in this province. It is for that reason that I do agree we have to find a management system, a pest management program that works for us, that deals with the gypsy moth. Whether spraying is appropriate or not
I put this on the record not to embarrass or to create difficulty with the ministry. It was raised, and the person who raised it with me was not able to get direct information. If in fact this person were to go out to several other people and spread this information, this alleged problem and this anecdotal situation, we would perhaps have an even more serious situation. Better to put it on the record, to make sure that we're both aware, that we will find out the facts and the heart of the problem and to be assured once and for all that this was not the cause of why these lambs died. That's one of the reasons why I raise it. I want the minister to be assured that I'm looking forward very much to the results of his staff finding out for us that we're on the same wavelength here.
B. Barisoff: There are a few questions and comments I got from different areas of the farming community that I'm going to just
One was from the B.C. Hog Marketing Commission. They were very concerned about the whole-farm insurance program, that it wasn't working very well for them. The other problem they had was that they'd like to see -- the B.C. government needs to put in -- a firm financial base for the research programs for hog farmers.
I do have a question here from the Mainland Dairymen's Association. Their question was:
Could the minister make a comment on that?
"We feel that the municipal tax load on farmland as well as farm buildings ought to be reduced, because there are restrictions placed on them by the ALR. Taxes should be brought into line with those in other provinces and preferably be totally removed, in order to give B.C. farmers a competitive edge nationally. The grocery retail-level food products are totally exempted from GST. Therefore it doesn't make sense to reduce or remove tax at the primary production level as well."
Hon. C. Evans: In terms of the hon. member's suggestion about whole-farm payment not working very well for hogs, it's tough to justify that with the statistical analysis that it worked better for hog producers than for any other commodity group in the province. They tended to draw down higher pay-outs than anybody else. So I hope that was information perhaps from before the federal government joined the program. It was my impression that by the time the program was
On the subject of taxation of dairy land, it's a huge subject. I don't want to accept on the face of it, without some debate and without some data, that there isn't a relatively level playing field in terms of provincial taxation of dairy farms, including barns and capital investment. If there is and if the hon. member has knowledge of it, it is one of the issues that I was trying to address when I referred viability questions to the standing committee of which he is co-Chair.
I would encourage him to put the dairy information into the report and also to make some suggestions, because as the hon. member knows, we're trying to deal with municipal and
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regional taxation questions as well as federal and provincial, and that might be the way to get all governments at once looking at it.
I think those address all of the questions that you've asked.
B. Barisoff: Actually, if the minister doesn't mind, what I'm going to do is probably to put some of these questions on the record, because we're running short of time here, where we know that we should be getting done. I know that there are still other people that want to put some on.
The other one that concerns the Dairymen's Association, of course, is the ditching and waterways and the environmental concerns of that area. The ongoing pressure of the provincial government on the federal -- to put pressure from the provincial government on the federal government on their behalf -- regarding the reinstatement of the capped freight rates for the transportation of feed grains west of the Rockies
The Horse Council of British Columbia sent me a note:
"The lack of the PST exemption for the construction and materials required for a manure pit, where the manure pit tanks are PST-exempt, and the manure produced by horses must be handled and stored in accordance with Ministry of Environment guidelines, which can specify the use of a manure pitThey also have a concern about the exclusion of livestock semen from the list of acceptable farm income sources, including stallions.
. . . .As this is the ministry recommendation and in some cases a requirement due to agriculture activity of farming horses, why is this industry being penalized? There's an inequality of taxation exemptions for manure-handling facilities between these different species."
The B.C. fruit growers, of course, have a concern simply about the state of the industry and where they're at. What I might also mention is the petition that did come from the tree fruit industry with their concerns about what was happening.
I would like to comment on the negative margins that seem to come up all the time. Could the minister make comment on just that one specific avenue there, the negative margins?
Hon. C. Evans: The negative margins issue is quite complicated. If I pass on to the hon. member what was just advised to me by staff, it would make no sense to him whatsoever. So I would like to suggest that we have a briefing on the subject of negative margins. And I'm not being unkind; I find it almost impossible to comprehend myself. You can't really do it without a graph. So I think it'd best be addressed in another opportunity.
While I'm on my feet, I would just like to say thank you for all the other issues that the hon. member put on the record right there.
B. Barisoff: There are actually a few more that I'd like to do. From the Cattlemen's Association, the schedule 2 fencing is definitely a concern and is one that I will raise in Highways estimates also, because I'm sure there are concerns there. The GVW problems that I'm sure the minister is aware of are affecting agriculture throughout the entire province.
One of the questions I would like to ask the minister to answer right now is in the objective 4. On page 34 are "develop best practices for minimizing wolf predation on livestock," and the restrictions of 1080. Can the minister make comment on that?
Hon. C. Evans: The Minister of Environment asked the Cattlemen's Association to develop some best practices that their membership would agree to engage in prior to the use of 1080 for wolf control. Our staff are working with the cattlemen and the Ministry of Environment staff to develop those best practices right now. It is the position of this ministry that it is absolutely rational to expect the industry to use every other method to control predation prior to use of poison, and that has always been the intention of the cattle industry. Codifying that in a best-practices code is okay; we're proceeding to get that done. So the Ministry of Environment can allow the use of 1080 in those exceptional cases where best practice doesn't manage to solve the problem.
B. Barisoff: One of the others, and it was brought up by the member for Peace River South, is the weed problem, particularly in the southern part of the province. I think the area that seems to be the biggest concern actually starts in my riding in the South Okanagan and goes straight over into the Kootenays. The member for Peace River South indicated the problems along the highways and what was taking place, with the Ministry of Highways not doing their part and the farmers having to try to contain the weed problem, which in their estimation has totally got out of hand.
I'd like to ask the minister whether anything is being done in this particular area. A comment that was made to me was the
Hon. C. Evans: I think the area that the hon. member is referring to is the area of knapweed infestation. It is true that it's an invasive non-indigenous weed brought here, I think, from Asia, I think mixed with alfalfa seed. I think it was about 20 years ago. It's consuming farmland and also rangeland in the southern Okanagan and West Kootenay and also into the East Kootenay.
I have no information on the cost of Tordon, either in the United States or in British Columbia. I do know, however, that the regional district of West Kootenay, which is sort of the centre of this particular infestation, voted to be a herbicide-free area some two decades ago. It has made it exceedingly difficulty to treat knapweed. Biological control has been attempted, and there was some talk of mechanical or voluntary management alongside roadsides, none of which have resulted in a real control. To my knowledge, there is no real initiative in place now, of any kind, to manage the knapweed infestation.
Because knapweed has the capacity to exude a poison from the roots that kills natural vegetation, it not only can compete but essentially eliminate natural grasses and also timber -- not big trees, but in a clearcut situation or alongside the road it can kill the roots of seedling trees. So it is becoming a dominant species where it exists, and there is no societal fix in sight.
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B. Barisoff: There are other questions that I have. I know that I did this last year: I got the commitment by the minister that if I had other questions, I could simply either talk to him or write him, and I would get the answers. I know that the ministry staff actually does a very good job of answering if we have some questions.
I think the member for Delta South wants to actually put some questions on the record so that the minister could send them back and we can get to the point of tying this up in the next few minutes.
V. Roddick: If this is the right venue, I would like to ask perhaps
The Chair: Yes, member, just carry on. Really, the choice is yours, how the member presents the questions to the minister -- either verbally, vocally here, or in writing or however the case may be. If the Chair would shut his mike off and let the member speak, we would probably get through it by the end of the day.
V. Roddick: All right, I'll read them into the record.
After last evening I may be taking a bit of risk by saying that the Ministry of Agriculture has taken on a new look this season. As a result, the agricultural industry would like to ask that your ministry considering transferring Hastings Park racetrack to the Ministry of Agriculture -- not the gaming aspect, obviously. The impact of the thoroughbred horse business on agriculture is huge. It would be a perfect fit. The thoroughbred industry has 1,327 breeding farms, having a capital investment of $1.1 billion. This is all found in the B.C. horse industry survey by Mark Robbins, although the picture of the track on the front is definitely not Hastings Park.
The next one is that during the estimates of the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, that minister declared that these lands are provincial -- these are the treaty lands -- and will not fall under federal jurisdiction, which does not recognize the ALC. That means clearly that the province can uphold this zoning. We in the agricultural industry need this land base; it is vital to the survival of farming in B.C. We need assurance from the ministry that the land, be it either Crown land deeded to treaty negotiations or other land used in treaty negotiations that's within the ALC, will be protected and maintained as farmland. I know this has been discussed several times, but we in the industry are extremely concerned. We would like to ask that the ministry provide, in writing, a legal opinion on the power of the ALC and the province to uphold these lands as ALR farmlands, even if they are deeded over during treaty negotiations.
Yesterday I made reference to safety features and how we were monitoring safety features of food coming in from elsewhere. A constituent phoned this morning re third-party audits. This is a new thing that Safeway is instituting -- and I don't know whether the ministry is aware of it or not -- on monitoring of growers. Not just the contract -- this is now monitoring manure-spreading, the whole nine yards re E. coli. So I would like a comment on that.
Next question. The Canadian trade and tariffs board, known as the Anti-Dumping Tribunal, has been wreaking havoc with our local vegetable growers over the past few years. We've lost onions. The price-breaker has plummeted as a result. Lettuce we just managed to hang onto only tentatively, and now potatoes are coming up soon. The farmers need help in this area. Is the minister aware that not only does no one from western Canada sit on this board, but no one who sits on it has any agricultural background whatsoever? These people use our agricultural products as a loss-leader in trade negotiations. Will the minister please work with the federal government to remedy this situation? And will the minister do everything in his power to ensure that potatoes are not the next victim?
About the Trade and Tariffs Board, my understanding is that there are two empty seats on it. I would be happy to provide the minister with names of individuals who actually have some agricultural expertise, and he could possibly forward them to the federal minister.
Next, the Ministry of Agriculture now has B.C. Assets and Land Corp under its umbrella, which is very encouraging. However, the Brunswick Point area in Delta South, which is 2,000 acres, is getting messed around with, as we say in the local jargon, when it comes to its tenure and leases.
A perfect example is one of the original expropriated owners. The government is taking advantage of these people for simply being good stewards of the land. They built and maintained their house and property as if it was their own -- which, of course, it had been until it was expropriated -- unlike like other expropriated houses and certainly the barns in the area, which are virtually falling down. Because these people show pride and responsibility in their now-leased home and land, the government has demanded that they sign an inflated lease, because the ministry could now get a higher rent for it -- talk about double jeopardy here.
Because these lands are being toyed with as part of native land claims, the security on this so-called lease is a joke. Try taking it to a bank. So these properties are being treated as red-hot real estate commodities. Will the minister please intervene, take real control of these leases and deliver a secure 20-year lease to Delta South, such as leases that exist elsewhere in the province?
On the same topic, even the smallholdings in Delta South are being shortchanged. All buildings are in advanced disrepair, yet they are being assessed at so-called current market value. In most cases, only the land itself should be assessed, and it should be assessed as to its actual surroundings, not as though they are estates, such as in the British Properties or on South West Marine Drive in Vancouver. Will the minister consult with his staff to develop a more reasonable approach to these smaller holdings, which are mostly held by long-term renters?
It has been reported that B.C. farmers who apply for four-month extensions on their rural property tax payments, deferring payments normally due July 2 until October 31 after harvest, now only need apply in the first year to receive this annual benefit. I understand that 95 percent of rural taxpayers apply for this deferment every year. Can the minister explain why this deferment only applies to farmers outside municipal jurisdictions, and will he commit to removing this tax inequity by making it available to all B.C. farmers?
[ Page 16001 ]
Now, we have a really serious problem in Delta South, and it's pets, not rats. The issue of domestic pet control, I know, comes under the Ministry of Agriculture. With the growing pet population in urban residential areas, we're being faced with enormous control problems, not the least of which is trying to pass animal control bylaws which will be upheld in the courts. This is what
V. Roddick: That's right, and that would finish it.
It is a jurisdictional nightmare. Unfortunately, you've got a perfect example in Delta South, with even an SPCA worker being bitten as he was trying to nab these dogs and couldn't catch them. Once they get back on the owner's property, you can't even get a warrant to get them. Delta South isn't alone in suffering with this increasing problem. I was hoping that the minister would undertake to look into these laws that will not, at the moment, provide access to the property of these dangerous animals by way of special warrants or whatever, to safeguard the protection of all people in our communities.
Mr. Chair, during the estimates of the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, the minister was asked to report to the Ministry of Agriculture about the disappearance of the Crown reserve of ALR lands if the current trend of treaty negotiations was followed; it's mentioned in Hansard, Tuesday, May 2, 2000, afternoon sitting. Hopefully the minister will not allow this report to be swept under the carpet just because it reached an unpopular conclusion. The ALR protects the critical mass needed for our agricultural industry to survive and cannot be threatened or tampered with. Is the minister aware of this report and of its important findings?
And one last for the record, and actually very frustrating and important -- our experience in Delta South has been frustrating. I have attempted repeatedly to get someone from the ministry to come to talk to Tsawwassen first nation Chief Kim Baird. This was before I was an MLA; this was just when I was in the agricultural business. Our agriculture is important in Delta South. Finally, after nagging, which I'm very good at, someone from the ministry did come and talk to her. But the information given to her
Now, it's mentioned time and time again in all of this -- page 8 of the Land Commission and in the performance plan and in the BCAL business plan on page 5 and page 12 -- that you are working with the first nations to show them that there is a living to be made in agriculture. But somehow it's falling through the cracks. So will the minister, for Delta South's sake, actually speak directly or will the ministry speak directly with the Tsawwassen first nation about preservation of agriculture on this land, irrespective of the outcome of the treaty negotiations? But will he also undertake to make sure this program does work throughout the province?
R. Masi: Every year I get up and put the same question to the minister and the ministry regarding the noise pollution that infiltrates up, actually, from Delta South into Delta North. These are the cannons that are deemed essential to the blueberry growers. Now, I know this is a very awkward problem, because it's a vital industry, and it's certainly not an easy one to solve. But this has become an extreme nuisance. It's some- thing that makes life during the growing season almost untenable for, specifically, Sunshine Hills residents. I do get a flood of calls and information about what I should be doing to get rid of this.
I understand that the Delta council attempted to deal with it but was unsuccessful. I wonder if they're
J. van Dongen: Just a couple of quick comments reiterating, from the perspective of the Fraser Valley, some issues that have been raised. There were some comments about farm labour. Simply to emphasize it for the minister, the availability of farm labour for berry crops is a very serious matter in the Fraser Valley. It looks like there are going to be good crops. There were labour shortages last year; it looks worse this year. So anything that the minister can do to assist with labour supply would be appreciated. There were people here last week making a submission to some of his colleagues about possibly providing some adjustment or consideration for people on income assistance to help on a seasonal basis with picking berry crops. I think that anything that can be done should be done.
I want to make one comment, quickly, about manure management. We need to differentiate between what I think is legitimate debate about the guidelines and what are clearly outright infractions and actions that are destined to pollute. Where there is blatant disregard, then that is certainly an enforcement situation and those things should be dealt with quickly and effectively.
I have some comment about the issue of urban-rural conflict. I will get into some further discussion with the minister on that when we get into shellfish and finfish aquaculture, because some of the same principles apply there. But to underscore the comments by the member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove, the situation in the Fraser Valley
On that note, I wanted to mention this booklet, which is currently being printed, which is being developed by some of the minister's staff in Abbotsford. It's the community-farm conflict handbook entitled "Preventing and Resolving Conflicts over Farming Practices: A Guide for Canadian Farmers." This is a very good document, and it's a very good start on some of the issues and some of the potential solutions to our situation. Lorne Owen in Abbotsford plus a number of other people are working on it. I've been through the draft; it's very good.
While the ministry staff are here, I just want to thank them for all of the work that they have done on behalf of the industry. There are many good people within the ministry. I want to mention a couple who have certainly been very helpful, and that's not to the exclusion of a lot of others. The work that Ted Van der Gulik does on drainage in his shop is important and more and more critical. Jill Hatfield in Courtenay is helping us with a difficult situation there. There's a lot of people within the ministry that do very good work, and I want to put that on the record.
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The Chair: Somebody has to move the motion, minister.
Hon. C. Evans: I'll just drift through a couple of thoughts
The Chair: Minding the time, minister.
Hon. C. Evans: No response at all? Okay. Minding of the hour, I move that we rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:49 p.m.
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