2000 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
THURSDAY, JUNE 8, 2000
Volume 20, Number 8
[ Page 16375 ]
The House met at 2:07 p.m.
Hon. M. Farnworth: In nine years that I've been elected, not one member of my family has ever come over here.
An Hon. Member: Shame!
Hon. M. Farnworth: Shame -- exactly. So today it gives me great pleasure to welcome my nephew, who is nine years old and in grade 4. Josh Farnworth, along with his friend, Missy Anderson, is over here with his school. They're all visiting the gallery later on, but Josh is in the gallery here to watch question period. He's my only nephew, and my favourite nephew, and I'd like the House to give him a big welcome.
M. Coell: In the gallery today we have five guests from the University of Victoria B.C. Young Liberals: Dale Flood, Erin Drew, Lawrence Mak, Sonia Manhas and Raymond Lau. Will the House please make them welcome.
The Speaker: The Deputy Premier
T. Stevenson: No, I'm the Deputy Speaker.
The Speaker: Sorry. The hon. member for Vancouver-Burrard.
T. Stevenson: Hon. Speaker, thanks for the promotion.
In the gallery today are members of my family as well: my mother Edith-Mary Platt from West Vancouver; my sister Mary Ann Sanderson from Hobart, Tasmania, Australia; and here again today, my one and only nephew and therefore my favourite nephew also, Justin Sanderson. I hope the House will make them welcome.
C. Clark: I am delighted today to be able to welcome into the gallery a group of grade 5 students visiting from Glenayre Elementary School, who are being accompanied by their teacher Mrs. Morin-Mackenzie. I hope the House will make them welcome if they encounter them in the halls.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I hope the members will bear with me. I have a bit of a long introduction today, because it is of course Environment Week. In that regard, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce the winners of the Minister's Environmental Awards for the year 2000. The winners are here in the visitors' gallery this afternoon.
In the excellence in stewardship category, I'd like to introduce Darrell Penner and Ted Wingrove of Port Coquitlam, representing Hyde Creek Streamkeepers.
In the individual citizen category, we have two winners: Ruth Masters of Courtenay, with her guest Marilyn Misner; and Darryl Grams of Williams Lake, with his wife Sandra.
Award recipients in the youth category are: Maia Green of Victoria, here today with her mother, Cheryl Alexander; and Franka Raynier and Laurel Gurnsey from Burnaby, representing Buckingham Elementary School.
The winner under the government category is Eric Jackson, representing the city of Vernon, with his wife Mavis.
In the community-non-profit organization category, we have Elmer Rudolph and his wife Margo representing Sapperton Fish and Game Club in New Westminster. And Jack Wilson is here today in the gallery from Brown Property Preservation Society of Qualicum Beach, accompanied by his wife Elsemarie.
Kevin Chipperfield and Daryl Arnold are here to represent award recipient Sustainable Poultry Farming Group of Abbotsford, under the business, labour or industry category.
In the environment education category, Sally Emory from Fort St. John is here with her husband Greg.
And finally, in the communication and media category, the award recipient is West Kootenay Power Ltd., and they are represented here today by Brian Parent and his wife Gail from Trail.
Will the House please join me not only in welcoming these outstanding leaders but in congratulating them for the environmental leadership they have shown in their communities.
Hon. G. Wilson: Today in the members' gallery we have a very special guest from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Please join me in welcoming His Excellency Krunoslav Vasilj. This is the ambassador's first visit on an official basis to British Columbia, so I hope all members of the House will please make him very welcome.
M. Coell: I would like, on behalf of our side of the House, to congratulate the winners of the ministerial awards for environment, as well, and to also say that Maia Green, who is from the Victoria area of my colleague's Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding, won a Women of Distinction award two weeks ago as well. So this young lady has been winning awards, and we wish her well in her future. Will the House make them welcome.
Hon. P. Priddy: Many people who have had an opportunity to work with the Ministry of Education know the very competent assistant deputy minister Rick Connolly. Rick's daughter Sarah's grade 5 class from Cordova Bay Elementary School is visiting today. They're studying politics and law. Their teacher is Mr. Stinson and I think other adults are accompanying them. So I would ask the House to please make them very welcome.
G. Abbott: I have constituents visiting today from the Shuswap. From the city of Armstrong are Don and Lee Muir, who are the parents of one of our hard-working interns, Jerry Muir. Also accompanying them to the Legislature today is Joan Schuetz, who is the grandmother of Jerry. So I'll ask the House to make them all welcome.
Hon. D. Lovick: I'd like, if I may, to introduce three visitors today. The first is a dear friend formerly from my constituency, now living in Victoria -- Ms. Maggie Warren. Maggie is accompanied by her good friend, a woman from Campbell River whose name is Berthe LaPierre.
In addition, my executive assistant Susan Baker is with us today. I'd ask my colleagues to please make them all most welcome.
[ Page 16376 ]
M. de Jong: Paula McAleese is a resident of Abbotsford. She is a friend, and she is dental hygienist and is in Victoria attending the annual general meeting of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association. I hope the members of the House will make her welcome.
T. Stevenson: In the Legislature today we have approximately 90 students from the Cathcart Elementary School in Snohomish, Washington. They're here for a visit to the Legislature, and they're accompanied by their teacher Mr. Moffitt. I hope all members will make them welcome.
MOTOR VEHICLE AMENDMENT ACT, 2000Hon. J. MacPhail presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2000.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I move that the bill be introduced and read for a first time now.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'm very pleased to introduce during Environment Week an amendment that will help government achieve its goal of more transportation choices for British Columbians. The amendment to exempt motor-assisted cycles from registration requirements is also in keeping with our government's efforts to develop a sensible regulatory environment, one that meets the real needs of people.
Every day British Columbians see the increased number of passenger cars clogging B.C. roadways, and they ask: "What are we doing to ease the burden?" Well, part of the answer lies in the development of alternative modes of transportation such as car and van pooling, transit and the use of smaller vehicles. We've had tremendous success in getting more people to bike to work instead of taking the car -- some recent wonderful examples.
Encouraging people to consider using motor-assisted cycles will also benefit commuters. Motor-assisted cycles are ordinary bicycles that are fitted with an accessory motor kit. They offer a temporary reprieve from the fatigue of pedalling to those who would not otherwise ride a bicycle. Very simply, it helps more people to become fit. Motor-assisted cycles provide an alternate mode of transport for those who cannot or do not wish to drive a car or other larger vehicle. Provided the right conditions are in place, they are also easier on the environment than the much larger vehicles. Amending existing legislation will make it easier for people to take advantage of this increasingly popular mode of transportation, while maintaining strict safety standards -- excellent news during Environment Week.
Hon. Speaker, I'd like to move that the bill be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 20 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.
BRITISH COLUMBIA TRANSIT
AMENDMENT ACT, 2000
Hon. G. Bowbrick presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled British Columbia Transit Amendment Act, 2000.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: I move that Bill 23 be introduced and read for a first time now.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: For those for whom motorized bicycles won't be their preferred mode of transport, this bill will help to make SkyTrain a reality in the lower mainland as soon as possible and as efficiently as possible. These legislative amendments confirm the existing agency agreement between B.C. Transit and Rapid Transit Project 2000 Ltd. They will clarify that B.C. Transit retains, for the purpose of planning property acquisition and construction of the rapid transit project, all of its rights, powers and privileges in the regions serviced by TransLink. Under these amendments, the agency agreement with B.C. Transit clearly ensures that Rapid Transit Project 2000 has the powers to plan, acquire property and construct the project and ancillary property works and to acquire rights and property for the future maintenance and operation of the project.
These amendments are retroactive to March 25, 1999, the date Rapid Transit Project 2000 entered into the agency agreement with B.C. Transit. These powers were recently challenged in court, causing a three-week delay in construction of the guideway and station at Lougheed town centre. Although the court ruled in favour of B.C. Transit, we need to ensure that Rapid Transit Project's powers are clear and not subject to further legal action. The legislation is intended to strengthen the existing agency agreement between B.C. Transit and RTP 2000, confirming that RTP 2000 has the necessary powers to build the Millennium Line and plan future lines.
I move that this bill be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 23 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.
HEALTH CARE IN PRINCE GEORGE
P. Nettleton: Hon. Speaker, how much longer do the people of Prince George have to suffer from this government's mismanagement of health care? People suffering -- people like Leone Kowalewich of Prince George, who had to travel to Vancouver for arthoscopic surgery because the wait-list just to see a specialist in Prince George is over two years. Will the Health minister tell us why health care in Prince George has gotten so bad that people like Ms. Kowalewich have to fly all the way to Vancouver for one-hour surgery?
Hon. M. Farnworth: We're aware of the needs of health care that are required in Prince George. That's why we're working with the health authority and the physicians in the
[ Page 16377 ]
area to look at options and ways of addressing some of the issues, particularly around specialists, and to look at ways of retaining and attracting physicians to Prince George, so that we can deal with the health care situation in the community and the surrounding area.
The Speaker: The member for Prince George-Omineca has a supplemental question.
P. Nettleton: Ms. Kowalewich had to go to the False Creek Surgical Center in Vancouver and have a friend put the $1,400 surgery bill on a credit card. She didn't use the public system, because she didn't couldn't even get in the front door to see a surgeon. Will the Health minister tell us why health care in Prince George is so bad that not only do people have to leave town to get treatment but they have to pull out their credit card because a health care card is no good any longer?
Hon. M. Farnworth: I think it's worth recognizing two particular issues here. One is the situation in Prince George and how we're trying to address it by working with physicians and working with the health authorities. We have sat down with them and are negotiating with them to try and address some of the issues. They have presented a proposal to us which, for example, could cost as much as $30 million. At the same time, we're trying to present proposals and negotiate with them in a way that not just addresses the issues around specialists and physicians but also recognizes the broader scope of health care -- around nurses, around technicians, around training and access to opportunities -- so that we can attract physicians and specialists to Prince George and deal with rural and northern health care on the whole scope that's required.
The second issue that the member raises is around the issue of whether or not an individual has to travel to Vancouver. And no, that is not the case. But what is really disturbing, hon. Speaker, is that what we're seeing is what appears to be a deliberate attempt to undermine the Canada Health Act. This government will not stand by and watch that happen.
C. Hansen: It is the sanctimonious NDP that is creating a two-tier health care system in this province, when you send WCB patients to Alberta. You send them to private clinics; you send them to the United States. It's the NDP that has created the health care crisis in this province that gets worse year after year after year. Hon. Speaker, a ministry spokesperson said: "No citizen should have to be extra-billed for services they are entitled to." If Ms. Kowalewich is entitled to that kind of treatment, why can she not depend on the public health care system to be there for her when she needs it?
Hon. M. Farnworth: Physicians make the diagnosis and make the determination on the proper course of treatment, and that's the way it is in British Columbia and every province right across the country. But my question to the opposition is that
The Speaker: The hon. member for Vancouver-Quilchena has a supplemental question.
B.C.'S HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
C. Hansen: If this government had not wasted $460 million on a fast ferry project, let me tell you about some of the things you could have done in health care. You could have wiped out the entire wait-list for cardiac surgery and hip replacement surgery and knee surgery. You could have hired 400 nurses, opened 900 long term care beds, installed six MRI scanners, ten mobile mammography units, 12 CT scanners, and the list goes on and on.
Will the Health minister tell us why he is forcing patients into private clinics because the NDP has mismanaged the health care system and patients can no longer rely on the public system to be there for them when they need it?
Hon. M. Farnworth: You know, hon. Speaker, the only people who would force people to use their credit cards for the health care system is that opposition. They're on record. Physicians make the diagnosis and the treatment; they're the ones in charge of treatment for the patient. Just before the last election, it was Gur Singh who pulled out a Visa card and said: "That's what people in British Columbia should get ready to use."
This side of the House recognizes that we have a publicly funded health care system that people want to maintain. That's why we're working constructively with the federal government to achieve that. That's why we've said that we would sit down and work with physicians in Prince George and the health authority to address their needs. And that's why we're also going to ensure that those who deliberately try to subvert the Canada Health Act
M. de Jong: Time out, Mr. Speaker. Let's make it clear: it's the NDP that's created two-tier health care in the province of British Columbia. And what's more, there are members of the NDP cabinet that have admitted it -- the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast. Let's review what he wrote to one of his very constituents. "I agree with you," he said, "that the notion that we have a one-tier universal health care system is a myth. We already have a multi-tiered system in British Columbia." It's a multi-tiered system, according to the now Minister of Employment and Investment. Does the Health minister agree with his colleague that thanks to NDP mismanagement, we don't have a two-tiered health care system; we have a multi-tiered health care system?
Hon. M. Farnworth: The greatest threat to health care in this country comes from a lack of will to protect the health care system from those who want to subvert the Canada Health Act. It comes from those who are not willing to fund the system properly. That's why we've been engaged in discussions with Ottawa -- to get them back to the table, up to the 50-50 partnership that health care in this country used to be. The provinces right now are carrying 85 cents; 85 cents of every health care dollar in this province is provincial money. And only 15 cents comes from the federal government. Why don't you get onside and help us in getting that 15 cents back up to 50 cents?
[ Page 16378 ]
GOVERNMENT'S B.C. MAX
R. Neufeld: My question is to the minister responsible for B.C. Max. I have an implementation guide dated February 1998, which states that government procurement of goods "under $100,000 will be" -- and get it: will be -- "restricted to B.C. suppliers." If you go to the web site today, there's a bit of a change. In fact, it changes to government procurement of goods "may be restricted to B.C. suppliers." My question is: which is it -- will or may?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Yesterday the opposition gets up to defend BCTV. It's good they're reverting to their sources. Now they've managed to read the Province. Way to go -- well informed and literate.
We put ads out. Some 85 percent of the bids we received on the contracts that Mr. Smyth refers to in his column came from B.C. businesses. I'm very pleased to see that ICBC, for example, spent a full 88 percent of its budget for printing buying from B.C. businesses. We give B.C. businesses an advantage here. We also want to make sure that we're getting good value for the tax dollars. That's the whole purpose of B.C. Max; I think it's working well.
The Speaker: The hon. member for Peace River North has a supplementary question.
R. Neufeld: It's interesting. "Will" or "may" or pointing fingers at one another -- it just doesn't wash anymore. Why don't you admit it, Mr. Minister? The problem in British Columbia is this inept government. The things that they put into place to hinder business, to actually make British Columbia businesses uncompetitive with their counterparts, is the reason that ICBC, Ferries and all of government buy from Alberta. Why don't you admit today that it's your problem? What are you going to do to rectify it, Mr. Minister?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Well, it's quite remarkable. These advocates of universal free trade, who say we must accede to every whim that blows through the international market, all of a sudden want us to revoke our agreement on internal trade by which we provide all Canadian suppliers free and open access to government procurement opportunities on goods over $25,000 and services over $100,000.
That's what we do as part of it, hon. Speaker. That's the appropriate thing to do. We also seek to make sure that B.C. businesses are aware of and get a chance to bid on and benefit from government contracts.
STUMPAGE CALCULATION ERROR
G. Abbott: On Tuesday the B.C. Court of Appeal came out with a decision. And guess what. This government lost again. The facts here are clear, hon. Speaker. In March 1997 the Coast Forest and Lumber Association advised the Ministry of Forests that they had made a huge mistake in their stumpage calculation. However, rather than admit their mistake, they refused to correct it in compliance with the coast appraisal manual. Instead, they forced the CFLA to go to court to obtain redress.
To the Minister of Forests: whether it's Carrier Lumber, Husby timber or displaced forest workers, why do British Columbians always have to go to court in order to obtain justice?
Hon. J. Doyle: The member is correct. It was appealed, and the courts did say that we did owe some moneys to some companies on the coast. That has been looked at. That has worked its way through the court. It's now going to be corrected.
GOVERNMENT CHILD CARE INITIATIVE
E. Gillespie: Hon. Speaker, my question today is for the Minister of Women's Equality. Earlier this week the opposition member for North Vancouver-Lonsdale said that the government's new child care initiative was nothing more than the cheapest babysitting that anyone's ever going to get and suggested that working parents are in the habit of dropping their children off at child care centres in order to go play tennis. Can the minister confirm that this government is proceeding with a comprehensive approach to child care, in spite of this opposition attack on working families?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I have to confess that I actually did have to check Hansard, because I could not believe my ears when the member repeated that particular quote. Let me assure the member that not only does this government respect the work of the child care providers, we understand the needs of working parents. We also understand the needs of single parents that are working hard to improve their lives and their ability to support their children.
I also want to emphasize the opportunity that good-quality, licensed day care provides for children in this province. The initiative that this government has introduced is one that we should all celebrate. I am saddened and disappointed by the member's comment, and I'm saddened and disappointed by the lack of support from the opposition.
The Speaker: The bell ends question period.
Hon. D. Miller: I table the annual reports of the B.C. Rail Group of Companies.
Hon. D. Miller: It's in there.
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. I. Waddell: I rise to table the report of the B.C. Pavilion Corporation, the business plan up to April 2000.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I seek leave to make an introduction.
[ Page 16379 ]
Hon. M. Farnworth: In the gallery today are 25 grades 4 and 5 students from Mary Hill Elementary School, parents and their teacher Stéphanie Lacelle. They are French immersion, so in keeping with their studies, I would also like to say: J'ai le plaisir d'accueillir dans les tribunes les élèves en immersion française de l'école élémentaire Mary Hill et leur professeure Madame Stéphanie Lacelle. Je voudrais que tous les députés and toutes les députées se joignent à moi pour leur souhaiter la bienvenue.
Hon. D. Lovick: In Committee A, I call Committee of Supply. We will begin the estimates debate of the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture. In this chamber, I call continued debate on second reading of Bill 16, the electoral boundaries act.
The Speaker: Thank you, minister. I call committee Chair, Committee A
Sorry. The Government House Leader rises.
Hon. D. Lovick: Mr. Speaker, I apologize. I'm so unaccustomed to seeing legislation go through so quickly and so trippingly. We have dealt with Bill 16, I believe, and completed second reading. I therefore call committee stage on Bill 2.
AND ACCOUNTABILITY ACT
The House in committee on Bill 2; T. Stevenson in the chair.
On section 1.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the definition of government organization, can the minister confirm that it's all the ministries, all the Crowns, all the agencies and all of the boards? Is that what the definition of government organization means?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I was listening carefully. I think I can agree with the member's comments on the definition of government reporting entity. This is the term that's used in this act to define the summary reporting entity, which does include the consolidated revenue fund, all ministries and government corporations.
R. Thorpe: I want to be fair to the minister here. I wasn't on "reporting entity"; I was on "government organization." The minister started his answer with "entity," so I would like the minister to perhaps clarify it. My question was on the definition of government organization. I don't know if the minister wanted me to repeat that. Or did he get the gist of my question?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Government organizations are all Crown corporations and agencies other than direct government -- CRF. Okay? I mean to say that all government
R. Thorpe: Can the minister advise: in his definition, does he foresee any exclusions at all from government with the intent and spirit of this definition in this bill?
Hon. P. Ramsey: No, we think they're all in there.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the definition of government reporting entity, I'm just wondering if this government reporting entity will comply with generally accepted accounting principles.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'm trying to grasp the import of the question. I believe the concern the member raises is whether the government reporting entity, as defined in this act, includes all government-related or -funded activities that might be included in a government entity. The answer is no. When we introduced our response to the Enns committee report and when we introduced this bill, we said very clearly that the SUCH sector -- the schools, universities, colleges, hospitals -- was not included in the government reporting entity. We said that what we intended to do in the summary accounts and in this reporting entity was capture direct government and all government Crowns. That's what this definition is about.
R. Thorpe: I thought I heard the minister say it, hon. Chair, but I just want to make sure. I believe the minister said -- and if he didn't say it, then he will clear the record -- that this government reporting entity does not comply, then, with generally accepted accounting principles. I believe I heard the minister say that no, it does not comply with generally accepted accounting principles. I just wanted to confirm that.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I think I can confirm the member's understanding. I would simply read from the Estimates documents that talk about accounting policies and presentation. Here's what it says on reporting entity:
We've been very explicit in what we're doing here -- what's in and what's not -- and I'm sure we'll have a debate on why.
. . .the government's summary accounts combine the consolidated revenue fund with the operating results of Crown corporations and agencies. The PSAB defines the government reporting entity to include organizations that are accountable for the administration of their financial affairs and resources either to a minister of the government or directly to the Legislature, or local government council, and are owned or controlled by the government. In the auditor general's opinion, adoption of the PSAB recommendation would result in the inclusion of the schools, universities, colleges, hospitals -- SUCH -- sectors in the summary accounts. The government summary's accounts does not include the SUCH sectors."
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
R. Thorpe: With respect to section 2(2)(a): "
[ Page 16380 ]
these consultations? In other words, our deficit may be this amount, or our surplus may be this amount. Is that what I understand when I see "present a fiscal forecast
Hon. P. Ramsey: If I understand your question, the answer is clearly yes. What we intend to do with our consultation paper which we will be presenting in the fall of this year, by October 31 -- which will be the first one done in this particular format -- is present a fiscal forecast which outlines, obviously, what we forecast for expenses, what we forecast for revenues, what we see as the major policy issues that need to be addressed in dealing with that and information on the economic and policy assumptions that underline that forecast.
R. Thorpe: When you're presenting a fiscal forecast, will you just be laying out one financial forecast? Or will you be laying out a set of alternative forecasts based on your various major economic and policy discussions, so that you will be guiding people one way -- or may not be guiding people -- in the consultation process?
Hon. P. Ramsey: That is an excellent question, and I would appreciate even the member's view on what should be done. On the one hand, it would make good sense to present a fiscal forecast based on sort of status quo assumptions on revenue and expenditure, given certain underlying economic and policy assumptions about economic growth, population growth and expenses in various areas. On the other hand, you might want to present a range of forecasts, both expenditure and revenue, based on policy changes of the government.
This is something that the staff is beginning the work on right now, as we start the effort of getting this consultation document prepared for the fall work of the standing committee of the Legislature, which will be charged with going out and consulting the people of British Columbia about budget 2001.
[J. Cashore in the chair.]
R. Thorpe: The reason I'm asking the questions of the minister is
Hon. P. Ramsey: I think I was listening carefully. With respect, I'm not quite sure what your question was, hon. member -- what issues you think the consultation paper should address.
R. Thorpe: It's going to be the minister's consultation paper, actually; it's not going to be mine. Our turn will come. As a friend of mine said: "Perhaps there will be a wedding on our side of the street." Some people are predicting that there will be.
With respect, it says here that there are going to be policy assumptions. I would think that those various policy assumptions
Hon. P. Ramsey: I thank the member for clarifying his intent. The answer is yes. I think one of the things we can look to, as the direction government intends to move, is what we have done in both quarterly reports since the fall of 1999 and in Budget 2000. That is for both revenues and expenditures. We have indicated for each of them the assumptions underlying those estimates and the risks to those estimates. That's the direction we want to move in both in giving the forecasts -- economic and fiscal -- and also in presenting the underlying assumptions and risks.
R. Thorpe: With respect to 2(2)(b), "
Hon. P. Ramsey: This is a government document. The consideration in preparation of the consultation paper will be largely internal to government. Once the paper is prepared, then of course it goes out for much broader consultation with British Columbians through an all-party committee of this Legislature. I assume that that committee will hear a wide range of views on both the issues that the paper identifies and, I suspect, on many other issues as well.
R. Thorpe: With respect to 22(c), could the minister share with us his views and his expectations at this point in time on how he believes the public from all parts of the province of British Columbia are going to be able to provide their views on these issues?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Let me try to be as inclusive as I can. First of all, and I think most importantly, there will be the work of the consultation by the select standing committee. It will be established as all committees of the House are, with an appropriate budget and mandate to meet outside of session and within session. It can conduct consultations as it considers appropriate. I would expect that as has been the case in other jurisdictions that have adopted this -- there aren't very many of them, but there are a couple -- they would hold hearings on Budget 2001, both in the capital and in other centres around the province, and seek formal presentations from individual citizens or groups representing a wide range of views on both how to enhance economic activity in the province and the fiscal choices that government has before as it prepares the next budget.
I don't think it stops there. I would hope that we can also provide individual citizens with opportunities to present their views either directly to the Minister of Finance, as has been done this year, or to the select standing committee through all other means of communications, whether it's letters, whether it's faxes or whether it's e-mail. As we do this year, I can assume we can ask for responses through the Net by putting it on the Web. We did receive a significant number of responses
[ Page 16381 ]
through that vehicle this year. I think we should cast the net as broadly as possible and seek the input of both individual citizens and groups in as wide a variety of means as possible. The work of the legislative committee, the standing committee, will be key to that effort.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
R. Thorpe: With respect to section 3, I wish to move the amendment with respect to 3(2) standing in my name on the order paper.
The intent of this is to put in that every effort be made to ensure that the public of British Columbia has the opportunity to be heard by the committee. I am sure the government is going to accept this amendment, based on the previous answer of the minister and his intent in hearing from all British Columbians. So I move that amendment.
[SECTION 3 (2), to delete the words in strikeout and to add the words in boldface:
3 (2) Not later than December 31 in the year, the select standing committee to which the budget consultation paper is referred must conduct consultations
as it considers appropriateand make public a report on the results of those consultations. Every effort must be made to ensure the public of British Columbia has the opportunity to be heard by the committee.]
On the amendment.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I regret that on this one, I am going to have to disappoint you. I believe that the act as it is drafted does indeed provide the committee to do precisely what the amendment would propose. As I have talked about both the intent of how the legislation has been drafted and the specific words
It says very clearly that the standing committee can meet and conduct its business as it sees fit. It can conduct consultation as it considers appropriate. It must make a public report on the results. It has the full scope and range of a committee of the Legislature. I think it will have, as its primary purpose, precisely this sort of consultation. Frankly I find the amendment a repetition of what's already embodied in the legislation.
R. Thorpe: Here we are at section 3 of a bill entitled Budget Transparency and Accountability Act. You know, hon. Chair
One of the reasons that many of the members on this side of the House spoke of, that they would support this bill in second reading, was if the commonsense amendments were put forward and accepted. Quite frankly, I'd like some clarification from the minister. I want to know how, by adding the words that "every effort must be made to ensure the public of British Columbia has the opportunity to be heard by this committee," this is an amendment that this government cannot accept in a bill entitled Budget Transparency and Accountability Act? I just want some further clarification.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I have stated my reasons. I believe that the intent of the act is clear, that this section is clear. I have spoken of the efforts that were made in the fall of 1999 to do consultation -- admittedly not through a select standing committee; we did not have the ability to do that intersessionally -- to try to provide as many means as possible for the public of B.C. to respond to the consultation document issued last fall.
In the fall of 2000 the consultation document will be far more comprehensive, and as we've discussed, it will include fiscal forecasts and economic forecasts as well as the assumptions underlying them. There are a variety of ways in which the public can respond. The legislative committee is part of that -- I think a key part of that. The legislative committee has the ability, as the member knows, to conduct its consultations as it considers appropriate. Its whole purpose in being is to let British Columbians have their say on the issues affecting the budgets of the province.
I think the intent of the amendment is fine. I do not think it is necessary
G. Farrell-Collins: The minister says that the government didn't have the opportunity to engage in a more public consultation through the legislative committee because of time constraints; the government wasn't able to. That's only half accurate. The fact of the matter is that government has always had the opportunity to consult, to use the standing committees as a method to consult with people across the province about budget priorities, budget choices.
Repeatedly, year after year, a variety of Ministers of Finance have risen on budget day and talked about how the budgets reflect the choices of British Columbians, without ever having gone out and asked the public in any real, meaningful way what their choices were. There was never any sort of broad debate and discussion about priorities, about choices. In fact, many times, I would argue, there probably wasn't much debate within the government caucus about what those priorities would be.
So the government has had opportunities over the years to do this, and that's really the underlying concern that we have with the legislation. I don't want to repeat the second reading debate, but I want to highlight it. This is first real amendment that I think is trying to be part of the change -- let me put it that way -- that the government is trying to do here. That is that repeatedly over the years, the government has brought in legislation that required the government to do something. And the government has either ignored that legislation or has found a way around its own legislation, or has amended regulations or created regulations that permitted it to get around the legislation. Or it has broken the legislation and come back after the fact and amended it, to make legal what the government had already done -- which was, at the time it did it, illegal.
The problem that I see, and the reason why I think the amendment is a good one, is that the section as it now reads is a permissive section. It says that the government will give to the standing committee the opportunity to do these things; they shall go do these things. It says that they conduct consultations as it considers appropriate.
I understand that that's often the way issues are referred to standing committees, although I might say that they're often a little more prescriptive than this. We usually give them
[ Page 16382 ]
very clear direction on what they can do. But we also give them the power to move from place to place, to meet from place to place, to travel and advertise if they feel necessary. We generally give them the option to determine whether or not that's something the committee wants to do.
The reason why I think it's important to put in the amendment is because it directs the committee a little more and requires the committee to go beyond the minimum that they may do. And what it's trying to do is say to that committee, from the Legislature: "We expect you to do more than just meet and discuss these things. We expect you to make every effort to engage people from all parts of the province in this discussion."
We're not saying how they have to do that, but we're requiring them to take that into consideration when they sit down and meet and discuss their business plan. The fact that it's there flags, for the committee members, that they have an obligation of broad consultation. They're not just required to discuss, etc., take in letters; they're supposed to go and make every effort to draw people into this. It's a very active, proactive type of process.
The very fact that the amendment's there indicates that the charge to the committee is different from the other charges that the committees get -- that it's not just left up to them. The Legislature is directing them to really be aggressive and be assertive at that consultation process, to engage people. And I think that's important, because first of all, committees don't always do what the House thinks they're going to do when they charge them. That's one.
The other example, the other point, is that oftentimes the committee doing what it thinks appropriate is the wish of the majority. There have been times
I guess the concern that I have as a member of the opposition is that with this section, as it reads right now, the committee could consider a whole range of things appropriate. They could say, "Well, we had this discussion with people last year. We spent $30,000 travelling" -- or whatever it is -- "and we've had these discussions. The government already knows what it wants to do. Nothing much has changed in the last year. So I don't think we need to do that. Let's just see what people are saying out there, maybe put some ads in the paper and ask them if they want to send us some submissions, and then we'll put them in a pile and issue a report."
That's my concern, because when it gets uncomfortable for a government
The amendment that's been put forward by my colleague is designed to put a red sticker on that reference, which goes to that committee and says: "Your job isn't like every other committee. Your job is a little beyond that. It's not a matter of whether or not you feel you're up to doing some travel or consultation; you have to make every effort to do those things." That's why I think it's more prescriptive, more directive, and it's deliberately trying to do that. It's not an oversight. That's exactly what it's trying to do, for the reasons that my colleague and I have mentioned.
The minister may choose not to support the amendment; that's his prerogative. I think that it's a constructive amendment. It's the kind of thing that helps to create the sense in the public that they're part of this legislation, that we really are sincere when we say we want to hear from them. It's not like the government has made up its mind already. The government's going to go out and listen to people. They're making every effort to hear what they have to say, and that we take it seriously. Without that, I think this legislation stands to be interpreted extremely narrowly by a current or future committee that gets this referral, when they really have no interest or desire to go out and actively hear what people are saying, because they already suspect they may not like what they hear.
Hon. P. Ramsey: With all respect, I'm not sure that the amendment would in any way enhance the mandate of the committee.
I will say this. Earlier this week during second reading the member and several others, I think, made -- as I said at the time -- the appropriate comment that words on transparency and accountability had to be matched with actions. In closing second reading, I laid out what this government and I as Minister of Finance had sought to do in that regard since announcing in September -- having assumed this portfolio some five days -- and that we intended to adopt and adhere to the recommendations of the Enns report which this act embodies.
The work of the committee will indeed by judged on how well it does reach out to the people of B.C. The work of the committee is not
The member is correct in that
In drafting it, we did have some discussion about how mandatory specific activities should be. It was felt by the legislative drafters that they shouldn't go much further than they have in infringing on the prerogatives of the House in establishing the work of standing committees.
I have provided the Government House Leader with a copy of a draft motion to establish this standing committee, and if it is of use to him, I'm quite willing to consult further with him on what we might incorporate into those instructions to the standing committee to capture what I think both of us want to see, which is that the consultation carried out by this committee is as complete as possible.
Hon. Speaker, I don't remember; I'm not sure they've seen this. Actually, it's not in this House or in this work; it was the work we were doing in another committee looking to reform the way this chamber operated.
[ Page 16383 ]
The House Leader is looking puzzled. I will ensure that he has another copy of that proposed House order as soon as possible.
G. Farrell-Collins: I don't recall it. It was in another context, so the minister may well have sent it to me, and it may be in a different file, which I will try and access. But if not, if I don't have it, I would like to see a copy of it, and I'd be glad to discuss that with the minister at that time.
The Legislature does charge committees through motion. But there's also a good deal of legislation that gives mandates to committees to do a whole range of things. The searching and hiring of legislative officers is one. There are other statutes that require standing committees to examine legislation. The Freedom of Information Act is one where there's a pretty detailed process they need to go through. There are other statutes that I'm familiar with that do similar things. So, you know, when the Legislature votes on this section of the bill, as the House, it's making that decision too. I understand the principle of not trying to restrict committees, but as I said, I don't think this restricts the committee. It prescribes an effort that needs to be made by the committee. I think that that's important.
Having spent the time I've spent here, I've seen committees that work, and I've seen committees that don't work. I've seen committees that are actually designed to do, intended to do and end up doing good work -- very constructive work that's very helpful. I've also seen committees that are used by government to deal with an issue that the government really doesn't want to deal with. The committees languish and flop around like a fish out of water for months or years on end, never actually accomplishing what the intent is that they were supposed to do. I'd be glad to give the minister a couple of examples of that if he wishes.
One committee, I think, that had a good intention but in practice hasn't worked terribly well is the Forests Committee's review of the business plan for Forest Renewal B.C., which seems to work far less effectively than people had intended. That's an example of a decision that was made by government around accountability at the time and which the government quickly became very uncomfortable with. And as a result, they have blocked the work of that committee repeatedly over the years. It really hasn't done much that I would say
So there are plenty of examples. I expect that if the government was sincere about accountability, etc., that may well be one piece of legislation where the House may want to be more prescriptive or in motion, assigning the duty to that standing committee -- the duty of reviewing the FRBC business plan.
There are a whole range of ways committees do and don't work in this House. I would think that on an issue as important as this is -- an issue that, for political reasons, has become critical to the government's attempt to rehabilitate itself with the public -- the minister would be interested in ensuring that it is very clear what the mandate of that committee is, so that the committee can't go around and find other ways to fulfil the technical nature of its assignment relative to the legislation but put the minimum amount of effort into it.
I see nothing in that amendment that would cause harm to the committee. I see nothing in that amendment that would degrade the section or the legislation. I see nothing in there that could cause harm in any way, shape or form. I can't imagine a risk that's created by that amendment.
However, what I can imagine, what I can see, and what I can foresee is that with an amendment like that, the committee would have a much clearer mandate given to it in legislation. It would be required to do its work, whether it was comfortable doing that work or not. That's the intent. Over the years, it's been pretty clear to me that there is great enthusiasm by government members for committees that they have an agenda in. There is far less enthusiasm for committees that are required to be struck by mandate when the government doesn't want them to be struck. I expect that that's exactly what will happen with this section in this next cycle, and I am very concerned about that.
I must say that of all the issues that are brought forward in this legislation, the work of that committee is one that is crucial to making the public feel that this process is going to work. The minister can talk about how the government has brought in performance plans and its desire to be timely on annual reports. But the reality is that we just had, a couple of weeks ago, the new Attorney General table an annual report for the Ministry of Attorney General from the 1997 fiscal year. So there are some things that the government has done in an attempt to live within the spirit of the Enns report. There are many things that they have yet to do, and there are a multitude of things that they continue to do which I think send a contradictory message to the public.
The idea of this amendment is to make it clear to the public that government and the Legislature as a whole is committing -- not just as the government and the Legislature see fit -- to make every effort to talk to people right across this province about this and not just to set it up so it suits the politicians but to set it up so the politicians have to listen to the public. That's the intent of the amendment. I hope that the government, the minister, thinks about that, because I think it's a constructive amendment, and there is no risk to government by having that amendment pass.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I think we must agree to disagree on this one. I will commit, as I said earlier, to consulting with the House Leader, or whomever he wishes to designate, on the procedures that will be embodied in the House order establishing the select standing committee.
R. Thorpe: I'm amazed. I think the member for North Coast says from time to time that he's perplexed. I think I'm getting perplexed here. We certainly don't have the resources of the government, but we did, through our small resources, take the opportunity to consult with some British Columbians on this bill. Many of our amendments are the result of talking to British Columbians.
As I'm sure you're aware, hon. Chair, there are three professional accounting associations in British Columbia. One of them said to us that section 3 does not specifically mention input from the public as recommended in the Enns report. In fact, section 3(2) states: "
[ Page 16384 ]
I would like, on behalf of this group, some clarification on why this government, which is about transparency and accountability, all of a sudden now does not want to
Why, when we're getting professional input, would this government not want to listen? If we can't get over this hurdle, we're going to be on this bill for a long time. Why are they trying to block
Hon. P. Ramsey: I've given my reasons. We'll probably continue to disagree on this amendment. I will again commit to ensuring, through the instructions that we give the select standing committee -- and I invite the member to work with me on those instructions -- that we have the procedures in place that meet the intent of the legislation for open, constructive dialogue with the people of the province on the budget of British Columbia.
R. Thorpe: I do have the privilege to be the Chair of one of the legislative committees of this House. I've seen twice -- twice in the last eight months -- how this government has used its majority to shut down public input, public consultation, into trying to get the facts. I believe it said in the throne speech: "
And here we are talking about inputs, making every effort possible to listen to British Columbians, and this minister is saying no. He says in his excuse that it's because the legislative committees will work. Well, the people of British Columbia know that that has not been the case. They know it with the fudge-it budget auditor general's report, because the government closed it down.
Then if that wasn't shocking enough, there comes the auditor general's report on the fast ferries. Now, I believe all members of this House knew that that report had the possibility to be a little bit controversial. So what did we do?
As the Chair, I talked to the independent member for Peace River South, who serves on the committee; the official opposition House Leader, who serves on the committee; and the NDP member for Comox Valley, who is the Deputy Chair of the committee. I asked all of those members to please submit a list of individuals that they would like called before this committee as witnesses, to give independent input, seeking to hear from British Columbians about the fast ferry fiasco. I got those. It was all agreed to. All of the parties agreed to it -- most importantly, the government.
Well, hon. Chair, you've been around here and served this House very well over the years. I think you can recall what happened. If we didn't just start calling the witnesses
If that's not bad enough, when that happened, the now Premier, who was running for leadership of his party, said: "No, that shouldn't happen. The public should have the right to be heard, to get the facts on the table." In the well-chronicled leadership of the NDP Party and the events of that, after he became the Premier, all of a sudden the song on the radio had changed. He now agreed with the Deputy Premier.
An Hon. Member: Two-step.
R. Thorpe: Well, I don't know if it was a two-step, but I certainly tell you, they shuffled the decks. They denied British Columbians exactly what they had promised. Quite frankly, that is the concern here. This minister tells us: "Trust us." The minister was here for a few of the speeches on second reading. I think he knows that the problem is that British Columbians don't trust him -- not him personally, of course, but his government.
Not only did we get input from professional accounting associations of British Columbia, we also had input from another large organization that has a mandate across this country and across each province to listen to taxpayers, to hear taxpayers and to represent taxpayers. And they are saying exactly the same thing.
Their fear, which they put in a letter to me, is now almost being confirmed: the minister, here on section 3 of this bill, Budget Transparency and Accountability Act, is now going to take the guillotine to the public of British Columbia even before they have the opportunity to show up. He's going to leave it in the hands of his non-partisan colleague members, who are going to have the majority of that committee. And you and I know who's going to write the music to the song. It's going to be the minister and his colleagues.
Professional accountants associations, Taxpayers Federation
I want this minister to stand up in this House now and tell hard-working taxpaying British Columbians why he does not believe that every effort should be made to ensure that they have the opportunity to have their voices heard before a committee of this Legislature which is going to, we were told, solicit the views of all British Columbians. I want to hear the answer to that.
Hon. P. Ramsey: It is amazing. I thought we had gotten done with that sort of grandstanding in second reading. Apparently the member wishes to continue, in which case we shall continue.
It is amazing to me that this Liberal opposition, in the face of a bill here and a provision of that bill -- for the first time in this province's history, it becomes the second province in the country to actually move to an all-party committee of the Legislature as a means for consulting on the budget -- would adopt this tone. This is a good bill; this is a good provision of
[ Page 16385 ]
the bill. And I have every confidence that the hon. members of this assembly will do their job under this act: consult broadly with British Columbians.
I have spoken at length, both about the mechanisms that I believe they should and will use and that the Ministry of Finance intends to use and about my willingness to consult with members of the opposition and to make sure that the committee does have the procedures in place to carry out its responsibilities under the act. We are moving forward with listening to British Columbians and their concerns about the budget.
G. Farrell-Collins: I always find it fascinating when, after nine years of incompetent, inept financial management by this government, the ministers have the gall to stand up in this House and pat themselves on the back for doing what they should have done nine years ago. I also find it interesting that they're so proud of having to do this, whereas if they had even complied with some of these basic principles as government -- you don't need to put it in legislation; the government could have done these things over the years -- we wouldn't be at a stage right now where we have $36 billion worth of accumulated debt, where we're the only province in the country that hasn't balanced its budget in recent memory -- nor are we likely to in the next number of years. It also has some of the highest tax rates in certain taxes in Canada and some in North America.
I don't think -- maybe the minister can correct me if I'm wrong -- the last nine years have been a real success story financially and fiscally for the government. He may think so, but I don't think there are many people in the province who would think so.
I know he may want to congratulate himself on doing what, quite frankly, we've been asking the government to do for eight years. I think the first time the truth-in-budget legislation was introduced in this House
Perhaps we can set the indignation aside that the opposition's a little bit suspicious about the government's real intent to do this at the end of a nine-year mandate. Maybe the minister can be tolerant of our suspicion, given the government's record over the last number of years. And perhaps he can be tolerant of the suspicion of the general public when they read this legislation. He can perhaps be tolerant of the suspicion of the various accounting organizations across the country who commented on this legislation and are a little suspicious. So put up with us for a little bit; we've put up with you for nine years. Put up with us for a few hours as we have this debate.
An Hon. Member: Or days.
G. Farrell-Collins: Or days, perhaps, as my colleague reminds him.
It's not like the record isn't on our side, particularly on the standing committee stuff. My colleague highlighted very clearly two instances where the government used its majority to shut down a debate and an analysis of government's fiscal errors that the public really wanted to have a say in. I mean, those are two issues the public was pretty cranked up about: the disappearing balanced budgets in the 1995 and 1996 fiscal years -- right around the time of an election, which was convenient -- and the fast ferry inquiry that Public Accounts was doing surrounding the auditor general's report, which it's their statutory mandate to engage in. Both of those are very recent; they're within the last number of months. Certainly I think both of them are since Mr. Enns's report came out and certainly since the Minister of Finance took his position as Minister of Finance.
He tells us about the good things the government has done about preparing performance plans and trying to do consultation, bringing forward this legislation and living within the spirit of the Enns report. But he doesn't tell us about the stuff the government has been doing that has been directly contrary to the intent of the Enns report. I think my colleague raised those two issues with the Public Accounts Committee as very good examples. The minister cannot deny that that happened; he cannot deny those facts.
He cannot deny the fact that the Premier said one thing at the time that the government members shut down the Public Accounts Committee's inquiries into the fast ferry issue. The Premier at that time said he didn't think that was fair, that the public had a right to be involved, had a right to give input and had a right to know what happened. Promptly on becoming the leader of the party and the Premier of the province, he changed his tune. That was only in February; that was three or four months ago.
So the minister can be a little tolerant of our suspicion. He's right: some of the actions the government has engaged in, in the last little while have been in the right direction. If his arm's tired from patting himself on the back, I'll pat him on the back for him. But there are a whole bunch of actions that the government has also done which I think have been a slap in the face to the public. There have been some public comments on that as well. So pardon us, and pardon the public if they're suspicious.
I think the amendment is a very constructive amendment. It's moderate. It sets a goal of performance for the committee that it must engage the public. As I say, the public is suspicious about the government's intention on budget transparency. The amendment is designed to say to the public: "We hear you. We've learned from our mistakes -- some over the last nine years, some in the last few months with what happened in the Public Accounts Committee around fast ferries and the budget inquiry. We understand that you weren't happy with that. Therefore in this legislation we're going to charge this committee with making every effort to consult with British Columbians about their intentions, their goals, their vision for what British Columbia's fiscal future should be, where their tax dollars should be spent, the types of taxes that should be raised and what the government's management plan is."
I think we've made our case. I think the minister is making a mistake in not accepting this very mild amendment that, I think, really does conform more closely with what Mr. Enns was intending in his report. I can only suspect that the reasons the government isn't doing it are the reasons that we've talked about. There is no other reason not to support that type of an amendment. The minister, I guess, has made his decision clear.
[ Page 16386 ]
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
Amendment negatived on the following division:
|YEAS -- 22|
|NAYS -- 35|
Section 3 approved on division.
On section 4.
R. Thorpe: I wish to move the amendment standing in my name on the order paper with respect to this section:
On the amendment.
[SECTION 4, to add a sub-section 7 as follows:
4 (7) The minister may receive nominations from the public of British Columbia for appointment to the Council as referred to in 4 (2).]
R. Thorpe: This amendment, again, at the request of people that we've consulted with
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'm quite willing to have suggestions for who might sit on this panel. This council actually, of course, has been in existence through legislation for
Here are the people that are currently on it, just for the information of the chamber. The last one, in January of this year, was moderated by Rod Dobell from the University of Victoria. The members were Paul Darby from the Conference Board of Canada; Carl Sonnen from Informetrica Ltd.; Teresa Courchene from the Toronto-Dominion Bank; Alister Smith from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce; John McCallum from the Royal Bank; Tim O'Neill from the Bank of Montreal; Mary Webb from Scotiabank; Jock Finlayson from the Business Council of British Columbia; Dave Park from the Vancouver Board of Trade; George Pedersson of G.A. Pedersson and Associates; Ernie Stokes of Stokes Economic Consulting; John de Wolf, CCG Consulting; William Tharp of M. Murenbeeld and Associates; Ken Peacock of the Credit Union Central of British Columbia; Dale Orr, WEFA Canada; John Helliwell from the University of British Columbia; Michael Goldberg from the University of British Columbia; and Paul Bowles, University of Northern British Columbia.
I believe this is an excellent group. I believe that they have served the province well in their work this year, and I'm sure their successors will in the future. I do not believe that this amendment is necessary to ensure that we have a quality panel. I will say to the House and for the record that I am quite willing to receive suggestions for membership from members opposite or others.
R. Thorpe: The minister said -- I believe he said, hon. Chair -- that people were appointed, selected under this legislation. What legislation is that?
Hon. P. Ramsey: It was the financial
G. Farrell-Collins: Just a procedural question, then: if this council already exists, what section of the Financial Administration Act are we amending, then? Or are we just going to duplicate it somewhere else?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Staff are ensuring we get the right reference number. The idea was to pull this function from the Financial Administration Act into this bill, because it made sense to have it included in the provisions on transparency and accountability and the response to the Enns report. It was to be pulled into this bill, and the section of the Financial Administration Act which had contained it was then to be repealed. So it would be incorporated into this legislation. We'll have staff give us the reference number in the Financial Administration Act.
G. Farrell-Collins: I'm just looking at the sections of this bill we're dealing with today, which are the other end of that process, I guess. The sections that I see where it could be are 4, 5, 3, 10, 11 and 11.1. It's probably section 11.1, if it's 1999, because it sounds like a recent amendment after
But I want to comment a little bit on the desire for this amendment by my colleague, the member from Penticton.
[ Page 16387 ]
Again, what I think it's trying to do is send a message to the public that they're part of this. The budget's theirs; it's their money; they pay the taxes. They rely on the services that government provides. They should have a say in how that's done other than once every four or five years when they elect a representative.
The public is no longer comfortable, like it was perhaps 50 or 60 years ago, having an election once every four or five years and sending people off to Victoria or Ottawa, and hoping that they'll do the right thing and that they aren't required to have any other say in it. The public wants to be more involved in an ongoing basis; I think that's been clear. Partially, I think that's because the public is more active, more attuned, perhaps, to this issue. But I think it's also a result of the fact that times are changing. As I said earlier, we've had a pretty bad stretch of government here for the last decade and a half, I would say. The public's trust in government is substantially lower, I think, than it was earlier on in the last decade or so, particularly here in British Columbia.
So I think that in designing this legislation, the government should be making efforts to say to the public, "You have a right to participate in this process; you have a right to be involved. We want to hear what you have to say. Wherever possible, we want to talk to you. Wherever possible, if you've got some good ideas, please tell us about them; please let us hear them" -- and in this case, in this section: "If you've got someone that you think would be very good on this Economic Forecast Council, please talk to us; tell us who that is."
It's part of the message that government -- and particularly this government, I would think -- would want to send to the public. I have no quarrel with the people that the minister listed. I think they're all outstanding individuals; I know many of them. Over the years I have spoken to many of them on this very issue, and I'm sure the minister has come to know them as well. They're all very good people.
But I do think the public should have some say in that. British Columbians -- Canadians, but British Columbians in particular -- are no longer comfortable just deferring to their elites to pick the right people to do these sorts of jobs. I think there is some merit in sending a message to the public: "Please come and be involved in this process. Tell us who you think is good; tell us who you'd like on here, and we'd be glad to consider it."
He's right: it's not something the minister can't already do with the legislation that's there. But it's part of the message of opening up this budget process, being more accountable to the public, making them realize and sending a message to them that it's their budget, that it's their process, that it's their tax dollars and that it's their programs. I think that kind of an amendment
Again, I'll say it: there's no risk to the minister; there's no risk to the legislation. It's not like the minister's going to get home tonight and go: "Oh no. We passed that amendment to section 4, and now look at what that's going to mean I have to do. Or it won't work." I think it's a positive message to the public asking them to be involved. Certainly nothing in the current six subsections that are there precludes this from happening. Nothing in the amendment that's added here to subsection (7) in any way harms the previous six. I think that if the minister's interested in sending that message, this is the kind of amendment he would want to consider, so that the public does feel invited.
If he has managed to find out which section that is, I'd be thrilled to hear.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I have discovered which section of the Financial Administration Act it is; it's section 11(2). Now, what is interesting is that the consequential amendment deleting the Financial Administration Act section was inadvertently dropped from the BTAA. There is an amendment to the act standing in my name on the order paper, which amends it; I think it's section 33. So Mr. Crowther and I are slightly bemused, because the bill notes have it clearly specified that that was the section, and we are changing it.
I have listened to the members' concerns about this amendment that they are proposing. I will say this. I will make a distinction between the work of this forecasting council and its advice to government and the advice of citizenry and interest groups on budget. This section very clearly says that we are appointing these 12 people and selecting them "for their knowledge of the economy of British Columbia and their expertise in economic analysis and forecasting." It's a very specific set of expertise that we are seeking in this.
Having said that, and recognizing that the proposed subsection, in any nominations from the public, would have to meet those criteria and that sort of expertise as well as not being an employee of a government reporting entity, I am prepared to accept the amendment that the opposition has put forward.
G. Farrell-Collins: Well, thank you to the minister. I think we're making some progress. I was going to make him a deal that I'd support his amendment if he'd support mine. I'll still support his amendment, given that he supported mine, even though I hadn't made the offer. So we can, I guess, move on to the next section.
Section 4 as amended approved.
On section 5.
R. Thorpe: With respect to subsection (1), it says here: "The main estimates for a fiscal year must be prepared in accordance with this section and with the accounting policies as established by Treasury Board." Could you just explain how Treasury Board goes through the process of establishing its accounting policies?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Treasury Board and government have established accounting policies. From time to time staff bring forward issues that they think will require changes to those policies; they are considered by Treasury Board, and changes are made or not.
R. Thorpe: Who currently sits on Treasury Board and considers these possible accounting policies?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The membership of Treasury Board is a public record; the member can get it. It's members of cabinet. I could recite them if the member wishes.
[ Page 16388 ]
R. Thorpe: Yes, please.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Okay. It's me as Chair; the Minister of Labour; the Attorney General; the Minister of Community Development, Cooperatives and Volunteers; the Minister of Transportation and Highways; the Minister of Advanced Education, Training and Youth; the Minister for Children and Families; and -- I think I'm forgetting someone -- the Minister of Municipal Affairs. If I got to eight, that's the right number.
R. Thorpe: Apparently the Chair of Treasury Board doesn't have to be able to count.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Not and speak at the same time.
R. Thorpe: Oh yeah, that'd be doing two things. Excuse me. Sorry -- how foolish of me.
So we've got ministers of the Crown deciding on what the accounting policies are going to be for the government of British Columbia. Why are we not prepared in British Columbia to accept -- or appear to accept, I should say -- generally accepted accounting principles as the policies for running the books of British Columbia?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I was wondering when he was actually going to get to the question, since he has got any significant number of amendments on the order paper that deal precisely with this issue. We do accept the public accounting standards board and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants as the benchmark for public accounting. We also think it is important that the accounting policies of the province be set by government.
What we have chosen to do in this act, and I think it is the correct approach, is to say that where we are aware of a difference in accounting policies of Treasury Board from generally accepted accounting principles for senior government in Canada, we must disclose any material at variance from those policies. We have chosen to do this because at times there are matters of difference between auditor generals right across the country and those public generally accepted accounting principles.
The other thing that is clear is that this is a shifting target, as generally accepted accounting principles are evolving right across the country. So we have chosen to take the approach in this act of saying that we surely reference generally accepted accounting principles for senior governments in Canada as one of the benchmarks. We reserve government's right to set its own accounting policies. We accept also the responsibility to disclose any variance of those policies from generally accepted accounting principles. We have done so in the current budget that is before this House.
Earlier we had a discussion about the schools, universities, colleges and health sector. As the member knows, there are a variety of views of it. I read to him the part of the estimates book that reveals and discloses transparently where government policy, in its summary entity -- which we've already debated -- differs from the adoption of the PSAB recommendation on summary accounts. That is one example where we have deliberately chosen another summary entity, one that does not include the subsector, and said: "This is the basis on which we are going to be reporting and budgeting in this province." It does differ from what generally accepted accounting principles and PSAB say should be the ideal entity.
We have chosen this, and we have revealed and disclosed its difference from that general principle. We think that is the appropriate way both to recognize the benchmark of generally accepted accounting principles and to be transparent about where government policies differ from those principles.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: I ask leave to make an introduction.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: Joining us in the gallery today are approximately 48 students from Lord Kelvin Elementary School in New Westminster, joined by a couple of teachers and a couple of parents. I'd ask all of my colleagues in the House here to join me in making them welcome today.
R. Thorpe: Interesting: some of the language in section 5(e) is the "generally accepted accounting principles for senior governments in Canada." Could the minister say why he picked the words "senior governments of Canada"?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Staff advise me that drafters chose this wording to differentiate this set of accounting principles from GAAP, the generally accepted accounting principles for the private sector, and, I should add, from the rules that apply to municipalities, which I understand differ again from those for senior government.
R. Thorpe: When we say "senior government," are we talking about the government of Canada? Is that what we're talking about?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Yes, the governments of the provinces and the government of Canada.
R. Thorpe: So does that mean, then
R. Thorpe: Yes, I thought that's what you
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'm not quite sure what the member means. We said, "Here are the generally accepted accounting principles for senior governments," which is code, I guess, for PSAB, the public accounting standards board, and the standards they set for senior governments. That's the benchmark here. Where we differ from them in our accounting principles, we are committed by this legislation to disclose fully -- where we have chosen a different set of accounting principles. I think this is the best way both to set a benchmark and to disclose any variance from it.
R. Thorpe: Well, again, I thought one of the purposes
[ Page 16389 ]
to some of their speakers, I think they were trying to tell British Columbians that perhaps they were going to try to do things a little bit differently than in the last nine years. I thought that was their intent, because it says: "Budget Transparency and Accountability Act."
Now, again, for the folks out there who pay the bills
But my point here is
I think it's all heading to the generally accepted and PSAB accounting standards. That's where it's going. So again, if we're trying here to tell British Columbians and to show British Columbians that we want to reconnect -- give confidence that we're doing things in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles -- why have we chosen not to do that?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'll explain again with two examples. I said very clearly that our goal here is to accept that benchmark of PSAB and the work of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. We recognize, as the member says, that at times this is a shifting target, and governments adapt to it as they go along.
I've already referenced one significant area where we differ from PSAB. We do not include in our summary entity the SUCH sector of schools, universities, colleges and hospitals. We said, when the Enns report came out, that we recognized that as a recommendation. We recognized PSAB. We are not prepared to move there. We said that we needed
So what we've done
I'll give the member another example, something of which, I must confess, he probably knows more than I -- prepaid capital advances. And I'll read again from the estimates accounting policies:
Our policy differs. Guess what. "The auditor general of British Columbia concurs with government's accounting for prepaid capital advances." So to pretend there's one standard across the country that everybody adheres to, that even every auditor general accepts, is simply contrary to fact.
"Prepaid capital advances are provided to school districts, post-secondary institutions, health organizations and other specified government organizations to fund capital asset acquisitions. The province has an ongoing claim to these assets and, accordingly, capitalizes the advances and amortizes them over the useful life of the underlying capital assets. PSAB" -- on generally accepted accounting principles -- "recommends that governments fully expense these advances in the year they are disbursed."
So what we have chosen to do is say: "We understand the benchmark. We recognize that there are a variety of views across the country and among the auditing community and among the auditor general community about that benchmark." So what we will commit to do -- appropriately, I believe -- is say: "There's the benchmark; here's government policy. Where they differ, we have a responsibility in law to disclose the variance from it." That, I believe, meets the test of both adhering to policies and disclosing fully where you're differing from your benchmark.
R. Thorpe: Could the minister advise if these words and this position have been reviewed with the auditor general and what the auditor general has said about this, if in fact consultation took place?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Staff has advised that they did not discuss, in advance, these provisions with the auditor general. They brought these forward. They have had informal discussions with both previous and current auditors general on these and many other issues.
R. Thorpe: I'm sorry, hon. Chair. I was just distracted there for a second. I wonder if the minister could repeat that about the consultations with the auditor general.
Hon. P. Ramsey: During the times the Enns commission report came out and we were preparing this legislation, we did not consult formally with the auditor general on these matters. Staff have had many chances to review the contents of this act with the auditor general's office.
R. Thorpe: Based on this bill, as we move forward then -- the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act -- can the minister advise the House whether he believes the annual financial statements will be qualified by following these accounting principles?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I am loath to predict the future. We have a new auditor general, as the member knows, and I know he's working well with Public Accounts. We have had a qualification in the past because of the non-inclusion of the SUCH sector. I imagine that is an issue that the current auditor will wish to take up with members of Treasury Board staff as we move forward.
R. Thorpe: So I guess we have not, then, met with the new auditor general on this bill and talked about a possibility of a working understanding on whether these statements prepared in this manner would be qualified or not. Is that
[ Page 16390 ]
correct? Or did he say he would not qualify them, or did he say he would qualify them? Or did he say he reserved opinion?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The auditor general, of course, has the responsibility of reviewing government books and accounting policies, and he will make his independent decision. That is his role and his right. I have had the opportunity to discuss informally with the new auditor general
R. Thorpe: The official opposition
Therefore I would like to move the amendment for section 5 standing in my name in the order paper.
[SECTION 5 (1), to delete the words in strikeout and to substitute therefor the words in underline:
5 (1) The main estimates for a fiscal year must be prepared in accordance with this section and with the
accounting policies as established by Treasury Boardgenerally accepted accounting principles for government accounting policies as established by the Public Accounting Standards Board and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.]
Amendment negatived on division.
Section 5 approved.
On section 6.
G. Farrell-Collins: You could call section 6 the fixed budget day section. It's the section that restricts some of the freedom that government has around the dates upon which they would introduce a budget.
There are two parts to it. The first part says that the minister has to present the main estimates for the fiscal year and the budget at the same time and that it should be introduced to the House with sufficient time to complete the required six days of debate that exists in our standing orders prior to the end of the fiscal year. That's essentially what the first subsection says.
The second subsection, the other half of the section, is the escape clause section, which allows for a couple of scenarios where the government need not comply with what they're required to do in subsection (1). It says you've got to do it at this time unless one of these things happens: (a) a general election is underway or recently completed, (b) a new Premier has taken office after February 15 in the fiscal year, or (c) a federal budget has been introduced after February 15 that materially changes or has a significant impact on B.C.'s budget. In that case, and I find this interesting, you can actually introduce the budget at another date.
The subsection actually says you can introduce the main estimates at a later date. It doesn't say that you have to also introduce the budget at a later date -- just the main estimates. I don't know if that's a problem that the minister may want to look at, but he can look at the technicality of whether that's a problem and tell me one way or the other. I suspect it might be.
More importantly, I'd like to discuss for a few minutes, while he determines that, the requirement, really, for the three escape hatches. I admit that there is some logic to (a), (b) and (c) there. They're not illogical. I'm not convinced they're required, though, and this is the reason. I can't recall, in my years of watching politics in British Columbia, when there was an election in March. Perhaps the member can advise me -- or his colleague who sits beside him, who is somewhat of a political historian, I think, could advise me -- when the last provincial election was that happened in March or was underway in March, in the last two weeks of March. I don't think it has ever happened. Certainly in the modern era I don't think it has ever happened. I don't think (a) is required, just by practice.
And for (b), that the new Premier has taken office, well, as we've seen, it doesn't seem to matter whether there's a new Premier or not. The budget process moves along. I don't think that
Then on the third one, the federal budget, again I think there's some logic to that. I understand that if there were a major change in what the federal government was providing to the province in transfers, either up or down -- and I mean a major change -- or if there were significant changes to the tax system such that it would have a significant impact on the revenues of the province, there may be need to amend the budget. Or in this case, even while it's in progress: the budget process is in place, the federal budget comes out and everyone goes: "Gee. Now we've got to go back and fix all this stuff." I understand that.
But again, I still don't think that it's necessary to just stop the whole budget process at that point. I think you can come to the public with what you've got. As those amendments are worked through, they can come up in here -- if there's a change in Health, for example. Health often is debated in estimates towards the end of the spring session. Certainly, if there were to be changes in that vote, that can happen very easily with an amendment on the floor of the House by the Minister of Health.
There is certainly a provision for changes. In many cases, the tax changes that come in the form of legislation don't arrive here till June or aren't debated until June, and amendments could be put on the order paper to deal with that. So
[ Page 16391 ]
I think that in all of those cases, yes, it's more convenient, perhaps, for government to be able to just stop the process and say: "Well, we're not going to bring the budget in right now. We'll bring it in later."
On the latter one, section 6(2)(c), the federal budget one, I haven't seen too many cases -- since I've been here, anyway -- where the federal government has had such a significant impact on the budget that it needed to be halted and rewritten. I can never recall a case where a minister has moved an amendment to their estimates vote to change the dollar figure. I don't recall that ever happening. I also don't recall any change to the Budget Measures Implementation Act as a result of the federal budget or to tax changes -- the Income Tax Act or the other tax acts -- as a result of a federal budget in the time I've been here.
I'm sure that in previous years, back whenever, it did happen. But the federal budget has pretty much regularly come in, in about the middle of February for the last decade or couple of decades. It has been pretty regular. It's not all over the place the way it used to be. I just don't know that these are necessary anymore. There are other solutions to solve any of those problem scenarios which I raised, and they are very simple solutions. The minister comes in, moves an amendment to the motion for their vote. That's debated and passed, and the estimates move forward. And with any legislation that's pending on the order paper, the minister responsible -- most cases, the Minister of Finance -- can put amendments on the order paper and tweak that accordingly.
I think the public has a right to know what the budget is for the year coming up, and I think they have a right to know when they're going to know that. If things happen and the world changes and unfolds differently, I think the government certainly has it within its powers to amend that in a very simple way as the debate goes forward. It's rare that we're ever
Under the standing order changes that sit on the order paper right now, we'd be out by the end of May -- certainly plenty of time for those sorts of issues to be sorted out. Certainly if there was a change in leadership, a new Premier sworn in, essentially, after February 15 and before March 15
So there's really a window of a month or so there where it could create a problem. But even in that case, those issues can be dealt with before the end of the fiscal year.
G. Farrell-Collins: The minister says: "I wish
Certainly any of those changes -- a federal budget, an election -- I just don't think are going to happen in that one-month window. And the federal budget changes are things that can be amended as the session progresses. I don't think any of those are necessary. I think it makes it more convenient for the government, but I don't think it's required. They can bring in the budget. If they need to make changes, they can make changes. They can explain why, and it moves through; it's not a huge problem.
I do believe that the public has a right to know when the budget's going to come in. They have a right to expect to know what the next fiscal year holds for them. Individuals and businesses have a right to know what their taxes are going to be from year to year. All too often, if this scenario were to be in place, they'd end up with a budget in April or May -- or, heaven knows, perhaps later -- and then have retroactive legislation come in. It messes up their books, and they've got to deal with all of that. I think the government should try as much as possible to live within the spirit of the first part of the section and not provide the escape clauses at the end.
I have an amendment which stands in my name on the order paper which I would like to move. I'd like to read it into the record, because it's a fairly simple amendment. It essentially deletes everything that's there now and just simplifies it all. It says:
On the amendment.
[SECTION 6, to delete sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 6 and to substitute therefor the following:
6 The minister must present the budget and main estimates for the upcoming fiscal year to the Legislative Assembly no later than March 15th of each year.]
G. Farrell-Collins: It just simplifies the legislation, closes those loopholes and requires some discipline on government and the political party that's in government to be mindful of their obligation to the people of the province to deliver a budget on time with some reasonableness to it. And if there are extenuating circumstances, use the procedures that are currently in place to solve those. It doesn't fix it on March 15, because March 15 might be a Sunday in some years. It requires it to be done no later than March 15. That gives some time; it gives the public some predictability. They know that within that window -- very tight, about a week or so -- they're going to see the budget, and they can plan for it accordingly.
I think it would be a nice change; it would give some security and some certainty. And we wouldn't have the problems which we've had in the past with governments that are nearing the end of their mandate trying to play around with the budget and make it their reason for election. I think that happened in 1996. We came into the Legislature, I think, in April -- about a month late. It was the very end of April; it was the second-last day of April, I believe. We came into the Legislature; the budget was thrown on the table. The opposition didn't even have a chance to respond to the budget in the House. That's how tight up against the election writ-drop decision of the Premier we were put.
The budget was thrown on the table; the public didn't have a chance to analyse it. I suspect that if that budget had been introduced no later than March 15 and the government chose to call an election at the end of April or beginning of May, which they did, in that intervening period, the fact that
[ Page 16392 ]
neither of those budgets were actually balanced may have gotten out to the public. And the public may -- or may not -- have made a different choice on how they would cast their ballot. So that was a perfect and classic example of how this legislation can be used to manipulate the budgetary process to the political aims of the government in power. The budget doesn't belong to the government; the budget belongs to the people -- the people who are paying for it and the people who rely upon those services.
That's the reason for the amendment. I think it's clean, it's simple and it's clear. It does not remove the various methods and procedures that are currently available to the government to make amendments to the budget if extenuating circumstances arise at a later date.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I want to assure the member opposite that this section has been the topic of considerable debate within the ministry and with the people who are helping me put this act together, as we tried to figure out how to adhere to what I think is the principle that the member outlined. The principle is that there should be adequate
With respect, I have to disagree with the proposed amendment made by the Opposition House Leader. I do it for two reasons. First of all, let's look at the actual date issue. The Enns panel recommended that the annual budget be introduced by the third Tuesday in March each year, unless that is during an election campaign or less than 30 days after a new government is sworn in, in which case the budget must be introduced as soon as possible. That was the recommendation of the Enns panel.
The difficulty with that is that the third Tuesday could be as late as March 21. If you then have spring break and you decide not to sit, all of a sudden you're out of time to do the appropriate standing orders debate before the start of the new fiscal year. So we looked at that and said: "Their intent is dead-on, but we're not sure they really understood how the standing orders of the House work to actually get the throne speech and budget speech debates done before a new fiscal year starts." They qualified this by saying, you know
I want to deal first with the date issue; then I'll go on to the qualifications, Enns and ours. So, then, we said: "Okay; shall we pick, then, a fixed date -- February 15 or whatever?" Yeah, we looked at that. Here's the difficulty and why the proposed legislation is actually more restrictive on government than the proposed amendment from the opposition. We now have in front of this House a proposal for a new timetable for the Legislature. It says we take off the week that has the fourth Tuesday of the month in it. The fourth Tuesday could fall as early as March 24, which means we'd be taking off the week of the 24th through the 28th. Then we'd have the one day at the end of the month, the 31st, when we'd actually be back in session. Counting backward from that, then, the week of the 17th to the 21st would be the next working week. If I correctly understand the school calendar, and I think I do, there's an excellent chance that that is spring break. I back up through a weekend -- the 15th and 16th -- and I come to the 14th; it is a Friday. The new calendar says we don't sit there.
You introduce a budget on the 13th, and you have a grand total of two days of debate before the end of the month -- unacceptable. It does not fit the new calendar that we are proposing for this House.
Recognizing that there may be legislative reform in process and recognizing that the principle is to allow sufficient time for debate before the end of the fiscal year, we have chosen the approach that says: "Such that the budget debate can reasonably be anticipated to be completed in accordance with the standing orders of the Legislative Assembly, eight sittings, six days before the start of the new fiscal year." That's the reason. With respect, the opposition's amendment could, in some years, actually curtail budget debate to as little as two days. I think, therefore, we ought to stick with the current proposal.
Second, on section 6(2), I listened to the Opposition House Leader with interest. First of all, let me say this: the Enns panel said, in their own way, that you should include subsections (2)(a) and (2)(b). Now, if you have a general election underway or recently completed, or if you have a new government, a new Premier, that's taken office in the previous month, they said 30 days. That's essentially the Enns report's recommendation on this. We think they are sensible. I'll speak to the last one and then go back.
The third issue was the federal budget. It's one, actually, that staff raised with us as we worked our way through this, and they said it has happened in the past. Mel Couvelier, for example, said he had to delay a budget because of some significant changes that had been made in, I think, federal revenues to the province of British Columbia some time ago. More recent practice has been that the federal government consults with senior finance officials at least somewhat in advance of their federal budget. So the number of "surprises" seems to be diminishing.
But there is no guarantee that that will be the case. Therefore if two things occur -- one, the federal government presents a budget after the middle of February, and two, there's a material change in the fiscal forecast for the government of B.C. reporting entity for the next fiscal year as a result; both things have to apply -- then the Minister of Finance can state that it's not practicable. We'll have to delay the introduction of the budget for a day or three or a week.
Now, here's the part that I
In the very early days of the current Premier's time in office, it was my duty to meet with him -- I think, the day or the day after he'd been sworn in -- and advise him of the timetable for completing budget preparation -- how much of his time and of cabinet's time I'd require to get that work done and the timetable for actually getting it introduced. It was his
[ Page 16393 ]
desire to push that as far forward in February as possible to meet the spirit of the Enns legislation. I was saying: "Yeah, get the debate done before the end of the fiscal." Given the decision that we were not going to sit during spring break, that proved to be practically -- and I mean in terms of getting practical work done -- impossible.
A budget is more than estimates. It is all the background work that needs to be done. It is working through on all the material and the decisions made by senior folks in government, with Premiers, who the Finance minister works very closely with on revenue measures -- and there are significant revenue measures in this budget -- and with cabinet, talking about expenses and how their departments are going to deal with them. It is far more, particularly in the era that we're moving into of performance plans and government strategic plans. There's just more than can be done, if you have a new cabinet and a new Premier after the middle of February, to get it tabled in time to complete budget debate before the start of the new fiscal year.
I listen with interest to the Opposition House Leader. With respect, I think he has underestimated the practical difficulties of having an election, a new government or a federal budget after a particular date. And our choice in subsection (2), actually, was: do you put in some sort of general clause that says you have an unanticipated event that can cause budget delay; or do you narrow them down and say: "We can only conceive of three."? We chose the stance of saying: "We can only conceive of three circumstances. Here they are."
So with all respect, I must decline to support the amendment proposed by the Opposition House Leader on section 6.
R. Thorpe: I listened very carefully to the minister, and like my colleague from Vancouver-Little Mountain, I have not had the privilege -- perhaps, listening to the minister, it's is not that great of a privilege -- to go through a budget process. I have gone through budget processes in major corporations, but I'm sure it's different. I'm sure it will have its own trials and tribulations.
I guess what my colleague
That's why, hon. Speaker, in taking into account some of the observations of the ministers about vacations, standing orders, time off -- three here and one off -- and a whole bunch of possibilities, a myriad of possibilities, we said: "No later than March 15 of each year." So you could take in that whole assortment of possibilities and work yourself back; you could do that. It's just the commitment of wanting to give certainty that, by no later than March 15 of each year, there would be a budget tabled.
Those were the points that I thought
I guess the minister is saying no to this amendment. And I just ask the minister to give it one final consideration, because it says: "No later than
Hon. P. Ramsey: I believe the section as drafted provides that certainty and indeed provides the time for the House to complete its work. As I explained to the member, the proposal as written would actually require introduction of a budget no later than something like February 15 in particular years of the calendar.
The reality is that the current language is more demanding on government, in terms of advancing the introduction of budget, than the opposition's proposed amendment. That was the point I made in debate. Further, the opposition's amendment would
Amendment negatived on division.
Section 6 approved on division.
On section 7.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I have an amendment to propose to section 7. I will actually read it for the House. I assure the chamber that this is one which the opposition will have no difficulty in supporting. Section 7(e) currently reads: "
An Hon. Member: Just read it again.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Amend section 7(1)(e) by deleting "what that" and substituting "what."
R. Thorpe: Hon. Speaker, you noticed how cooperative the opposition is on reasonable amendments.
With respect to 7(1)(c), "a report on the advice received from the Economic Forecast Council
Hon. P. Ramsey: I would refer the member to the budget reports for Budget 2000. The report is a summary of a full day's events, but it is a comprehensive summary of the topics that are covered. If the member looks at the budget document
[ Page 16394 ]
developments to the Canadian economy, financial markets, domestic outlooks within British Columbia, risks to the outlook and policy discussion. So it's pretty comprehensive. Does it include every word said during a full day? No, but it's quite a comprehensive report.
R. Thorpe: I appreciate what the minister is telling me here. The intent is for it to be as far-ranging as possible, and obviously you can't put every word that takes place in a day in the document.
With respect to 7(2), "The minister must, in the preamble to the final Supply Bill
Hon. P. Ramsey: No, it is not. It is one number. This is the prudence factor that is included in the budget of this year -- $300 million.
Section 7 as amended approved.
On section 8.
R. Thorpe: With respect to section 8, could the minister advise how the number of $50 million was selected?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The selection of the $50 million threshold for major capital projects -- which must be presented to the Legislative Assembly at the same time that estimates are presented -- is in some ways an arbitrary number. We looked at the threshold for contingent liabilities in public accounts. We also had some intents behind it. The goal here was to have tabled in the Legislature capital projects which are of significant size, where there are significant risks and significant exposure in the amount of money that is being committed to them.
We said we want to capture, for example, major hospitals. We have had difficulties at some times with health construction. The Deloitte study that I commissioned and reported on to the Legislature said: "Indeed you have some difficulties with health construction, and you need more upfront work." We agree.
On the other hand, we did not want to capture things that are going fairly smoothly and bog down the process with a huge amount of additional work. For example, school construction is going well in the province. Time lines for construction have shortened up, and a $25 million to $30 million secondary school is now a fairly routine event in the construction schedule of major capital. What this would obviously capture are major projects such as SkyTrain. It would have captured the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, had it been there at the time. It would capture a variety of other major capital projects.
Now, I would also say to the member that the capital division of the Ministry of Finance, looking at the Deloitte report, said: "You also need to consider whether there are risks to some, either by location or by difficulties of construction or other things. You might have risks for projects below that threshold."
So we are trying to make sure that we have major projects in front of this Legislature for debate. While the $50 million threshold does have some arbitrariness about it, we believe it is an appropriate threshold that does capture major exposures in capital projects.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the Deloitte report, it says: "Project governance is weak. The result is inconsistent management of projects, unclear accountability for success or failure of a project and often slow decision-making." It goes on to say: "Risk needs to be managed. We found only limited evidence on certain projects that such risks, particularly in the early stages of a project, are identified and well managed by the central agencies or that ministers provide explicit direction to government officials to manage such risk." It goes on to say: "Untimely project announcements. We found instances where ministers announced a capital project before final approvals had been made by the Treasury Board ministers." So I think it's fair to say that this Deloitte report was fairly damning of capital management in the province of British Columbia at this point in time.
In that regard, in picking the $50 million number, does the minister have any idea how many projects of $50 million or more were in last year's plan or are in this year's plan?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I think we'll have a good opportunity in estimates to debate Deloitte and many other things. I have accepted, as the member knows, the conclusions of the Deloitte report. I have brought forward amendments to the Financial Administration Act and the Financial Information Act to make sure that we have better controls in place. I do disagree with the sweeping condemnation of government management and capital that the member talks about; I don't think that's an accurate reflection of the summary of the Deloitte report.
[P. Nettleton in the chair.]
The $50 million cutoff here is really a proxy for risk. If you lower the threshold, you start to capture additional types of projects, which in general, can be considered less risky and don't warrant this sort of time of scrutiny, public debate and disclosure. That's the goal here, to make sure we get stuff in front of us that is major -- truly major -- and to make sure that the routine stuff has the right controls in place.
Having said that it is somewhat arbitrary, I think it is the advice of staff
R. Thorpe: I go back, and, you know, as a member of the official opposition, together with my colleagues
Since we're trying here with this bill -- in the Premier's own words -- to reconnect British Columbians with the Legislature and with the finances of the province, we believe that the arbitrary number of $50 million should be lowered, and in that regard we arbitrarily have picked a number.
[ Page 16395 ]
R. Thorpe: Well, no; we did. I'm very frank and honest here. I read the report, and only 8 percent of the projects were over $10 million -- okay? So I think we can accomplish exactly the same thing with minimal costs. And why, in moving this
By lowering the amount, this Legislature can attempt to build a credibility bridge to the taxpayers of British Columbia, whose money we're spending -- whose money is spent every day. You know what? Fifty million dollars is a lot of money to my constituents. And I think, hon. Chair, it's a lot of money to the constituents in Prince George too. And I'll tell you what -- this amendment that I'm going to move in a minute is $25 million dollars. You know what? That's a lot of money in the riding of Okanagan-Penticton. I'm going to tell you it's a lot of money for the taxpayers in the constituency of Prince George. I hope, hon. Chair, that when I move this motion, the minister's going to see the intent and spirit of trying to reconnect taxpayers with their money and accountability. That's what this intent is.
Therefore, with respect to 8(1)(b), I wish to move the amendment standing in my name on the order paper:
On the amendment.
[SECTION 8 (1) (b), by deleting the words in strikeout and substituting therefor the words in underline:
8 (1) (b) anticipates making commitments that will, in total, exceed
$50 million$25 million towards the capital cost of the project, (etc.)]
Hon. P. Ramsey: Welcome to the chair, hon. Chair.
On the amendment -- first of all, as I said, I have ordered a review of capital and am looking hard at improving the process of government to manage major and minor capital. The member is quite right in saying that the great majority of capital projects, either planned or under construction by this government, are under $10 million. I mean, there is a $500,000 expansion to a school there, a $4 million elementary school there, an $8 million long-term care facility there, a $4 million alcohol and detox centre there; and the great majority of those projects go through relatively smoothly.
Occasionally, even they go off the rails, for large and small reasons. But I submit that we really have two processes that we're talking about here. One that we will have a good debate in estimates on is: what does the ministry and government do internally in the planning, justification, prioritization, tendering, construction and post-construction evaluation of its capital projects -- across the board, routine and non-routine? And that, I submit, is what government ministries and personnel should be charged with doing. Government policies should make sure that goes well and that we get good value for the tax dollar and get the projects constructed in a timely fashion.
The intent of this act, and this section of the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act, is to place before the Legislature for a level of debate that has, frankly, not that much to do with some of the technicalities of value analysis or whatever, but broad public discussion of
It is my submission that if we look at capital projects -- both the ones that we think have gone well that are big, and the ones that have not done so well -- they would be captured by this clause. So I submit that the figure is appropriate for the work that the Legislature should be doing in its analysis of major capital and that we need to continue to work to strengthen the mechanisms of government, and people employed by government, to handle smaller projects.
R. Thorpe: You know, hon. Chair, I honestly thought that the minister was going to say he's agreed that $25 million serves exactly the same purpose as his $50 million. I was so disappointed at the very end. But again, I just want to be very, very clear in putting this forward. The official opposition wanted to make sure that the taxpayers -- and all of the support programs that go around it inside government -- were getting value on whatever the capital project is and, as importantly, the much-needed services they demand from their government, whether it be health care in Prince George, or schools in the Okanagan -- whatever it may be. That's why we picked the number of $25 million, and I'm saddened to hear that the minister does not seem to be prepared to support this amendment that I've moved. I guess we're going to have to vote on that now.
Amendment negatived on division.
The Chair: Has the member moved both amendments to section 8?
R. Thorpe: Just the one.
As the House knows, I have another amendment with respect to section 8 on the order paper. Again, the official opposition believes that British Columbians have the right to know, when the estimates are being tabled in this House, that a comprehensive list of all capital expenditures should be tabled with those estimates. Therefore, again in the thrust of transparency and accountability to all British Columbians, I would like to move a motion that we believe shows sincerity on the part of government to let British Columbians know what it's planning to do in the coming year in what areas and what parts of British Columbia.
So I would move that the second amendment I have for section 8
[SECTION 8, by adding a sub-section (4) as follows:
(4) The Minister when tabling the Budget and estimates documents will also table a comprehensive document highlighting all capital expenditures over $1 million.]
On the amendment.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Again, I accept that the opposition's amendments are made in good faith. This one I must regretfully decline to support. This is more a matter of just practicality than anything else as far as exposure to perhaps unintended costs to government.
We do internally put dollar figures behind many projects. Actually, the cutoff for minor capital in the Ministry of Education is $1.5 million. At the time we approve the work to go forward with the school district, they have submitted only a rough estimate, and we have said go. To put those projects
[ Page 16396 ]
down to the level that the member suggests, with dollar figures beside them, in a report to this Legislature would, I think, be the wrong thing to do at a time when we are trying to get good value on government projects from the contracting community -- and I think we have been. These are pre-value analyses; they're pre-tender. They have not had that level of work done, and so I must, really for matters of practicality, say that I don't think the amendment does work, and I must decline to support it.
R. Thorpe: I don't want to belabour this, but the minister said something that was interesting to me, so I don't know whether the minister thinks that the million dollars should be adjusted upwards. What I thought I heard him say, though, is that inside government, inside Treasury Board, they have the detailed supporting documents on capital. Is that correct or incorrect?
When the budget's tabled and X hundreds of millions of dollars is identified as capital, is there supporting documentation behind those at Treasury Board that says, "Health, $300 million; Education, $428 million," and supporting documentation or directional documentation on where that money is going -- what part of the province, etc.? That's my question.
Hon. P. Ramsey: We really are getting into estimates debate, and I'll be glad to engage. But what the budget and the budget documents contain are envelopes for capital spending with dollar amounts. Ministries present preliminary plans to Treasury Board of what projects they think fit within those amounts that they intend to start work on during the year, either for completion or for planning. As the year goes on, ministries very often come back to Treasury Board and say, "We think this project should be advanced and this one retarded during the current fiscal year," and the dollar figures accounted for each of them may well change significantly.
Furthermore, just because an overall capital plan is approved for a ministry does not mean that individual projects are approved. Each project must go through
We have a $4 million school project, nominally, because that's sort of roughly what an elementary school costs. But until the work is then done
What ministries do is work within their capital envelope and bring specific projects forward for planning and completion approval. Therefore I submit that putting in even some sort of tentative "What do you think might happen during the next year and within your envelope?" list, outside of these major ones that we're saying need and deserve the individual attention of the Legislature, might be more harmful than helpful in doing estimates.
Amendment negatived on division.
Section 8 approved.
On section 9.
R. Thorpe: I think we've had the debate on these sections, unless through consultation the minister has perhaps been advised that he may want to alter
R. Thorpe: Three. I said three.
R. Thorpe: No, no, that would be your former Minister of Finance who would have said that, sir.
I have two amendments that stand on the order paper. I wish to move those amendments standing in my name on the order paper. They both pertain to generally accepted accounting policies. We're not going to go through that debate again; we've had it. The opposition believes very strongly that the accounting policies for the province of British Columbia should follow those established by the public accounting standards board and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.
I move two amendments to section 9 standing in my name in Orders of the Day.
On the amendment.
[SECTION 9 (1), by deleting the words in strikeout and substituting the words in underline:
9 (1) Annual public accounts for each fiscal year must be prepared in accordance with
this section and with the accounting policies as established by Treasury Boardgenerally accepted accounting principles for government accounting policies as established by the Public Accounting Standards Board and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.
SECTION 9 (2) (e), by deleting the sub-section and renumbering the section accordingly.]
Hon. P. Ramsey: As I said earlier, I cannot accept these amendments, for the reasons I stated. We benchmark our accounting policies to generally accepted accounting principles and are required by this law to clearly indicate areas where Treasury Board and government practices differ from those principles. I think that is the appropriate approach to this matter.
Amendments negatived on division.
Section 9 approved.
On section 10.
R. Thorpe: This is not the same thing. This very reasonable amendment complies totally, 100 percent, with the Enns report -- 100 percent. And I know -- well, I don't know
I would just point out that organizations that have to file, public and otherwise, don't get extensions on filing require
[ Page 16397 ]
ments. Therefore, again, back to the title of the bill: Budget Transparency and Accountability Act. The spirit of Enns says that we should have it in 60 days, not 75.
Therefore I wish to move an amendment that would alter the filing of the first three months quarterly report from September 15 to August 31. That complies totally with the Enns report. It's the spirit of the Enns report and what all of the outside professional accounting associations have told us, and therefore I wish to move the amendment standing in my name on the order paper with respect to section 10.
On the amendment.
[SECTION 10 (3) (a), by deleting the words in strikeout and substituting therefor the words in underline as follows:
September 15August 31, in respect of the first 3 months of the fiscal year.]
Hon. P. Ramsey: The member is quite accurate in that this one provision does differ from the Enns report. We have accepted the Enns recommendation that all quarterly reports be prepared by 60 days after the end of the quarter. We've accepted that public accounts must have a deadline for introduction of August 31, that the government annual report must be done by August 31, and that annual reports of ministries and public bodies must be done 90 days after the public fiscal year-end, except for ones that have a different year end. We've accepted all of it except for this one provision to give staff an extra 15 days to finish the work on the first quarterly report.
When I started work with staff on this act, I strongly supported the member's position that August 31 was the right date. I've supported it strongly through many debates with my staff, but eventually they persuaded me, as I hope to persuade the member, that while it made good sense on a calendar, it made no sense for the workload of staff. It's not only within the Ministry of Finance that you could argue that they have the quarterly report responsibility and they have the lead but in the office of the comptroller general, who has mixed responsibility both for public accounts and for first quarterly. While they are fully occupied working with the auditor in production of public accounts, there is simply not enough time and energy to do both of those by the end of August.
So with the greatest respect, I lost this battle with my staff, and the member's going to lose this battle with me. September 15 -- I think it has to be.
R. Thorpe: I'm not questioning for one minute, one second, that people don't have heavy schedules; I'm not questioning that. And I'm not questioning how hard people work. I am questioning, though, the spirit, the intent. I wonder how many extensions on quarterly reports the government of British Columbia gives to the people that have to report to it because of their heavy workloads. I would hazard a guess that it's probably close to zero.
I know with respect to security filings
I ask the minister to reconsider, for the final time, whether he wants to comply on this section 101 percent with Enns -- not to vary, to make it the 60 days -- because it's the principle of the symbol of transparency and accountability that's here. That's what it's about. These things cannot be negotiable. They have to be fixed; 60 days is 60 days. I ask the minister to please reconsider his rejection of this amendment to section 10(3)(a).
Hon. P. Ramsey: The member has argued well and passionately, as did I. I lost; he's going to lose.
R. Thorpe: Let me go on record. I may lose the vote in this House. If we work hard enough and are fortunate enough to be government, I have no idea who is going to be the Finance minister, but I can assure you
R. Thorpe: That's what I thought. Fine; we appreciate it. I can assure you that we're going to stick to the 60 days. On that, we could call the vote on this amendment.
Amendment negatived on division.
Section 10 approved.
On section 11.
R. Thorpe: I'm sure the minister is well aware of our opposition to the use of special warrants. I'm just wondering why the government continues to believe that it needs to use special warrants.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I did hear the opposition's objection to warrants very clearly. I would only say this: I think there are circumstances in which this sort of vehicle must be used -- for extraordinary circumstances. The member just stood up and argued passionately for adherence to every word of the Enns report. I would hope he would also recognize that the Enns report said clearly that while supplementary estimates should be used whenever possible and practical -- and we agree with that -- special warrants should be kept in place for additional expenditure approval during the year. "To discourage use of special warrants, legislation should require a report to accompany any request for a special warrant and be made public when the special warrant is approved." That provision is included here.
Second, the report said to indicate why the special warrant route has been chosen and, in the case of special warrants representing more than 2 percent of total CRF expenses, provide a revised fiscal forecast. What we said was that it doesn't matter how much they are; you need the revised fiscal forecast -- no 2 percent threshold. If you're going to do warrants, you're going to provide the forecast and tell how it fits in and why for the coming year. The only time you're not
[ Page 16398 ]
required to do that is if a quarterly report has been made public within 30 days before the date of a special warrant, because that must include a revised forecast as well.
So we have restricted the use of them. We have said, in adopting the Enns report, that we accept their advice that supplementary estimates should be used whenever possible instead of special warrants. We believe it would not be wise to remove these entirely from the ambit of mechanisms under the Financial Administration Act. We do believe that they have to be justified, and we're doing that.
R. Thorpe: I take it, then -- it'll be a brief question and, I'm sure, a very brief answer -- that it's the intention of the government to use special warrants only in very, very extreme situations.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Yes. If I haven't said that clearly enough, I'll say it again. And also, I believe that supplementary estimates should become the norm in British Columbia for a situation in which it appears that authorized expenditures are going to be exceeded.
R. Thorpe: The official opposition believes that the revised forecast should be done at all times, and therefore I'd now like to move the amendment on the order paper for section 11(2) standing in my name:
On the amendment.
[SECTION 11 (2), by deleting Section 11 (2) and renumbering the section accordingly.]
Hon. P. Ramsey: This is, again, a workload issue, and I would, with respect, decline to support it.
Let's look at what we've laid out here. We have said that March 28 is the date for a third quarterly
We have said that if it's more than 30 days past, yeah, do the work. If it's within 30 days, the work of the quarterly forecast -- which is the same work that would be done in a revised fiscal forecast -- will suffice.
Amendment negatived on division.
Sections 11 and 12 approved.
On section 13.
R. Thorpe: Annual performance plans, business plans -- whatever the correct buzz word is these days
Hon. P. Ramsey: I think we are at the start of developing both consistency and performance plans across government and in moving, right across the board, to more outcome-based measures of government delivery of services. How has it gone so far? Well, I think that when the decision was made to implement Enns report, all of senior government sat up and took notice and started working. I would say that they were considerably surprised in February when they were told that they were going to meet the deadline contained in this act of the end of April. The majority did; a few didn't.
So this was the first step. I think we will refine and improve this process in coming years. I know that the senior staff in the public service are committed to doing that. I know that the members have raised a variety of issues in their debate of individual performance plans in estimates with ministers, and I think that will help inform what the next steps are.
R. Thorpe: With respect to the monitoring of those performance plans/business plans, is there a central part of Treasury Board that is monitoring these performance plans on an ongoing monthly or quarterly basis? Or is that all being done within the individual organizations?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The responsibility for monitoring and reporting out at the end of the year -- "So this is what you said you were going to do. What did you do?" -- rests with the individual entity primarily, whether it's a ministry of government or whether it's a Crown corporation. Having said that, the Ministry of Finance will increasingly, I submit, be involved in looking over the results that are included there. Beyond that, of course, the bill contemplates that as we move into the next budget cycle, the rollup of those plans into a general performance measure for government is what is required as well.
So there will increasingly be central monitoring of these plans as they unfold in the years to come. I would point out that when the Enns report put this forward, what they said is: "You're moving in the right direction. You've had the deputy ministers' council working hard on performance-based measures. You need to do a lot more, and frankly, you need to do it in a more orderly way." We accepted that. The Enns report also said: "It's going to take you a while to get there." They said a number of years. Having gone through the first few months of this, I agree. It will take a number of years to get there, but I think we can.
R. Thorpe: I think the Enns report, and I know
I guess my concern and the concern of my colleagues in the official opposition
My experience in these areas would suggest that if you are waiting till the end of the year to see how everybody's done against your performance plans, I would like to give you a little warning right now that you are going to be surprised. I would suggest that your staff, if that's the ministry that's deemed to be the one that is going to be monitoring
[ Page 16399 ]
priority now to get those systems in place, because my experience is that people need a lot of hand-holding, a lot of coaching, a lot of encouragement up front as opposed to at the end of the year. So I would give the minister that caution and that advice.
I'm going to bring forward, with respect to section 13 again, two extremely modest amendments: one is 13(2)(b), and the other is 13(3)(a) -- basically advancing the dates up a little bit. I think it's very important. Given the fact now of the possibility of a legislative calendar which would see us out of here some time at the end of May, these two weeks could become very, very important. And since originally we had picked April 15, because it was one month after, or no later than, the March 15 date
Hon. S. Hammell: I ask leave of the House to make an introduction.
SECTION 13 (2) (b), by deleting the words in strikeout and substituting therefor the words in underline:
13 (2) (b) be made public by the responsible minister by
April 30April 15 in each fiscal year, and
SECTION 13 (3) (a), by deleting the words in strikeout and substituting therefor the words in underline:
13 (3) (a) be made public by the responsible minister by
April 30April 15 in each fiscal year of the organization, and]
Hon. S. Hammell: Hon. Chair, in the gallery are around 40-some-odd students from Fleetwood Elementary School in Surrey. They're accompanied by some parents as well as their teacher Linda Gedora. Would the House please make them welcome.
On the amendments.
Hon. P. Ramsey: On the amendments -- and I'll speak to both of them -- we are learning to at least walk at a brisker pace, and I would ask the member not to accelerate beyond what we can do. I do think that we can beat the April 30 date, but I would prefer to see the results of that in the next year, before we change the legislation. We've only had one iteration of trying to do this. I want to make sure it works well over a full cycle, so with respect, I will decline support.
R. Thorpe: My disappointment grows. I believe
Again, we go back to the purpose of this bill -- or the title; maybe it's not the purpose -- Budget Transparency and Accountability Act. The minister has told us that we're going to have a budget, probably in a more aggressive style than what the opposition had called for, no later than March 15. We've got on the order paper motions that are going to shrink up the back side of the process to, I believe, May 31. I think that's the proposal on the books. This in fact is going to take away the ability of people to review the estimates supported by the business plans and therefore is going to constrain and stifle the debate, because people aren't going to have the plans. They may, but they don't have to.
I believe that if we want to have informed debate -- and I think that's what the minister had said earlier -- and we want to have meaningful debate, it's important that we have not just the numbers but that we have the plans and the performance measures to support that. So if we don't set a date that is maybe aggressive but reasonable, we're not going to achieve it.
To have efficient estimates debate -- and the proposal is that things will move along quickly in three Houses, etc. -- people are going to have to be better informed, and having these performance plans is going to facilitate that. If we don't have them, it's going to hinder it, and then we're going to be into a huge debate, because people are going to be accused of closure.
Again I ask the minister
Hon. P. Ramsey: The April 30 date in this section is the end date, the deadline, not when we hope to get most of them in. This year had we had the April 30 deadline in, a number of corporations, I believe, would have been in violation of the act. I don't want to set an unrealistically advanced thing in law.
I think that the member is exactly right: in the great majority of cases, wherever possible, a performance plan should be in the hands of the House prior to the estimates for the particular ministry. We did that this year. I think we can do that in future years, but I'm not prepared to say everything, absolutely, has to be there by April 15. I think that we should acknowledge that we are in the early days here. We will, as we did this year, make sure that the performance plans are in the hands of the House before estimates.
R. Thorpe: I'm disappointed in that approach. Again, there's not a commitment to do it. I believe that that just flies right in the face of the intention of this bill, the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act, and I'm very, very disappointed that the minister is taking that position.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
The Chair: Again, there are a number of grade 6 students in the Legislature this evening from the Cathcart school in Snohomish, Washington. I hope all members would make them welcome.
Amendments negatived on the following division:
[ Page 16400 ]
|YEAS -- 13|
|NAYS -- 34|
Hon. P. Ramsey: I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Committee of the Whole (Section B), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. D. Lovick: I want to wish all members of the House a pleasant and productive time away from the chamber and our deliberations here -- safe journeys. With that, I would move adjournment of the House.
Hon. D. Lovick moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:59 p.m.
The House in Committee of Supply A; D. Streifel in the chair.
The committee met at 2:46 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
SMALL BUSINESS, TOURISM AND CULTURE
On vote 43: ministry operations, $73,324,000.
Hon. I. Waddell: I want to introduce some people who are here with me right now. I think we're going to start with the tourism aspect of the ministry. On my left is Rod Harris, the CEO of Tourism British Columbia, whom I will designate as my deputy here for the purposes of answering questions, if any arise directly to him in this area. Len Dawes, who is the chief financial officer of Tourism British Columbia, is on my right.
I have a few remarks I'd like to make to begin the estimates, just to clarify matters with respect to the ministry. These are some highlights of the ministry -- and some look into the future.
The ministry has a number of initiatives that expand and diversify the changing economy of this province. As you know, this province is going through a sometimes excruciatingly difficult period of changing from an entirely resource-based province to more of a resource-and-knowledge-based combination economy.
This ministry is front and centre in moving the province in that direction. We're building faster, smarter access to government through innovative use of technology, information services and new partnerships. We're investing in B.C.'s fastest-growing sectors: film, culture, tourism and small business. People are starting to see the synergies, or the connections, between these various areas, and they're growing. We're promoting growth through investment programs that help to fast-track environmental solutions. We're advancing ecotourism and cultural heritage tourism strategies. We're supporting communities by promoting the arts, by promoting culture, by promoting sports and by promoting recreational activities across the province. We're providing education and training for young entrepreneurs to ensure that we have new ideas and new energy for the future.
I want to say a few words about investing in British Columbia's fastest-growing sectors. I believe this ministry is a catalyst for these sectors. The sectors have had an outstanding year. For example, tourism here: $9.2 billion in tourism revenues generated by a record 22.3 million visitors in 1999. Here in Victoria we had over 400,000 people come to see the daVinci exhibit at the Royal British Columbia Museum. The people who made that possible are here in the gallery today. We broke attendance records and earned more than $92 million for the local economy. That figure comes through an actual economic analysis, the first in Canada.
Over the past year we've launched an ecotourism and adventure tourism strategy as well. We're going to continue that strategy by identifying additional pilot gateway communities. Last year we invested $300,000 in three pilot projects. On Saturday I'm going to open another one in Cowichan Lake.
By lifting the moratorium on the optional 2 percent hotel room taxes which some of my friends opposite, representatives of Richmond, opposed -- we've given municipalities, like Richmond, access to funds for promoting local tourism and for financing future tourism facilities.
We've released a report on culture and heritage tourism that outlines directions for an emerging sector with huge potential growth.
The film industry. As you know, this is an industry that is probably the fastest-growing in the province. There was another record-breaking year in 1999: 198 productions; $1 billion in direct spending -- an increase of 32 percent over
[ Page 16401 ]1998. Through B.C. Film, an implementation of our Film Incentive B.C. and production services tax credit program, we're expanding the domestic industry as well as the foreign. We're becoming a more sustainable industry. Our goal is to increase production revenues across the board by 15 percent. Through the B.C. Film Commission and the regional film strategy we're going to try to get some of that action right around the province.
The small business sector is growing. In fact, we lead Canada in small business development, and we rank number one when it comes to their contribution to gross domestic product. British Columbians made record investments in this sector last year. I believe that's a tribute to the speed with which our province is embracing new ideas and new technology.
B.C.'s small companies can look to our equity capital and community venture capital programs for support. They are providing 30 percent tax credits to investors in made-in-British Columbia companies that are leaders in their fields, both at home and internationally.
It's a diverse and growing group of enterprises. The equity capital program raised $21 million in 1999 for investment in business across the province. We expect to raise $27 million in the year 2000 and invest in more than 40 small businesses. There are a number of business successes I could list, but in the interests of time, I won't.
To date, the venture capital program has raised $4.8 million for 16 small businesses, is expected to raise another $7 million by the end of the year 2000 and invest in another 15 or 20 regional businesses beyond the lower mainland. The Working Opportunity Fund remains a stellar performer and an important source for new investment in British Columbia. In 1999 the fund placed $46 million into small and medium-sized businesses in B.C., with fund shares held by over 40,000 British Columbia residents. Anybody can invest in B.C. except me. And I wish I could, because it made a terrific rate of return last year.
Better access to government means more one-stop service for British Columbians. This is an area that I think we're leading the country in. We have 59 front-line government agents, and we've expanded one-stop business registration services to 60 locations across the province. We partnered with federal, provincial and municipal governments to streamline access for small business and communities.
Victoria Connects, right here in this town, is a great example of how working together can achieve less red tape and more services. You can go into one place, and you can open your business. You can deal with federal, provincial and even the municipal governments in about an hour. This is a huge change, a sea change in starting a small business.
We'll be piloting a single business number project to streamline further business identification at all levels of government. We'll be expanding access to the Canada-B.C. Business Service Centre through additional regional access and community help sites across the province. We've moving towards electronic commerce and citizen-centred service delivery through B.C. Connects.
I want to say a couple of words about B.C.'s cultural community. We forget that it employs nearly 60,000 people. It's in fact growing, outpacing the growth of the province's total labour force by a factor of 2 to 1. That's why last year we started the first Arts and Culture Week, with hundreds of events occurring across the province. And as you know, I appointed Ann Mortifee, one of our leading performers and singers, as head of the B.C. Arts Council, and I want to thank them for their work.
We also hosted a state of the arts symposium on arts and culture as part of the new knowledge-based economy, and a visit to the symposium's web site highlights how state-of-the-art we've already become. You can go to the web site and see the conference.
We've been able to protect funding to the arts through the B.C. Arts Council this year, in spite of the cutbacks in certain areas of government, in order to fund education and health, and we've protected that budget. The ministry projects $11.7 million in awards and contributions to support 300 artists and 500 arts and cultural organizations. In addition -- and this is a huge lift in funds -- through the 2000 community spirit and the millennium arts and heritage programs there was an additional $4.8 million for arts and heritage projects. In some cases it represents almost a doubling of budgets through that program. I acknowledge that it's only a one-year to two-year program, but it certainly helped the arts and heritage. An additional $3.5 million has been earmarked for industrial awards and contributions to cultural achievements.
B.C. athletes have done well. Team B.C. won more medals than ever at the Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, and the Western Canada Games in Saskatchewan. And you know, we've set up a really solid
Last fall I asked also for a review of legislation and issues in the workplace that affect B.C. artists, because I believe they have a right to a fair working environment. Over the coming year, we'll be looking at the recommendations of the Bannister report, and we'll find the ways to support people who contribute to the cultural sector. I consider myself an advocate for the arts in this government; I want to see the arts do well.
I want to say a couple of more things about athletics. We have, of course, a SportSafe program to reduce violence in sports. I commissioned Bernie Pascal, the former sports announcer, to report on violence in amateur hockey, with the aim of reducing violence in amateur sports across the board. We'll soon have his report.
I'd also like to briefly highlight some of our efforts to preserve B.C.'s archaeological heritage. I'm sure the opposition would join with me in the commitment to preserve B.C.'s archaeological heritage and provide property owners with as much information as possible about it. Over the past year we've updated more than 1,800 archaeological site records -- as well, the location information of 4,000 sites -- to an electronic format. We've worked with the Oil and Gas Commission to streamline the steps associated with resource exploration and archaeology. We're working with the city of Vancouver on heritage site records to improve our archaeol-
[ Page 16402 ]
ogy resource management and access to information in a city that's growing very fast. We're concentrating on better ways to notify property owners about our potential archaeological sites.
I'd like to conclude by saying something about our programs for youth. Sometimes they're forgotten; I think they're key. More youth than ever are becoming entrepreneurs. This ministry can once again report record attendance in its entrepreneurship training programs. The best known program is called YouBET, and you bet, more than 2,000 young people participated last year, exceeding our targets by 27 percent. Even better: the aboriginal youth program, Visions for the Future
The programs are getting results. I could cite a lot of them. There's a fellow called Dave Tanchak of Vancouver who went through the YouBET program with his colleagues. Today he and his friends are operating a successful business as web designers; they operate in business all around the world. Karla Denby of Prince George turned her experience as an office temporary worker into a successful personnel agency. We're pleased to carry the YouBET and Visions programs again for the coming year. That takes money to invest. We didn't cut that back; we thought that was something that should be invested in.
Let me conclude by saying that the ministry is committed to strengthening communities and small businesses. We're committed to helping people find opportunities in growing sectors such as tourism and film. We're committed to helping young people in sports, in the arts, in the sectors of the economy that are changing.
This is the ministry of the new economy. We have a superb group of civil servants; it's small, but it's vital. We're pretty happy with the job that we did this year. I'd be pleased to answer questions. I'm reminded of my time in the House of Commons, when, as opposition critic, I got 15 minutes on the first round against the minister, subsequently ten, and then five in the other rounds. I got a total of 30 minutes, I think, in those. But I anticipate we'll be a little longer than the 30 minutes -- hopefully not much. Having said that, I'll answer any questions that the opposition may have.
I. Chong: I thank the minister for his opening comments. I would have to begin and agree that certainly this is a ministry that I think all sides of the House value as part of our economic growth as we proceed to move ahead in the new millennium with all the various technologies that are challenging our business people.
I would also like to begin by thanking the deputy minister -- whom I think is in the audience -- and her staff for arranging the briefings some time ago for the official opposition members. I do believe that at that time there was a very good exchange of information. That should allow us to proceed now rather expeditiously in our estimates.
In addition, I want to acknowledge that we did recently receive information that we requested seven weeks ago. It made it to our office on Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to distribute that to some of the members who were requesting it. So if those members appear during these estimates and ask questions of those documents which were forwarded to us, I hope the minister and staff will indulge, because of us having received them rather late.
I also want to assure the minister that we do view this as an economic ministry, in that the policies from this ministry and its programs, or any initiatives that are developed through this ministry, are designed to promote job growth. They're designed to promote new business opportunities and, hopefully, to promote business expansions. For those obvious reasons there is a need for this minister to work with other ministers to discuss cooperatively those matters that will impact small businesses and tourism especially.
In the past, though -- regrettably -- there has been some instability right from the very start, from the Premier's Office. From 1995 to 1997 there were no fewer than four ministers who had been assigned to this ministry. In 1995 and 1996 it was the former MLA for Okanagan-Boundary, who was defeated in the 1996 election. After the 1996 election we had the member for Surrey-Newton, who was appointed but unable to assume responsibilities, so those were passed on to the member for North Coast. Then we saw another minister appointed in February 1997, the member for Cowichan-Ladysmith, who held the office for a year.
Finally, we have the current minister, who has been in the position since February 1998. I have to say that I'm grateful for the fact that he's been there for those years and that the Premier hasn't moved him out of that role. I think it also sent out a message to people in the small business community and people in the tourism industry, when there was such a change or shift of the supposed leader in that ministry, that their businesses, their sectors were not valued as greatly as they should have been.
So with this minister from Vancouver-Fraserview being the current minister
As I stated earlier, I believe it's important that I do challenge this minister on his role for the past three years, and I hope he appreciates that. Through that dialogue, I think we will come to an understanding, perhaps even the prospect of where we may help this ministry head in the next little while. Again, as I said earlier, I know that this ministry represents an economic ministry. It's vital to restoring B.C. from being the worst place in Canada in terms of economic growth to the best place, where I think we all want to be eventually. Accordingly, I know the minister recognizes his very, very distinct privilege and honour and his responsibility to the small business sector in particular and then to the tourism and film sectors as well.
I do also want to say that throughout these discussions I hope we will be able to determine whether the minister has in fact been at the forefront of discussions with his cabinet colleagues, because we know that there are many areas that are interministerial responsibilities. We do need to resolve those, here and now, because over the past few months, since I've resumed this critic-role responsibility, I've heard from a number of industry sectors that have stated to me that they do feel that there continues to be a lack of interministerial cooperation, that things come about from one ministry when they expect it should be coming out of this ministry.
[ Page 16403 ]
If the minister has not been able to advance the cause at the cabinet table, then those efforts should be made known to all of us -- that he is at least trying, and therefore we can have those critics out there recognize what he is doing on their behalf. So we will be looking at those areas as well, and we'll probably canvass the minister in particular areas that he is probably aware that we will bring forward.
At various times, and even today, I've heard the minister speak of two very important sectors, those being tourism and film. I could not disagree at all. In fact, I would agree wholeheartedly that these two areas are very much the areas that small communities are looking at to diversify into when their communities have been greatly impacted with job losses. For small communities that are one-industry towns, having lost that industry, we are generally seeing the community find ways of diversifying, especially through tourism and now through film and, hopefully, eventually through high-tech as well. I know that here on the Island in particular
I for one would not try to take any credit for expansions in those areas, because I do believe the credit goes to those who had the vision to take those sectors to new heights. As I mentioned, I do hope that we will have a very good dialogue. I'm looking forward to that with this minister.
It's been some time since I've had critic responsibility for this area. However, in looking back on my notes from three years ago, admittedly I haven't seen a lot of changes. For that reason, I'm not going to dwell on those areas that obviously seem to continue to be areas that require work. Suffice it to say that they are areas that require work still. But I would like to move into some areas where we've progressed since then. In that effort, we should be able to keep our dialogue focused, and we should be able to keep the time focused as well.
The first item that I did have on the agenda was to deal with Tourism B.C., the Crown corporation, as opposed to tourism policy as such, because it encompasses so many other areas. A number of our members do want to participate, but due to the other debates going on in the other House, they're not able to be here. From that we will move on to the Royal B.C. Museum and the B.C. Film Commission, and then we will begin the cultural, sports, heritage and recreational side of the division of that service branch.
First of all, referring to Tourism B.C., I do thank the staff again for providing us with a copy of the business plan for the year 2000-2001. I note that the annual report for '98-99 has been released. I have not received the report for 1999-2000, unless it was in the package that was sent, but I don't recall. I'm wondering if that it still in progress and how far along we are with that, at this point, before I start asking some questions.
Hon. I. Waddell: That report will be released by the end of this month.
I. Chong: As the minister can appreciate, sometimes looking at actual results from a report helps to direct us to what we want to look at in the future.
My first question, then, for Tourism B.C. I know it has embarked on a number of strategies. B.C. Escapes has been very successful. Another, I think, is 1-800-HELLO-BC. I'm trying to remember all the web sites that have been created. I do applaud Tourism B.C. officials who have worked on that, because certainly in a globally competitive tourism market we need to do that.
I'm wondering if the minister or his deputy, as he's appointed, can provide us with specific marketing strategy, which I did see in here, to do with ecotourism as a new marketing strategy, other than what has been presented through the web sites -- if there were specific strategies dealing with ecotourism, which now seems to be very much at the forefront of a lot of communities.
Hon. I. Waddell: I'll ask Mr. Harris to respond to that, hon. Chair.
R. Harris: Probably the most appropriate answer in response to the question regarding ecotourism promotional initiatives and strategies is to indicate that the bulk of those strategies are employed through the regional tourism associations with whom we partner in our activities.
In addition to the regional tourism associations, there will be some sectoral groups such as the guest ranchers, outdoor adventure individuals, together with some sport tourism activities that we will also build programs with, specifically in terms of providing the prospective visitor with the information as it relates to ecotourism-style products. The most likely source of information is through our Outdoor and Adventure Guide, which we produce ourselves in partnership with a number of individual operators as well as advertisers in the program.
I. Chong: Can you advise on these strategies -- to measure the success or to evaluate these strategies in terms of their success? When would those be done -- within six months of initiation of programs, within a year or within three months? How do you undertake to evaluate those strategies?
R. Harris: The evaluation of the success of the individual initiatives comes largely through the program activities and the source of those program activities. So for example, if it were the Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association that was developing ecotourism-specific strategies, or the tourism association of northern British Columbia, they would build that into their annualized programs. Then, at the commencement of the fiscal year and our planning process, we take a look at the effectiveness of those programs and make modifications accordingly.
I. Chong: I thank the deputy for his response. I heard the deputy also mention sport tourism. That's the first I've heard of sport tourism. I'm not presuming that it would also be the same as Sport B.C. I know they are entirely different programs and initiatives through this ministry. Can the ministry advise what sport tourism aspects are being looked at and what regions are looking at sport tourism?
R. Harris: There is a range of sport tourism-style activities that are very particular to the regional tourism asso-
[ Page 16404 ]
ciations, and they would likely fall under activities such as freshwater adventure, saltwater fishing, winter recreational activities such as alpine and Nordic skiing, snowmobiling and other activities of that kind. The concentration of those activities is very much specific to those regions and the types of products that they make available.
I. Chong: Am I to assume, then, that those activities, such as the alpine skiing activities, for example
R. Harris: Just a word of elaboration as it relates to COTA, which is the acronym for the Council of Tourism Associations. Tourism B.C. has no formal operating relationship with the Council of Tourism Associations. It is an umbrella organization that represents a variety of other individual organizations, of which there may be the outdoor adventure groups or the heliski operators.
Our involvement is specifically with the individual operators or organizations of operators that would be particular to different areas in the province of British Columbia. So we do not have a direct working relationship with the Council of Tourism Associations in that regard.
I. Chong: I would like to focus now on some of the information provided in the business plan. In particular, I see the financial data that's provided here for the year 2000-01 -- the projected sources of revenue and also the total projected expenses. I see that in the year 2000-2001 we will be running a
R. Harris: The principal new activities that you see identified in the financial statements are focused predominantly around the advent of technology and the utilization of technology as a marketing tool to enable prospective visitors to plan their visits and then be able to smoothly executive their visits and link into our call centre through our web site, www.hellobc.com. That is the primary source of incremental expenditures that you see evidenced in the financial statements.
I. Chong: Actually, I don't have the financial statements; I was looking at the business plan. But I also erred here. Actually, the expenses are rather consistent. The reason why the expenses over revenues are showing the differing amounts is as a result of the projected revenue. In terms of the hotel room tax, the projected revenue, which represents the 1.65 of the eight points of the hotel tax, does seem to increase. The program revenues also seem to increase, whereas the investment income has declined somewhat. Can Mr. Harris advise as to what's happened in that area?
Hon. I. Waddell: Before I ask Mr. Harris to reply to that -- because he's got the information; I don't -- it seems clear to me that what's happening here is that they're drawing down slightly the retained earnings. They still have $4 million in retained earnings, and that's why expenses are greater than revenue. I'm not an accountant, but you can see it in the total revenue, for example, of 2000-2001 -- $26,816,000; total operating expenses -- $29,435,000. That's a deficit of $2,619,000, but they have quite a bit of retained earnings, and they're drawing that down slightly -- no doubt in the hope of getting an increased hotel tax in the future.
Maybe Mr. Harris would like to reply to that. The question was on the investment income: why was it, in previous years, for example, $310,000, then $405,000, and now appears to be projected at $205,000?
R. Harris: The corporation made an important strategic decision at its inception. The decision was to utilize what was a fairly significant contributed surplus or starting position and spread the expenditure evenly over the course of the next five years. That enabled us to maintain a static presence in the marketplace, with expenditure levels over a long enough period of time such that growth in revenues occurring from increases from the hotel tax would catch up, so that we wouldn't find ourselves in a situation in which in one year we would spend a lot of money and the following year we'd be experiencing a vacuum or an absence from the marketplace. So what you're seeing is a very orderly and steady drawing down of what was a large contributed surplus. As a consequence, interest earnings on that surplus will automatically diminish with time.
I. Chong: Please indulge me here. I seem to recall when the setting up of Tourism B.C. began, and I don't recall that in 1997 -- I think that's when it was -- there was a large fund of contributed surplus, which is what I presume Mr. Harris is referring to as the startup amount. I'm just asking for clarification on that at this point: if in fact there was a contributed surplus at the time that Tourism B.C. was set up as a Crown corporation, what that amount was, so that I have a perspective as to how that is being drawn down.
Hon. I. Waddell: There was a
I. Chong: That would explain the unappropriated surplus, which has now been drawn down, and I can appreciate that. I'll look forward to having a look at those documents, more for clarification than for anything; I'm not questioning the validity of it at all.
The other area I would just like to ask the minister about -- I think this is more appropriately his question now; he can answer -- is the hotel tax: the 1.65 points of the eight points, whether there is any
[ Page 16405 ]
Tourism B.C. receives. But I've heard through tourism industry people -- members of COTA as well -- that they'd like to see the 1.65 perhaps increase. I know that's a difficult decision for the minister to make, and I'm just wondering if he's heard that too and what response he's provided.
Secondly, the assurance that should the 1.65 dollar equivalency value, whether it reaches $20 million, $25 million or $30 million -- whether that would therefore stay, without it being clawed back to bring it to a certain level
Hon. I. Waddell: There are no plans to claw back the increased revenues as a result of increased money from the hotel tax over the years. I mean, the actual 8 percent hotel tax
You'll recall that at the COTA conference last week, both the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition were reluctant to commit themselves to increased revenue or increased money, as COTA wanted, for Tourism British Columbia. The Premier did say, according to the article that I read, that he would discuss this with me and Minister Ramsey. I would like to see as much money in marketing as we could get for Tourism British Columbia.
The member, of course, knows that that ultimately will come from the general revenue. It reduces the general revenue somewhat. I'm not quite sure what her position would be on that. That would mean additional moneys from the amount of money the province takes in, and we'd have to deal with taxation otherwise, and so on.
I. Chong: I thank the minister for his response. I'm just trying to get an idea whether there has been discussion, and obviously the Premier has spoken to the minister about the leaders' conference that was held last week at COTA's annual general meeting. I appreciate the fact that the Premier did speak to the minister.
I know it's always a difficult subject to approach, but we hear constantly that every dollar invested in tourism marketing brings in $6 of revenue. Clearly we are placing much of our hopes for some economic recovery here in this province on tourism. I didn't know whether the Premier and the minister -- and the Minister of Finance, perhaps -- have been engaged in discussions and debates that we would move sooner on this rather than later just to create, perhaps, that extra bump in tourism growth. If there isn't anything in the plans or in the works, then so be it. I just wanted to canvass that very quickly.
I'm also wanting to find out whether Mr. Harris can advise what Tourism B.C.'s strategies are in terms of heritage tourism. You mentioned ecotourism, sports tourism. What specific strategies of heritage tourism are taking place, and are they region-specific?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'd like to comment. Perhaps Mr. Harris may add what Tourism British Columbia's done. I'm looking at potential changes in heritage. I think that perhaps we need to make heritage more like an arm's-length Crown corporation, like Tourism British Columbia, and that we should look at finding ways that we can have some private sector money, as a result of legacies from wills and so on, that could flow through to an arm's-length, if you like, Heritage British Columbia. I'd like to see more of that.
Heritage has a small budget. I think it's about $750,000 for grants, and it has a budget for the upkeep of the properties. I think it's $5 million or so. It's in the estimates. So I'm looking at how we can get more money for heritage. We got more money this year, a lot more money, through the millennium fund and lots of little heritage programs around the province. We have to look at the long term.
Why do that? Well, the answer is: for heritage tourism. Tourism British Columbia did a study. It showed that when people came, over 50 percent wanted some heritage and culture to be part of their visit. This is the new baby boom generation. Only 29 percent actually did that, so we think there's a gap there. We think that with more product, as they say in the business -- the product being a better heritage product, which we've got in abundance in British Columbia with Fort Steele, Barkerville, etc. -- we can develop that kind of tourism.
Now, I don't know if Mr. Harris from Tourism British Columbia wants to add anything on the specific amounts of money they've put into it. Perhaps he could add that. If not, he doesn't have to.
R. Harris: The only supplementary information that might be of interest to the hon. member is that Tourism British Columbia works reasonably closely with the members of the ministry who are responsible for the heritage properties. It provides a variety of sources of assistance in marketing activities, whether it's presence at trade shows or whether it's helping them with distribution of publications or providing information through our call centre.
The second source of assistance would come principally from the regional tourism associations. For example, Tourism Rockies is fairly active in supporting Fort Steele as a prospective venue for visitation. The Cariboo-Chilcotin-Coast tourism area obviously is providing support for Barkerville as a source. So it's through the individual regional tourism associations that we principally are engaged in activity to assist in visitation to the heritage properties.
I. Chong: What the minister commented on intrigues me, and I'd like to ask him for clarification. When the minister stated that he would perhaps like heritage treated like a Crown corporation, I'm not clear as to what aspects he would entertain that to occur in. Is that to suggest that the heritage registry that's now in place is going to be set up through a Crown and then they would then market all the tourism aspects of it? I'm not clear. I've never heard this mentioned, so if the minister could elaborate on what he perceives as a heritage Crown corporation, I'd like him to share that with me.
Hon. I. Waddell: I'll tell the member that Heritage British Columbia is a Crown corporation under the Heritage Conservation Act. What I'd like to see it more like is Tourism British Columbia -- that model, in the sense that it's out there pro-
[ Page 16406 ]
moting the heritage sites as tourism sites both within the province and with visitors from without. I'd like to see closer relationships with Tourism British Columbia and to tie these things in, because I think that's the new trend. That's some of my thinking.
Now, whether that can happen, I don't know, but I'm going to try and work that way. I hope the hon. member might support me in that, because I see this as the new form of tourism. This is the baby boom generation. It used to be Super, Natural British Columbia alone; now it's Super, Natural Plus. If you look at our Escapes ad, which they won the Pacific award for -- that Tourism B.C. won and received in Hong Kong about a month ago -- you can see how it features culture in it as well as scenery and heritage. That's where I see the tourism of the future.
I. Chong: No question, heritage tourism is going to take off with a new generation. It is not because of generation X, but the generation following, which they now call next gen people -- coming well after me -- the young people who have a void and feel that heritage is very important. Here in Victoria, in Oak Bay, the area that I represent, heritage tourism will take off as a result of the revitalization of the Chinese cemetery that exists. The Chinatown here, which is the oldest Chinatown in Canada, has also taken off in terms not just of culture tourism but of heritage tourism.
We all recognize that people are looking to find -- I wouldn't say their roots -- an understanding of their heritage. They can't always travel to the country or the land that their ancestors came from, so when there are bits and parts of it in our country and in our province, then that certainly will be valuable to all of us.
What I also noted is that the minister talks of his ministry assisting with more heritage tourism, as opposed to Tourism B.C. dealing with heritage tourism, in that more funding was provided through the millennium fund. I'm not going to canvass that in particular; it would take much too long. Suffice to say that I realize it exists. I know that many communities have put in applications for it.
My question, however -- one on principle -- is: why did the minister feel it was necessary to set up a heritage millennium-type fund, versus allowing municipalities to make decisions on their own or, even further, allowing Tourism B.C. to deal with the millennium heritage funds? Why was it that the ministry had to set up another fund to operate that? Is there something specific that Tourism B.C. or the municipalities couldn't do?
Hon. I. Waddell: Tourism B.C. is a marketing agency, essentially. It could get into developing product; it has taken some steps. I asked it, for example, to have a look at Chinatown in Vancouver, promoting some studies as to how we can make that into a better tourism venue. They helped with that.
The answer on the millennium grant is that I wanted some additional money for heritage; we grabbed the money for heritage. That's the way to get it. It might not have gone the other way, and it was additional money for heritage.
I. Chong: I guess I could see that, yes, when you're wanting to advocate for heritage tourism, you would go out and grab whatever extra money there is. But unfortunately, the extra money wasn't there, and it actually came from a lot of municipalities -- or that's very much how they felt. As a result of losing part of their municipal grants, and wanting to embark on some millennium projects themselves, they've now had to apply. Some municipalities have not been as successful in receiving some of that funding back for their projects. But I suppose that's why the structure was put in place. Again, I'm not going to belabour that point.
I would like to also ask: what aspects of cultural tourism are being promoted through Tourism B.C. in terms of its marketing? Is there a specific cultural tourism strategy in place, again, to specific regions? Or are we just looking at that whatever now exists will be marketed?
Hon. I. Waddell: Last year, Jean Anderson, the chair of the board of
I. Chong: My congratulations to Jean Anderson as well, being re-elected as the chair. I know she certainly has a very strong interest in all aspects of tourism.
On the issue of this new cultural tourism strategy, the minister says it's very new and it's
Hon. I. Waddell: Last November I released it at the symposium. I don't know if the member
I. Chong: Thank you. The latter part of the question to the minister was: the strategy was released, the paper was released, but was there to be feedback and recommendations coming back from the stakeholders involved that were going to be put in place to actually implement the strategy? Or was that strategy paper released to actually be the implementation of that strategy?
Hon. I. Waddell: It was essentially a discussion paper and then the feedback. I think it's in its infancy, as I said. But -- this is a good but -- I have noticed in the last year that people are now talking, making the connections between culture, heritage, tourism, aboriginal tourism, ecotourism, things like this. They're making some connections that weren't made before, and I hope the discussion paper has helped.
I. Chong: Yes, I do recall that there was a paper released. That's why I was wondering whether that was the final release, which is why I was asking the minister whether there was still to be discussion on that. I still didn't get a clear response from the minister as to when we might expect all that discussion to conclude so that we would have something to work with.
[ Page 16407 ]
I am very much aware of Mr. Steven Thorne and all that he's done. I met with him three years ago -- again, when I was Culture critic. He had just come out from Ontario and was very excited and working in Kelowna. We were very happy to see him come down to Victoria. But still there is a mindset that cultural tourism doesn't deserve the same amount of attention as -- what would you say? -- traditional tourism activities do, and that's unfortunate. I certainly agree that cultural tourism deserves its place with all other areas of tourism. So if the minister can just advise us as to when he expects to bring in all the people who provided input and when we might actually see recommendations coming from this discussion paper
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm tempted to say the answer is: soon. And that is partly the answer on our part. The member should remember, as Mr. Harris had said, that a lot of the action takes place through the communities. It's also happening in culture. The millennium program helped the city of Kelowna, as one of the partners, in financing their new cultural centre. Nelson's doing culture as arts and so on and making their town almost like that; there's Chemainus, with the murals, and there are other examples where there are cultural districts. I would think that Kelowna is probably the leading city in the province. Vancouver has much to do, and there are some opportunities there to advance some new museums and to advance some potential for cultural tourism.
I. Chong: Can the minister advise -- or perhaps Mr. Harris -- as to the strategy around aboriginal tourism? Specifically, what amount is being set aside to market aboriginal tourism? Is that information available?
Hon. I. Waddell: While Mr. Harris is looking for exact numbers, I would advise the member that there's the Aboriginal Tourism Association. They get $50,000 from the Canadian Tourism Commission and $50,000 from us.
Oops, we have to go. Anyway, I don't know if there are any precise numbers there.
The Chair: Minister, we'll just recess the committee to accommodate the division vote in the other chamber. The committee is recessed until conclusion of the division.
The committee recessed from 3:43 p.m. to 3:53 p.m.
[D. Streifel in the chair.]
Hon. I. Waddell: The figure for Tourism British Columbia is $170,000 in cultural tourism programs, there's $50,000 for the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia, plus there are a number of workshops that are done with Aboriginal Tourism and Tourism British Columbia and some skills training and promotion. Again, this is in its infancy.
I. Chong: So next year it will be in child development years, I presume, and there will be more details then. Thank you to the minister.
I was wondering, in an effort at saving some time, whether we could get a breakdown or a schedule of the advertising, promotion or marketing expenditures for the various things, such as ecotourism and cultural tourism -- unless it's not broken out that way. If it's broken out regionally, then I suppose that's more difficult. I wonder whether there were moneys specifically targeted for marketing cultural tourism, ecotourism, agritourism and aboriginal tourism, those four specific areas -- just to have that information, whenever that's available. If it's not, and Mr. Harris wants to so state, then that's fine.
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't believe it's broken down that way.
I. Chong: I had thought there were specific dollars, perhaps not called marketing but advertising and promotion of cultural products, ecotourism products, aboriginal products and such. If that's not the case, then that's fine. Then I would like to ask, as well -- noting the regions that are set up in Tourism B.C., the six regions -- of Mr. Harris or the minister whether there were any plans to change that to more regions as opposed to fewer. The odd time, you do have people calling up who want their regions to be given special treatment, which is why many of my questions that I was posing earlier were things done on a basis of, for example, cultural tourism or by region. Sometimes the regions feel that they're not being given a fair share, as all regions will feel.
R. Harris: The answer to the question is that there are no plans to change the number of regions, which is currently at six. However, within those regions we are engaging in a series of sub-branding exercises, to enable the regions to build particular identities that reflect the different areas of their regions. An immediate example that comes to mind is a region that was previously called the Cariboo is now called the Cariboo-Chilcotin-Coast. It has a very unique geological diversity as well as types of products that are being offered to our visitors. Within that region will be very specific types of marketing initiatives that will highlight the uniqueness and the quality of the travel experience in those areas.
I. Chong: The two largest regions, of course, are the Cariboo country, as it's called, and northern B.C. Would those be the two regions that are being looked at for the sub-branding? Or are all the other regions also trying to take advantage of the sub-branding?
R. Harris: Virtually all of the regions are looking at ways of sub-branding, because they have quite unique products, depending on the particular areas within their regions. The staff of our organization in the marketing department are working quite closely with them to help build brand identities, signature statements and copy lines that are relative to those particular regions and then the sub-brands within the regions.
I. Chong: This question perhaps is more to the minister. He had indicated that he released a discussion paper on cultural tourism last fall. Another area that seems to be emerging is agritourism. Can the minister advise whether or not there are any plans to do something of a similar nature?
Hon. I. Waddell: The ministry has been in discussions with Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, working with them to promote agricultural tourism -- again, a new area. We're looking at Vancouver Island -- at the wineries and the apples,
[ Page 16408 ]
vineyards and some of the areas on Vancouver Island
I. Chong: I do hope this is where interministerial cooperation will work well with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries.
Another area of Tourism B.C. that I wanted to canvass the minister or Mr. Harris on is in regard to the board of Tourism B.C. When it was first structured, I believe that of the 15 representatives, ten were to be appointed from the ministry and one designated spot was to go to a COTA member. But the other five, as I understand it, were to be government appointments. Has there been any consideration given to allowing all 15 positions to be industry people who are elected versus appointed, to allow this Crown corporation yet more autonomy and more independence to market tourism? I think we have established that Tourism B.C., given its resources, has done a fair job in marketing British Columbia as well as possible.
We see our tourism industry growing, and that is part of the proof that Tourism B.C. is doing new and innovative things with its web sites and winning awards as such. Whether allowing it to be a board that is fully elected from industry would give it more opportunities
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is no. I think we have the right balance right now. I mean, there are ten members from the industry there to elect and then recommend to me, and I've taken all their recommendations and implemented them quickly. Sometimes the minister needs some room there.
A good example is that there are some concerns that people have -- and there were questions in the House, as you recall -- about tourism in the northeast. It's a huge tourism area, and they thought that it was too much in the northwest and that they weren't getting their representation. The elections came back, and nobody was elected from the area. Also, it tends to be boys who are elected, rather than the fair share of girls. So I appointed a woman from the northeast area, April Moi, who is a good spokesperson for that area and an effective member on the board.
I think you need a little bit of that to
Another possible example is, let's say, that an aboriginal person wasn't elected to the board -- because, you know, they're tourism associations and so on that do the elections, and maybe that didn't happen. Then the minister has the
I. Chong: I thank the minister for his comments on that. I do just want to state that I do agree that we need regional disparities covered off. I do believe that there should be some gender balance on any board and also people from various backgrounds -- no question. But my concerns are that if those are issues that we want to deal with, then perhaps it can be stated that the representation has to be broad enough to cover those areas, without having the minister take up some of his time to look for appointments.
I still believe in an election process, which is certainly democratic, for people from those industries to represent them. Clearly, if in one particular year there is no representation from the north, perhaps they will recognize the following year that they need to put that representation in place, or that position would be vacant for a year or whatever.
I accept the minister's comments in that area. I too agree that there has to be balance, but I'm also of the firm belief that when we have a Crown corporation of this nature, we do want to have some independence. We should look at the possibility of it having full independence and electing its board, as well, with minimal interference from the ministry.
I will ask two more questions on Tourism B.C., the Crown corp, in areas of finance. The first question -- looking at the financial statements for the '98-99 year, the only ones I have -- is regarding the funds on deposit. It shows that in 1998, there was $11 million, and in 1999, $9 million. I don't know what the figure is for the year 2000. Can the minister or Mr. Harris advise whether any of these funds
Hon. I. Waddell: I can tell the hon. member that the funds are invested in the banks, and they get prime minus 1.75, which is a better return than a bond.
I. Chong: I wasn't as concerned about the interest rate. My question was whether they were in conventional banks, and the answer is that they're in banks. Well, there's a bank that isn't a conventional bank, and the one I'm going to ask the minister about is Four Corners bank. Are there any funds from the Tourism B.C. board deposited with Four Corners bank?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is no.
The Chair: Your question should be: why not?
I. Chong: No leading questions from the Chair, thank you.
Again, it wasn't a trick question. I just recognize that last year when I canvassed that area under the other ministry that was responsible for it, I was told that if I wanted to find out what deposits were there, I would have to ask every Crown corporation if they had money there. This is my first opportunity to do so. Obviously, from the response from Mr. Harris that he wasn't aware of that bank, then the answer, certainly, is no.
In the section on liabilities, the liability to the province of B.C. -- I haven't checked the notes to the financial statements -- can the minister advise what that liability represents? Is there a breakdown, or is that just an apportionment that has to be returned as a result of another consequence?
Hon. I. Waddell: I can tell the hon. member that it's really got to do with accounting between the Ministry of
[ Page 16409 ]
Finance and Tourism B.C. as to the hotel tax and how much was owed from it. It is an internal arrangement, which I don't pretend to understand but which exists. That's what I'm told it is.
I. Chong: For the record, then, I will take it as being entirely to do with the hotel tax and not any other form of liability -- no other outstanding liability to the province in terms of some sort of a dividend. Is that correct?
Hon. I. Waddell: That is correct.
I. Chong: I think that brings to a close all the questions I had on the Tourism B.C. Crown corporation board. If the minister would like to change staff, the next area is going to be the Royal B.C. Museum.
Hon. I. Waddell: I have with me Bill Barkley, the CEO and director of the museum, and Pauline Rafferty.
The Chair: My apologies, hon. member for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
I. Chong: Thank you, hon. Chair. Before Mr. Harris rushes off, I do want to thank him for being here and for his responses, and I want to wish him a nice holiday.
I don't have a lot of questions for the Royal B.C. Museum. I appreciate both Mr. Barkley and Ms. Rafferty being here today. I believe that the Royal B.C. Museum has done an exemplary job with its limited resources in getting the attendance up. I also believe that with the various approaches they've taken to bringing exhibits here to Victoria, the entire capital region has benefited greatly. I hear no end of small businesses here telling me that this year was not as good because this year we didn't have Leonardo. So it's felt throughout the small businesses, especially in the tourism and hospitality sectors, throughout greater Victoria.
First of all, I would like to ask the minister or Mr. Barkley
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes, I'm informed that the annual report
I. Chong: I trust that the minister will forward that along as soon as it is available.
I would like to ask, firstly, then, about the new exhibit that is going to be arriving for this fiscal year -- the circus that is going to be opening up in October and through to March 2001. As I recall, it will be considered the third exhibit that the museum has undertaken, with the Genghis Khan exhibit being the first, Leonardo the second and this one being the third. What are the -- I wouldn't say anticipated revenues, but I guess for lack of a better way of determining success -- anticipated revenues and attendees for this? Are there already pre-arranged bookings that have been made so that you can guarantee that you will have a successful exhibition?
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm going to ask Mr. Barkley if he, as my deputy here, would answer that question.
B. Barkley: The projected visitation for that exhibition
As far as the revenues are concerned, we show in our business plan that our revenues would be increased over last year by about $1 million over that time period.
I. Chong: Is the business case that is prepared available, or is it of a confidential nature and cannot be disclosed?
Hon. I. Waddell: We'd be pleased to share it with the hon. member.
I. Chong: A new program, Living Landscapes, I believe, was also undertaken. I understand that was to take the museum to various regions throughout the province, and that would be done by web sites. Can Mr. Barkley elaborate more -- unless the minister wishes to do so?
B. Barkley: The Living Landscapes project
We've now moved to the north, and we've just done the initial community discussion. We had 60 people in Prince George discuss how we would approach the north. The north is so large that we will actually be there for six years -- two years in the interior part of the north, two years in the far north, and two years on the coastal north.
To add to this slightly, we just received a national award from the Canadian Museums Association for Living Landscapes. The citation said that it set new standards in museology for Canadian museums.
[P. Calendino in the chair.]
I. Chong: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and welcome to our committee debates. I would like to thank Mr. Barkley for his response. It does sound like a very exciting project. Is there a schedule that has been prepared, outlining where this heads
[ Page 16410 ]
after these six years, or have you not gone that far? I was just curious as to what the ten- and perhaps 20-year outlook for this is. I know that's a long time to plan, but things such as this do require some planning. And the financial commitment or resources that have been allocated towards this
B. Barkley: The ten-year plan that will take us to the next region will be decided in part by the willingness of a region to endorse taking on the project. It would seem reasonable that the next part of the plan, after the six-year period in the north, would be the lower mainland, which is going to be a tremendous challenge. We'll have pretty well covered the entire province when we've done that.
What we leave behind in each region is a group that continues to do the work, and we provide a small amount of funding for that. Essentially, the funding that we provide is about $150,000 a year for two years, or $300,000, and we try to lever that by
I. Chong: If there is such a schedule available or if there is historical data on that, I wonder if Mr. Barkley would be able to share that with me -- in particular, when this started, where we are currently, and where it's going to take us. I would appreciate that.
Mr. Barkley mentioned some partnerships that have been made, such as UNBC and the Columbia Basin Trust
B. Barkley: It is an augmentation. So in the case of the Columbia Basin Trust, we had $300,000 from the museum, and we had $400,000 from the Columbia Basin Trust. We were able to expand the number of projects by that process. I would be happy to share with you not only the plan, but we do an evaluation. The community does an evaluation of the project when it's completed, and those evaluations could be made available as well.
I. Chong: I would appreciate those and the evaluations. As you probably are aware, we very much like to take a look at those targets and certainly the performance and the evaluations done to see whether there have been barriers in being able to meet targets or whether there have been successes that other areas and ministries could share and take advantage of where there are successes.
I was also wanting to ask Mr. Barkley about the
B. Barkley: I think the record shows that we've been able to exceed our targets around the curatorial area, which is the area of research and collecting. It's partly through our ability as a special operating agency to join in partnership agreements with a variety of organizations, so we've been able to have our researchers join university researchers. We've had private funding from the private sector for some of the things that we've been able to pursue.
As an example, the Leonardo exhibit deposited some money that allowed us to do the Out of the Mist exhibit; the research that was required for that was funded by the Leonardo funds. And we were able to do some extra things with Living Landscapes in the research area because of moneys that came from things like the Leonardo exhibit. It will be very similar with Circus Magicus.
I. Chong: Thank you. I do appreciate that the curatorial mandate's goals have been exceeded, as Mr. Barkley may recall. The minister at the time may not have been aware that there were some complaints, some three or four years ago, by a former employee that there was less and less staff time being devoted to the curatorial side. The Museum Act specifically requires certain expectations in terms of the curatorial area, so I'm glad to see that and note that it is no longer a problem.
I would also like to speak or follow up on the comment made by Mr. Barkley about the museum being a special operating agency. I have spoken to friends at the museum and various other people through this town who have been involved with the museum. There have been underlying discussions and debates around whether the museum is operating as efficiently or effectively as it could as a special operating agency or whether it should be looked upon to have its own authority -- that is, not be under the ministry and be held as its own Crown. I'm wondering if this request has been given any kind of priority or whether this request has been under consideration by the minister. There certainly is ample support for this in Victoria. Given the management and the commitment of many of the volunteers and board members, I think it's worthy of consideration. If the minister could share with us his views on this, I'd appreciate that.
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes, I would. Before I do, I wanted to
Now, with respect to the agency, I'm on the same wavelength as the member. I would like to see us move to a Crown corporation as soon as we can. I'm trying to take steps to do that.
I. Chong: When the minister says as soon as he can, can he give us any additional details? Is it something that can be looked upon for the end of the year? Is it something that is before cabinet now? I know it's difficult to disclose cabinet discussions and deliberations. However, I know it's been discussed for quite some time in the public community, I suppose, and it would certainly send a good signal out to those who may review the Hansards after this evening.
Hon. I. Waddell: I can tell the hon. member that we're in the advanced stages of legislation.
I. Chong: I look forward to seeing that, perhaps prior to the session close or perhaps before the next election. In any
[ Page 16411 ]
event, I would also like to ask what plans are in place with the Royal B.C. Museum in an effort to expand it. I know the limitations in terms of exhibit space that is there. We continue to be a world-class museum, I believe. Coming from the capital region, I'm particularly proud to send any tourists and visitors that I know of there. But I know the museum is always looking for more permanent exhibition space, and I understand that they are looking at expansion and working with BCBC to do so. Can the minister or Mr. Barkley advise what plans are in the works?
B. Barkley: We've taken a ten-year view of where we would go with space and our capital plans; that process is just underway. We're discussing with the community something called the cultural precinct, to look at how we might share such exhibition space with other cultural institutions like the art gallery and other cultural facilities in Victoria. I think that what we are planning now is to work with the community and find out what the needs of the community are. There is, of course, a discussion in Victoria about theatre facilities, with the Royal Theatre and so on. We're talking to those groups about how that might develop.
In addition to that, we have undertaken a consultation throughout the province on where our exhibits would go in the future. We have some very detailed information on what the public believes we should be doing in exhibitory. It's quite a change from where we are now, so we're going to have to look at changing the direction of exhibits. Essentially, what people have told us is that they want the exhibits more integrated; they don't want human history on one floor, natural history on another floor, European history at one end of the building and aboriginal history at the other. We're looking at how we can accommodate that within the space we have and within the expanded space in the future.
I. Chong: I guess this question is more difficult for the minister to answer, seeing that he answered the previous question about where we're headed with the special operating agency perhaps moving towards a Crown. I am curious to know what kind of multi-year agreement on funding the minister has made for the museum. In the event that the legislation hasn't come forward, are there plans for a commitment for multi-year funding to the museum?
Hon. I. Waddell: The museum has a three-year agreement right now; it's in the second year of that. I anticipate there would be a further agreement. This government would like to continue that and continue the funding to the museum. That's why I think it's important to have these longer term agreements to prevent sudden cutbacks in the budget.
I. Chong: I would take from the response from the minister that what's in place will remain in place at this point until that agreement expires. Can the minister advise? I've heard that there has been no tariff or admission fee increase for this current year. I'm wondering if the minister could confirm that or advise whether there are plans for increases and if so, when those might be.
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm informed that there has been an increase every year. There was one last year. There will be one this year, to bring the fees in line with the market.
I. Chong: When would the fee increase for this year be? Has it already been announced? For obvious reasons -- for tour groups and that -- these things have to be advertised well in advance.
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm informed that in March there was an announcement of a $1 increase from $7 to $8 effective June 1, so it just started when Out of the Mist closed. That's general admission, not special exhibits -- a bargain compared to European museums, I might add.
I. Chong: Certainly a bargain compared to other areas, I'm sure. But when you look back years and years to when it was free, then some people would dispute that we've got a bargain now. But that would date me, so I'm not going to go there on that.
I would also like to find out, regarding the Friends of the Museum and their contributions
Hon. I. Waddell: I can confirm that that is the case.
I. Chong: The last question I have, which leads me, perhaps, into the next area of the film industry, is: are there any plans that are in progress now with IMAX and with the B.C. film industry? Are there any deals in the works to augment museum attendance as a result of working with the film industry?
B. Barkley: We received a small grant from B.C. Film last year, to begin the process of doing a British Columbia film. The project has progressed. There is an outline of what the theme of the film would be, and the focus of the film is going to be on natural history. At least, this is what the proposal is.
The film-maker that was engaged through our request for proposals process is David Douglas. David Douglas is a film-maker who's made over 40 IMAX films.
I. Chong: For clarification, could Mr. Barkley advise: when he says last year, is he referring to fiscal 1999-2000, or is he referring to the '99 calendar year, and the amount of the grant and when it is to be expended by, for the purpose of this project?
B. Barkley: The funds were last calendar year, so last fiscal year. The amount of the money was $30,000, and it will be expended mid-year this year, totally, on preparing the material necessary for the preliminary look at a film.
I. Chong: When would the release date of this project be? You indicated mid-year -- October -- when you would expend the funds. But again, there's probably a timing as to when we would see the product.
B. Barkley: The process you go through is that you prepare an outline of what the film would look like and you do some promotional material, and then the film-maker -- in this case, David Douglas -- will try to find investors to invest in the film. An IMAX film is about $8 million to do, and the investors get an equity piece in the film. The intention would
[ Page 16412 ]
be to have, by the end of this fiscal, a sense of the interest that was out there and who the investors might be. And the target date with the filming would probably be 2002.
I. Chong: So the B.C. Film Commission provided a grant to the Royal B.C. Museum for $30,000, and the project itself will be perhaps several million dollars. And as a result of other investors
B. Barkley: One of the things we are looking very closely at is being an equity partner. In that case we would get a piece of the royalties for the film. That's being done at other museums. The Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa has produced a number of films, so we've consulted with them on this process.
I. Chong: Has a business case or an evaluation been done to determine what anticipated revenues would come from these royalties?
B. Barkley: No, we haven't at this point done a business case. There are other films that have done, and we can get that model. I didn't answer your question about
I. Chong: That clarifies it. I was just curious about how that works. So we're going to see a production; it'll be shown at IMAX. An amount will be segregated as to the profit, from which royalties will be given to the Royal B.C. Museum. They will then repay the loan to the B.C. Film Commission. Any of those royalties in excess of $30,000 would be the financial benefit to be gained by the Royal B.C. Museum. Would they be
B. Barkley: Yes, those funds would go into our general fund, so that would be disbursed to research, collections and public programming.
I. Chong: Those were all the questions I had for the Royal B.C. Museum. I note the minister would like to make a comment, but prior to doing so, I do want to thank Ms. Rafferty and Mr. Barkley for being here and wish them a good weekend.
Hon. I. Waddell: I too wanted to thank the staff of the museum for doing a superb job. Thank you.
I also wanted to thank the Friends of the Museum for their help. I try, as often as I can, to get over and support them. I know I've seen the hon. member, the critic, there at some of the receptions and dos to support the museum through the Friends.
I. Chong: I used to be a Friend.
Hon. I. Waddell: Good. I thank the Friends as well.
I. Chong: The next area that I wanted to canvass was the B.C. Film Commission.
Hon. I. Waddell: With me right now is my deputy minister, Catharine Read, and the assistant deputy ministers, David Richardson and Rhonda Hunter.
I. Chong: I think I would like to begin my comments by saying no doubt all of us acknowledge that the B.C. film industry is growing by leaps and bounds here in British Columbia. I know that the tax credits that were offered to the industry, have significantly helped, perhaps not some productions but certainly the image that we are competitive with other provinces and also luring away productions from Los Angeles.
I also want to state for the record that members on this side of the House do support an incentive that allows an industry to grow in that manner, where an industry in full is able to participate. Certainly there are some difficulties when specific businesses are chosen to succeed and others are not chosen to succeed. But where an entire industry has been given the benefit of a tax credit and we can see the results as being successful, that is something we can wholeheartedly support. But it would also lead one to the conclusion that if tax credits were introduced for all industries, then all industries would do well in whatever business the enterprises were in.
Also, I do acknowledge that B.C. film production topped a billion dollars last year. I remember the minister's comments and his quaint imitation of Austin Powers when he made the announcement, and it was very interesting. We do want to see this industry grow. Suffice it to say, I know that it will, based on the efforts of the various film commissions.
That does lead me to the question as to the support that this ministry is providing to the film industry. I do note that there has been an increase in funding, but there still is some question as to how the funding is going to be allocated.
There are a number of regional film commissions that have now been established as a result of this new industry. There are some commissions that are concerned that the funds will be distributed on a per-capita basis. Some commissions do not feel that that is appropriate, because some commissions have more opportunities to partner than newer commissions do. I would just like the minister to give us some clarification as to how he sees the splitting up of this pot of money, because I have not yet seen how it will be allocated.
Hon. I. Waddell: That was quite a long question, so perhaps I
When I said that -- announcing that we were a billion-dollar industry, ahead of Toronto, second only to Los Angeles and New York, and growing with our own local production as well -- one of the journalists at a radio station in Vancouver said that was the worst imitation he had ever heard. And they ran a contest at the radio station to get a better imitation. I was
[ Page 16413 ]
branded as the worst imitator. So that's it; no more. Maria, I'm not going to do it anymore. But it's tempting, because it's such a
Let me tell the hon. member, it's not just by tax credits that the industry has done what it's done. It's not just by the low dollar -- although tax credits and the low dollar are important. It's through a partnership between government and industry. It is a very good example of public policy, maybe one of the best in Canada in recent years. It involved the industry and the government coming together and taking some hard decisions -- for example, getting the unions together. There was a joint council of film unions. They just signed, a few months ago, another long-term contract. It gives labour peace and stability.
It involves education of a workforce and efforts to educate people in the industry. It involves community relations, so that we don't have burnout in the community like Los Angeles has -- that is, people fed up with film-making. Here they welcome film-making, even when they can't get a parking spot on Hornby Street in Vancouver. It involves working together with Ottawa. We organized and went down and stopped some potentially damaging decisions by Heritage Canada and Revenue Canada. By and large, I might say, now we have their cooperation, because they see
So it's really more than just tax credits, although tax credits are part of it. But I remind the hon. member that tax credits cost money to the government. So if you're going to balance the budget, you have to think about whether you're going to continue tax credits.
With respect to the regional film commissions, I have indicated that we will have an initiative. I haven't announced the details of the initiative yet; I hope to in the near future. We have consulted with the regional film commissions. I asked the Film Commission
So I asked the Film Commission to look at the issue of regional film commissioners and to get a fair system so that we could help with the regional film commissioners -- which, I agree with the hon. member, have just sprouted up like turvy right across the province. The challenge is to get some regional production out of the lower mainland. About 90 percent of the films are done in the lower mainland, and it's almost at capacity. We would like to spread it around the province.
I think Victoria would be a great place. I've been working hard to try to get a series shot here. I want to pay tribute to Kate Petersen, who was with the film commission and did a great job and is a wonderful person in promoting film in Victoria. So the short answer to your question is that we've consulted with the regional commissions. We will soon announce how we're going to spend a limited amount of money in helping the regional commissions and working with them as partnerships with municipalities and with local funding outfits. The object is to spread the film production better around British Columbia.
I. Chong: In response to the minister's comments, firstly, I do want to acknowledge that yes, I know there's been a lot of work done in the film industry. Tax credits do help. I agree in an indirect way, I guess, that tax credits cost money in that they're forgone dollars that the government would otherwise expect to see in their general revenues. However, if we have a vibrant economy where there is more activity, there will be more tax revenues, and therefore the forgone dollars in the area of one industry can be more than accounted for. I do believe that yes, we still can balance the budget and allow the tax credit in the film industry to occur, as we can allow for tax cuts in a whole variety of areas. I would hope that the minister speaks to his other colleagues about this as well, because if the Premier intends to bring in balanced-budget legislation, he's going to have to speak in favour of this and the opportunities that then exist for that.
I also want to concur with the minister that here in Victoria, Kate Petersen, who was our former film commissioner, did a tremendous, if not exemplary, job in having film production here. I think everyone in Victoria acknowledges that she was key in having Victoria be recognized as perhaps second to Vancouver in terms of location for film.
However, I still did not receive an answer from the minister -- and I'm wondering if he is able to provide an answer -- on how the film budget is going to be distributed with these regional film commissions. We're almost three months into this fiscal year, and people are wanting to get on with some projects and wanting to find out what moneys they have available to market their regions.
Hon. I. Waddell: The problem is that I haven't announced the details of the program. I've announced where we want to go with it. I don't anticipate it'll be on a per-capita basis; then you would concentrate it all again in the lower mainland area. You want to get it out to the regions of the province, and a per-capita basis wouldn't be the way to allocate it. It would be better to allocate it in terms of regions, and I hope to have that announcement very soon.
I. Chong: I did hear that the minister hadn't announced it, and I guess what I am trying to do is find out where or what his considerations are in this area. As I say, it's three months into the fiscal year, and it was announced in Budget 2000. All indicators were that these would go to the other regional film commissions that have been set up. There's a number of them -- six or nine or so. In any event, this is where, I understand, that these film commissions are anticipating the funds to come from. They don't anticipate it going to the lower mainland; they don't anticipate it going to the B.C. Film Commission. Unless that's what the minister is telling me: the B.C. Film Commission is going to receive this excess or additional funding that's in this year's budget and B.C. Film Commission will make the decision as to how that's to be spread around. If that's what the minister is saying, then I just wish he would confirm that for the record.
Hon. I. Waddell: I can tell the hon. member the money will be distributed by the B.C. Film Commission, but it will be regionally driven. The local areas will tell what's needed and identify their film commission and what the structure will be. But it will be matching; it won't pick up just funds that are
[ Page 16414 ]
There's an association of regional film commissioners. I asked Mark Flett, the chair of that, to work with Mark DesRochers, the new CEO of B.C. Film Commission
One of the reasons we're really successful in film is that we've taken our time and done it right. It's the fastest-growing industry in the province. We're getting phenomenal growth rates -- over 25 percent per annum for ten years. You're getting tremendous growth rates here. I think it's because we've taken our time and done it right. I could go on and talk about this for ten hours, so I will sit down and let you ask more questions.
I. Chong: I thank the minister for not going on for ten hours.
To his comment about having done it right and taking it slow, with all due respect to the minister, for a number of years the B.C. Film Commission has been in existence and has been doing its job of marketing and finding location. However, I think much of the credit as to the success in the last few years goes to local communities, who have advocated for and demanded a share of the film industry, especially here in Victoria through the local chamber of commerce and through local businesses. We have been able to fund a position such as was provided for Kate Petersen to allow her to go out and get that share, because for years, we were not successful. It wasn't as a result of -- as I say, with all due respect -- the Film Commission doing anything right for Victoria. It was Victoria doing it right for themselves -- going out, advocating, finding and scouting and having someone experienced, like Kate Petersen, to get those moneys in place.
In addition, as I recall, it was also Victoria that had the contacts with certain people at the federal government level, allowing us to get the issue of the tax credit moving a lot sooner than later. I believe that the Film Commission had been working on it for a number of years -- it had been stalled -- but when Victoria came on board, it certainly got moved along a lot quicker. I know I sound biased for Victoria. I'm going to be, because I am very proud of the fact that we have a wonderful film commission here who have done as much as they have.
Arguably, the B.C. Film Commission has a valuable presence, but the local regional film commissions also have a place, and they are trying to move ahead as well. I know Victoria would like to do more with what's available. I also acknowledge that another area, the Thompson-Nicola region, very much wants to move forward. As I understand it, the Premier was recently up in that area and met with them, and the Premier committed to taking their concerns to the minister and to support a meeting between commission members and the minister.
I'm presuming that this meeting between the commission members and the minister should take place very soon. I'm just wondering whether that meeting has in fact been scheduled, and what kinds of discussions we are anticipating. Will it be the discussion that will resolve how much money will be made available and the formula that will be followed to make these funds available to the various regional film commissions?
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, I hope to clarify the matter in an announcement within the next couple of weeks. But I want to reiterate this to the member. I share her enthusiasm for Victoria. I've been trying to get a series here; I've been talking about it. I think it's wonderful how, all over the province, you get these great stories and a lot of local energy of people keen on film. But remember, I told the hon. member a minute ago that the facts are that 90 percent of the film production is in the lower mainland. It's a real challenge to get production out of there. We're reviewing the tax credits, because there's a regional tax credit and a labour grant that you have to look at to be able to make this thing work.
So I see the film commissions as a value-added to what's already there. It's not a panacea for spending a lot of money and picking up other
I. Chong: I think we would agree that yes, it's time to get some of the filming out of the lower mainland, partially because I think many feel that the lower mainland has been somewhat saturated. If we're to promote our province -- with its wonderful viewscapes, etc. -- for tourism opportunities, then we should be moving film around our province as well.
I was curious as to the comments made by the minister that he's been trying to get a series here. I wonder if he could share with us specifically what it is that he's been doing to help us get a series here.
Hon. I. Waddell: It's called Mystic Pizza.
I. Chong: I don't think so. Julia Roberts won't show up.
Hon. I. Waddell: It's a series based on that. There have been various tries to get out here. Mel Swope, who used to be with MGM, was up here, and Kate Petersen and I took him around and showed him what we had here in Victoria. He was keen, but MGM didn't come across for that. Now we've got other people looking at this. People like Larry Sugar and some other people are keen on having a look at Victoria, and we will show them around and try to get them to come over here. I've said to them, and I've said this to the unions, that we will work together to do what it takes to get a series if somebody has a serious proposal. My feeling is that once they see Victoria as a location, they will go crazy. It's a perfect location.
I don't know. I've tried a number of things to encourage it. I even thought, at one point, of encouraging some entrepreneurs to get a bar. I thought that might be the solution. You see, we have a hotel in Vancouver called the Sutton Place Hotel. There's a bar in the hotel, and that's where the movie-types go. That's where they make their deals. Believe it or not, that propels a lot of production. So maybe what we need is a good movie bar in Victoria, amongst other things, where
I. Chong: If you build it, they will come.
Hon. I. Waddell: Perhaps.
I. Chong: I think Victoria's approach is that much of the business is taking place on the golf courses. I wouldn't know; I
[ Page 16415 ]
don't golf. But the minister has stated that the government will do what it takes to help have a series come to Victoria. I'm still curious as to what that means as well as what specific steps he's taken to do that. All I've heard is that you've taken people around -- that as people have come here, you've been able to show people around. I appreciate that. However, we also have a film commission that will take these people around. Is the minister saying that he has written letters, that he has actively solicited some studios from Los Angeles or from other areas to come here? I am looking specifically for what the minister has been able to do to get a series here, seeing that he's mentioned it twice already.
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm reviewing the regional tax credit to see whether that regional tax credit can be enhanced or improved in any way that will give a bigger incentive to filmmakers to get out of the lower mainland. I've asked the Film Commission to modernize the way they're promoting things, so that they can get location managers onto the ground and can help them with local knowledge and working with the film commissions. So these are some of the ways.
One is limited in what the government can do. We're not about to do a series; it's done by the private sector. I think the way to do that is to do what you can to encourage the private sector. I've had consultations with the unions to facilitate the fact that they could hire locally -- they wouldn't have to bring a crew from Vancouver -- and therefore reduce the costs. I think those are the series of steps that a minister can take, and I've taken those steps. And we've had some success; we haven't had a series, but we've had lots of production.
The other thing I've done, too, is to encourage in the regions generally. I've included a tax credit -- made eligible for a tax credit -- documentary film-makers making documentaries anywhere in the world, as long as they're based in B.C. So Chiapas, for example, the documentary, could be included in that. Before it wouldn't be included, because it was made offshore. And we have a growing documentary film-maker base, many of whom live in the Gulf Islands -- some of them producers of documentaries for all over the world. We have a world-class industry here.
I. Chong: I appreciate the minister's response. As I say, I was looking for specifics, and clearly the minister acknowledged that there are no specifics other than just being along and, you know, encouraging the film industry, as I think all of us would do. The one area that he did mention, however, was potentially enhancing regional tax credits. I'm wondering if the minister can elaborate on that. What kind of enhancements would we be looking at?
Hon. I. Waddell: It's a little technical, but if I can put it this way, there's a basic tax credit of 20 percent. You asked me what we did to try and encourage regional production. We instituted a program where if you do 85 percent of your production in the region -- let's say Victoria -- you get an additional 12.5 percent tax credit on top of the 20 percent. So that, we thought, was a pretty good incentive.
We're evaluating that, and I'm open to any suggestions that the hon. members might have on that. We're looking at it in two ways. One, we could change the criteria so that we could have more people apply, or we could bump up further the 12.5 percent till we get to an amount that would really, really grab producers. So that's what we're doing.
I. Chong: I am aware of the 12.5 percent, but that is not on the entire project. That's only on eligible labour costs, as I'm aware. I have an additional question in this area, but I'm going to defer it this time to the member for Okanagan-Vernon, as I believe she has some questions on the film industry as well.
A. Sanders: Seeing that we're on the regional tax credit, that's I wanted to ask about. I wanted to bring to the attention of the minister the problem with the regional tax credit being available to those who shoot 85 percent of their film in the region to get the benefit. We had an example just last week of a film that's being shot somewhere other than the Okanagan -- which I can't imagine -- but one week of it was being shot in the Okanagan.
Now, because they came to the Okanagan for one week, it didn't qualify for the 85 percent of the time, so they don't get that tax credit. In some ways, that's actually a disincentive to come to the Okanagan. I would certainly suggest that that be looked at. I'm interested in hearing from the minister: what is the government's direction? Where is the government headed with this regional tax credit? What are the things that are coming back to the minister from the industry to suggest ways to ameliorate that particular kind of problem?
Hon. I. Waddell: First of all, let me tell the hon. member that I appreciate what she's saying. If she's got even further information, I'll be pleased to receive it. As to how these things are actually working in practice, we're looking at the regional tax credits with the Ministry of Finance, the industry and my ministry. We're trying to come up with a better way that we could do the tax credits. When we come out with a decision on that, we will announce what we can do to help more regional production.
When I talked about 90 percent in the lower mainland, I didn't want to denigrate the fact that we're getting regional production. You know that we are. There have been some fabulous movies made all around and, I know, in the Okanagan at Keremeos and other places -- Kelowna and up the valley. It's a perfect, beautiful location. We're promoting it. I think the film commissioner, Mr. Flett, in the Okanagan
A. Sanders: There are areas where the tax credit is not workable, and therefore it's not being utilized. Is the minister suggesting that we bring examples of that in for the ministry to look at and to base decisions on what the real problems are? Is that the suggestion he's making?
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, the present system is that Mark DesRochers is the film commissioner, and regional commissioners
I think we've done a tremendous job in locations promotion. I remember that when I was a minister two years ago, I
[ Page 16416 ]
went to B.C. Film, and you literally had pictures. You'd get a street in Vernon, say. You'd have these pictures, and you'd fold them out, and that's what went to Hollywood. Now this is all electronic, and if someone called from Hollywood and wanted to do something in the Okanagan, we can instantly show them all the locations electronically. We've put a fair amount of money into that to do it, to upgrade that, and it's starting to pay off.
A. Sanders: Looking at the regional film commission, there was an announcement that there were moneys in this budget, additional moneys to come. It's now three months into the fiscal period, and there hasn't been any cash actually allocated. With regard to that amount of money, two questions: first, when will criteria be ready? And secondly, how will the criteria be ascertained?
Hon. I. Waddell: I don't know if the hon. member heard my answers previously, where I said that we consulted with the industry, as we've been doing all along in this very successful program -- film in B.C. We will announce shortly what the criteria will be. They will be able to come through that and work it out. So that should be shortly.
I don't know if the hon. member
I. Chong: Following the comments the member for Okanagan-Vernon made, she's clearly put on the record that the regional tax credits need to be reviewed if, in fact, regions are to benefit from this. As I indicated, the Thompson-Nicola Film Commission, which I think takes in Kamloops and the surrounding areas, is very concerned about this. In fact, they comment on the fact that they are very much aware of the film producers being eligible for refunds, as indicated earlier, at 12.5 percent of eligible labour costs if the principal photography takes place outside the Vancouver area. However, given the additional costs such as travel, accommodation and that -- and perhaps even additional labour costs -- it doesn't begin to compensate for that. That is one of the reasons why the regional tax credits have to be considered in light of the infrastructure problems as well.
If the minister would give his commitment to have a look at that. My understanding is that if you've got a predetermination in your budget as to what you anticipate your tax credits to be if, in fact, all the regional tax credits were to be consumed
Hon. I. Waddell: This is precisely why we are evaluating. I agree with almost everything the hon. member said. Film costs are 10 to 25 percent higher outside of
When I became minister, I made an announcement in North Vancouver at the studios. I said -- I think it was a $670 million industry -- that our hope was to make it a $700 million industry. In two and a half years, we made it a billion-dollar industry. We've done it because we've moved very carefully, and we have been very successful. I anticipate we can be just as successful if we do it carefully. I've tried to do these things when we knew what we were doing, if I can put it that way. That's why we're reviewing the tax credits for the regions.
I see three things helping the regions: (1) looking at the regional tax credit, perhaps either bumping it up or finding a new way of doing it; (2) helping the regional film commissions; and (3) making one of our priorities to increase production and to spread it out throughout the province. Some of these communities are moving from fisheries
I. Chong: No question, we would again agree. There's a lot of agreement going on around here, because this is a ministry that deals with economic activity. We agree that economic activity is what's needed here. We would want to see film production moved around the province and out of the lower mainland. Even, to some extent
I do want to challenge the minister on his comment about government taking it slowly and being involved
If that's the way it should be, then I think that we should take a step back and take a look and see what the private sector will do. They're the ones who really got it going. Government can play a role in ensuring that there aren't additional regulations, additional red tape. It can play a role in ensuring that policies are business-friendly, to allow the industry to expand.
But I don't agree that in fact the government has created the billion-dollar industry. That's not how I see it. It doesn't matter whether it was this government or any other government. I see the movement occurring, in the last three years in particular, as a result of regions -- film commissions that were set up in the regions, or chambers of commerce, where a lot of
[ Page 16417 ]
this has started up -- that actually moved this industry forward. I think the government has just been running up to stay with the industry, in effect.
So I would hope that the government, in its effort to take some credit for this, doesn't feel that they're the ones who are driving this industry, because I don't believe that to be the case. I'm concerned that if you think you're driving this industry, you might in fact slow it down. I would hate to see that kind of an impairment, right as we're increasing at such exponential rates.
I would like it if the minister could provide an answer as to it being a billion-dollar industry. Is there an idea of the revenues that government actually receives from the billion-dollar production revenues in the film industry? Is there a direct amount that goes into general provincial revenues that the minister has available to him?
[D. Streifel in the chair.]
Hon. I. Waddell: Before I answer that for you, let me say that I couldn't disagree with the member more. Who set up the Film Commission? Who set up B.C. Film? Who brought in the tax credits and equalled Ontario on that difficult decision that the former Premier made? Who brought the film unions together? Who went back to Ottawa and took on the federal government? Who went to Herb Dhaliwal and took over the revenue issue of the foreign actors? You know? Who has brought in the standards for child actors, just recently? Who's doing all that? The government -- this government, an activist government -- is doing it. We are partners. It's not the chamber of commerce. This is big stuff. We got ahead of Toronto. We're next to Hollywood and New York.
This is probably one of the most influential industries in the world. And when you're taking on the Americans in the American cultural dominance of the world, this is not easy stuff. It's with great respect, and I love local chambers of commerce, but it's not done by local chambers of commerce. It's done by the government working with the major players in the industry, and it's working. It's a big success story.
To answer the other part of your question -- the other part is with reference to the revenues -- I can give the member figures for the number of people employed and the spinoffs, and so on. It's essentially a department of Finance matter, so I don't have that particular figure right here. I'd say that $1 billion produces $12 billion, or whatever. All I know is that I see a lot of people working in the industry. They're feeling pretty good about it, and so are we.
I. Chong: I guess this will be an area that we will agree to disagree on. I know the minister does not mean to be disrespectful of Victoria and the chambers, and I appreciate that. However, when you take a look at the funding that has been available year after year to B.C. Film Commission and the growth being rather stagnant in some of those years
Yes, I don't question the fact that the minister perhaps went to see people in Ottawa, but I can tell you that I know there were people here who were making certain calls to certain MPs as well, getting their ears bent and making a case for the fact that for every dollar invested there will be exponential returns. I know that the tax credit issue, in fact, had been on the books at the B.C. Film Commission for a number of years, and they weren't able to advance it.
Maybe this government had a part in it, and I'm not denying that, but clearly a lot of that had to come from the private sector as well, because as you can appreciate, every province that goes to the federal government doesn't always get its wish list. Certainly history has shown us that this province has not had a great relationship with our federal counterparts, which has perhaps not allowed us to move as quickly as possible. I will give the credit to the local chambers of commerce. I will give the credit to the local film commissions, particularly here in Victoria, because I do believe that they have done that exemplary job.
I applaud this ministry, though, for bringing in standards for child actors. That was needed. That is the role that governments have to play to ensure protection of youth in this industry.
I've always indicated, I think, that there is a role for government to play, but the government has to also recognize that it doesn't drive small businesses. It plays a role, but small businesses drive themselves; they're the ones that create the jobs. We have to create the environment for them, and if the minister wants to take credit for creating some of that environment, then so be it, and I will agree to that. Still, I will say that much of the credit still goes to the private sector and the volunteers involved in this industry, who I think have done a job that is to be commended.
I did want to find out the amount of dollars that come into provincial revenues as a result of film industry production, primarily because I would like to link it up to the fact that I see for the B.C. Film Commission -- moneys expended in the previous year, $867,000; this year $1.36 million anticipated
This industry, as the minister acknowledges, is growing. I think it needs to know that there is a three- or a five-year commitment for funding and possible increases in funding, if we can clearly measure that there will be revenues far in excess of what the investment is. This is an investment in the industry, and I think the minister would agree with me.
Hon. I. Waddell: Yes.
I. Chong: I want to ask a few other follow-up questions in this area before I close off on the Film Commission, and that has to do with the Glendale project here in Victoria. Again, I'm going to be local here. I understood that there were plans to look at that site. I don't know where we are with that. Are they still in the works? I know the member for Saanich South, the Attorney General now, had approached the minister. Where are the discussions on that?
Hon. I. Waddell: There has been a movement to try and get a film studio in Victoria. You know there has been expan-
[ Page 16418 ]
sion of studios in Vancouver, and that's another part. I forgot to mention that was part of the plan. The infrastructure we funded through loans to Lions Gate studios and North Shore Studios. They repaid the loans, and they've taken off and are doing very well. We've loaned $20 million to the McLean group for Vancouver Film Studios, and they're building and doing well. And Bridge Studios is making money hand over fist. It's owned by the government. So there is movement.
They're saying we need this kind of infrastructure in Victoria, and hopefully we were going to get some private investors in the Glendale project. It didn't come about in the end. There was a lot of effort to try to do it. It didn't come about in the right and proper mix, and it didn't happen. Of course, anybody is free to come on their own will to put a studio in Victoria, if they want to do that investment. And if people want to come to us with a viable project, we'll certainly look at it, because I think Victoria needs to get its fair share as well.
I. Chong: That was going to be my last question, but the minister mentioned a $20 million loan that was made. I don't need to get the details of that. I'm wondering if the minister has a list of all the loans that have been made to film producers or film partners, and if there is a list of those, whether I can obtain a copy of them as to what areas they represent and what the conditions of those loans are -- whether they're in fact loans or forgivable loans or grants -- just the nature of those.
Hon. I. Waddell: I'll tell the hon. member what I did. I thought that there was
I got industry people and my department people together -- intergovernmental, interministerial -- and had them say: "Well look, let's take all the plans" -- I think there were about 14 plans for studios -- "and put them together and rate them, and so on." We rated them, and then we said: "Well, you come forward." There were some pretty pie-in-the-sky schemes; everybody thinks they can get rich quick here.
We made sure that we got the right one, and so far, the only one that we've funded has been the Vancouver Studios project, because we thought it was a first-rate project, and I believe it will be. We made a point of saying the loans
I. Chong: So for the record, there has only been one loan of $20 million to the Vancouver studio. Are the terms of that available as to when it's repayable? Can the minister also advise where that amount came from -- his ministry, or did it come through the Ministry of Employment and Investment?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is that it came through Employment and Investment. You'll have to ask them about the terms of it, because it comes under
I. Chong: I will look into that further. I just want to then state that as I understand it, and for the record as well, the ministers in their interministerial discussions, if approval is given by this minister -- or a sign-off, I suppose -- are the authority upon which the Employment and Investment Ministry grants the loan. Is that how it works, or can someone go directly to the E&I ministry for a loan without having to go through this ministry?
Hon. I. Waddell: The answer is that it goes to Treasury Board, and then it gets approval. So we have an input into it.
I. Chong: So the ministry's input is when it comes before Treasury Board, and the minister therefore does a yea or a nay or a sign-off on the project. Is that correct?
Hon. I. Waddell: Look, this government's not that big; some ministries actually talk to each other. And on the film, we are directing the film. It is a top priority of this ministry and this minister and this government. The minister knows what's going on and knows where the loan applications are and how they're related. So they consult us, and they wouldn't do it without our okay.
I. Chong: Although I will attempt to canvass this in the E&I ministry, as a result of various things happening in the House, I may not get to that point. If other legislation is being debated -- which at this point I wish I was participating in, but I cannot -- I would ask staff here if they would assist me in contacting the E&I ministry, perhaps, and finding out that document and forwarding that to me. If they would do that, I would certainly appreciate it.
Hon. I. Waddell: We'd be very pleased to do that.
I. Chong: That's all the questions I have on the B.C. film industry and the B.C. Film Commission. At this time, I did want to move into the next area of topics -- we're moving very quickly here -- the culture, recreation, heritage and sport division of the ministry. I have a colleague of mine here who would like to start off in the area of sport. It's the entire division we're going to discuss, so I'll allow her to ask her questions at this time. I don't think the minister needs any change in staff. Then we'll all proceed.
J. Reid: My question concerns B.C. School Sports. It's my understanding that the ministry funds B.C. School Sports to a certain extent. I was wondering if I could get the amount that the ministry funds B.C. School Sports.
Hon. I. Waddell: It's $87,000.
J. Reid: With B.C. School Sports, they also receive funding from the schools, because of registration for schools, for participation in the sports programs. Would you know the percentage of funding of their overall budget that the ministry supplies?
Hon. I. Waddell: No.
[ Page 16419 ]
J. Reid: B.C. School Sports is an interesting situation, because its total funding comes from government through one direction or another, and yet the ministry that it falls under is this ministry. I have in this last year run into some problems with B.C. School Sports. Even though all the funding comes from the government, there seems to be very little accountability with regards to the operations of B.C. School Sports.
So I'm wondering: for the funding that the ministry provides
Hon. I. Waddell: I'm informed that the ministry has an agreement for funding which spells out what the accountability is and so on. I'll endeavour to get a copy of that for the hon. member. I haven't seen a copy of it myself, so I'd like to see it too. I'll get a copy to you, and if you have any specific concerns, I'll be prepared to follow that through.
J. Reid: Yes, I'd appreciate seeing that. There are some concerns. That accountability is a concern because, again, this agency is based on government funding without these accountability measures. So I will follow up with the minister.
I. Chong: As I understood it, the agreement that my colleague was asking for is not the same as the
Hon. I. Waddell: The hon. member is correct. The school program is different than Sport B.C., which is the big athletic program. We have a general agreement with them on how they're set up, and then we have a specific agreement with respect to how a devolution of our funding of sports
I. Chong: I know Sport B.C. is very well acknowledged and recognized, as is evidenced by their annual sports awards night. If we all agree that people should have active living, etc. -- and not all of us are ever going to be professional athletes -- certainly it starts off somewhere. We also have to support the area of sports development.
I understand that in this particular fiscal budget year, there has been no change to the grants for sports -- or heritage, for that matter -- in this budget. I agree that the budget was to hold the line on that. However, I would like to find out from the minister
Hon. I. Waddell: I can confirm that the budget is the same and that we're not asking them to do more with the same amount of money. We're pretty satisfied that they're pretty efficient at what they're doing. We think they're doing it efficiently. We haven't asked them to do more.
If the hon. member is advocating more funding for sports, I'd be pleased to have her advocate that -- keeping in mind that her party wants to balance the budget too.
I. Chong: Keeping in mind that this Premier has also indicated that he wants to balance the budget too, I guess we would be on the same wavelength.
To be fair, I'm not advocating for anything at this time. I just want to ensure that Sport B.C., given its limitations, is able to continue its good work and not be given additional barriers to continue that.
The area of sport fishing used to be in this ministry -- and I know it no longer is -- because it used to be considered an area of recreation. I'm wondering whether there is any lasting residue, I suppose, from the responsibility that was once there.
Hon. I. Waddell: I was about to say that not a minnow was left, but there may be, in a sense, in our tourism. Tourism B.C. does work with the sport-fishing people to try and promote sport fishing. I think there's some room for additional improvement. I actually raised this with the Tourism ministers in Canada that support fishing, because one thing we share is some control in the freshwater fish jurisdiction -- and that we should promote it more and enhance it.
I don't think there's much of a role there, but there has to be a role because it is one of the tourism products. Plus I always get asked about that sport-fishing lodge in Kamloops -- about their fees. I try to go to bat for them so that they get decent fees from BCAL.
I. Chong: I do understand that support can be provided. I am presuming that as that is the only affiliation still left with sport fishing, staff perhaps provide support as calls come in. But there are no financial dollars committed from this ministry through its tourism policy to assist in sport fishing. That has now been entirely taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Rural Development. Is that correct?
Hon. I. Waddell: That is essentially correct. There is a role for the minister, in a sense, in this. I met with Bob Wright recently -- you know, with the Oak Bay Marine Group. I'm very impressed with the work that he's been doing in promoting sport fishing and tourism. We felt that maybe there are some areas that we could work together on -- areas where the ministry has a view. We are now on ELUC, the Environment and Land Use Committee of cabinet. So we have some input.
Tourism is like the little sister that is now becoming the big sister and starting to challenge what was thought of as the major industries in the province, like forestry and mining and so on. Tourism is really coming of age. So there's an influence that the minister and the ministry can start to wield. It should have more, in my view, but it's just beginning to get that -- being taken seriously.
[ Page 16420 ]
I. Chong: I don't have a lot of questions in the area of sport, but I did want to canvass some of this. I know this ministry is also responsible for all the B.C. Games. I know that a few years ago there was a bit of a blip when we changed it to every other year, but in speaking to the B.C. Games Society, it's working out well. It was a good decision, and it has benefited a number of communities. I know some people would still like it to go back to annual, but that's unlikely, unless the minister has plans in the works that he would like to share with me. I don't see him making any gestures, so I'll presume there aren't any.
Before I leave the area of sport, I am aware of a news release that was issued on January 28 from the minister: "B.C. to Co-host Regional Conference on Sport." I don't believe that's taken place. Can the minister advise when that will happen and how much funding has been allocated to the co-hosting of this regional conference?
Hon. I. Waddell: I went to Ottawa and met with the Hon. Denis Coderre, who is the minister in charge of Sport for Canada. He had suggested, with a little bit of opposition from the provinces, that he would like to do regional sport conferences. When he suggested that he'd pay 100 percent of the fee for the expenses of the conferences, I immediately suggested that they have the first one in British Columbia. Well, we're getting the second one, and it should be in October. I'd like to do it in Victoria, but I'm not quite sure how that would work. It will probably be in either Vancouver or Victoria.
I. Chong: Is the minister saying that by co-hosting, it's a title given and that there is actually no financial commitment that will be necessary?
Hon. I. Waddell: As strange as that may seem in our relationship with the federal government, that is correct.
I. Chong: In the area of recreation -- and I guess, to some extent, sport as well -- there used to be a policy in place. This goes back a number of years ago -- prior to my election and definitely prior to the minister's, as we were both elected in 1996. But there used to be, as I understand it, a Public Recreational Facilities Act upon which municipalities could access funds for improving recreational facilities or access to recreational facilities. That no longer exists, as I am aware; I don't know when it was removed. I'm wondering whether or not this minister has heard of this and, if he has, whether he's looked into this and whether it's an area that his ministry and staff can pursue and perhaps look at if funding may be available. I can tell the minister that when this was established some years ago, it was under the old B.C. Lottery schematics.
The difficulty that some communities are now experiencing is that they want to
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, I'm glad the hon. member has brought it to my attention. I think it's quite key. We did get some money through B.C. 2000 to pick up some of these infrastructure improvements. You can see that there's a real need there. I see two areas in the future to maybe get some help here. One is in a new federal
I. Chong: Health has no more money.
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, Health is
The Chair: Member, minding the time.
I. Chong: Thank you, hon. Chair -- ever so mindful of the time. I think we will be able to continue with this discussion on this area. At this time, I would like to move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:52 p.m.
[ Return to: Legislative Assembly Home Page ]
Copyright © 2000: Queen's Printer, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada