2000 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2000
Volume 20, Number 11
[ Page 16491 ]
The House met at 2:07 p.m.
Hon. D. Miller: Today in the members' gallery we do have a special visitor from the United Kingdom: His Excellency Sir Anthony Goodenough, the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom to Canada since 1996. He's in Victoria making his farewell visit. The high commissioner is accompanied by Ian Kydd, the consul general of the United Kingdom in Vancouver. It was my pleasure to meet earlier today with both gentlemen, and I would ask the House to join me in giving them a warm welcome and to thank His Excellency for the outstanding service he's provided as the high commissioner and to wish him bon voyage.
I. Chong: In keeping with the tradition that was established yesterday in offering congratulatory messages, today I would like to wish the former CRD chair, the former mayor of Saanich and the current member representing Saanich North and the Islands a very happy birthday. Would the House please wish him a very happy birthday.
Hon. S. Hammell: As part of Public Service Week, I have the pleasure today of introducing some public servants who represent various employee associations and have among them more than 100 years of service in total: Beth Lyle, 32 years of service, representing the B.C. Excluded Employees Association; George Heyman, 22 years of service, president of the B.C. Government Employees Union; Tom Volkers, 20 years of service, representing the Professional Employees Association; Jeet Rana, 25 years of experience, here on behalf of the Visible Minorities Employees Association and the Provincial Employees Diversity Alliance; Niall Maloney, 11 years of experience, representing the Association of B.C. Government Employees with Disabilities; and, finally, Cynthia Callahan, five years, representing the Lesbian and Gay Provincial Employees Association. Accompanying them are two of the PSERC employees who have worked so hard to make Public Service Week a success: Karen Hallam and Julie Spiteri.
I would ask the House to please make all of these people welcome.
Hon. I. Waddell: At noon the hon. member for Vancouver-Langara and myself went out to see a beautifully restored logging truck that's at the front of the Legislature today. That truck is from the McLean Mill National Historic Site, which will be opening in Port Alberni on July 1.
Since the member from Port Alberni is unable to do so himself, I'd like to introduce on his behalf the people who have accompanied the truck on its promotional tour. In the House today are Jean McIntosh, the director of the Alberni Valley Museum; Kevin Hunter, the president of the Industrial Heritage Society; society members Jaime Bracht and Lorne Bratt; volunteers Judith Cicon and Darwin Generous. And from the Tin Pants Theatre Group are Miss Vera Little, a school teacher circa 1934, and Mr. Yardley Pond, who works at the mill. In real life they're also known by the names of Melissa Robertson and Luke Mayba.
Would the House please make these folks welcome.
C. Clark: Given that it's Public Service Week and as the critic for the Ministry for the Public Service, I'd like to add the official opposition's welcome to the members of the public service who are here today, congratulate them and the thousands of civil servants who work so hard in British Columbia and let them know that after the next election, we're looking forward to working with them.
Hon. J. Kwan: I have the pleasure to make two introductions today. Earlier this morning -- and later on this afternoon -- the Premier, myself and the member for Victoria-Hillside had the pleasure to meet with a number of special guests and people in our community. They are the people who are operators -- the backbone really, if you will -- of a government program called Bladerunners. Bladerunners is a program that will provide employment training initiatives for young people who are faced with multiple barriers in our communities. In fact, last year Bladerunners was so successful that they actually won -- one of eight groups that won -- an international program award called PEPNet. This program, which is called Promising and Effective Practices Network, recognizes excellence in youth employment and development programs.
Today we celebrated and honoured two participants who were the first Bladerunners participants who got their trade certifications. These two individuals are Chris Cardinal and Dan Haydan. They're exceptional youth in our communities who graduated the program and excelled and went on and got their trade certifications.
I should also mention that along with them are a number of the coordinators within the program. From Vancouver are three Bladerunners coordinators: Gary Jobin, Al Laird and Mark Dohaniuk. From Victoria the two Bladerunners coordinators are Ron Winn and Phil Turpin. From Nanaimo the Bladerunners coordinator is Glenn Boyda, and from Kelowna is Arnie Wentland, along with the executive director of KEREDA, Barry Longeway.
I should also say that from the ministry itself we have ministry staff working with the Bladerunners program. The provincial Bladerunners coordinator is Jill Porter, along with Stephen Learey, Lisa Jacobsen and Paul Clairmont.
Would the House please help me welcome them and also congratulate them for their hard work in our community and their successes to date.
Hon. Speaker, I'm also delighted to introduce to this assembly Mr. Wang Jun, who leads a delegation of 30 senior financial officials from the central, provincial and municipal governments of the People's Republic of China. The visit is sponsored by a CIDA program that enables officials from key institutions to study Canadian expertise in analysis of public policy alternatives. This mission supports the PRC's interest in reforming the fiscal expenditure framework to support reform of the PRC's economic system. Please join me in welcoming our visitors to this House and our Pacific province and in wishing them well in their endeavours.
D. Symons: Earlier I met with a group of 25 students, their teacher, five parents and Mr. Arnot, from Dogwood Elementary School in Richmond. I'm not too sure if they're in the Legislature right now, but they were certainly asking insightful questions earlier. Would you please make them welcome.
F. Randall: In the visitors' gallery today are up to 51 grades 4 and 5 students and adults from Second Street Com-
[ Page 16492 ]
munity School in the constituency of Burnaby-Edmonds. They are accompanied by teachers Mr. Barton Lim and Ms. Kirsten Dillon. Kirsten is an exchange teacher from Australia, and I would just like to add that Second Street School is a very community-minded school. Would the House please make them all very welcome.
C. Clark: I've just been informed that we are also joined today in the gallery by the head of the B.C. Foster Care Support Network, Mr. Kim Dupont. I hope the House will make him welcome.
Hon. I. Waddell: Last year the Association of Book Publishers of B.C. honoured Gray Campbell with the Gray Campbell Distinguished Service Award. It went to B.C. Bookworld publisher Alan Twigg, who was the first recipient. I went there and saw Mr. Campbell, and he showed me the first book that he had published in B.C., in 1962, with $225 he won from a TV game show.
Mr. Campbell passed away on Saturday. He was really the father of publishing in British Columbia. He lived to see an industry that produced last year 700 titles and $60 million worth of sales, and he was the one who started it.
He started in a stockbrokerage; he worked for the RCMP; he was a pilot in the Royal Air Force; he was a cattle rancher in Alberta. Then, after all that, he came to British Columbia to start the publishing industry in British Columbia.
On behalf of this House -- I believe that I'm speaking for all the members -- I say to his wife Eleanor and his four children: Thank you. We can celebrate together a wonderful life, a full life -- he died at age 88 -- and he contributed so much to British Columbia. We thank them for that.
SENIOR CIVIL SERVANT REMUNERATION,
ALLOWANCES AND PERQUISITES ACT
(SCRAP ACT) 2000
R. Kasper presented a bill intituled Senior Civil Servant Remuneration, Allowances and Perquisites Act (SCRAP Act) 2000.
R. Kasper: I move that the bill, of which notice has been given in my name on the order paper, be introduced and now read a first time.
R. Kasper: Overseeing our provincial public service is an important job, one that requires highly skilled, dedicated senior civil servants. They deserve fair compensation, and the public they serve deserve a fair and open process in determining what that compensation will be. This bill will create a citizens panel to review recent salary increases awarded to senior civil servants earning in excess of $100,000 and will review such annually.
The panel will be made up of representatives from the business community, labour and the general public and will be chaired by an arbitrator from the Ministry of Labour. The panel will consult with the public, have the authority to review all employment contracts and agreements of senior civil servants and make recommendations according to criteria they develop to evaluate appropriate remuneration levels. The panel will report to the Minister of Finance on or before November 1 of each year, and its recommendations will be binding and made public.
This bill establishes an open and transparent process. It eliminates the current practices where there is no public input or scrutiny and no full public disclosure on how the decisions on remuneration are made. This bill provides an opportunity for government and future governments to scrap the backroom decision-making of the past.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
The Speaker: On the motion, members. There's a motion on the floor.
An Hon. Member: Point of order.
The Speaker: I'll deal with the motion, and then I'll take a point of order.
Bill M205 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.
The Speaker: The hon. Opposition House Leader has a point of order.
G. Farrell-Collins: Knowing how difficult it is to get private members' bills through this House, if we have unanimous leave, I'd be prepared to move it through all three stages today.
DRAAYERS FOSTER CARE CASE
L. Reid: On June 6 the Premier told us the decision would be made on the Draayers case by yesterday. The Children and Families minister said her ministry would reach a decision by June 12. But yesterday the minister said it would be another two weeks before she got around to telling these two girls whether they can go home. How can anyone have confidence in this minister, when she said a decision would be made by yesterday?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: There is no question for all of us in this House that our first priority is settling the long-term accommodation for these girls. There's no question about that, hon. members. We are all hon. members, and there is no question about that. We are at a situation in this complex issue where I think we've hit a bit of an impasse. A bit of a complication has arisen, and I want to tell the House that I, with the Premier and others, am looking at some options, and we may have something to say shortly.
The Speaker: The member for Richmond East has a supplemental question.
[ Page 16493 ]
L. Reid: Here's the problem. Two hon. members did make a promise to this Legislature. One is the Premier, and one is the Minister for Children and Families. These two girls thought they would have an answer yesterday, but it would appear that this minister and ministry are, frankly, just stalling. The Premier might say, "Good for Ross Dawson," as he has in this very Legislature, but the only thing we've seen from this ministry is six months of delay -- six months. And now these girls are being told they need to wait another two weeks. Will the Premier tell us why these girls must continue to wait and why his government is making promises it does not keep?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Hon. Speaker, I am dumbfounded at the accusation made by the hon. member. And I say with the utmost disappointment that the hon. member chooses to distort the response provided by me, which was very clear -- that it was a decision to be made by Ross Dawson and Ross Dawson alone, that there was no process available for interference legally by the minister or anyone else. In the context of that, in view of that, for the hon. member to stand up and conduct herself in such a dishonourable way, I find that amazing.
The Speaker: I would ask members to be careful with their use of language and the tone of their language in this question period.
C. Clark: I'm sure the Premier can forgive everyone in British Columbia for feeling a little bit cynical about his ability to keep his promises, when last week he said that they would have a decision, and now we don't have a decision. And last week he said that they couldn't intervene in the process, that there was nothing they could do. Now we hear the minister saying: "Well, maybe there is something we can do."
The fact is that this government is in receipt of a 66-page exhaustive document that says that those girls should go home and that this government is wrong. This government has the authority to act. My question is this: when will the government find the courage to act, to do the right thing and to send those girls home?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I would ask the hon. member to check the Hansard and check it very carefully. Check it very carefully before an hon. member stands up here and misleads the House and the entire population of British Columbia. Because when we say
Here is what I said when I last spoke on this issue, and I stand by it. I said: "Ross Dawson will make that decision." Ross Dawson has made a decision, obviously, to postpone his decision for two weeks.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Yes. Absolutely.
Hon. Speaker, we have hit an impasse in the legislative scheme that's currently entrenched for this purpose. There is a legislative scheme that says Ross Dawson makes the decision; it can be reviewed by the children's commissioner. At the end of it, it is his decision again to decide on the issue. The opposition was in the House when this legislation was debated. That aspect of it was never debated. So what we are currently looking at are some options. One of them is to immediately amend that legislation to deal with this impasse.
The Speaker: The hon. member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain.
C. Clark: This minister has the authority to act, and she has the authority to do something to end this impasse. She's got two sets of bureaucracies who are fighting with each other, and she has the ability to step in and do something about it. And now the Premier stands here and says that he wants a little bit of wriggle room -- a little bit of wriggle room. Well, those girls and that family can't afford any more wriggle room. It's been six months of wriggling and indecisiveness and failure to act by this government.
My question is this: when will the government use the authority that it has, the power that it has, to step in and end this tragic mess that the government has created and send those girls home where they belong?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I have made the position very clear. There is very, very little room for anyone to act, given the context of the law. The right-wing mantra emanating from the opposition benches is, "When you don't like the decision, unduly interfere in a legitimate process," which we refuse to do. But we are trying to find a solution in the context of that law.
FAIR SHARE PROGRAM AND
REVENUE TO NORTHEAST COMMUNITIES
J. Weisgerber: My question is to the Minister of Finance. While soaring natural gas prices are becoming a burden for consumers, they're also a boon for provincial coffers and for northeastern British Columbia. The Fair Share program was designed to compensate municipal governments in the northeast who provide services to the industry but who are unable to tax them.
Given that provincial revenues are up from a previous high of $360 million in 1998 to a whopping $660 million today, has the minister decided to share this windfall and increase Fair Share payments to communities in the northeast?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The Fair Share program is something that we're very pleased to have implemented, from this side of the House. We think it does give communities in the northeast a chance to get some ability to increase their municipal infrastructure from industry that operates beyond their boundaries. I must say that we're pleased to have brought it in, because the government that that member was part of ignored the northeast and refused to do this for decades. This is a good program. It serves the northeast well, and I think it will in the future too.
The Speaker: The hon. member for Peace River South has a supplemental question.
J. Weisgerber: I think I'll have a supplemental for the Minister of Municipal Affairs, given the touchy nature of the Minister of Finance today.
[ Page 16494 ]
Industry experts are predicting that as many as 1,300 wells will be drilled in the northeast this year. That's more than twice as many as were drilled in 1998, the highest year previously -- 652. As the members know, I've given the government credit on many occasions for doing a good job with the gas and oil industry.
While the benefits to the local economy are substantial, so are the demands on local government. Will the minister agree -- the Minister of Municipal Affairs -- that municipal governments deserve a fair share of the money coming out of that revenue to the province? And will the minister in fact agree to renegotiate the Fair Share agreement in view of this unexpected windfall in provincial revenues?
Hon. P. Ramsey: We're always interested in working with municipalities to enhance infrastructure. The Minister of Municipal Affairs will be announcing cost-shared municipal works this weekend and in coming weeks.
I must say, though, that we have also invested considerable infrastructure in the northeast to make sure that what the members rightly praises as this government's initiatives to enhance the oil and gas industry in the province continue. We have announced a five-year program to invest some $100 million in roads in the oil and gas patch of northeast B.C. to make sure that what he describes appropriately as record levels of exploration continue and that the people of the northeast and the people of the province benefit from that economic activity.
ICBC RULES FOR
SMALL AUTOBODY REPAIR SHOPS
G. Plant: A year ago ICBC tried to impose all sorts of goofy rules on small autoglass shops which regulated everything right down to the toilet paper. Well, Mr. Speaker, ICBC is at it again. This time they're targeting small autobody shops with the same sorts of rules, ordering these small businesses to, for example, change the outside colour of the building from beige to white, dust the blinds in the office, replace the lino on the office floor with ceramic tile and put customer signs in a frame.
Can the minister tell these small autobody shops: why does ICBC all of a sudden have neat police harassing them with threats to strip them of their accreditation if they don't follow their onerous rules?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Given that the last time the Liberal opposition raised this matter around autoglass shops and misrepresented the facts completely, I think it important that I actually take the question on notice so the real facts are demonstrated.
The Speaker: The hon. member for Richmond-Steveston has a new question.
G. Plant: I do, Mr. Speaker. Penney King is an individual who has been in business for over 25 years, running five autobody shops in the Vancouver area. When the c.a.r. shop accreditation program that the minister apparently doesn't know anything about was implemented four years ago, Mr. King spent $125,000 to bring his shops up to ICBC standards. But now ICBC is threatening to pull the accreditation from his Pender Street shop because the exterior had been tagged with graffiti when ICBC's neat police showed up.
Can the minister also go to the trouble of telling Mr. King: where does ICBC get off threatening someone's livelihood just because they don't clean their graffiti fast enough for them?
M. de Jong: On the one hand, we've got ICBC threatening to pull accreditation from small shops because there's dust on the blinds and the toilet paper is in the wrong place and there's graffiti on the walls. And when you go ICBC's Victoria claim centre, guess what you find: graffiti.
G. Farrell-Collins: But it's government-sanctioned graffiti.
M. de Jong: Who'd have thunk it? But as my friend points out, it's government-sanctioned graffiti, so it must be okay.
Mr. Speaker, the question is this: doesn't the minister see a certain degree of hypocrisy in the fact that ICBC has targeted these small autobody repair shops and is threatening to pull their accreditation for having graffiti on the walls at the same time that ICBC is confronted by exactly the same problem?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Hon. Speaker, I took the previous question on notice. In fact, if anything, the member for Matsqui has detracted from the previous question by being so silly. But I promise to have all of these available as soon as possible and certainly in estimates as well.
M. de Jong: Let's try a different minister, who surely would be aware of something that is having this kind of impact on small business. Let's try the Small Business minister.
These autobody repair shops, these owners of these small shops, are
The Speaker: Is this a new question, member?
M. de Jong: It's not only a new question, Mr. Speaker; it's to a new minister. And if members of the government have so little confidence in his ability to answer, then I guess maybe I won't ask the question.
The Speaker: Perhaps the member could state his question.
M. de Jong: The question is this: where was
The Speaker: I'll ask the Minister of Small Business to give a short answer, please.
Hon. I. Waddell: The minister responsible for ICBC has already said that she would take this on notice and look at it and get the facts straight.
[ Page 16495 ]
Now, I'll put on my Culture hat, and I'll go down as Minister of Culture and check out the graffiti and make sure it's okay. The business lens is doing very well, and there's no dust on it. Small business is growing the fastest in B.C. -- the fastest growth in the country -- mainly through policies of this government.
The Speaker: The bell ends question period.
Hon. D. Lovick: In Committee A, I call Committee of Supply, the estimates of the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. In this chamber, I call committee stage of Bill 20.
MOTOR VEHICLE AMENDMENT ACT, 2000
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 20; T. Stevenson in the chair.
On section 1.
D. Jarvis: I wonder if the minister could
For example, in section 1 it says that motor-assisted cycles are excluded from the definitions of motor vehicle and vehicle. Again, in section 2 it says the same thing, and in section 5 and section 6 and section 7. But in section 8 it says that they're included in the waste management end of it. I wonder if you could clarify to me why that is in there.
Hon. J. MacPhail: That's in order to take care of a question that I think was raised by the opposition about concern around the two-stroke engine. It's included under the Waste Management Act in order to allow us to regulate the emissions of the engine.
D. Jarvis: Sorry, I'm not going to be five minutes; I'm going to be a little longer. That's the way we're going.
There again, it's a matter of interpretation, and during the second reading we did bring up the two-stroke engine, etc. But it was more or less said to us that there wasn't going to be any motor per se where you'd have a combustible engine or anything like that involved in this situation -- these cycles. This was dealing ostensibly with a type of so-called motor that could be tied to the vehicle -- electric -- and that would work off the wheels of the bicycle as you pedal them along the street. So why would that be involved in the waste management end of it?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The nature of the engine will be determined by regulation. We're going to have public consultation on the regulations. It's certainly our government's intent to have a zero-emission engine. In the event, though -- and I certainly hope public consultation will not lead to this point -- that there is some engine that the public wishes that has emission, we want to make sure that that engine is governed by the Waste Management Act. But the intent is clearly to go to zero emission.
D. Jarvis: That leaves it pretty well quite open in the event that
Again, in section 1 the definition of motor vehicle in the Motor Vehicle Act is straightforward, but it does not include a motor-assisted cycle. The cycle that is in the Motor Vehicle Act, the description of a cycle, is somewhat different from what is more or less laid out here with regards to a vehicle having pedals and hand cranks, etc., attached to it.
In the Motor Vehicle Act, the cycle means, "a device having any number of wheels that is propelled by human power and on which a person may ride, but does not include a skate board, roller skates
Hon. J. MacPhail: The definition of motor assisted cycle clearly states that it has to have pedals or hand cranks that are attached and that will be propelled by human power. That, by definition, excludes skateboards, etc. It's quite clear.
D. Symons: There seems to be a hole in here which the previous member, I think, alluded to, and that's the fact that in the Motor Vehicle Act, we have things that are not human powered. They're engines or motors. As far as a motor vehicle is concerned, then we have the cycle definition which just talks about a wheeled thing that's humanly propelled. You've introduced now an intermediate stage here where we have a motor-assisted cycle, which is something that has a crank on it and can be assisted by an engine or a motor of some sort. We're getting down to this business of going back to the cycle. We can now have a scooter that fits the definition of cycle; it's wheeled. I'll read the definition. The minister is shaking her head no.
I'll read the definition of cycle -- on cycle; not on your motor-assisted cycle, just on cycle itself. In the act, part 3, section 119, it says: "
Introduced recently on the market, though, are little scooters of the type that you go along and push with your foot and scoot along. They fit the definition of cycle. As soon as you put a motor on it, where does that fall in here now? It isn't covered anywhere in the act, from what I understand. Once you've got a motor on it, it doesn't fit under cycle. Because it doesn't have a hand crank or a foot crank or pedals on it, it doesn't fit under your motor-assisted cycle. It is a cycle with a motor on it, but it's not a motor-assisted cycle, and no longer is it a cycle. Where do those vehicles, or those implements, now appear? How are they going to be covered?
Hon. J. MacPhail: If the vehicle that the member describes, a scooter, has a motor put on it, it's a vehicle and is subject to the regulations under the Motor Vehicle Act as a vehicle. There is no hole. This clearly states that a motor-assisted cycle -- and we did this deliberately, because we're
[ Page 16496 ]
adding a motor but we want it to be treated as a cycle -- has to have pedals or hand cranks and has to be propelled by human power.
D. Symons: Then I'm to understand -- because I saw somebody on the street with one of these very small aluminum frames; I suspect they are very light -- that they are going to have to be registered as a motor vehicle and carry through the whole thing? There are going to be an awful lot of people out there who are going to be quite surprised at that.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes, the member is correct.
Sections 1 and 2 approved.
On section 3.
D. Jarvis: I'd just like some clarification on the aspect of the designation here when it says a motor assisted cycle on a designated path or way. Are they going to be allowed to operate on
Hon. J. MacPhail: The motor-assisted cycle will be treated exactly the same as a cycle, and the rules and regulations governing where they can work are by municipal bylaw.
Section 3 approved.
On section 4.
D. Symons: I just have one concern about section 4 and it's part 3 of section 4, where it says, "The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia may make regulations respecting motor assisted cycles including, without limitation, regulations prescribing
The argument here is: why aren't we given more specifics so that we know exactly what sort of vehicle
Hon. J. MacPhail: The regulations determining the size of the wheels, the nature of the motor, and the speed at which this motor-assisted cycle will be able to go all are encompassed in the intent that it is to be the same as a bicycle -- the normal powers of a bicycle. It will be within that context that public consultation will occur, and I'd be very happy to put the members of the opposition as part of the public consultation.
D. Symons: It's just my concern, really, that since you're bringing in an act, and you haven't really quite decided how this act is going to apply -- what the size of the wheels will be or the power of the motor and all the rest -- it would have been nice if you had thought the whole thing through first, rather than running an act through quickly and then later on saying: "Now we'll figure out what we mean by the act that we passed." So that was the concern I had.
I don't suppose the minister will want to respond to that, but I think that's really the nub of the problem here. We're talking about something where it's unclear what the end product is going to be, and you're saying: "Well, we'll work it out later on." Well, then why not work it out first, so we can see the whole thing, rather than looking at a portion now, rushing it through prior to understanding, even yourselves, what the outcome is going to be?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Well, hon. Chair, it's unfortunate that the Liberal opposition is so out of touch on this issue, because there has been lots of public input on this. The concept is very clear -- that it's to have all the regulations, have the motor-assisted cycle, within the context of the regular powers of a bicycle. But there's lots of interest, as well. I don't think that there's anything wrong, whatsoever in the world, with this breakthrough legislation and having public consultation on how we achieve that important goal. Clearly there's an offer in the spirit of cooperation to involve the Liberal opposition in that. And I would really hope that they would take us up on it.
D. Symons: I thank the minister very much for that. I have no problem with that at all. In fact, I rather think it's a good act, to be honest with you. But what I'm saying is that if you're willing to go out and consult, the usual process is that before we're getting to this stage of something, the consultation has been done. Then you can design the act related to the consultation that you've done.
Right now, we seem to be doing the act first, and we'll consult after to find out what exactly those regulations would be. I would have thought that all those other things would have happened first. I haven't really seen, at least not in my community, any notices of public consultation relating to motor-assisted cycles at all. So I think the idea of where the input's coming from -- from the biking associations, I suspect. That may be one of them, but you certainly haven't gone out to the general public on this issue. And I think, from what you said a few minutes ago, there are going to be quite a number of people out there who have bought these motorized scooters who are now going to find that they're part of the Motor Vehicle Act and considered a motor vehicle.
So we've learned one thing here today. But it certainly would have been nice, I think, if you had done the consultation and put together the idea of the act, based on those consultations, rather than the other way around, where you've got the act, and now you're going to consult about it to see what the regs will be to go with it.
D. Jarvis: Just to conclude what the member for Richmond Centre was saying, we are quizzing the minister on this
[ Page 16497 ]
bill only because so often this government has brought forward bills, and then the next year we've had to come back with amendments to amend the amendments. And in some subjects, we're now in our second and third readings in the past few years with this new government.
But I just wondered
She said that the bicycle shops are just waiting for this to come on, because they have a market for it. If it comes on that we would be seeing a lot of the teenagers using this mode of transportation
Hon. J. MacPhail: The act restricts the use of a motor-assisted vehicle to someone who is 16 years or older. And of course, there is no change to how one operates a bicycle with this legislation. It's up to the municipality.
D. Jarvis: I appreciate the fact that you have to be 16 or over -- the same with operating a motor vehicle. But this is one way to get more power into a bicycle and move along, whether it be for delivery purposes -- maybe they're working for a local grocery store -- or something in that vein. There is the potential down there, so is there any question that there may be something in the rules and regulations to make a 16-year-old responsible for their actions with a vehicle like this, roaring down the road -- thousands of people and little old grannies using it as well?
Hon. J. MacPhail: All of those factors have been taken into account in great detail by the executive council of government. In fact, after great deliberation we know that the rule that will guide this legislation is that the motor will assist only to the normal speed of a bicycle. The rules of the road that apply to bicycles will be absolutely enforced on this motor-assisted cycle as well.
D. Symons: Just two clarifications. I think they're included -- but just to make sure that that is the case. Particularly elderly people find that tricycles sometimes suit -- a big one, not a child tricycle; a big one with regular bicycle wheels at the back
The other one is that we find, particularly around Victoria, a lot of motor scooters. The minister said earlier that scooters now come under the definition of motor vehicle. So these motor scooters the elderly use -- are they supposed to have a license plate on the back and be licensed through the motor vehicle branch?
Hon. J. MacPhail: To the latter point, nothing has changed with the application of law to the scooter chairs; the rules remain the same on those. And a motor-assisted cycle does include an adult's tricycle.
Sections 4 to 9 inclusive approved.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Bill 20, Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2000, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. D. Lovick: I now call second reading of Bill 19.
INCOME TAX AMENDMENT ACT, 2000
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'm very pleased to rise today in second reading debate on Bill 19, the Income Tax Amendment Act, 2000. Bill 19 implements significant tax cuts for all British Columbia taxpayers. It implements a made-in-B.C. income tax system. This new tax system for British Columbia gives the government choices. This government chose to use the new tax system to provide tax cuts for all British Columbia taxpayers.
Bill 19 implements the tax cut plan announced in Budget 2000. The tax cuts consist of increases to the basic and spousal credits, reductions in the rate of tax payable across the middle-income range and increases to the income levels at which higher rates of tax apply.
The amendments in Bill 19 provide a new structure for provincial personal income tax. Starting with the 2000 tax year, British Columbia's personal income tax will be calculated on the basis of taxable income, rather than on the basis of federal tax. Making this change will make the province's tax structure much more clear to taxpayers.
As part of this new tax system the bill defines a set of non-refundable credits to reduce B.C. taxes. The credits include a basic credit, spousal, age, disability, education, charitable donations and medical expenses credits. These and other credits will be available to taxpayers on the same basis as the equivalent federal credits. However, under our new tax system, British Columbia will set the level of support for its own credits. And as such, the amendments include provisions to end bracket creep by indexing most of the non-refundable credits to inflation, starting with the 2001 taxation year.
Now, I'm sure the opposition will note and point out that the indexing does not apply to basic and spousal credits for 2001. The reason is clear: the province is going to set those credits at higher levels than would have been required under indexing. Under this new tax system, British Columbians will continue to file a single federal-provincial tax return. I know there's always a concern about additional burdens on taxpayers of filling out forms. I believe that while the calculation of provincial tax will be different, it will not be terribly complex. We will continue to have, in British Columbia, the bene-
[ Page 16498 ]
fits of a single tax administration system for both federal and provincial income tax and a consistent definition of taxable income in both federal and provincial income tax schemes.
Bill 19 also includes a number of technical measures that the federal government required provinces to implement if they wished to move to tax on income. I would say for the chamber that we are one of, I think, five provinces that are moving to implement tax on income in the year 2000. The remainder of the provinces will be moving to tax on income in the year 2001. The province of Quebec, of course, already has its own income taxation system.
The technical measures that the federal government has required include a minimum tax calculation, an overseas employment tax credit, taxation of income earned in more than one province, taxation of trusts at the top marginal rate, tax on split income calculated at the top marginal rate and two others: adjustments to reduce taxes for persons who receive lump sum pension payments and inclusion of the federal term "common-law partner" in measures that apply to spouses.
Hon. Speaker, with the amendments in Bill 19, the rates of provincial tax levied on income, as well as provincial support through non-refundable credits, will be transparent. Everybody will be able to see exactly what percentage they're paying in tax on certain income levels. In addition, the new tax structure will allow the income tax system to better reflect provincial priorities.
The tax cuts in Bill 19 will be of particular benefit to low- and middle-income earners. By the end of next year -- by the end of the taxation year 2001 -- 100,000 British Columbians will no longer pay any provincial income tax. A single-income family with $45,000 annual income will pay 10 percent less in provincial income tax. The tax cut plan will reduce personal income taxes by $310 million in the 2001 tax year. If we include not only the tax cuts in this bill but tax cuts in personal income that have been implemented by this government since 1996, personal income taxes will have been reduced by $750 million annually -- about a 13 percent reduction in tax.
There's been much debate, and I suspect we'll hear it in the chamber today, about the level of taxation in British Columbia compared to other provinces. And there are some who take the view that B.C. is a high tax jurisdiction. However, I would ask the chamber to consider the facts. What's the cut-off we want? Well, let's take a very high one. If we take $90,000 in personal income, over 98 percent of British Columbia tax filers have an annual taxable income under $90,000. That's a pretty high income level.
Estimates published by a major accountancy firm, showing personal income taxes for provinces for the 1999 tax year at various levels of taxable income, show that at $30,000, British Columbia taxes are the third-lowest in Canada. This is income taxes, hon. Speaker. At $60,000, British Columbia taxes are the third-lowest. And -- wait for it -- yes, at $90,000, British Columbia personal income taxes are the third-lowest in our country.
The personal income tax burden in B.C. is among the lowest in Canada, and the tax cuts introduced by Bill 19 will mean that the vast majority of British Columbians will continue to enjoy very competitive levels of personal income taxes. I would also mention that the government is following through on our commitment to reduce the top marginal rate paid by the highest-income earners, and that's done in Bill 19.
In closing, I'd point out two big purposes of this bill. The amendments in Bill 19 make the rates of tax clear, provide focused tax cuts and give British Columbians greater control over their own tax system. I'm very pleased to now move second reading of Bill 19.
I. Chong: I am pleased to rise and offer second reading comments on Bill 19, the Income Tax Amendment Act, 2000.
I note that Bill 19 deals specifically with Budget 2000 but, unfortunately, has apparently ignored any promised changes for the 2001 taxation year. It would appear that there is no long-term outlook that seems to be available with this legislation, and I suppose that's because this government's not sure whether they'll be able to be around when that happens, if an election were to be called tomorrow.
Hon. Speaker, the bill is rather administrative, in that it does merely implement those measures introduced in Budget 2000. I anticipate that members on this side of the House will allow it to pass, because that is effectively what this legislation is all about. However, that's not to say that we do in fact support Budget 2000. Quite the contrary; when we were debating the budget speech earlier this year, all of us here disagreed that this government was going to produce yet another deficit. It was producing its ninth consecutive deficit.
I would like to speak about that for a moment, because we are dealing with a piece of legislation that incorporates our budget. If we were to compare this legislation to another province
In Saskatchewan they have introduced seven consecutive balanced budgets, whereas we've had nine consecutive deficit budgets. In fact, in Saskatchewan in the year '99-2000 they were able to report a surplus of $53.1 million. Sad to say, here in British Columbia we weren't able to do so. Also in Saskatchewan, for the year 2000-01 they're forecasting a surplus of $9.4 million. I think this province is definitely nowhere near any kind of a surplus. So those are some stark differences between our two provinces.
I do have to say, though, that the tax cuts introduced in Bill 19 are obvious because of Budget 2000. But those tax cuts are minor. At least what we do see in this legislation is that this government is not attempting to claw back those tax reductions that the federal government has provided. That was certainly a worry amongst many taxpayers -- that this government would scoop up that tax break that the federal government was passing down. So the bill is supportable in its transparency, strangely enough, because it offers the outlook that in fact there is no clawback there.
I'm also appreciative that the bill does ensure that the tax credits follow the federal system, because the last thing we want to do is create more complexity in the preparation of one's personal income tax return. All too often we hear that people are having to seek out tax preparers or accountants to prepare their tax returns -- not that I mind, because they also have to have a business. However, the average citizen should be able to prepare their tax returns with some ease, and the fact that this legislation allows for those tax credits to mirror those of our federal counterparts is supportable.
[ Page 16499 ]
I'm also glad to hear the minister mention that there will be one single federal-provincial return, because to do otherwise would create more paperwork and would create more of a burden on small businesses and would also create more of a burden on households. However, I am very cautious about being overly optimistic, because it still remains to be seen what kind of calculation, what kind of schedule, will be introduced to reconcile some of the tax credits that this government wishes to target. There in fact needs to be consistency with the definition and the determination of taxable income. And provided that definition and that determination is easily understood, then taxpayers in this province will more than likely be supportive of these changes.
But again, hon. Speaker, back to the budget and back to the comparisons. What we also see in Bill 19 is that there are five levels of taxation being proposed here, as opposed to three levels of taxation. I hope this is not an upward trend, hon. Speaker, because back in the 1980s -- pre-1988, I believe -- the federal government moved to a system where taxes were calculated based on three levels. Not everybody agreed with it, but it made it simpler, and it made it a bit more transparent for tax-filing purposes. I see that other provinces, as they're moving along this way of a new tax structure, a new tax system, are also looking at three levels of taxation, making it easier for taxpayers to file.
But here in this change in Bill 19 we see that there are five levels of taxable income, and that causes one to ask questions. The question I have is: why are there so many different levels? I would have to surmise that part of the reason we have those extra levels is because we are not yet at the stage where B.C. is able to make any movement towards the goal of reduction of surtaxes.
Surtaxes, hon. Speaker, were introduced at the federal level, and they have been introduced at the provincial level at various stages over the years. They've always been introduced under the auspices of being targeted for a specific purpose. I think I recall, back in the late eighties or early nineties, that here in British Columbia we had a health surtax that was added onto our provincial tax base. It very quickly got included in the basic rate of tax so that suddenly the surtax disappeared.
At the federal level the same thing was done: surtaxes were there, designed to deal with debt reduction. And as the federal government is moving towards that, because they're able to move towards their goal of debt reduction, we see those things being lifted. Similarly, in Saskatchewan we see that they're targeting debt reduction and also are able to or intend to reduce a number of surtaxes.
But I don't see that here in Bill 19; I don't see that there's that opportunity.
I hope the minister will look at that and perhaps provide, I guess, consultation as to how we can move towards that, because debt reduction is clearly on the minds of the average taxpayer, the average citizen. Many people are concerned that the doubling of the provincial debt here has created much of the crisis that we have in our health care and our education system. We all know that debt servicing is one of the largest costs, and that eats away at the very basic necessities of protection of health care and of education.
The Minister of Finance, I also noted, quoted a provincial tax cut decrease. He relayed it in terms of a percentage, 10 percent of the provincial tax that was otherwise payable. I wish, perhaps, that he had actually given us a dollar figure. Maybe the members who are going to respond will provide that dollar figure. That would certainly be helpful, because I think the average family who is looking at a tax reduction would like to know just exactly how many dollars that translates into.
You know, 10 percent
So in the analysis the Minister of Finance has provided through his piece of legislation, perhaps he should have provided the amount of dollars that would be the relief that families would be seeing, because then we could actually compare it to how that relates to the increases that have happened over the past number of years that this government has raised taxes. If we go back to 1991, I think we will see that, systematically, those increases will then more than make up for the tax break that they're now getting. That's one of the reasons why it has been so difficult supporting any of the budgets that this government has brought forward in those nine years. Tax increases seem to be prevalent in this administration, although their efforts to reduce taxes are there now because every other province is moving in that direction, as are the federal government.
So, hon. Speaker, clearly there isn't a lot in this piece of legislation other than the fact that it implements the changes in the budget speech 2000. It is supportable on that basis. It's supportable because of its transparency, and I will certainly give the government that bit of credit, I suppose, if I have to.
I also want to note that with this transparency, this government is also going to have to see that we will be able to monitor any upward trends, as well as any downward trends. I hope that they will not change this piece of legislation to disguise, in any way, any possible upward trends that are there. We will be looking at tax rates on a year-to-year basis if this legislation is implemented in this way. We will also be looking to see how soon this government can move towards a three-level system, as other provinces are doing -- because we will still be compared to those other provinces.
We will see whether, in so moving, it's to reduce or remove or eliminate some of the surtaxes that British Columbians have felt for such a long time. If they're not able to do that, then I'm sure that the taxpayers of this province will continue to cry out for yet more tax breaks. In the end, we will have to see whether this piece of legislation creates more paperwork or is more of a regulatory problem for taxpayers. Indeed, I hope not, but that remains to be seen. And with that, I will conclude my comments.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: I'd just like to take a few minutes to address this bill. I note that it sounds, from the remarks of the member of the opposition who just spoke, as though the opposition will be supporting this bill and raising a lot of what-ifs, but basically the bill is sound, and the opposition will be supporting it. I think that's good news. It suggests that with the level of agreement we have in the House, we must be on the right track with this bill.
[ Page 16500 ]
There are three things I want to touch upon briefly in my remarks about this bill and about tax policy generally. One is about our ability. This is not just about our ability but, as a result of various provincial agreements with the federal government, about the ability of various provinces to set their own tax policy, which is a key factor in setting public policy generally. Secondly, I'd like to address, briefly, the notion of a flat tax, because that's clearly one public tax policy option that's available to provincial governments now. It's certainly one being, I think, not only contemplated but in fact promised in Alberta. Finally, I'll just touch upon the relative tax burden and what this does vis-à-vis the relative tax burden across the country in terms of the personal income taxes levied by provincial governments.
Right now I think it's important to know, for the record, that with this bill, by 2001 the provincial portion of income taxes will be 8.4 percent of taxable income for those making under $30,000 per year. For those between $30,000 and $60,000, 11.9 percent will be the provincial rate. For those between $60,000 and $70,000, it will be 16.7 percent; between $70,000 and $85, 000, it will be 18.7 percent; and for those over $85,000, it will be 19.7 percent.
It's also worth noting that what this bill does is raise the basic personal exemption level from approximately $6,800 in 1999 so that two years later, in 2001, it will be $8,000. So that, I believe, relates to the point that the Minister of Finance made a few moments ago -- that there are somewhere on the order of 100,000 British Columbians who won't have to pay income tax. So that increases that number significantly.
Now to touch upon the options that are available to a provincial government in these circumstances -- being able to set its own income tax policy. We have chosen to maintain what we call a progressive income tax system, where people pay higher rates at higher income levels, as I've just indicated. In Alberta they're looking at another option, which is to go the flat-tax route. I believe they're proposing a 10.5 percent flat tax.
I think it's important, first of all, to emphasize one point. I think there's something that's lost in the broader public debate that goes on around taxes and what Alberta's proposing. I think that there are some people who are actually under the impression that if they move to Alberta, they might pay 10.5 percent personal income tax. They have to understand, of course, that that's just the provincial portion of their income tax. Nothing changes with their federal portion. The advantages, of course, are greatest in a flat-tax system for those who are in higher income brackets. I think it's important when we look at something like a flat-tax option to look at the distribution of the impact of that kind of taxation.
I think the fundamental question is: who needs tax relief the most? Who is the most financially stressed, if we can put it in those terms? And I would argue that it's people at middle- and lower-income levels who face the greatest financial stress in their lives and need tax cuts the most. I'll speak for myself. As a cabinet minister, I make on the order of $109,000 per year. And I don't believe that I need a tax cut as much as a family of four living on $50,000 or $60,000 a year. In fact, I'd suggest that it's a little obscene for me to expect and to demand a much, much larger tax cut than that family gets. I think that's wrong, and I'm willing to pay my share.
I think it's important that we have a competitive tax regime. That means that we do have to bring the top marginal rate down. We are doing that, and that's reflected in this bill. But it's still important to make sure that we give the greatest tax break to those at lower-income and middle-income levels.
So because we want to avoid that form of inequity that is represented by a flat tax, which is what they're going to be doing in Alberta, we are maintaining tax brackets in this province, as I've outlined earlier. With the brackets, we ensure that if you're fortunate enough to have a higher income, you will pay a little bit more percentage-wise for that higher income. But at the end of the day, of course, you're still going to be much better off than being lower-income. Certainly I wouldn't elect to make $60,000 less than I do now simply because I pay higher taxes at this level than I do at $60,000 or $50,000 per year. As I say, the top marginal rate is coming down. That's a good thing. But it's not right to move right to a flat-tax system.
What we have here is a system that's provincially designed now, in this bill. It allows us, as with other provinces, to establish different priorities. What we reject is the Alberta approach, which is essentially a redistribution of tax burden. That's what it comes down to: a tax burden is being redistributed from higher-income people to lower-income people, in effect. And while it sounds very enticing and appealing -- as part of maybe a quick 30-second clip on TV or as part of an election slogan -- to say, "With a flat tax, everyone gets a break," the fact is that if you're a lower-income person, your break is an awful lot smaller than it is for a higher-income person. So it's a little bit misleading, I suggest -- that kind of campaigning and that kind of a promise.
Hon. Speaker, I wanted to touch, as well, upon the issue of relative tax levels. I want to address my comments primarily to Ontario and Alberta, but in light of the comments made by the member for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, I'll just make, as a slight aside
The fact is, if we hadn't done tax cuts since 1996, we would have seen a balanced budget by now.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: The member opposite says
An Hon. Member: Alberta
Hon. G. Bowbrick: The member says Saskatchewan has cut taxes. Yes, Saskatchewan has cut taxes, but their tax level still remains substantially higher than British Columbia. And at the end of the day, what matters is the overall tax burden and what people feel coming out of their pocket for everything. Taxes are a major issue; housing is a major issue; and other costs -- other major costs of living -- are major issues for people. What matters at the end of the day is the overall financial burden that they face, and taxes are an important part of that.
It's important to note that we already have in British Columbia amongst the lowest taxes in Canada. Ontario and
[ Page 16501 ]
Alberta, in some tax brackets
In the case of Ontario, there's a good reason for that. The Ontario government has chosen to off-load welfare services, for example, onto municipalities. In British Columbia, the welfare budget is roughly -- the figure may be a little off -- $1.4 billion a year. Well, if we were to simply dump that burden onto municipalities, as Ontario has, then there's room for another $1.4 billion worth of tax cuts.
That's pretty simple, but it's not, at the end of the day, something that's going to make a big difference to taxpayers. They pay for it, one way or another. That is, I suggest, just misleading for those politicians who go around talking about how they have lower taxes in Ontario. They do have slightly lower taxes in some of the tax brackets in Ontario, but the fact is that the overall tax burden isn't lower. It isn't lower, because if you take into account property taxes and other forms of levies and fees, it's very, very similar to British Columbia.
So I think it's worth noting this in my final remarks: the official opposition in this province makes a promise that if they were to form the government, we would have the lowest income taxes in Canada within 90 days.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: No? Well, perhaps they could advise me.
The Speaker: Through the Chair, please, members.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: I'm sorry, hon. Speaker, but they say that within 90 days, we'll have the lowest taxes in Canada.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: I will go and clarify on that.
But my point is this: if, in fact, that is the case -- if that's the commitment they're making -- if we already have amongst the lowest taxes in Canada, I suggest that what would happen is that people might wake up after 90 days and go: "Hey, wait a minute. There's not much difference in terms of my tax burden. There's not much difference at all." But I congratulate the opposition on the success of their spin in the last several years in convincing British Columbians that they face a horrendously high tax burden, when in fact, that's not borne out by the statistics. In the cold, hard statistics, it is not borne out.
So we've made a decision here to lower taxes. We've decided not to go the route that Alberta has and move to a flat tax, because it redistributes the overall tax burden from higher-income people to lower-income people as a percentage of what these groups pay. That's wrong. By the same token, though, this bill is bringing taxes down, and it's ensuring that we have a tax regime that's competitive with any other province in this country. With that, I'll conclude my remarks.
Hon. J. Pullinger: I'm pleased to stand in my place and speak in favour of this legislation today.
When I came in this morning and picked up the Globe and Mail, there were two front-page stories that I think deserve mention in this context. One was entitled, "Average Family Enjoying Best Income in a Decade," and the other one was entitled: "Canada Ranks High in Child Poverty."
When you read the first story -- "Average Family Enjoying Best Income in a Decade" -- what you discover is that that's one of those averages where we're all lumped together, and if you divide the number of people by the income, gee, it looks really good. But at the end of the day, if you read that article carefully, what it says is that most of that increase went to the top 20 percent, and the people on the lower end of the scale in this country lost ground. That's why the second story, about child poverty in this country, is understandable -- not defensible, but understandable.
I read into the record in my estimates the deplorable position that Canada is in terms of the income gap between the highest earners and the lowest earners. We are behind large numbers of countries, some of them that people would assume are developing countries and therefore are worse off. But Canada is worse. We're seeing reports in this country that in terms of poverty and child poverty, Canada is slipping every year.
I would offer, in the context of this debate about taxes, that the rhetoric and, quite frankly, some of the nonsense, the ideology, that comes in a very unified voice from the right in this country, whether it's the Reform Party, the Socred Party -- what's left of it -- the Liberals across the way that are in fact the same people exactly as the Socreds
I'm waiting for them to say, "If you cut taxes, it'll fix your broken leg," because that must be next on the list of impossible things that they are saying tax cuts will fix. They believe, or they're trying to make the public believe, that tax cuts are a panacea; that they will fix everything that was ever wrong.
The problem is this: what the members opposite are doing is confusing a market economy, which is about taxes and business and all those good things which we support on this side -- a strong market economy
I think the front page of the Globe and Mail makes the point very clearly. And I'm glad that we again are doing something different in British Columbia in this legislation. One, we're delinking our taxes from the federal system. And what that does is demonstrate that if you compare it to the federal government's tax levels, ours are very low by comparison. No question; they are far lower than they appear if you link them to the federal tax levels. Secondly, we're retain
[ Page 16502 ]
ing a far more progressive system. I just heard the member opposite, from Oak Bay, a wealthy riding, saying that we should flatten the tax system. Of course, that's what Alberta's doing; they've gone to a flatter system. That's what successive free enterprise governments, federally, have done -- flatten the tax system. I'm sure that's what Ontario is doing. And in fact Alberta has said they're going to a flat tax. I suspect the members opposite would want to go to a flat tax.
We're saying something different. We're saying that we should have a broader range of taxes -- because guess what. When you start to flatten the taxes, you're going to do one of two things. Either you're going to give a massive tax break at the top, to flatten the brackets, or you're going to make people on the bottom pay more, or both. And I would offer, hon. Speaker, that that's one of the dynamics behind the front-page stories in the Globe and Mail today.
For 20 years we've been cutting taxes in this country, mostly at the top. We have seen the corporate taxes go from a significant portion of the tax base that supports all the programs that we deliver to ourselves in this country -- a significant portion -- down to something like 5 percent, a massive tax break at the top. We have seen tax breaks for the highest earners in this country, massive tax breaks. It is undermining our tax base, which in turn is undermining our social programs and our ability to function as a society.
We have obscene poverty in one of the richest nations in the world. I am pleased that we're delinking our tax system in this legislation, because then we can keep it progressive. We can keep it on that social contract that says you pay according to ability and you receive according to need. We're much more able to do that in British Columbia.
Hon. Speaker, like all of my colleagues on this side of the House, I agree that individuals should have a tax break. That's why we have cut something in the neighbourhood of $750 million in taxes since 1995, mostly for middle- and low-income earners. In this legislation there are 100,000 more British Columbians who will pay no income tax. I would suggest the public compare that to the members opposite, who are suggesting bigger breaks for the highest-income earners.
We are cutting taxes for middle-income British Columbians as well. But you know, even though we have cut $750 million
Secondly, if you make that kind of tax cut, it is a myth that that will somehow come back and then everything will be fine. The reality is that there are shelters for working people in Alberta because they don't build social housing anymore. The reality is that this province is one of the few -- there are two, actually -- that are continuing to build social housing. We have a crisis in homelessness in most of this country because of those kinds of cuts. In B.C. we have a problem; in other provinces there is a crisis.
Similarly, we see Alberta walking down the U.S.-style, two-tiered health care road. What you do is squeeze the box, and when it becomes untenable and people are desperate for a solution, then they go to the model -- the ideology that the members opposite want, which is to use the market system to shape society.
We see in Ontario that they're privatizing post-secondary education. It is moving out of the reach of most average Canadians in Ontario and Alberta. In fact, British Columbia is the only province where it's getting easier and less expensive to get post-secondary education, the only province where the numbers of people attending post-secondary education are increasing. The other ones are shutting it down based on ideology, not on any demonstration that it works.
In British Columbia we're moving to a universal child care system for all our kids, because it serves our kids well, because it saves money at the end of the day and because it supports a modern economy and modern families. The priority of members opposite is a tax cut, mostly for high-income people and big business. In Ontario and Alberta, notably, they cut child care budgets to pay for their big tax cut.
So what we have here, I think, is the essence of the differences between the left and the right, or progressive government and regressive government, based on ideology that we see opposite. We see a model where they really believe that the market system should run everything. It should run society, it should run communities, it should run
On this side we accept the market system for the markets. We accept that a free market system has created goods faster than any other system. We accept that; we support it. In fact, we have the second-lowest small business tax in the country. We have made targeted tax cuts to film. We've supported tourism in a range of ways, including directing taxes back into the tourism industry, which you could argue in the context of taxes, if you like.
We have done a number of things. The result has been pretty spectacular. We have a 19-year low in unemployment. We've led the country in small business growth for most of this decade and overall for this decade. We continue to have success in tourism -- unprecedented success. We've gone from a $4 billion to a $9 billion industry. We've become number one in Canada in terms of film, to the point where it's starting to have a reaction in California. They're worried about the dramatic growth in B.C.'s film industry. We're the third biggest in North America.
Targeted tax cuts for a social return make sense, and that's what we've done. But to have the kind of across-the-board tax cuts, as the members opposite are arguing for, doesn't make sense unless we as a society are willing to give up everything that makes our country as good as it has been. And we're slipping dramatically because of the agenda of the members opposite. That is widening the gap between the highest-income earners and the lowest-income earners.
It's eroding our ability to support social programs. We see private post-secondary in Ontario; we see private health care coming in Alberta; we see working people in shelters in Calgary; we see a reduction in services of all kinds to low-income people. In British Columbia we're moving the other way, with things like the B.C. family bonus, which provides
[ Page 16503 ]
up to $105 per child per month to about half of the families in the province. Again, we see in this tax bill that we are cutting taxes, eliminating taxes for 100,000 taxpayers at the lowest end of the scale.
There is a clear difference. And I would argue that by taking a balanced approach, as we have on this side, by not rushing to the altar of the marketplace, as the members opposite would have us do, to put everything on it -- health care, education, child care, you name it
Instead, balancing environmental concerns and the need for a clean and healthy environment with the need to build communities, to have equality for women, to have inclusion of first nations and to settle their outstanding issues, to try to close the wage gap and the poverty gap that's growing in this country and by doing targeted tax cuts where there is a return for the people of B.C. in places like film and high-tech and for various good things that come back to the people of British Columbia
By taking that approach, we have kept the second-lowest tax regime in the entire country overall -- contrary to what the members opposite continue to tell the public. We have one of the highest credit ratings in Canada -- contrary to what the members opposite tell the public. And we have that, based on the fact that our debt-servicing costs are low and our per-capita debt is so low. It's one of the lowest in the country, and we have had our credit rating confirmed because our debt-servicing and our per-capita debt is low compared to other provinces.
So, you know, we're in good shape. We have a 19-year low in unemployment. We've led the country in small business growth. We have a 19-year low in terms of people who require income assistance. We are the only province that's increasing in terms of the number of people that are going to post-secondary education institutes. The new economy is booming. We're starting to support the green economy in a much bigger way, and that's starting to move in the same direction, as we've moved to sustainability and value-added in our resource economy.
There are concerns; there's no question. There are concerns. Everybody would say that. But they are not the kind of devastation we're seeing in Alberta and Ontario, based on the ideology, the mantra that we see coming from the members opposite again and again and again, which says: "Just cut taxes across the board, and everything will be fine."
I am very pleased to support this legislation. I'm glad we're delinking and making a more progressive system. I'm very pleased, as the Minister of Social Development and Economic Security, to support 100,000 low-income British Columbians falling completely from the rolls, and I'm glad to see that it's indexed to inflation, to make sure that British Columbians are protected from bracket creep.
This is a good piece of legislation. It adds to our agenda to protect low-income people and to close the income gap and make sure that we move forward in a balanced way. I applaud the minister for bringing it in, and I will be voting in support of it.
G. Farrell-Collins: I must say that was a breathtaking speech that the minister just gave. I think you're right. If you come from that viewpoint and that's the view one has of the last decade, then it was a good speech. The only problem is that it doesn't reflect reality.
The minister talked about the "devastation" that has taken place in Alberta and Ontario. Well, Alberta and Ontario have been booming. They are doing better than they ever have.
Hon. J. Pullinger: For some.
G. Farrell-Collins: The minister says "for some." I would argue that the article from the Globe and Mail shows that per-family income, take-home pay, has gone up right across this country -- except in British Columbia. Average family take-home pay in British Columbia in the last nine years has gone down by $1,800. That's $1,800 per family that has been lost.
I hear the minister -- and I heard all the members opposite -- talk about the taxes that they had cut, how wonderful it is that they've cut the taxes since 1996. I think she said $700 million worth of taxes. What she failed to mention was the $1.6 billion of new taxes that her government levied in the 1992 budget and 1993 budget that British Columbians have been paying each and every year since. The minister forgot about that part, I guess.
G. Farrell-Collins: Oh, she says: "Just the high end." I don't know, Mr. Speaker. She talks about how wonderful things are in British Columbia. I don't know if she has taken the time to venture outside the front door of her home and speak to her constituents, or to travel the province and talk to British Columbians in their homes and in their communities.
I would say that the devastation she talked about hasn't been taking place in Alberta and Ontario, but rather has been taking place here in British Columbia. Communities right across this province have experienced severe pain over the last decade. Individual British Columbians have been paying the price for the ideology of this minister that we just heard.
And it is an ideology. As I said, it was a good speech if you believe that ideology. The problem is that reality doesn't bear that out. In fact, this is the only province in the country, the only political party left in the country -- it sits on that side of the House -- that still believes in that ideology -- that you need big government, high taxes and big government programs. That's how you rescue people from themselves.
If you compare the success rate of British Columbia versus the other jurisdictions in Canada over the last decade, you will find that British Columbians' take-home pay has gone down. A significant chunk of that has been due to the tax increases that this government has brought in. If you look
Hon. J. Pullinger: Not true.
G. Farrell-Collins: The minister says it's not true. It is true -- it is true.
Let me give some examples, if I may, then, if members just can't break their mould and realize that there's a reason why British Columbia hasn't been doing as well as the rest of the country. Let me give them an example. I know the member for New Westminster stood up and talked about the Alberta tax rates and the B.C. income tax rates and how, really, you're a lot better off here in British Columbia. "You get taxed a lot lower," I think were the words that he said -- something to that effect.
[ Page 16504 ]
If you look at what's taking place here in British Columbia, if you look at the tax rates in B.C
If you look in British Columbia, on taxable income up to $30,335, B.C. families pay 8.4 percent. If you look in Alberta, people pay significantly less than that. The minister raised the issue of the flat tax of 10.5 percent that Albertans will be paying as of January 1 of this year which is higher than the 8.4 percent. He's correct. But if the minister wants to look at the real figures from Alberta, he'll find that in Alberta, they've actually raised the basic personal exemption to almost $13,000 -- $12,900. So if you have, for example, a family
Provincial sales tax. The minister says you have to look at all the taxes. There is no sales tax in Alberta. So that family in Alberta pays zero in provincial sales tax. In B.C. they pay $616; that's $616 in sales tax here in British Columbia.
Health care premium, which is something we pay here in B.C., and they pay in Alberta
You don't have to go that far. You don't have to go to the right-wing political parties, as the ministers like to classify them. You can go to Saskatchewan, and you can look at the government of Saskatchewan -- an NDP government and one that has a habit of getting re-elected. It actually has the support of the citizens in that province on a fairly regular basis. If you look at what they've done in Saskatchewan
So it's a little hard to have the members opposite stand up and paint this picture that somehow there's this national right-wing conspiracy to destroy society, as was raised by the member for -- I'm trying to think -- Cowichan-Ladysmith. I couldn't quite remember the name of her riding for a moment there. She stands up and makes it seem like there's been some big conspiracy about how British Columbia is the only province that's standing on the front line -- they're the only ones defending our society from this terrible conspiracy of right-wing politicians across the country, whether they be the NDP in Saskatchewan or the Tories in Alberta or the Liberals in Atlantic Canada.
G. Farrell-Collins: Or here, the minister says. Members of the opposition
Now, we may disagree -- and it's quite clear we do -- on what the best approach for government is. Members on this side believe that one does better
We believe that puts us on a much fairer footing with people across Canada and that by the end of our first term, British Columbians will experience the lowest personal income tax base rate of anywhere in Canada. Those are goals that we think are worthwhile setting. We think British Columbians do better when they retain more of their tax dollars in their pockets and can make decisions for themselves.
Now, I know members from the government side don't believe in that. I know, because of the record they've had in government of high taxes and ever-increasing tax rates, that they believe government makes those decisions better. But I think the verdict is in. The economy, if you look at how it has performed over the last nine years -- the depressed economy, not so much in the lower mainland, although it's not great in the lower mainland
When the government goes back to those traditional supporters looking for their support, whether it be financial support or support in an election campaign, they're finding that the support isn't there anymore. It's certainly not there at the level it was before.
That's because those people have been living the results of the ideology that we heard from the member for Cowichan-Ladysmith. It sounds good, it may stir the heart, it may rally the caucus, but it doesn't work. It hasn't worked. All one has to do is look at it. Everywhere it has been tried, it hasn't worked. It hasn't worked for the last nine years here in British Columbia. I don't think there are many people in this province who would say that the last nine years have been a success for our economy.
G. Farrell-Collins: Oh, I get it. Now the problem is that health care's been gutted because of us. We're sitting here in
[ Page 16505 ]
opposition for nine years, and we've been telling the government about the error of their way. And somehow, the downturn in British Columbia's economy is our fault. It's our fault. When logic doesn't work, when the facts of history don't reflect what you believe in your mind, the solution is to blame someone else. Blame those people that have been in opposition for nine years; don't blame yourselves. I understand how rose glasses work now.
The reality is that this government needs to look in the mirror. If they can ever reach up and clean the dust off that mirror and look at what they've done to this province over the last nine years and then ask their supporters -- don't even ask their opponents, ask their supporters -- whether they think they've done a good job
If the government can't go back to British Columbians and ask them that question and accept the answer, which is a profound no, then they'd better go back to themselves and ask themselves why it is that that's the case. The next step is to question whether their ideology has worked. I know it's tough to admit that the plan, the agenda that the government was elected with in 1991 and that they were re-elected with in 1996, hasn't worked. It hasn't worked and wasn't working. British Columbians know that. They feel that in their communities. You don't have to talk just about economic factors; you can look at health care.
The Minister of Finance, who has represented Prince George and, for some of that last nine years, was the Minister of Health -- for years and years, he was the Minister of Health -- hails from Prince George. Prince George is in an ongoing and current health care crisis, a dramatic crisis in health care. The minister says he knows lots about health care in Prince George. I hazard a guess that he does. Then perhaps the minister can tell us why it is that the people in Prince George can't get basic service in health care after nine years of NDP government, after nine years of the ideology that we were told was going to rescue and protect health care.
I know he was Minister of Education for a while. Perhaps he can tell us why, after nine years, people still don't think that their education system is the best that it could be. The minister has had nine years
G. Farrell-Collins: I hear the other member from Prince George, who from time to time has inhabited cabinet seats -- never for very long -- and has been invited into cabinet to be part of the decision-making team that has laid out the agenda for the last nine years. The other member from Prince George who sits on the government side could certainly get up and tell us a thing or two about how the government has eroded child protection in the time they've been in government -- the deterioration of the protection of children.
We hear the ministers talk about these new plans they have for the future. Well, none of their plans from the past worked at all. Why should we believe that their new plans are going to work any better? So it's not just the economic damage that's been done by this government over the last decade; it's not just that. The problem is that we have an economy that hasn't been performing the way it should. We have people across this province that are suffering financially as a result of those economic problems.
But more importantly, if you look at the standard of life, the standard of living that British Columbians live in now as opposed to nine years ago, it has gone down. Their health care system has deteriorated. I know that the minister will stand up, as the member for New Westminster did, and talk about post-secondary participation rates, which have gone up. What he doesn't talk about is the number of students that are still cycling through the post-secondary institution system because they can't complete the courses they need in order to graduate. The government creates spaces, puts money into the post-secondary education institutes -- a significant majority of which goes to personnel costs -- and then tells us that they've created all these new spaces. The problem is that they're not getting the graduates out the other end.
If you go around the province and ask British Columbians whether they think the last nine years have been good for the province, whether they're better off now than they were nine years ago, the answer is pretty clear: it's no.
I see the member for Victoria-Hillside entering into the debate, or trying to. He seems shocked that British Columbians would tell him that they don't feel better off after nine years. I expect that's because he hasn't talked to his constituents recently. If he would go and do that, he'd find that in fact they feel that way quite strongly.
I know the government knows that, because the government does polls. I've seen some of those polls that show British Columbians' impression that their standard of living has gone down over the last number of years, really in almost any way you measure it. We hear the rhetoric, we hear the ideology, from the government members. The problem they've got is that this isn't a clean slate. They're not going before the public with an election mandate or some agenda, saying: "Hey, we've got these great ideas, and we think they're going to work. Give us a chance and we'll do them, and we'll all be better off." What they're going before the public with is a nine-year record. It's a nine-year record of disappointment -- of despair in some cases, in many communities -- and really a decade of decline. However you look at it, the ideology that the government espouses has not worked. They've had their chance; they've had nine years to do it. The public's verdict is in: they don't want another five years of what they've had for the last nine.
We do pay significantly higher taxes than many other places, than our competing jurisdictions. We are not in the ballpark, in many cases, with those provinces that we should be competing with. And it's not based on ideology; it's based on reality. Whether it's the NDP in Saskatchewan, or now even the NDP in Manitoba, who came in and balanced their budget, I think only two or three weeks ago
If they had been proved right, I suspect that British Columbians would be cheering them; they'd be carrying them
[ Page 16506 ]
through the streets to another mandate. But they've been wrong. They've been wrong on almost every count. As a result, British Columbians are pretty angry about that. They're pretty fed up, and they're not willing to give this government another opportunity to continue with the ideology that has led this province astray.
I know that's not right on topic. Somehow, earlier on in the debate we seemed to veer off. But it does fall within the wide purview given to second reading of a bill.
The delinking of the legislation, of British Columbia's tax system, from the federal system to allow us more flexibility is something that is worthwhile trying. Many provinces are going that way. I think others will follow, particularly at a time when taxes tend to be coming down as opposed to up, because now governments can get credit for reducing the taxes, whereas before they didn't so much have to accept the blame for them rising. That's part of the interesting politics of living in a federation. But I think that's a good move. It gives us more flexibility; it gives us the ability to tailor some of our fiscal policies to British Columbia's unique situation. We look forward to helping to make that work.
On the level of personal income tax rates, I don't think it's any secret: we'd like to see them significantly lower. We think that that's the path to follow. It's proven successful in many other jurisdictions. The path that this government has chosen to follow over the years has not proven to be very successful. So, given history, given the facts, given the challenges that face British Columbia, it would be wise for us to pursue a different tack other than the one that we've been following for the last nine years.
This government makes fairly tepid moves in that direction in this bill, but there's a lot longer distance to go. British Columbians, regardless of income -- particularly at the lower income levels -- will benefit from significant personal income tax reductions, a higher low-income cut-off level, and higher basic personal exemptions -- as has been done in other jurisdictions.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
We look forward to seeing the result of this bill when it goes into practice. We know that there will be an election within the next 12 months. The verdict will be made at that time, I suppose, on whether British Columbians approve of the last nine years and want another five of it, or whether they'd like to try something different, and whether they'd like to be part of the success, part of the opportunity that's been spawned across the rest of the country -- whether British Columbians would like to participate in a real opportunity for progress, as opposed to the stagnation they've had for the last nine years.
Hon. A. Petter: I will be very brief, because I don't want to repeat some of the arguments that have already been made about this legislation and, in particular, the benefits it brings in terms of tax relief for British Columbians.
I want to make a fundamental point about the positive value that this legislation represents in terms of reforming the tax system within Canada. Provinces have, for some time -- and this province has for some time -- under various governments tried to pursue a regime under which we could enjoy greater flexibility to tailor the tax system provincially to meet the needs of our citizens without having to disconnect ourselves entirely from the federal-provincial tax-sharing agreements, as Quebec has done. It's been a pursuit for many, many years.
I think it is very much to the credit of the current Minister of Finance and the persistence of ministers of finance across the country that we have reached a point where the federal government has at long last agreed to allow provinces to tailor their tax systems to better meet the priorities and needs of their citizens. With that opportunity, of course, comes responsibility. And with this legislation we see that responsibility being exercised very positively for British Columbians in the form of tax reductions that are targeted particularly at middle-income earners.
I do want to take a moment to focus on the fundamental point that this is a positive move, in my view, for the federal system. It's a positive move for a province like British Columbia, whose views are not always fully taken account of when tax policy is set nationally. It enables us as a province to have greater scope to fashion tax policy in a way that corresponds to the priorities of citizens in this province in a manner that's consistent with federalism.
That wouldn't have happened if Premiers and Ministers of Finance -- and ministers of intergovernmental affairs, if I may say so -- over recent years, right across the country
It's a very positive moment for British Columbians because of the doors it opens. The question is, of course: what do we do with those open doors? I think the Minister of Finance, in this legislation, has shown a very positive opportunity to move through those doors, and we will have to debate what other alternatives might exist, some of which I think are far less positive. But British Columbians today, because of this legislation and because of the efforts that preceded it, have greater opportunity to fashion their own future, to set their own destiny and to make their own choices, and I think that's something that's worthy of note.
For that reason, amongst many other good reasons in terms of tax reduction that we find in this bill, I urge all members to support this bill very strongly.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I will not be long in closing debate. I did want to thank my colleague the Attorney General for his comments about one of the fundamental principles that underlies Bill 19. The idea of having a made-in-British Columbia income tax system is indeed one that has been pursued by governments and Ministers of Finance of successive governments for some time in this province. I am pleased to have an act before the Legislature that brings that quest to fruition.
We have in Bill 19, really, two principles. I know we've had a good debate. I've listened to the opposition critic with some interest about the principles of this bill. I just want to recapitulate what the two underlying principles really are -- what this thing really does.
[ Page 16507 ]
One thing is, as I just said, that it moves towards the made-in-B.C. income tax system. It does so in a way that ensures greater transparency for all British Columbians, greater awareness for all British Columbians of what they are actually paying to this government -- the government of British Columbia -- in personal income tax. The interesting thing, as I started to consult people in the province around whether or not we should take advantage of the opportunity the federal government actually announced last fall of moving to tax on income, is that I was unable to find many people who could actually say what level of income tax they actually paid to the provincial government. It was wild. The most common thing was: "Oh, I pay 49.5 percent of my income to the provincial government." One of the advantages of this, as we look at what the actual tax brackets are, what the actual tax rates are, is that people can see more clearly what they actually pay.
For the record, I just want to reflect on what some of those rates really are. If you happen to be a low-income-earning single parent with a child, and say you're earning $20,000 -- total income. Right now you pay
If you're a family of four, with two earners, with an income of $60,000 -- and that's very much a typical family in British Columbia
I think that when people actually realize that this is the sort of level, and then they look at the benefits they get from government services
This tax system that we're implementing makes the system far clearer. It makes it apparent to all and transparent to all what tax they're actually paying. It does a couple of other very important things. It says that the days of automatic tax increases due to inflation are over. It says that the tax brackets we set here are fully indexed to inflation. It says that the non-refundable tax credits -- personal, spousal and others -- are fully indexed. We no longer have tax increases by inflation here in the province of British Columbia. This bill puts an end to that.
So that's one principle -- and frankly, I think the opposition will probably stand up and support that principle. The other principle that this bill incorporates is that we think that British Columbians deserve and are being given income tax relief -- as I said, since 1996, once this bill is fully implemented, $750 million in tax reductions in British Columbia.
So there are some significant changes incorporated in this act. Again, we made a choice here of what we were going to do with tailoring that tax relief. The Attorney General spoke of the fact that once you have your own income tax system, and we do have it now, it opens a range of choices to you. We have made a clear choice here. What we have said is we think that 90 percent of British Columbians -- 90 percent who earn $60,000 or less -- should have the greatest benefit from the tax reductions that we have incorporated here. Yes, higher-income earners will also benefit. But the highest-percentage reduction in income taxes will go to middle- and low-income earners. For example, an individual earning $60,000 will have a 9 percent reduction in personal income taxes in British Columbia. This is of taxable income.
An Hon. Member: Of taxable income.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Of taxable income. If you earn $30,000, you'll have an 11 percent reduction. If you're a low-income earner earning $25,000 -- a 16 percent reduction. And as I said earlier, 100,000 British Columbians will receive a 100 percent income tax reduction; they'll pay no income tax at all, and they'll be added to thousands of other people.
Those are the choices that we make in this bill. We make them proudly. We think this is a good bill for government, and it's a good bill for the system here in British Columbia.
I did want to reflect, just a little bit, on some of the comments of my colleague opposite about the differences "in philosophy." I heard him say that one of the differences is that that side of the House believes people do better if they're simply left to themselves. That's an interesting concept -- left to themselves, they have lower levels of taxation. What he didn't say, though, is that then lower levels of services are provided by government. These do go hand in hand with governments who have made different choices -- who have said: "Yes, we want to do savage cuts to public services, and we're going to reduce government revenues by further reducing taxes." We have seen those choices across the country, and we will see them in British Columbia if that Liberal opposition should ever form government here. They will make different choices from what we have done -- very different choices.
We're seeing it across the country. We saw it as we reduced class size in our education system here in British Columbia and Alberta went to user-pay kindergarten. We saw it here in British Columbia as we enhanced funding for health care nine budgets in a row, and Alberta now goes to sponsor a bill that says two-tier private health care is the way we should go. We have seen the differences right across the country, and we will see it here if that opposition should ever form government.
I'm very proud of the work we've done. I want to commend the staff that worked under considerable pressure to put together this bill and to put together the fundamentals of this made-in-B.C. tax system. I commend it to all members of the Legislature.
Hon. Speaker, I'm pleased to close debate and move second reading of Bill 19.
Bill 19, Income Tax Amendment Act, 2000, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I call Committee of Supply to consider the estimates of the Ministry of Women's Equality.
[ Page 16508 ]
The House in Committee of Supply B; T. Stevenson in the chair.
The Chair: For the information of the House, in the precinct today we have 50 visitors from Tacoma, Washington. These students are in grade 8, and they're here to observe the Legislature.
As well, we have 40 American seniors with the Elderhostel movement, who are also here this afternoon. The coordinator is Ms. Marchand. I would ask the House to make both of these groups welcome.
The committee met at 4:26 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
On vote 47: ministry operations, $54,425,000.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm very pleased to present the estimates of the Ministry of Women's Equality for the year 2000-2001. I'd like to begin by introducing staff who have joined me today. First, Hilarie McMurray, who is the deputy minister; Anne Kirkaldy, senior financial officer; and Terrill Welch, who is the acting director of the Stopping of Violence and regional programs.
To say that it's an honour to serve in the capacity of Minister of Women's Equality is, in some sense, an understatement. The work that this ministry does
First let me speak a little of the accomplishments of the ministry over the past year. In 1999-2000 the Ministry of Women's Equality undertook a number of initiatives to increase women's economic security and achieve economic equality between men and women. We delivered a bridging program to secure economic independence for women leaving abusive relationships. We encouraged and funded women to undertake education and careers in typically better-paying, non-traditional jobs. We are leading the federal-provincial-territorial economic working group finalizing a strategic framework on women's economic security and independence and delivering a workplan. Finally, this government's pay equity and low-wage redress policy has reduced the wage gap in the public service to about 10 cents. Pay equity and low-wage redress have helped advance economic equality for women and have benefited society as a whole.
I'm going to spend a little bit of time on that government initiative, because I'm very proud of it. It is an initiative that has been underway for a number of years in government now, fulfilling our commitment to the direct public service as well as the extended public service. There are yet some areas in the extended public service that do not have pay equity plans, but the vast majority do.
Not only did we fulfil our commitment to the women that work for government in supporting pay equity plans, but we also furthered a low-wage redress initiative which helped bring the lowest-paid workers in government and, in particular, in the community sector up to a livable wage. Not only is that the right thing to do for women in paying and recognizing the work that they do, enabling them to support themselves and often children who count on that wage, but it's the right thing to do for government service as well.
The services that government provides for our population are crucial services, and they are services that are broadly respected. In providing appropriate remuneration for those providers of service we've brought about stability in the services that are provided, enabling government to continue to invest in training and ensuring a quality of service because of that continuity in staffing and building on training initiatives. It also provides a continuity in service for those most vulnerable, who rely on the service. In the community service sector in particular, many of us can think of where there are people with disabilities that count on the providers of group home services. They rely on that continuity of service to bring stability in their lives.
When I say government has done the right thing, they have done the right thing for the workers. We have done the right thing in the quality of service that is provided. It is a good public policy with the stability that it provides for ongoing and continuing care.
I'd like now to talk a little bit about our direct delivery programs. Stopping the Violence Against Women continues to be a high priority for this ministry. In partnership with community-based agencies throughout the province, we continue to offer safe shelter and support, crisis intervention, counselling and pre-employment services to help women regain control over their lives.
This year the Building a Safer Future Awards were launched in partnership with the B.C. and Yukon Society of Transition Houses and the B.C. Association of Specialized Victim Assistance and Counselling Programs. Our prevention program, A Safer Future for B.C. Women, continues to fund non-profit, equity-seeking organizations to develop local initiatives and partnerships to prevent violence against women.
The Live Violence Free campaign encouraged broad ownership of the prevention of violence and involved the public in prevention actions in their homes, their schools and their communities. The second year of the campaign, focused on violence against youth, was launched this February. This campaign is a partnership between the government of B.C. and the B.C. Association of Broadcasters, who have committed $50 million in air time over ten years.
When we look at these initiatives in particular, I think that it speaks volumes for the work of the ministry. While, as I said, the ministry does provide direct services and funds programs like transition houses and women's centres, it recognizes that to address the issues that are perhaps the largest barriers to women in seeking equality, the answers are found in broad community mobilization as well as in government leadership and support. I want to recognize the work that is done in communities through women-serving agencies, and the women in communities that work on a daily basis to support women in leaving abusive situations, to support women in making a difference in their lives.
Not only does the work of the ministry in government continue to be of broad interest to other government agencies
[ Page 16509 ]
and initiatives, but our ministry continues to work closely with the women's health bureau. We participated in various working groups and committees across government. In 1999-2000 we providing funding for the women's health conference, Building Bridges: Creating an Integrated Approach to Women's Health, to the Action Forum on Aboriginal Women and Addiction Services and for a report, "Hearing Women's Voices: Mental Health Care for Women."
Women have made much progress in our move towards equality. The options available to my generation are much different when compared to those choices that were available to my mother or to her mother before her. An estimated 60 percent of all women in B.C. were either working or actively looking for work in 1999.
However, women still earn less than men. The wage gap for B.C. for women working full-time, year-round, is 27 cents. Women still earn 73 cents for every dollar that is earned by a man. So many factors such as health, safety and a family's health and status as well as housing are dependent on women's economic well-being. That's why economic equality and security for women is at the top of my ministry's list of priorities.
I'd like to, in introducing the estimates for this year, reflect on the work that we have had underway for the last number of months. When I was given the privilege of this post, I thought it was in some ways timely, because much of the work that I have done in my involvement in working for my community and for the province as a whole has evolved around principles that are central to this ministry. The work that our government has had underway for the last nine years since the creation of this ministry gave us an opportunity to look back -- in the year 2000, I think a lot of people were doing that -- on our successes and our accomplishments and measuring the development of a strategy for the future. I think it's important for all of us to do that.
I think the work that has been underway and the commitment that our government has made to women in this province is unprecedented. However, I think we would all agree that we have a long way to go as a society generally. I look forward to the challenges in working with community agencies and women across the province in furthering women's agenda and, in particular, an agenda meeting the economic needs of women. I believe fundamentally that women have a great deal to contribute, and where government can work with women, we will all benefit in women taking their place in this important public forum.
I'd like to close by thanking the women in this ministry. It is a small ministry; the majority of the money that is in this budget goes out to direct service. The ministry itself is small by comparison, so the tasks that are undertaken by ministry staff and the responsibility and weight of the privilege that we all feel are onerous, given the resources at our disposal. But we embrace those challenges with excitement, commitment and a sense of privilege in the service that we're able to provide for the women of this province.
L. Stephens: I'm pleased to give some opening remarks, as well, to the Women's Equality estimates. I'd like to thank the minister for her opening remarks, welcome the staff that are here today and also recognize the people out there in the communities who work so very hard to help women build a better life for themselves. I think that sometimes we forget the kind of dedication that those individuals bring to their work.
Certainly I and the official opposition believe unequivocally that the best way to increase people's quality of life is a good job. I heard the minister talk about the economic opportunities, and I believe that is indeed where we have to focus our efforts. That is especially true for women because of our 73-cent dollar. I've always believed that true equality will never be achieved until women have the economic freedom and financial security separate from men. And my colleagues and I know how important a stable economy is for women and their families.
One in five children in British Columbia lives in a family whose income is below the poverty line. Women-led families on single incomes face a daily struggle to make ends meet. We are committed to turning the B.C. economy around to help women and their families. This is what we need to do. The way to do that is to dramatically cut the basic personal income tax rate.
Just before we began these estimates, the Ministry of Finance was discussing Bill 19. What we saw there was that the ministry is moving to do just that. I recall, in 1996 during the previous election, that one of our statements and platforms was that we would reduce taxes by 15 percent. At that time there was quite a hue and cry that this wasn't possible -- of all the damage that would be done. Yet I heard the Minister of Finance talk a little bit earlier about the fact that this particular bill will reduce, in some of the brackets for people, up to 18 percent. It's interesting to see, and I'm glad to see, that in fact we are moving to reduce those taxes, because it is extremely important.
Women represent one-third of the self-employed workforce in British Columbia, and women-led firms are creating jobs at four times the national average. That means that we need to have accessible, affordable and safe child care. This is a critical issue that's facing working women with children today, particularly those single parents, most of whom are women.
We support the goal of increasing access to child care. We want it to be affordable and targeted to those who need it. We also want to be sure that the program is managed efficiently. However, the government's announcement of $5 per day subsidies for before- and after-school care for the 19,000 children in licensed centres is just one of many promises and announcements the government will make over the next few months. I say this because the program won't start until next year, with no support or commitment from the federal government at this point in time and without any real analysis or planning to ensure that funds are spent where they will have the greatest impact.
Now, I want to talk a little bit, too, about the B.C. family bonus that has been reduced by $29 million. We will get to that a little bit later in the estimates debates. Women, also, across the province have told me that accessible quality health care is vital to them and their families. I know this is one of the focuses of the ministry as well.
I want to bring to the minister's attention that people in the north and the central interior have the poorest health indicators. I know the minister knows that. Their health care keeps deteriorating, doctors are leaving, and the wait-lists are getting longer. Again, we've seen more incidents of that in this past week.
[ Page 16510 ]
There's also no relief for unpaid caregivers, and usually these are women. The home support around the province is virtually non-existent. Mental health services and substance misuse services are virtually non-existent for women in this province -- either in the north or on the lower mainland. Clearly we need a long-term strategic plan for our health care system to ensure that precious health dollars are spent as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Access to education is critical for women, and I absolutely agree with the minister. This creates opportunities and choices that lead to greater economic freedoms and financial security. Access to workplace training programs is also a key to women attaining senior management positions. I think this is an issue that sometimes people forget. When women are in the workplace, and they're in a business organization or corporation, they do need to have the access to the kind of training programs that allow them to move up the ladder into those senior management positions.
Closing the wage gap is a high priority for the opposition as well. More public education initiatives, I think, must be developed to illustrate the link between the wage gap and poverty. Personal safety issues and violence are key concerns as well. Many women are afraid of public places such as parks, parking lots or their place of work. We believe that women have the fundamental right to be able to live free from violence. Transition houses, legal rights and counselling are important services that help women escape from violent situations or relationships. But more must be done. We must have some domestic violence legislation as other provinces do. Violence against women is an epidemic in this province and around the country. Every day women in this province are being stalked, harassed, bullied, intimidated and murdered by their partners. The safety of women demands legislation, not just policy.
These are some of the more important issues that affect the well-being of women in our province. The official opposition is committed to work to improve the lives of all women, to enable them to reach their greatest potential and to live free from discrimination, violence, harassment and poverty.
So with those few remarks, I would like to move into the questions I have regarding the budget estimates of Women's Equality. I want to thank the staff for providing me with the overview, with the ministry briefing of the budget. Again, this year, because it's a fairly comprehensive one and it is done in a very organized manner, I doubt we'll have the kinds of debate around numbers that we have had in the past. But I just want to note that the budget does reflect the transfer into the ministry of three programs from other ministries plus the low-wage redress increase of about $10.32 million for workers in the contracted agencies -- those are the Stopping the Violence programs -- and funding for the new initiatives of $1 million, for a total of $54.425 million.
I would like to begin with the performance plan of the Ministry of Women's Equality that was provided as well and to ask the minister to talk a little bit about the challenges facing the ministry. On page 8 of this document the ministry lays out some of those challenges -- concerns from some groups that women's advances are made at the expense of men or equity groups. I wonder if the minister could talk a little bit about the challenges that the ministry believes they're facing and how they intend to resolve some of these issues that are listed here this year.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me thank the member for her introductory comments. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the number of issues that she raised. I am sure we'll have that opportunity in the estimates. The challenges that are outlined in our document and specifically the questions around the perception that someone must pay for Women's Equality
Women have a great deal to contribute and a different perspective, given their role in their lives, in growing up. That perspective is one that I believe will bring balance to any endeavours where women reach that equal status. I think it's incumbent upon us in all the work that we do to not only embrace that belief but assure those that may be concerned that the opposite will happen -- that their involvement, whether it's in the workplace or in the community generally, is not threatened but indeed is enriched by women's participation.
L. Stephens: The ministry talks about the goals and objectives of the ministry for the year 2000-2001. They list them here: economic independence and security for women, stopping violence against women and social well-being for women. I have to say that I think the ministry, the minister and the government are on the right track here with these kinds of issues that affect women. I don't think it's any secret that I and members of the official opposition also believe that these are serious and important issues that women must take some ownership of.
I want to talk about those goals and objectives. I would first ask the minister to talk a little bit about the Premier's comments when he said -- during the leadership and again, in a number of speeches that he's been making around the province -- that the Ministry of Women's Equality would be charged with developing policy, creating legislation and funding services and programs. Perhaps the minister could talk about the strategic direction for the ministry and whether or not there are some particular policies that this ministry will be directing its energies to over this next year.
Hon. J. Smallwood: As I said in my introductory comments, the work that the ministry has embraced for the next year not only revolves around its ongoing commitment to the existing Stopping the Violence initiatives, but also focuses on economic security for women.
There is a considerable amount of work underway in the ministry. Let me take the opportunity to thank ministry staff for their efforts. In the last couple of months they have been working above and beyond, I'm sure, what most would expect of anyone working for an organization. That is appreciated. That policy work will give us an opportunity in the next very short while to make a public announcement launching government's initiatives in this area.
The Chair: This is just to let the House know that joining us today in the precinct are approximately 45 students from the Arrowhead Elementary school in Kenmore, Washington. They're here to visit the parliament buildings and the Legislature. Would all members please make them welcome.
[ Page 16511 ]
L. Stephens: One of the comments that the Premier did make in his eight-point plan
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me say how proud I am to be part of a government that not only sees children as a priority, but recognizes the needs of working families and the needs of single-parent families. I am very proud of the recognition that we have given to the providers of licensed child care in an initiative that, with the exception of Quebec, is unprecedented in Canada. This initiative not only recognizes the need for safe, high-quality care for children, but recognizes that for working parents -- and increasingly, it takes two parents working full-time to qualify for a mortgage to purchase a home
The member herself quoted statistics with respect to the number of single parents in this province who are increasingly, because of the challenges that a single parent has in providing for their children, finding themselves living below the low-income cutoff. Good-quality, affordable child care that is reliable and that provides for a safe place is crucial in meeting the economic security for women in this province.
The member also asked about the Premier's comment with respect to minimum wage. Now, I'm sure the member is all too aware of the fact that I will not be making policy announcements during the estimates, and that if there are new policy announcements to be made, they will be made in the fullness of time when the appropriate work with respect to policy development has been done.
Let me share with you some statistics that I'm aware of. With respect to minimum wage, most statistics will show that a full 60 percent of people on minimum wage are women. Let me also share another, perhaps more interesting, statistic. Now, many will argue that minimum wage is an entry-level wage or a learning or training wage. They also might say that the majority of people on minimum wage are young people. Well, the most startling statistic that I have seen in recent years is that for those individuals who are over the age of 25, a full 70 percent are women.
Now, what that says to me is that when people enunciate concerns about the fact that our minimum wage is the second-highest in Canada, not taking into consideration the fact that the cost of living, housing and so on is that much more expensive here in B.C
So I'm very proud of the fact that our government has kept pace with minimum wage. I certainly would argue that there is a need to continually look at and address that question. If we are developing a strategy with respect to women's economic security, I think that it's incumbent upon us to recognize that if women are in the lowest end of the wage-earning scale throughout their lives, the reality is that they will be poor in their more senior years. I think it's incumbent upon government, as well as society, to embrace that challenge and be part of the solution.
L. Stephens: In today's paper, the Vancouver Sun, an article by Janet Steffenhagen -- and I hope I have that right -- talks about child care. It asks questions about family child care operators feeling left out of the new child care initiative that the government announced and that the Premier has said is one of the priorities for women. I want to quote here: "The NDP admits the plan isn't fair because it subsidizes only the 19,000 B.C. children from grade 1 to age 12 who are in the 800 larger licensed centres that operate in public facilities such as schools."
Karen Norman, a child care advocate who lives in Surrey, said that she rejected the suggestion that the government should have boosted the subsidy for low-income parents instead of giving financial help to a select group of parents regardless of income. "The subsidy program doesn't work, because it props up illegal, unregulated day cares, she said. Part of this move to a new funding system is to ensure that families will have access to services that are both licensed and regulated." I wonder if the minister could comment on this particular statement, and whether in fact that is the reason that this is an unfair plan.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm sure the member has had an opportunity to question the minister responsible for the delivery of the day care initiative. If the member was not able to make time for that minister's estimates, I'm sure that the minister responsible would provide a briefing for her.
L. Stephens: I have had an opportunity to speak with the minister responsible about child care generally and this particular issue. However, at that time this information wasn't available. In light of the fact that priority No. 7 of the Premier's goals of equality for women specifically states "affordable, quality child care," I was presuming that the Minister of Women's Equality would have been part of the decision around the new child care initiative. I was simply asking for her comment on this particular item that has become available today. I would still like to hear her response.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'll simply reiterate our ministry's commitment to high-quality licensed day care and the pride that I have in our government's initiative, and encourage the member, if she's wanting a more detailed response with respect to the delivery of the government's initiative, that she take the opportunity to speak to the minister responsible.
L. Stephens: I will take that as: "I don't want to comment."
I would like to talk a little bit about some of the accountability mechanisms of the ministry. I would first like to ask if the ministry has conducted a review of ministry programs and policies to determine their effectiveness.
Hon. J. Smallwood: One of the first initiatives in providing for my own familiarity with the work of the ministry, as well as ensuring the ministry's accountability not only for its
[ Page 16512 ]
budget, but also its accountability to the delivery of service to the women of this province, was to ask for a review of all programs. Those reviews are ongoing.
L. Stephens: Could the minister provide the committee with the key findings of those reviews and what action was taken?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I simply reiterate that the reviews are ongoing; they have not concluded. I'd be happy, upon conclusion, to have that discussion with the member.
L. Stephens: When an organization conducts a review, they do so on a continuing basis in order to provide continuous improvement. However, to be able to implement that continuous improvement, the organization must know what they have to work with and where they want to get to. So at some point in this process, the organization does know what the programs are and how effective they are. I'm simply asking the minister to share with this House what she has learned so far in this ongoing process of program evaluation.
Hon. J. Smallwood: As the member knows, in particular for the service delivery with respect to transition houses and women's centres, the work the ministry does is in partnership with the women-serving organizations. The ongoing review is not only with respect to the quality of service, the training and staffing for the service providers, but also includes feedback from those women-serving organizations. That's the process that we're engaged in now.
I'm sure the member is well aware of the fact that there is, regrettably, a very high need for those services, in particular for transition houses and programs for children witnessing abuse. I say "regrettably," because I think it's an indication of the need for society to be more involved in the solution. That's why the programs exist; that's why we're funding outreach and education initiatives through women-serving organizations in this province. While we have seen some progress, I think there would not be one amongst us who would say that there has been enough change. The member quite graciously supported a minister's statement in the House a couple of weeks ago with respect to yet another woman whose life may have been affected by domestic violence.
As I said, the task of reviewing programs, the relationship between the women-serving organizations and the ministry, has been ongoing. Because of the work with respect to new initiatives, as well as other initiatives throughout government that have been underway, we haven't had an opportunity to bring that work back in. The discussions are happening with the agencies, and we will come to agreement on how to proceed along with those that provide the service.
L. Stephens: It is because the need is so great and the service is so badly needed that we need to make sure that what we're doing is what's required. That really is the object of performance reviews and program evaluations: to determine whether or not what we're doing could be done better.
I know the transition house society has a number of suggestions, and I'm sure all of the individual transition houses do as well, and the non-profit societies that are in the communities that contract for our various services. Those people that are on the ground, so to speak, and that are delivering these programs, I would suggest, have a vast amount of knowledge and would be the ones, probably the first ones, to say: "We could be doing this better." I'm sure the minister is receiving that kind of feedback. I'm certainly hopeful that she is, and I'm also hopeful that she will act on it.
Those are the kinds of areas that I would like her to share with the committee. I would like to ask her: what are the mechanisms that her ministry has in place to encourage the ministry to value results over process?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Our ministry has eight regional offices. Our regional staff work on a daily basis with women-serving organizations, whether they're transition houses, safe homes or women's centres and in those particular agencies, on the different programs that are providing, are delivering services. The work and the reviews that are underway are being done in conjunction with not only the provincial organizations, the B.C. and Yukon Association of Transition Houses, but also on an ongoing basis with individual transition houses and other women-serving organizations in the province. We value that work; we take their guidance. We want to ensure that we can provide appropriate support for the delivery of those services, and we want to ensure that we are accountable for taxpayers' dollars.
L. Stephens: The question that I asked is: what are the mechanisms in place within the ministry to encourage the ministry to value the results of what the ministry is doing over the process of doing? They're very different; they are two different things. Many organizations are only concerned about process, making sure that they do the process correctly, as opposed to what the results or the outcomes of that process are. I suspect that the results or the outcomes for the Ministry of Women's Equality are to provide the kinds of services to women and their children, in the various programs that the ministry delivers, in as highly efficient, effective and economical a way as possible.
The deputy ministers' council has, for a number of years now, talked about the accountability programs and mechanisms of the different ministries. I know this is a subject that is talked about at some length during the Public Accounts meetings. I would like to know what kinds of mechanisms are in place in the Ministry of Women's Equality to measure those outcomes.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me reference the accountability structure. There's a number of mechanisms at play, as the member is well aware. Service provision is done through contract services. We're implementing contract reform in partnership with the women-serving agencies and with other ministries. Contract reform emphasizes organizational capacities, service quality, performance measures and service outcomes.
The Ministry of Women's Equality is also committed to accountability in our internal administration through planning and budgeting, linking two government priorities. The ministry identifies its vision, mission, principles and strategic priorities and goals. The business plan process then articulates strategies and activities to be undertaken to support ministry goals. And the budget process ensures that adequate resources are available. Both the business plan and budgets are monitored on a quarterly basis. A fiscal year-end summary
[ Page 16513 ]
of all ministry activities is produced, including a report on the action plan and a report on the budget.
L. Stephens: Many organizations develop a three-year plan to help do that strategic planning over the long term -- that is, a short, a medium and a long-term plan. I wonder if the minister could indicate whether or not that's the case with the Ministry of Women's Equality and, if there are a set of meaningful and clear performance indicators, what they are. What will be included or what is required to be included in the reporting documents?
Hon. J. Smallwood: There are a number of performance indicators under economic independence and security for women. The portion of clients who complete the bridging program
Stopping violence against women -- one of the significant indicators is the increased public recognition that violence against women is unacceptable and increased public recognition of personal responsibility to contribute to stopping the violence against women. I need to stress that while a considerable amount of work has been done to provide support to women, in ensuring that they do everything right, it should never fall on the victim of violence to either demonstrate or justify that they have acted responsibly. It is, in my view, important for us all to recognize that violence is at no time justified, regardless of the position the victim may find themselves in.
The number of women and their children who have left an abusive relationship, who are provided with intervention services; the number of women receiving scheduled, individual or group counselling services; social well-being; the application of gender analysis within government or to address government policy -- we have a number of
The process of evaluating a program, the number of clients served and so on, is, I think, important to government to be able to reflect on, not only the numbers served for dollars spent. I'm sure we would all embrace the more extensive goals in the work that government is involved in, and that is changing societal views and improving the status of women. It's a challenge that has been a challenge for generations. I would hope that, through the commitment of the leadership that is provided by women who are increasingly taking leadership roles, we can bring about the change more quickly.
L. Stephens: Well, the performance indicators that the minister just talked about, to me, aren't really performance indicators; they are process. One of the performance indicators here for Stopping the Violence Against Women is the number of women and their children who have left an abusive relationship and who are provided with intervention services; that's process. Intervention services -- that's process.
Performance results -- that is, what do the women do after they have received those intervention services? Those are results. What is the result of something that the ministry has done? So I would like to encourage the ministry to look at those kinds of result and performance indicators.
Probably one that I can think of right now that might be more helpful is in the Ministry of Attorney General, when you were talking about violence against women. There are some very clear performance indicators there that should be something that the ministry can track pretty quickly. I know it's available in the Attorney General ministry, in the police statistics: how many people were charged with family violence this year versus last year or two or three years ago? How many convictions were there for wife assault? Is it lower, or is it higher?
Those are the kinds of measurements that I think are much more beneficial to the Ministry of Women's Equality than simply the inputs, the process. There has to be a way, there has to be a commitment by the ministry to measuring what the ministry does to make sure that those desired outcomes are in fact being met.
The ministry has said from time to time, and this is true, that the ministry is an advocacy ministry; it is a cross-ministry advocate. And so I want to encourage the minister to look at perhaps developing some of those performance indicators, hard performance indicators that can tell her whether or not her programs or in fact the programs across government are making the lives of women better. That is one place, the Attorney General ministry, where the Stopping the Violence programs or the violence initiatives of the government itself can be measured by those statistics that are provided by the court system and the police forces.
When we talk about performance measurements, we also have to talk about reporting -- how those performance measurements are reported. Usually, in organizations where you have a set of objectives, there is a reporting mechanism to quantify what you are doing and whether or not you are meeting those objectives. That reporting system tells you whether you are or whether you aren't.
I know the ministry receives from the transition houses the statistics on how many women have accessed the transition house beds, the percentage of occupancy of those beds, how many children have accessed the Children Who Witness Abuse program -- all of these particular statistics. Now, the minister should be able to tell me whether or not the demand for those services that her ministry offers through these contracted agencies is higher or lower. How many women have been turned away? What regions of the province have more demand for service than other regions? What kind of services do the women require in those particular regions or in those houses?
I can tell the minister that what I have been told is that a lot of the transition houses are finding a greater need for drug and alcohol services and for mental health services. Many of these, if not most -- virtually all of the transition houses -- are not allowed to take women who have substance misuse problems or mental health problems. This is a huge, very, very big problem that's developing out there now. So I wonder if the minister has compiled that kind of data and whether or not her ministry has come up with an idea or a determination to in fact expand the services that are available in the transition houses in British Columbia today.
Hon. J. Smallwood: My response earlier was, the structure of the response
[ Page 16514 ]
indicators, let me share those with you. First, on the public recognition that violence against women is unacceptable, in '98-99, it's 60 percent; in '99-2000 it's up, 70 percent. So the public education component is working. Public recognition that, in stopping the violence against women, everybody in B.C. plays a role is up from 78 percent to 85 percent.
Women receiving individual and group counselling services: in '98-99 there were 5,190; in '99-2000 there were 5,700. Number of transition and safe home programs: 77. That's a constant. For the two years, safe shelter provided to women and children: 16,168 in '98-99; in '99-2000 there were 14,770. The bed-days of service: 134,009 in '98-99 and 132,605 in '99-2000. Number of crisis calls replied to: 36,278 and 35,572 respectively. Number of counselling programs funded: 79. That's a constant. Number of calls for counselling in crisis and support: 7,912 in '98-99 and 11,925 in the year '99-2000.
I might add, anecdotally, that when speaking to women who are providing services in transition houses and counselling, they are saying that the level of violence is escalating and that increasingly weapons are involved. There are many horror stories that can be shared. I think that it simply underscores for all of us that in our quest for equality for women, one of the most powerful tools that we can put in the hands of women is economic equality, where women truly have choices in leaving abusive relationships.
Increasingly, the more we become aware of the dynamics of violence towards women in domestic situations, we recognize that violence is perpetrated against women disproportionately by partners and by people who are known to them. When the member speaks of indicators, I think it's important to recognize that the provision of a safe place to be, for women and for children, is in and of itself a valuable contribution and tax dollars well spent. Where we have seen women, because of the lack of choice in their lives, go back to abusive situations, regrettably, I think it's important for us to recognize that that is not a failure of the service, but it has broader societal implications. We must recognize and honour the fact that the service -- and the women who provide that service -- at the very least was a respite from violence in those women's lives.
L. Stephens: The staff that the minister was talking about and some of them that are higher
Now, the minister talked about contract reform. Perhaps she will highlight what some of the initiatives are in the contract reform. What has changed? What is the ministry now requesting from the non-profit organizations that they contract for services? What are the requirements of the contracts now?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me assure the member that the ministry is well aware of the demands. We keep a very good handle on the statistics and the service provided in communities. As I said in my introductory comments, I don't believe that any of us would argue that the needs are met. We have seen a considerable increase in transition house programs -- up some 59 percent over the last ten years -- because of the government's commitment to the women that provide the services and the women that need the services. We've seen a better than doubling of sexual assault and women's centres; we've seen a significant increase in the number of centres. Could we use more? Yes, certainly.
I think it's always a balancing act -- the ability of the government to meet the demands in the community and the need for a ministry such as ours to try to stem the growth in the need for services for victims of violence. That's why we have embraced that balance and why we have tried to provide programs and outreach to challenge the communities to be part of the solution and try to bring about a change in society's perception. All too often we see situations where men's actions seem to be justified amongst themselves, whether it's sexist language and jokes or simply unconsciously dismissing or invalidating women's participation. It's all of those issues that need to change and be recognized as part of the continuum towards the kind of violence that we see.
In my statement last week, I drew a parallel between the justifiable outrage that we see -- whether it's in this House or in society generally -- around the death or abuse of a child. I think it is incumbent upon us in this House, as well as in society, to feel the same sense of outrage with the level of abuse that women feel on a daily basis, whether it is our daughters through date rape or our sisters and our mothers through domestic violence.
The member then moves to the question of contract compliance and the work that is being done around contract reform. The program and organizational standards are a key part of the accountability framework. Program standards now exist in draft for transition houses. Their programs and the Stopping the Violence counselling services are part of the work that is underway with our service delivery partners.
For more than a year we've been working with our funded agencies to assess their compliance with organizational standards. Contract reform also emphasizes financial management, reporting and auditing, monitoring for quality assurance and service outcomes, and external program evaluation every three years. Our management information systems collect data on clients' use of transition house and counselling programs. We are continuing to improve our service reporting capacity. Let me emphasize that the client data is statistical; it is not personal.
L. Stephens: That's the kind of information that I was looking for. That's the kind of performance measurements and accountability framework that I was looking for. I would appreciate it if the minister could provide me with a copy of the contract reform requirements so that I will have them for future reference.
One of the issues that revolves around funding has been the formula for transition houses, and I raised this issue in estimates last year and the year before that. At that time what I was hearing from a number of the transition houses was that there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for who got funding; it was kind the luck of the draw or who you knew. I
[ Page 16515 ]
understand that there has been a review of the funding formula, and I would like the minister to share the key findings with the committee.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The member is correct. The ministry is involved with the provincial association representing transition house service providers. Upon the completion of the work, I'll be happy to share the findings with the member.
L. Stephens: My understanding is the work has been complete, and has been complete for some time, and that the funding formula amount to provide some equity between and among the transition houses is $1.5 million. So I wonder if the minister could comment on that and whether or not she's going to be making any decisions and taking some action around this inequity in funding to the transition homes.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The work is not complete, and when it is complete, we will be happy to share the results.
L. Stephens: When does the minister anticipate the work being completed?
Hon. J. Smallwood: It's anticipated that the work will be finalized in November.
L. Stephens: Perhaps the minister has these numbers available. I'd just like to get some total funding numbers. Does the minister have the amount of government spending on Stopping the Violence programs -- not just her ministry's, but total government spending on Stopping the Violence programs.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'd be happy to get the exact numbers from our ministry. With respect to other ministries' responsibilities, I would encourage the member to seek that information from those ministries' estimates.
L. Stephens: The minister is being less than helpful. I'm sure that the ministry and the government itself have some idea of what they spend on Stopping the Violence programs. I know that, because I have seen the list in other years. So I know that the government compiles that information somewhere and does have it available. Again, I'd ask the minister to make that information available to me, because I know it is available. If she can't, perhaps she can point me in the direction of which government ministry would be able to do that. So that's the first question.
The second is: in the Ministry of Women's Equality-funded agencies, what is the total amount for the Stopping the Violence programs, not taking into consideration the low-wage redress -- the amount of money that the ministry funds the non-profit societies to deliver their programs, not including wages?
Hon. J. Smallwood: First of all, the Stopping the Violence Against Women, fiscal year 1999-2000 for the Ministry of Women's Equality -- $38.5 million.
It's certainly not my intent not to be helpful. I didn't believe we had other ministries' numbers. Sure enough, we do. The ministries of Health, Attorney General and Education put in $34.5 million, for a total of $73 million.
L. Stephens: Thank you, minister, for that number.
How much of the Ministry of Women's Equality's funding goes to other ministries for programs, other than the assaultive men's programs? Does the ministry transfer money to other ministry programs?
Hon. J. Smallwood: There are no transfers to other ministries.
L. Stephens: So the programs delivered by partnership ministries used to be
Hon. J. Smallwood: No. Just for clarification, on the Ministry of Health delivering programs for aboriginal women, those programs were transferred permanently. We no longer have a relationship with that funding. The program for assaultive men was also transferred to the Ministry of Attorney General. This ministry has no relationship with those programs.
L. Stephens: Well, I'm confused. I have a ministry briefing document here that says: "Estimates 2000-2001: programs delivered by partnership ministries, treatment programs for assaultive men, $540,278." Perhaps the minister could clarify what that's all about.
Hon. J. Smallwood: If the member can look at page 8 of the briefing note, she will see that these programs have now been transferred to these ministries. They were included in the briefing because the transfer happened after the budget documents were created.
L. Stephens: I'm sorry. I didn't hear the last of the minister's comment.
Hon. J. Smallwood: My comment was that they were included in the briefing because the transfers were concluded after the budget documents were created.
L. Stephens: Thank you very much. Well, I'm glad that was the case, and I'm not as confused as I thought I was.
Perhaps I will begin the CSSEA questioning, if that's the Chair's desire. This will take a little while, I think, and my colleague from Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain is here. I'm at the discretion of the Chair if we should continue on for a while.
The CSSEA funding that is listed here, $204,500 -- is this the membership fee that the ministry pays on behalf of the non-profit societies to CSSEA?
[ Page 16516 ]
Hon. J. Smallwood: The cost listed on the member's briefing note is the contribution for our program funding to the CSSEA.
C. Clark: And how much did that amount increase over last year as a result of the contract negotiations that were concluded this year?
Hon. J. Smallwood: If the member could share the copy that was made available to the critic, the member would see that the number is constant.
C. Clark: So the contract negotiations that were concluded on behalf of the agencies that are jointly funded by the Ministry of Women's Equality and by CSSEA had no cost impacts at all for the funding agencies that the ministry partners with.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The question that the member was following up on is the contribution to the organization. If the member's asking about the flow of dollars after the conclusion of the contract negotiations, that's a different question with a different answer. The answer for the increases is $9.016 million.
C. Clark: Could the minister break down that increase for us? Is it all for, for example -- the government has different ways of classifying these things -- low-wage supplements or
Hon. J. Smallwood: Perhaps the member could elaborate on her question. I'm sure she's aware that there are a number of different components. There are increases for the negotiated settlements as well as increases that flowed through CSSEA for non-union provision of service. As part of the negotiations, there were low-wage redress and pay equity. I believe there were other components of the agreement as well.
C. Clark: Perhaps, then, we could just start with a breakdown between the amount that's going to unionized agencies and to non-unionized agencies.
The Chair: Minister, noting the time.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Perhaps we could spend a little more time on these questions, to do them justice. So noting the time, I would move that we recess until 7 p.m.
The committee recessed from 5:54 p.m. to 6:58 p.m.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
L. Stephens: Before we broke for dinner, we were talking about the CSSEA contract negotiations. We were making some inquiries to the minister about what amount of compensation increases as a result of that agreement is the Ministry of Women's Equality portion.
Would the minister like me to wait until the staff arrive, or is it fine?
The Chair: Well, why don't we just take a moment's break until the staff come.
The committee recessed from 6:59 p.m. to 7:01 p.m.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
The Chair: The committee will come to order now, and the member for Langley wanted to restate a question.
L. Stephens: I will turn the questioning over to my colleague from Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain.
C. Clark: I just want to briefly continue on this line of questioning about the CSSEA contract. I want to be clear with the minister about how much this year's budget has allotted for the new costs that will be incurred as a result of the CSSEA contract that was signed.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The total amount for wage and benefit increases is $10.32 million.
C. Clark: Is that amount the total new cost that will be incurred as a result of the negotiation of the contract with the community social services sector that was just concluded this year?
Hon. J. Smallwood: It's the total amount of the increase in wages and benefit for the sector that we are responsible for; that's union and non-union costs.
C. Clark: It seems actually quite low. I'm sort of surprised that it's only $320,000.
C. Clark: Oh, $3.2 million.
C. Clark: I'm sorry. I got the minister's number wrong.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The number is $10.32 million.
C. Clark: That makes a little more sense. That includes the increases that will kick in on October 1 of this year. Is that correct?
Hon. J. Smallwood: That's the total amount budgeted for this year.
C. Clark: And how did the ministry conclude that this was going to be the total amount that was required?
Hon. J. Smallwood: As the member is probably aware, the negotiations are across government -- whether it's for the community sector or any other sector that is related to government -- and negotiated centrally. Then the costing of the agreement, once it is reached, is allocated in each of the ministries' budgets.
C. Clark: Oh, I understand that, but I know PSEC just bases its information
[ Page 16517 ]
ministry to determine how much its portion is going to cost, and my question is, very specifically: how did the Ministry of Women's Equality conclude that the cost was going to be $10.32 million? What did they look at to determine that?
Hon. J. Smallwood: It's simply related to the number of people that are working through the contracted agencies and the data that we have.
C. Clark: So does the ministry then have a dead accurate picture -- I mean as accurate as possible -- of how many employees are at each agency that are funded, how many of them are union, how many of them are non-union and how many of them will have their benefit plans changed as a result of the accords and the contracts that have been changed?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Yes, we do know.
C. Clark: That's more than many other ministries know. How did the ministry gather that information about which were unionized and how many workers were at each agency?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Well, keeping in mind that there are 77 transition houses, it's a slightly different task for our ministry than it is for a ministry like the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Social Development. We are, by comparison, a much smaller
C. Clark: Does the $10.32 million that the ministry has allotted for this cover the ministry's estimate of all of the new costs that will be incurred by the partner agencies as a result of the contract? Or will there be some portion of new costs that they will incur, as a result of the contract, that the ministry will not be flowing through money for?
Hon. J. Smallwood: It is anticipated that all costs are factored.
L. Stephens: I just have a couple of questions on that. The agreement is retroactive to the date of certification of the particular bargaining unit. Is that correct?
Hon. J. Smallwood: My apologies. I didn't hear the question.
L. Stephens: My question was: is it correct that the agreement provides for retroactive pay to the date of certification of that particular bargaining unit?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I don't have that level of detail here. Most of those types of details are details that are worked out by the government's negotiating agent.
L. Stephens: The last time I inquired, there wasn't a consensus, and no one seemed to know which organization of government was going to be doing the actual calculations and cutting the cheques. I know CSSEA has made a proposal to government that they provide that function. Has there been a determination made on who is going to look after all of the details of that particular agreement for each of the ministries that are affected by it and be the ones to actually do the calculations and cut the cheques to the particular non-profits -- who are eagerly awaiting those cheques, I might add?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The reason that the money is in a line ministry's budget and relates to the program delivery is because the line ministry is the funder and will cut the cheque.
L. Stephens: Well, that's very good news. Can the minister give some indication of when the cheques will be in the mail to the organizations that the Ministry of Women's Equality contracts with?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Because we're getting into fairly finite detail, what I'd like to be able to do is get that specific information and get it to the member. We've got the general numbers here, but I don't have the details around the dates for the delivery of the government's obligations.
L. Stephens: Well, I know the minister's aware that the agencies are feeling rather stressed about receiving that money in order to pay their staff. I know that in some of the other areas of government, some of the programs have been closing. The organizations, the contracted agencies, don't have the money to pay staff for programs that the ministry isn't funding, that the various ministries aren't funding, because they're not direct programs. I don't think that's the case with the Ministry of Women's Equality, but it is the case in some of the other ministries.
If the minister could provide me with the details of when those cheques would be going out to the different contracted agencies, I'm sure they would be very appreciative -- the sooner the better, because I think everyone knows that money is tight in the Women's Equality and women-serving organizations. In order to provide those kinds of services that the minister was talking about earlier and I was certainly supporting, we need to make sure that the funding arrangements are done in an expeditious way.
We'll move to questions that my colleague from Okanagan-Vernon has for the minister at this point.
A. Sanders: The Ministry of Women's Equality is a complex being. It is the gender lens for all of us, the 52 percent of us in the province who are women, to review and look at all of those other areas that in part impact on our life but are not necessarily impacted by us -- the areas of Health, Education, Ministry for Children and Families, Economic Security, E&I, Aboriginal Affairs and many, many more areas.
In my community I have a tremendous network -- from the family resource centre through to the women's centre -- who do excellent things for the women in my community. I commend all of them, including NOYFSS and the Boys and Girls Club, for the things they do for women in the Okanagan-Vernon riding.
I have a number of questions that need to be addressed, because I consider them serious. The first one is one that I asked the Ministry of Women's Equality about over a week ago, and that was about the Speaking Up and Speaking Out grants. I asked for information as to who was receiving those grants. A number of communities were applying for them but not receiving funding because they were told that this was the work of government. In other words, if anyone was going to
[ Page 16518 ]
criticize government for the work they were doing, it was going to be government and not anyone in the independent sector.
So my question to the minister is: after waiting all this time and now we're in the estimates, why on earth is it that I did not receive the information from her ministry staff, so that we did not have to take the time in estimates to do this casework?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Perhaps the member could repeat the question. I didn't hear a question; I heard a statement.
A. Sanders: My question could be read from the record. I was asking about the Speaking Up and Speaking Out grants. There were a number of communities that did not receive funding. There is a web site from the ministry that posts those communities that did. Many of those grants are years old now. I'm wondering why, when I ask a question of a minister related to an area of importance, I do not get a response from the ministry within a period of ten working days.
Hon. J. Smallwood: We're more than happy to respond to members' questions. I'm still unclear as to what the question was that the member asked. If the member could be clearer about her question to the ministry and if we have the ability to answer during the estimates, I'd be happy to do that.
A. Sanders: Again, this is not to get into a controversy. I had no intention of doing casework here; I wanted to do it outside of the House. I'm interested in the Speaking Up and Speaking Out grants. I want to know when the last one was awarded, because I cannot get that information from the ministry. What kinds of places are being awarded these grants, so that my community can understand what they need to do to be entitled?
Hon. J. Smallwood: We are, as I indicated to the critic, in the process of reviewing all of our programs. This is a very small grant program. The total of it is $50,000 for the whole of the province; the maximum for a grant is $10,000. The listing that the member referred to is our commitment to full disclosure, not only providing information about the grants that have been approved but also sharing that information with people who may be thinking of applying for a grant and sharing with them the kinds of work being done around the province.
A. Sanders: Will the minister commit today to giving me the information I asked for from Carol-Ann Welch early last week, so that I have that for my constituency?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Most definitely.
A. Sanders: I want to point out the significance of the Speaking Up and Speaking Out grants. These are grants that have the potential to criticize government, and anytime you criticize government in this province, you run a fine line of whether you're going to receive any help or not. God knows, there's enough criticism of government without having it paid for by government. We're in a situation with the Speaking Up and Speaking Out grants where there is a concern in the public that these grants are not being funded because they may point out glaring errors within the ministry.
I have a letter from the Ministry for Children and Families from Kemp Redl. He points out, in one of the grants that was applied for from Vernon, the problems that occur in the family bonus and child tax benefit program that my women's centre applied for under the Ministry of Women's Equality. He writes as follows:
I have an actual case, and I want to use that case to document the kind of thing we are talking about. I have a woman in my constituency whose son was placed in custody. When her son was placed in custody, the grants that came to her, came to her through the province. Her son's share was now exempted because he was in custody, but also 50 percent of her daughter's benefits were retracted. The mother, at the same time, had legal bills in excess of $2,000. That money would have provided access for her to visit her child, because her child was stationed at Logan Lake in Prince George, and this parent lives in Vernon.
"The staff of the Vernon integrated youth services office have heard several complaints from clients and community partners about the effects of having family bonus and child tax benefits deferred when dependent children are placed in secure care or in a residential attendance program. We would support any initiative to determine the cause for this policy change, given its impact on clients who already have limited means. This change seems to primarily target low-income parents who rely on federal and provincial assistance to raise their children.
. . . ."
The sheriff determines where kids go, but the Ministry for Children and Families provides housing, and the Ministry of Women's Equality is kind of in this whole envelope. So what we have is kids belonging to single parents -- who are women who live in poverty or at the poverty line -- who are being moved across the province without families knowing. They can be transferred from Logan Lake to Prince George to anywhere that you can think of without the parents knowing.
I even have a situation of a child who didn't like his braces, and so the staff in the facility where he was in custody removed his braces 16 months before the time for that child's orthodontic treatment to end -- because he didn't like it. Then the parent is left to pick up the pieces -- the long-term pieces -- without the funding, because they have now been cut off because of the child being in custody.
In Vernon, one of the Speaking Up and Speaking Out grants was to look at this problem, and the Minister of Women's Equality said: "This is a job of government. We are here to criticize ourselves; it's not up to you." You know, one thing I find that makes good government is to have independent criticism. If you can have independent criticism, you can move far.
Here is an example of an application being denied by the Ministry of Women's Equality because it might have criticized what was going on. I wonder how many other cases exist out there that we're not talking about, because those voices are not heard in the Legislature because they don't know how to represent themselves.
I want to have the minister's commitment that we will look critically at issues like this, which affect women in this province, to make sure that we do the best we can for women in British Columbia.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I realize that the member was not in the House when we started the estimates process, but we've
[ Page 16519 ]
had a number of questions that deal with policy and responsibility of other ministries.
I am the first to admit that women hold up 52 percent of the sky by virtue of our population. But that does not mean that this tiny little ministry is responsible for everything that touches the lives of women and government; nor are we responsible for everything that happens in society. We have a clear agenda to affect women's status in society, and it is -- by virtue of the name of our ministry -- that of equality.
Questions around child custody and policy around income support for children are the responsibility of the Ministry for Children and Families. So I would encourage the member to make her points during the estimates of that ministry.
A. Sanders: Well, you know, you come into this House as an elected representative, but you also come in as a member of British Columbia. If we're going to have a Ministry of Women's Equality, one of the things that I expect is for that ministry to be there as a watchdog. They're the pit bull for women to make sure that women are represented in this province, whether we're talking about health care, education
I know how hard a job that is. Quite frankly, I can't think of a better minister to do this than the present minister, because I know that she has the fortitude to do that. However, this is a very tough job, and I expect very tough people. If we don't have tough people in that job, you might as well go home, because no one will listen to you.
There are a number of things we need from our Minister of Women's Equality if we're going to have the ministry in the first place. One is to make sure and to ensure that the Speaking Up and Speaking Out grants are granted to be critical of government so that we can move forward. One of the areas that I have not seen government do very well is ensuring that anything that's not politically correct or might cause a little bit of a maelstrom is not sublimated.
I would like the minister to look again at the application from the Vernon Women's Centre to ensure that she does not feel personally that that is an appropriate project.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Two comments. The application has not been turned down. That's number one. Number two, the member has my assurances that the ministry will look at the application seriously. But also be assured that because of the limited funding that we have for programs such as this, there will have to be a critical eye applied to all applications that come forward.
Let me, after saying that, take exception to the member's comment with respect to funding for projects that may criticize government. Now, the member can be excused in her comment if she was to understand or if she was to dismiss the fact that we as a government are one of the very few governments in Canada that actually fund advocacy -- whether it's this ministry or the Ministry of Social Development.
Some eight or nine years ago I was the minister that brought in the first advocacy funding for people living in poverty. This is something that our government is very proud of, working with community groups, funding -- whether it's women's voices or other community agencies -- and ensuring that they can put forward a perspective that is helpful in moving this province forward in analyzing either government's actions or society's responses to very complex questions
The Chair: Member continues, remembering that your remarks are through the Chair.
A. Sanders: You know, when it's all said and done, there's more said than done. The Ministry of Women's Equality does not exist in all governments. The Ministry of Women's Equality is here to provide a gender lens. We have that in British Columbia. But you can put a title to something, and you can not allow it the power to do what it's supposed to do and still claim credit for having that ministry.
I remember last year when I talked to the Minister of Women's Equality about the northern health care crisis and about the fact that a significant proportion of the population who visits family practitioners in the north are women -- women who are having children or women who have children -- and the fact that the Ministry of Women's Equality was not doing anything there, because it wasn't to do with transition houses and it wasn't to do with other things that were in their mandate.
My idea of the Ministry of Women's Equality is as a gender lens, no matter what ministry we're talking about. This is the minister who should ride herd on all those other people who are spending a whole lot of money the way they choose or the way they've been told for political purposes, which doesn't necessarily involve women. The northern health care crisis is a perfect example of this. We had women going from Vanderhoof to have their first baby in Prince George and living three weeks in a motel in Prince George because they had no idea when they were going to deliver. The gender lens should have been applied to that to say that health care is not working for women, and it's certainly not working for women in poverty.
I don't disagree that it's important to have the ministry. But if you have a toothless ministry, you don't have any bite. When we're looking at making systemic change, let's make sure that we're making systemic change, that we actually take a bite out of something and chew it and swallow it and make it into something different. I am not convinced at this point that the ministry has had the ability to do that.
I encourage this minister, with her personal fortitude, to make sure that happens and to make sure that her cohorts in cabinet -- who probably would rather not listen to her -- are forced to deal with the issues that have to do with women, which specifically have to do with women in the rural communities, women in the north and women in general.
Let's talk a little bit about women in poverty. In my constituency we have a lot of women in poverty. When the NDP came into power in 1991, we had 62 families using the food bank. Now we have 1,239 families, ten years later, who rely on the food bank to make ends meet, and 30 or more percent of those people who use the food bank are kids. They're kids who come to the food bank in order to be fed.
[ Page 16520 ]
We have a serious problem in British Columbia, and it is an area of responsibility for the Ministry of Women's Equality. They need to provide the gender lens. This is what is going on in this economy.
The Ministry of Social Development and Economic Security -- and again here we have the envelope of overlap -- has recently announced a small increase for people on income assistance. The issue is that the shelter portion of the entitlement has not seen an increase for over ten years. Anyone who's lived in this province for over ten years can tell that that is a shocking reality. We also know that the majority of people in poverty are women and children. We know without a doubt that housing costs have absolutely increased in the last decade.
To the Minister of Women's Equality: what are the direct and effective pressures that you are putting on the Minister of Social Development and Economic Security to speak about women's economic equality and to have a critical impact on women's equality, so that government will help with respect to those women living in poverty?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The ministry's priority for this next year is specifically that -- economic security for women. In a very short time we will be announcing our initiative, and we are working closely with a number of different ministries.
A. Sanders: Then I look forward to seeing what those initiatives are. Is the minister going to provide those for us -- what the actual initiatives are?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I will be happy to provide the information not only to the government's opposition but to everyone in this province that cares to listen. I hope that lots of folks will be part of the solution, because it will take many different partners to address this complex issue.
A. Sanders: I want to work a little bit more on the theme that I perceive the whole purpose of
Hon. J. Smallwood: As I am sure the member is well aware, the majority of the money that is in the ministry goes out to direct service through either the B.C. and Yukon Society of Transition Houses or women's assault centres or other programs -- in particular, the Stopping the Violence programs. We are a very small ministry. There are 81 FTEs in total, and of the 81 FTEs in total, we have ten in policy and planning. It falls to our policy and planning division to work with government. So when you look at the number of committees that the ministry is involved with, it's very clear that these ten people are providing a tremendous service to the women of this province, and the list of their achievements is considerable. I am very proud to be part of a government that takes women's equality seriously, and I'm very proud to work with colleagues that are very supportive of our agenda and the goals of this ministry.
A. Sanders: Well, this minister has a very tough job. And I need to let her know that of all the people who shouldn't be sleeping and always working, she is the one who should be always here, making sure that her opinion is heard and that her opinions are incorporated into every thread-work of policy that occurs from one ministry to the next.
My last question to the minister
The Chair: Through the Chair.
A. Sanders: Hon. Chair, there have been a number of organizations that have been calling the ministry to do comprehensive studies in the wage gaps that have occurred between front-line workers who work with abused women and front-line workers who work with men who batter, or abusive men. It exists. There's no question about that. There is a study that should be done to show how much it costs per man for all of men's projects as compared to the corollary for women. Does the Ministry of Women's Equality administer funding for men's programs? And if they do, how do they account for the discrepancy within wage accountability and reporting?
Hon. J. Smallwood: We no longer have the programs for abusive males. That is in the Ministry of Attorney General.
I can assure the member that for the last three interventions, where the member committed her support for the task this ministry has and my role, personally, at the tables in which I work
L. Stephens: The member for Okanagan-Vernon makes a good point, though, in regards to the contract amounts that are provided to community services for assaultive men's programs. There was a discrepancy between the Ministry of Attorney General contracts and what they paid and the Ministry of Women's Equality contracts and what they paid. It was quite a large gap between the two ministries. So I just highlight this for the minister, and perhaps she may want to follow up with the Ministry of Attorney General and make sure that the contracts that are awarded for those particular assaultive men's programs are in fact being paid at the same rate.
I want to move on to some of the gaps that I see that need to be addressed in the Ministry of Women's Equality. The first one that I want to talk about is emergency shelters. There is a high number of homeless people in this province, particularly on the downtown east side in the lower mainland, and there is a very severe shortage of emergency shelters for women only and for women and their children. This has been highlighted by a number of agencies that provide those kinds of services, particularly on the downtown east side. But I also know that in the Vernon area there's a huge need for this as well, as there is through the north and the central interior of the province.
So perhaps the minister could tell the committee if in fact she is going to be advocating to other ministries to provide some emergency shelter for women only and for women and their children.
[ Page 16521 ]
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm very reluctant to get into other ministries' responsibilities. However, I used to be the Minister of Housing for the government, and so I have firsthand knowledge of the fact that we do. We're the only government across Canada that is involved in providing housing -- has a housing agenda -- and there is specifically housing targeted to women and children. The government's history has been one of prioritizing highest need, and my knowledge of that area indicates that certainly within the last couple of years, women and children were a very high priority for housing.
L. Stephens: I'm talking about emergency shelters. It's not the same as social housing, which the minister is talking about. I'm talking about emergency shelter beds. These are at a very high premium, particularly on the downtown east side and in the lower mainland. I think there's about ten beds for women in the whole of the lower mainland. So that's an issue that I'd like to highlight for the minister.
I think probably the Ministry of Social Development and Economic Security would be the ministry that would deal with that, and I have in fact spoken to that particular minister about it. Again, because the Ministry of Women's Equality is a cross-ministry, an advocacy ministry -- as the minister herself has said -- what we're doing is bringing to the minister's attention those areas that need to be addressed by the government as a whole. My understanding is that that's the minister's responsibility to do that, and so I'm simply saying that there need to be some decisions made around emergency shelter beds for women only and for women and their children. There's a huge safety issue here to be considered.
Sexual assault policy is another one. Now, this is the Attorney General's ministry, but again, it's sexual assault. I know that the ministry has been in consultation with various groups and organizations since 1995 to come up with a formal sexual assault policy, and as of a month ago that had not happened. So again, I'll ask the minister if she's aware of that and whether or not her ministry is actively involved in coming up with a sexual assault policy -- one that is similar to the Violence Against Women In Relationships policy of the Attorney General. So would the minister comment on that please?
Hon. J. Smallwood: First, with respect to the housing issue, my reference to housing policy was a broad reference, not just within the housing envelope. It also included shelters. So government is aware of it. I agree that housing, being one of the most significant costs to an individual
With respect to the sexual assault policy, one of the first meetings I had with a colleague since coming to this ministry was with the Attorney General. We've had several meetings with respect to the sexual assault policy, and it's my hope that we can bring this issue to a conclusion quickly. We are meeting, as you said, both with women-serving organizations as well as with aboriginal women in the province. I'm sure the member is aware that much of the discussion with respect to sexual assault policy has to do with issues of alternative measures.
L. Stephens: The alternative measures that the minister spoke of
Hon. J. Smallwood: The issue is complex, both from the broad communities' perspective -- issues with respect to aboriginal communities and the healing process that some of those communities have been engaged in over a period of time as well as a process within the Attorney General's ministry and its relationship, obviously, to the justice system, which is independent
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
L. Stephens: I have another question regarding the Women Against Violence Against Women audit report. I'd like the minister to inform the committee what the key findings of that audit were and any actions that the ministry has taken or intends to take in that regard.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I understand there is a request from the opposition with respect to this report. The freedom of information and privacy branch is looking at the audit to ensure that the release of any information meets the requirements of the legislation both with respect to disclosure and the privacy provisions of the legislation.
L. Stephens: Can the minister advise whether or not the ministry has taken action in regard to this audit?
Hon. J. Smallwood: As I'm sure the member is aware, the process of audit provides a valuable tool for ongoing discussions with agencies that deliver service for government. That process is underway. WAVAW has implemented a number of changes that were recommended by and through the audit, and we continue to work with that organization -- ongoing.
L. Stephens: The next issue I'd like to inquire about is the Yew Transition House and the incident that took place there. This was the woman who was allowed to stay in the transition house. Would the minister comment on whether or not any legal proceedings against that particular woman or the transition house have been instigated or are being contemplated to be begun?
Hon. J. Smallwood: There was an RCMP investigation, but that investigation was subsequently dropped by the police.
L. Stephens: As a result of this, has the ministry crafted some additional guidelines for transition houses to use in an instance such as this?
Hon. J. Smallwood: We're working with both the B.C.-Yukon Society of Transition Houses and the Ministry for Chil-
[ Page 16522 ]
dren and Families to develop a protocol to ensure both that the interests of children that are in transition houses are met and that transition houses continue to be a safe place for women -- that the program objectives remain intact. So that work is ongoing; we would foresee, at the end of the work, a formal protocol developed.
L. Stephens: On the issue of transition houses, I'm just going to read out some of the information that I would like. I don't expect the minister to answer it at this point in time, but I would like a response from the ministry in terms of some of these requests: transition houses services for women and services for children, by region; the average occupancy rate of the transition houses, by region; how many women were refused service, by region -- that would be because the individual coming to the house did not fall within the specific criteria of accepted individuals; how many children were refused service, by region; and why the women were refused service.
Also, with the counselling programs, I would like to know if there's a wait-list for services and what training is available for counsellors. I know that the ministry has been providing training upgrade money for counsellors to increase their skills. This, I think, is a good thing; I think it's excellent. Transition house workers today are faced with a lot of issues that they were not faced with in the past. There are some mental health and some drug and alcohol issues, which we talked about a little earlier.
Also, confidentiality protection of counsellors' notes
Second-stage housing is something that the minister alluded to a little bit earlier when she was talking about housing. I wonder if she could talk about second-stage housing, specifically whether or not there is funding available, whether or not the ministry has an active program of providing more second-stage housing, and where in the province it has been identified that we require more of these kinds of facilities.
Hon. J. Smallwood: There are currently eight second-stage housing projects. The budget for 2000-2001 is $1,063,283, and the regions are Vancouver Island, including Powell River and up to Ocean Falls; the mainland, including Vancouver to Hope; Okanagan, Hope to Oliver; Kootenays; Cariboo; and Nechako South.
L. Stephens: It looks like the ministry is going to make a stab at trying to get some of this kind of accommodation out there. I know the minister is aware of the great need for second-stage housing. It has always seemed to me that women who wanted to leave the transition house had a very, very difficult row to hoe to find appropriate, safe and affordable housing, coming right out of a transition house. This second-stage funding appears to be trying to fill that gap. Would the minister comment on how many communities have applied for new transition house funding?
Hon. J. Smallwood: While we're getting the answer to the last question, let me clarify the record. I gave the member the wrong information about the second-stage housing. Let me clarify that. For Vancouver Island, there are two; for the mainland, there are five; for the Kootenays, there is one. So that is the eight. Not all regions have second-stage housing.
With respect to transition houses, I'd be happy to get information about new applications to transition houses. We don't currently have it here.
The Chair: A reminder: please, through the Chair.
L. Stephens: I want to go back for a moment to one of the accountability issues and ask about ministry contracts -- service contracts, specifically. There were a number of contracts in '98-99, and there are a couple that keep turning up. I wonder if the minister could comment on what they are for. Active Software in '98-99 was awarded a contract for $141,500 and again last year for $40,000. Could the minister tell us what those contracts were for?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The information that we have and the estimates that we're doing are for '99-2000. Information about contracts prior to this budget year is obtainable either through the ministry or through the public accounts.
L. Stephens: In the 2000-2001 ministry budget, how much has been allocated for service contracts in this coming year, and to whom?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The amount in this year's budget is $200,000.
L. Stephens: Does any of that amount include funds for polling?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The use of money for service contracts has not been allocated for the year to come. I suppose that if there was a need, that could happen, but it is not anticipated at this point.
L. Stephens: I'd like to ask the minister about the community-based prevention activities -- A Safer Future for B.C. women. Could the minister talk about the programs or initiatives that she is bringing forward in this year's budget?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm not clear on the member's question. Our commitment to the Stopping the Violence initiatives in our ongoing programs is continuing. There is no new developmental money, so we're not anticipating any change in the initiative. That's not to say that while we review programs, the ministry may not do things differently. However, the commitment for these programs, and particularly Safer Future, continues.
L. Stephens: Community-based prevention activities totalled, according to my numbers here, $688,000. Is that a correct amount? I see from the puzzled look on the minister's face that that is not it. Again, I will simply say that the numbers that I have, have been provided by the ministry, and it was from this particular document that was not included in the subsequent briefing package that I received from the ministry. But this does give the 2000-2001 estimate amounts: community-based prevention activities, $688,000; projects for
[ Page 16523 ]
social change -- A Safer Future for B.C. Women -- $280,000; promotion of non-violence and prevention of violence against women, $280,000; miscellaneous projects, such as symposium foundation, $128,000; for a total of $892,000.
Could the minister break down for me what those projects for social change are in the communities, and the promotion of non-violence and prevention of violence against women -- whatever form those contracts may take?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The definition of the different programs that the member outlined from the briefing note
L. Stephens: I'd like to have the number of community-based prevention contracts or the project funding that is awarded in this particular year's budget and the amount.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The amount is constant, and the funding will be subject to applications from community organizations. We've had some tremendous projects over the years, and we expect to have the same commitment and creativity this year as well.
L. Stephens: I don't know if the minister has this particular document at all, but I'd like someone in the ministry, or someone over there, to figure out these numbers. The 2000-2001 estimates, as I said, total $892,000, and yet the descriptions of the programs have different numbers, and they don't add up to $892,000. There's community-based prevention initiatives, $688,000, and then under that, they have A Safer Future for B.C. Women, $280,000, and promotion of non-violence and prevention, $280,000. Could the minister clarify what those amounts are for?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Looking at the same material that the member has, under community-based prevention activities, the total is $688,000. That includes projects for social change -- A Safer Future; promotion of non-violence and prevention; and miscellaneous projects. Add to that public education, at $204,000, and you'll get the $892,000.
L. Stephens: The public education part, the $204,000, is that the Live Violence Free budgeted amount for this year? And if not, what does this one include, and how much is in this year's budget for the Live Violence Free initiative?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The public education program supports initiatives, research and activities that promote women's equality. We're taking a look at this particular project funding or grant program to ensure that it meets those objectives. This is a fairly small grants program, and we want to make certain that we meet the objectives of both the government's broad agenda with respect to women's equality and the community needs.
L. Stephens: The Live Violence Free campaign -- how much money is allocated to that particular initiative in this year's budget?
Hon. J. Smallwood: There is currently $280,000. The initiative, as I'm sure the member is aware, is an initiative in partnership with the broadcasters, where the broadcasters have committed some $50 million over a ten-year period.
L. Stephens: Yes, I'm well aware of that particular program. Now, that $280,000 -- where does it fall in these community-based prevention activities? Is this Live Violence Free campaign for $280,000
Hon. J. Smallwood: It's the promotion of non-violence and prevention of violence against women.
L. Stephens: The new initiatives for which the minister has received $1 million new dollars in her budget for this coming year -- could the minister outline what those new initiatives will be?
Hon. J. Smallwood: In the fullness of time.
L. Stephens: Well, this is the fullness of time. These are the estimates debates for the year coming up. And that's what we're here to do -- to talk about what the ministry intends to do with this money. And there's $1 million in new initiatives. I would like the minister to answer what those new initiatives are. That's what we're here to do -- to scrutinize that spending. So I'm sorry, but that's really not an acceptable answer. We need to have some indication of what those new initiatives are that are going to be costing $1 million.
Hon. J. Smallwood: In my introductory comments, I outlined the ministry's priorities. The process for funding new initiatives is a process that requires a number of sign-offs in government, including Treasury Board. The fact that the ministry has money in this year's budget does not mean that that process is complete. The work is under way; it is ongoing. It is my hope that we will be able to announce very shortly a very exciting initiative.
L. Stephens: Perhaps the minister could sort of narrow things down a bit. Is she talking about these new initiatives in terms of programs, core funding -- things along those lines? Or is she talking about new wage funding? What kinds of groups would these new initiatives fall under? Is it going to be primarily dedicated to new programs?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm genuinely not trying to be difficult for the member, but the approval process is one that, as I said, is underway. It is not complete, so it would be premature for me to make any public announcements.
[ Page 16524 ]
L. Stephens: I'm not asking the minister to make a public announcement. I'm simply asking the minister to give some direction as to where these new initiatives may fall -- whether it's in programs, whether it's in special project funding, public education initiatives or anything along those lines. I don't think that that would be compromising the minister's position in any way, but it would certainly give an indication as to the general area that the minister anticipates having these funds available for.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The general area is economic security for women.
L. Stephens: Thank you, minister. That helps somewhat.
I guess one final word: when does the minister anticipate having made her decision and having that announcement available for the public?
Hon. J. Smallwood: In the very near future.
L. Stephens: Well, we shall be waiting with bated breath, as I'm sure the rest of the general public will too. I want to say that I hope it's a good one, because I think the ministry really does need to become much more proactive than they have been in the past. If the minister has a million new dollars, I would like to see some substantive action in her new capacity as the Minister for Women's Equality.
The economics, work and education of the ministry brings us to the bridging employment programs that have just been transferred into the ministry from Social Development and Economic Security or whatever it's called now. How many employment programs are there in the province? What is the funding allocation for those programs?
Hon. J. Smallwood: There are 26 contracts. The total funding is $4,302,000. The goals of the program are: empowerment; improving clients' ability to make positive choices; integration and healing; improving clients' ability to network and gain support from others; stopping intergenerational abuse to assist clients to stop the cycle of abuse; skills development and employment; and improving clients' ability to secure and maintain long-term employment.
L. Stephens: Have there been any requests for other program funding for bridges for women?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm not clear on the question.
L. Stephens: Have other agencies asked for funding from the ministry to provide bridges programs?
Hon. J. Smallwood: This is funding for current or ongoing contracts. I don't have information as to whether or not there are new requests.
L. Stephens: One of the areas that the ministry was active in was the area of Ministry of Labour programs and legislation as they affect women. One of the initiatives was the highway construction project -- the equity hires and major projects. Could the minister tell me how many of those major projects of government are using equity hire?
Hon. J. Smallwood: While we get the exact information, let me say that the Vancouver Island project was very successful. I've just been reading a report done by Marjorie Griffin Cohen, actually, on the Island Highway project -- a fascinating report, not only on its success with respect to equity-seeking groups broadly but specifically on its impact on individual women's lives.
There are other projects as well -- the Vancouver Rapid Transit Project, the Columbia basin project and the Keenleyside Dam project as well.
L. Stephens: The ministry, I believe, is working quite closely with ITAC to look at non-traditional career opportunities for women. What new is happening there? Is the ministry involved in decisions around post-secondary education for women in non-traditional trades, or is there some other arrangement to try to provide women with more opportunities in those particular fields?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Just as an indication of the priority the ministry has with respect to the work of ITAC, our deputy minister has a position on the board. There's some very exciting things happening, in particular with the new economy. Just lately, I had an opportunity to be part of a public event celebrating the role of women in science and technology. There are some very interesting projects that have been underway. One in particular that comes to mind was a project to involve women more actively in the computer sciences. That particular initiative moved the enrolment of women from 15 percent to 50 percent in one particular class. So there are some truly wonderful initiatives led by women who have achieved leadership roles across different sectors in British Columbia.
L. Stephens: Is the Ministry of Women's Equality working with Advanced Education in areas of science and technology? The minister mentioned one of those programs. We know that young girls aren't attracted to maths and sciences as young boys are. I wonder if there is some kind of program or if there's an initiative through the ministry to encourage girls to pursue maths and sciences and look at the high-tech areas for career options.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Sometimes I feel like the member is reading my mind, because I would really like to talk more about this particular area.
The event that I participated in was sponsored by WITT -- Women in Trades and Technology. The leadership that they are providing in breaking down barriers and mentoring women in technologies was the initiative that I was talking about. They have a number of different aspects to the work that they do, mentoring of young women in high schools and encouraging them to be more directly involved in maths and sciences and the field of computer sciences in particular. So that is work we're doing with Advanced Education, with WITT and with ITAC specifically.
L. Stephens: The ministry has provided, or is providing, information on business startup to women. I think the minister would remember that at one point, the Ministry of Small Business had a women's business advocate and did a lot of good work around assisting women who wanted either to start their own businesses or expand the business that they
[ Page 16525 ]
were in. What kind of economic initiatives is the ministry developing, either on its own or in partnership with another ministry, around business information for women entrepreneurs?
Hon. J. Smallwood: The member, in her introductory comments, spoke about small business and women's role. While I think the statistics speak for themselves on the role of women in small business, I think it's also important for us to acknowledge that, while women are disproportionately represented as a group in small business, women's income in small business still remains considerably less than men's in small business.
So it's a story with some mixed success. I think that the average income of a woman with her own small business is something like $18,000 a year, which is considerably less than a man's. That puts her very close to the low-income cutoff, depending on the number of dependents that she does have.
It's clear that in dealing with questions with respect to women's economic security, government will welcome input not only from women in the entrepreneurial sector but women in all age groups and all experiences. This will be an area of interest and concern in the coming year.
L. Stephens: One final question about ITAC. ITAC apparently is trying to boost the number of training spaces that are available to individuals in British Columbia. For this year, they are talking about increasing their number to more than 25,000. Last year it was 23,000; this year they're looking at 25,000. I wonder if the minister could indicate whether or not a significant number of those spaces are going to be reserved for women or a significant number of training programs in various different areas will be available to women.
Hon. J. Smallwood: We don't have the specifics with respect to ITAC. Again, because our ministry is involved with the work, I'd encourage the member, for detailed information about ITAC, to raise that with the minister who is responsible, the Minister of Advanced Education.
L. Stephens: One of the areas that many women struggle with is financial security and financial information. One of the groups that seems to have the most difficulty is senior women. As I know the minister knows, many of them live in poverty. Most of them, I think, are on fixed pensions. And just as the ministry, at one point, put together a public education brochure called "Money Smarts for Young Women," which was primarily directed at young people, are there any initiatives that the ministry is undertaking with regards to providing financial information for the needs of senior women?
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me comment with respect to seniors and poverty. I readily acknowledge that this is not the question the member asked, but it certainly is an opener to talk a little bit about how successful past initiatives have been.
In Canada, broadly, when there was a social contract between the federal government and their partners in the province, that social contract was an agreement that the federal government would fund social programs at 50-cent dollars. At the same time that that contract was entered into, the federal government also had a number of other initiatives that I believe they can be very proud of -- housing being one of them.
The citizens of Canada, at the time, took a look at senior poverty and felt that it was an embarrassment to Canada and that governments should do something about it. It's interesting timing, because it was, of course, right after the war that all of these things happened. People coming back from fighting the war wanted their government to reinvest in the social structures of country they had fought for. The work that was done by the federal government and the provinces at that time moved seniors poverty down from a 20 percent poverty level to a 7 percent poverty level in a very short period of time -- a decade, I think.
It's a good indicator of how governments, if they put their minds to a comprehensive strategy, can truly make a difference. They made a difference through pension reform, through housing and through Pharmacare medical initiatives. It's very sad that we find ourselves in the year 2000 with that social contract broken and the federal government no longer part of that partnership.
That is not to say that we as a society could not make those decisions again. I think it's incumbent upon us to look at questions of poverty in that comprehensive fashion and recommit ourselves to making a difference. This province has bucked the trend. We have fulfilled our commitment and then some to those social programs. We've not been able to make up all of the difference with the federal government vacating the field, but we have not gone the way of other provinces. So the commitment's there from this government. It's my hope that the commitment will be embraced by the rest of the province, as well, as we deal with a comprehensive strategy for women in all stages of their lives.
L. Stephens: I would be anxious to see this comprehensive strategy that deals with women and poverty in all ages and stages of their lives. I hope that's something that the minister will be able to share. Poverty is a big issue, not just for senior women, but for most women. That's the rule. So perhaps the minister could tell this House why her government decided to withdraw $29 million in B.C. family bonus payments to families in British Columbia. According to the estimates book, it says: "
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'm going to direct the member to ask specific questions about programs that are delivered by other ministries in other ministries' estimates. I want to again restate our commitment in any work that we do in this ministry to do it in concert with both women-serving organizations and the people of this province. So as we move forward, we will be moving forward with women in this province; we will not be dictating.
L. Stephens: Again, poverty is an important issue for women, and B.C. Benefits is something that this province has continually said they're very proud of. I know that I don't have to remind the minister that that is part of her ministry and that the economic well-being of women that the minister has talked about for most of the day and the evening has, in large part, a significant role to play for women who are beneficiaries of B.C. Benefits. So again, I'll ask the minister about the reductions of $29 million to the B.C. family bonus in this province: why was that; why did that happen?
Hon. J. Smallwood: I want to bring to the attention of the member that the children's benefit that the government
[ Page 16526 ]
brought in, not only for working families, actually has had an effect of closing the poverty gap by 19 percent. That's a tremendous victory in this province. The additional supports that have been invested in support of families with children -- whether it's the day care initiative just recently announced or support for the working poor in initiatives that have been brought about through the MSP payments -- have had a significant effect.
I think the accomplishments of this government are, at this time in history, unprecedented across Canada. We're very proud of that. The initiatives that the member speaks of with respect to funding for people who are receiving income assistance are best dealt with during the estimates of that ministry.
L. Stephens: Well, I can only take it from that that the minister refuses or doesn't want to answer this particular question, because it very clearly does fall within her mandate to look after the economic well-being of women. And a $29 million reduction in the family bonus simply because the ministry won't pass it along. It's federal money that the ministry won't pass along. I guess it's up to the minister to decide whether or not she thinks that is not important.
The women's health care issues that the minister has referred to
Hon. J. Smallwood: There's a number of initiatives that the women's health bureau is engaged in, and let me outline some of them. Gender as a determinant of health -- issues such as a gender lens for planning for health regions -- is something that the women's health bureau has worked on, and I'm certainly encouraging the health regions to use it. It's a wonderful tool with respect to the delivery of health services. It gives women in communities, in particular, an additional opportunity to talk not only about the health system but about wellness and the needs of women in their dual role both as caregivers and workers in the broader community.
We continue to work on issues with the federal government around reproductive technologies and reproductive health -- quite a wide range of issues that are of particular concern to Women's Equality.
L. Stephens: Perhaps the minister could be a bit more specific. She mentioned the new reproductive technologies. There's a number of issues in health care that impact women specifically. Eating disorders, for instance -- is that something that the ministry is concerned about? Mental health services, addiction services, rural women's health care
Hon. J. Smallwood: The ministry is involved with the women's health bureau and an advisory committee on women's health. There is a multitude of issues, obviously, that come up, and we are in discussion at those tables with those issues.
However, I want to differentiate between issues that touch women's lives and issues that are fundamental to the equality of women, that are systemic and are barriers to that equality. That is not to say we are not involved and part of the discussion of those issues that touch women's lives. I would hope that the member, in wanting broader details about some of these specific health issues relating to women, would take the opportunity to raise those issues with the Minister of Health during his estimates. I would hope that the member could help bring focus to the role of this ministry in its task with respect to the equality of women and systemic barriers to that equality.
L. Stephens: Well, I'm beginning to think that
The minister is talking about women-centred health care and the kinds of initiatives that need to be implemented around women-centred health. That's very generic. That's something that you can simply put into your regional health plans. That's what is happening in my region. I know the regional health board has developed initiatives that deal specifically with services to women and children. Now, the minister made reference to that. Again, the Ministry of Women's Equality, if they want to have credibility as a ministry that is worthy of being a freestanding ministry, needs to become much more assertive in providing the kinds of programs and that kind of advocacy for women. That includes women's health care.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
For the minister to simply say she is concerned about systemic health barriers is not good enough. We've got areas around mental health services that I'm sure her transition house people have told her time and time again are an issue. We have issues around addiction services -- drugs and alcohol and gaming. I'm sure, again, the agencies that she contracts with have told her time and time again that these are issues that need to be addressed. And I'm sure I don't need to remind the minister about aboriginal women's health, which is a whole other issue and a very large one at that. Perhaps the minister would just care to comment on what she is going to get involved in and what her priorities are going to be in health care for women for this coming year.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Let me add some additional information for the member. For aboriginal women
With respect to mental health, we've provided $10,000-plus to the B.C. Centre of Excellence for Women's Health for the report "Hearing Women's Voices: Mental Health Care for Women," which examined women-centred mental health care. The Ministry of Women's Equality continues to work closely with the mental health division of the Ministry of Health to ensure that women's mental health needs are addressed.
[ Page 16527 ]
We are part of a federal-provincial-territorial working group on women's health and currently conducting a gender analysis for the second report on the health of Canadians by the Advisory Committee on Population Health. I have recently written to the federal minister recommending that in the work they do, they include women-serving organizations as part of their guidance as they move forward.
The work of the Ministry of Women's Equality with respect to women's health is extensive and, I suspect, too lengthy to enunciate in the short time that we have left.
L. Stephens: Perhaps the minister could talk a little bit about rural women's health care. This is a very big issue, as I'm sure she's aware. The north and the central Cariboo regions have the lowest determinants of health in the province, and indeed, there are communities that are losing their health care services altogether. I wonder if the minister could comment on whether or not she believes in or has advocated to the Minister of Health the use of nurse practitioners in some of these smaller communities in the rural and remote areas of the province and whether or not that might be a way to help bring vital health care services to women in these communities.
Hon. J. Smallwood: The Minister's Advisory Council on Women's Health has a comprehensive agenda. One of those agenda items is northern and rural access to health services. I'm sure the member is aware of an announcement that the Minister of Health has made in the last couple of days with respect to an additional funding initiative for access to northern health professionals.
Beyond that, I want to assure the member that the area of women's health is an area that we take seriously. We have a very good working relationship with the ministry's advisors on women's health and the women's health bureau, and the work that they have done should be recognized and complimented both from the perspective of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Women's Equality. Those women's voices are strongly heard.
L. Stephens: Well, if the minister is talking about the voices that are strong around the cabinet table, I don't see much evidence of that. Frankly, the Ministry of Women's Equality
We still don't have domestic violence legislation in the province. They've been working on a sexual assault policy since 1995. It just seems to me that these are serious issues. Some of them have far-reaching consequences for individuals, and I think what we need to do is make sure that, as the minister says or purports to say, the well-being of women in the province is a priority of this government. Indeed, when I read the Premier's speeches, this is what he continues to say.
Now, I don't know if it's a big secret that the minister doesn't feel she can share with this committee or with the rest of the province, but I expected the minister to have much more of an agenda -- much more of a women's agenda -- in all these areas I have just mentioned than what we have witnessed this afternoon and this evening. Perhaps in the few minutes left, the minister would like to tell us what her women's agenda is for her ministry in this coming year.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Perhaps it's a good time -- noting the time -- for us to continue the estimates at a later time, because where both myself and our ministry have been very supportive in providing information to our critic and tried to foster a positive and constructive working relationship, let me tell you how disappointed I am at the member's last comments.
This government and this ministry is leading the way across Canada. We are setting the bar for other provinces with respect to our commitment to women. The work that has been done by this ministry over the years is unprecedented. The achievements of this government are unprecedented. For this member to suggest that it is anything other, at the same time as the opposition is criticizing the government for, as an example, closing the wage gap for our direct employees and the extended public service to 90-cent dollars -- a tremendous investment
The Chair: Members.
Hon. J. Smallwood:
The Chair: Member, your own seat, please. Continue, minister.
Hon. J. Smallwood: If the member cannot see the significant accomplishments with respect to controlling our reproductive destiny and the changes that our government has brought in with the Ministry of Health
If the member cannot understand that at a time when other governments are cutting back on educational opportunities and that this government investing in opportunities that can directly benefit women and the participation of women in the education system, which in continuing education now exceeds the participation of men, is a significant agenda for women, then I'm not sure what the opposition sees as a significant agenda for women.
I could go on. But noting the time, I would save the rest of my comments for the rest of our estimates. The member certainly would be welcome in highlighting what the opposition would do, given the opportunity, because I think the people of the province would be happy to hear that. I fear that the opposition leader's comments about blowing up this ministry or their lack of commitment to this ministry overall is just a precursor for their view of what a women's agenda is.
Hon. Chair, I would move that we rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
[ Page 16528 ]
The committee rose at 8:59 p.m.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Committee of Supply B, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. J. Smallwood moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 9:00 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
The House in Committee of Supply A; D. Streifel in the chair.
The committee met at 2:45 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
ENVIRONMENT, LANDS AND PARKS
On vote 29: ministry operations, $154,948,000 (continued).
M. Coell: Earlier in the session I provided the minister with an outline of how I wanted to proceed, and I've arranged for the members of this side to follow that as well. If that's still all right with the minister, I'll continue on that. I'd first like to touch base on some of the background information that was provided to me and make some comments on that before going into individual cases.
The business plan that the minister mentioned in her opening comments
Also, looking at performance measures and the progress reports, I think that for the longest time in environmental programs we embarked upon them with the idea
The environmental assessment office, again, was very good in briefing us and letting us know what they're doing -- and, again, a lot of the things that they're doing could and will benefit from performance measures as well.
As I said in my opening remarks, the last five years have seen quite a dramatic cut in this ministry. My estimate is 28 percent, and I realize that some things have been moved off and have gone to other ministries, such as BCAL and others. But that is a significant cut, being that if you look at the other ministries, the average would be about a 10 percent cut. There isn't a dramatic cut in this year's budget; it's the status quo. But I'd be interested in hearing how the minister intends to make up that five-year period and how she assesses the problems of that.
As I mentioned, I think the BCGEU review of their morale is a product of those five years of cuts. I guess the comments I get -- and I'm sure the minister and all members of the Legislature do too -- about people having problems with the ministry for backlog, for ability to return a phone call within a reasonable time
I'm not saying that in places cuts may have been to trim fat off government or to streamline government. I understand that. But when you look at a significant cut in the range of 28 percent, compared to the average of 10 percent in other ministries, how is this budget going to address that backlog?
Hon. J. Sawicki: The hon. member mentioned several things, so I'll start with his comments on the business plan first.
Clearly our two-year business plan -- and I'm pleased that he does recognize that it is better to do a two-year rather than a one-year business plan -- is intended to provide a context for our divisional and program planning. It's also used as an information tool for ourselves to make sure that we are kept on track. Clearly we have worked very hard to make sure that it is an effective accountability tool.
The hon. member asks: how do we use that to make sure we are on track? I mentioned in my opening comments this morning that we do have the environmental trends report that has come out. I want to assure the hon. member that we have in place within our business plan that framework for performance management systems, where we have performance measures. We do provide updates on how well we are doing with our business plan during the year; I expect that we'll be able to table our progress report for this year in the very near future. We see the business plan, the environmental trends and our own performance measures progress report as the main tools that we use to keep ourselves on track in terms of our business plan.
The member then mentioned some overall comments on the budget for this ministry in the past few years. The BCGEU survey that the member referred to was conducted prior to my time as minister. One of the first tasks that I tasked myself with when I was appointed minister last July was to take a good, hard look at our ministry's stresses and strains, and the pressures it was under. I personally went out and visited every single region in the province, spent substantial time with our ministry staff and heard some of the pressures and concerns that they had. But also very early on, I was able to receive $5 million, put into this ministry's budget last year to help address those stresses and strains. We did set priorities
[ Page 16529 ]
very carefully to make sure that we utilized that $5 million as carefully and as wisely as we could.
I'm very pleased that in this year's budget we were able to retain that $5 million and do some very modest rebuilding of some of the core services in the ministry. We have redirected some of our funds. We have used one of our goals in our business plan around responsive and adaptive organizations to make sure that we use all of our dollars wisely.
M. Coell: I share this thought with you. I think one of the things I've seen over the past three years is how the effects of change in any organization sometimes create problems with morale. I just want to emphasize that I think the problem is that cuts and changes -- BCAL moving and reorganization -- and having a number of ministers and a number of deputy ministers and a number of associate deputy ministers, has a potential for creating morale problems because of not knowing the direction in which your employment or your ministry is going. So I'm pleased to hear the minister's assurance that things are going to be more stable -- that you're not going to see further cuts and changes again this year. Hopefully that will bring some stability to the ministry. I think we both realize the important role that it plays within government and within our society.
The land use coordination office was good, as well, in the information that they gave me. I just wonder whether the minister can outline for me how many of the LRMPs you expect to finish during this year.
I guess I'll ask a couple of questions. What is the length of time we're looking at for the completion of that process?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I can give some general information on LUCO, although staff aren't here. If there are more specific questions later on, we can certainly have them here.
Before I do that, I just want to respond to the first part of the hon. member's comments, in terms of morale in the ministry. That was one of the main reasons I did go and visit regional staff. I wanted them to know that I valued the work that they did and recognized the pressures they were under -- especially in the context of the scope and depth of this ministry, knowing that those pressures would get greater, not less.
Also internally in the ministry, I want to say that one of the deputy minister's first priorities when he joined the ministry as deputy -- about the same time I did -- was to look at the availability of training and ensure that we squeeze out some funding to ensure that staff can get training upgrades, skill upgrades, so that they can do their jobs well and better.
Also, we have addressed the deputy minister, and the ADMs are paying special attention to ensuring that communications are as fluid as they can be with regional staff. I think that has helped tremendously to ensure that all ministry staff realize that their work is valued and respected and that we need all of us in order to meet the mandate of the ministry.
In terms of LUCO and how many plans we expect to finish this year, it's a little hard to predict, because of course the LRMPs are stakeholder tables. These are people in local and regional areas that sit down and work out a consensus plan, hopefully. So it's a little difficult to predict when they might finish; government doesn't direct that. But I think we are hopeful that three, four or five tables may be completed this year.
M. Coell: A couple of comments that I've had: one is the amount of local government input into them. I've had a number of calls over the last few years about mayors and councillors and regional district people not feeling they have as much input as they might have. So I'd be interested in the minister's comments on that and also her comments -- and I think I touched on them in my opening remarks -- about making sure that there are areas that are easily accessible to the forest industry and the mining industry, in the north especially. I realize that some of those -- the plans that will be coming forward -- are going to be coming from the north and the west coast, as well, where the majority of people are employed in those two industries. Two comments
Hon. J. Sawicki: The composition of the land use planning tables, of course, differs depending on what parts of the province they're in and the special needs and the kinds of issues that the tables need to deal with. So I think it's important that we have as many of the stakeholders around the table in each instance
M. Coell: I guess I would just encourage the ministry to make sure that the locally elected people play a significant role in some of these, especially the northern ones, where the people in those areas probably have more affinity with locally elected people than they do with the provincial or federal government, because they're definitely closer to home.
The minister mentioned that she didn't have staff here to do individual questions on the land use coordination office. Is that correct as well?
Hon. J. Sawicki: That's true, but we can get them here. Or we can try and go through the questions. I think we have considerable expertise here, in any case. If there's more detailed information, then we can have the staff here and get back to you.
M. Coell: One of the members said he had a couple of quick questions with regard to the land use office. So if we go ahead with that and
The Chair: The hon. member for Okanagan-Penticton, on vote 29.
R. Thorpe: Just following up on the LRMP for the Okanagan-Shuswap area, are there established guidelines for public consultation, public review of recommendations? Do you have guidelines in that area?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Yes, hon. member, there is a provision as part of the LRMP process for public involvement. But that is after the draft plan is arrived at by the stakeholders around the table. Then each of those tables then goes out for public discussion and consultation around that.
R. Thorpe: It looked like staff was providing you with more information for an answer.
[ Page 16530 ]
With respect to a process that goes on for a number of years, what kind of public consultation notice is given so that the public has a fair opportunity to learn, to see, to understand and to give feedback with respect to this process?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I think it's fair to say that these tables use all of the usual tools that you would use when you want to encourage public response on a draft plan or any other issue. The Okanagan table has had several public sessions. They've used newsletters, they use newspaper inserts, and they have open houses and public meetings. I couldn't say specifically if there are other tools that they have used to get that public feedback, but those would be the most normal ones that tables would use.
R. Thorpe: Just quickly: from an overall ministry perspective and the guidelines, after the report is getting close to being completed, would you characterize whether the final public consultation is minimal or extensive?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I'm not sure that I would want to choose one of the words that the hon. member has used -- whether it's minimal, moderate or extensive -- because these tables are very fluid and dynamic processes, and each of them takes on a character of its own.
For instance, I'm advised that the Okanagan table, which has gone on for quite some time, has often had the public sitting in and listening to the table work out some of these issues. So there has certainly been substantial opportunity in the several years that the Okanagan table has been operational for a lot of public information to be available. I have no doubt that everyone in the land use planning region that's encompassed around that table is aware that this table has been going on. So when the draft plan is arrived at by the table and they go out for some public feedback, I can assure the hon. member that that will not be the first time the public is learning what's going on. They've had many, many opportunities to follow this process, and I'm sure many people in the Okanagan have done so, because it's a process of long standing and obviously is of great interest to the future of that region.
M. Coell: If I could just move to the environmental assessment office, there are two areas that I wanted to touch base on. One is the mining industry, and the other is the ski resort industry. There's a number of mines; the minister mentioned nine in her opening remarks. I would just be interested in the minister's comments with regard to the length of time. I don't think there's any desire to shortchange the environmental assessments and reviews. But it strikes me that one of the comments that we've had is that the length of time, from the time someone stakes a claim to the time a mine is open
During that time, how much time is actually being dealt with in environmental studies and how much time is a review of those studies? I'd be interested in hearing the minister's comments on what we're doing to make sure that those assessments are done but that they're done in a timely fashion, and whether there's any change this year as compared to policy in the last few years.
Hon. J. Sawicki: The hon. member is correct. There are some of these processes that have taken a long time. But the process that has been set up
M. Coell: I guess the comment I would make is that it seems that when I look at some of the resorts and some of the mines, there's sort of a changing floor -- that a study will be done that requires another study that requires another time frame. As I say, I don't have an answer to that, but it does seem that it could go on for quite some time just because of what your studies uncover. Whether that's something that can be dealt with or it can't
Hon. J. Sawicki: Mr. Chairman, I'm going to have to ask the member to repeat the last couple of sentences, if he doesn't mind.
M. Coell: Sorry. I agree with what the minister said, but in the ones I've looked at, the resorts and the mines especially, sometimes a study that they're required to do requires another study. It seems that there have been, in order to get to some of those eight-year marks, I guess, increases in time because of increases in studies. As I said, maybe that's just the way life works. Is there a way that we can dovetail all those studies so they're being done at the same time? It seems that's something that the ministry, probably over the last decade or so
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, I know that the EAO, because it's very busy and it has a lot of work, always looks for ways to streamline its work and to make sure that the environmental assessment process is as efficient as possible.
The hon. member is right. Sometimes studies do spawn more studies, but all of the specifications of what needs to be provided for a comprehensive and thorough environmental assessment is actually signed off by all of the parties. Sometimes right at the beginning, before the knowledge is known about the various aspects that are being looked at, it's a little bit difficult to predict the depth of the study that is required. As more knowledge is known, then clearly sometimes more information is required, and all of the parties work together, hopefully, on getting that information.
M. Coell: I'd like to comment on a couple of reports that the minister's staff gave me. One is to compliment the staff and, I think, the ministry as well on the B.C. Heritage Rivers
[ Page 16531 ]
report and the work that the board is doing. I think that in the past we just took rivers and watercourses for granted. Having these river systems in place and recognized, I think, is a very positive thing for British Columbia. The minister doesn't need to comment on that; I'll just pay her a compliment and move on.
The other is the Fraser Basin Council, which I have watched with some interest, and it relates somewhat to B.C. Heritage Rivers in the future, I think. I would be interested in hearing the minister's comments as to how long she sees the Fraser Basin Council being in place and what she sees it accomplishing in the long run. I realize that they've set goals for each year. It strikes me as an organization that has a fairly healthy future in front of it, but I'd be interested in her comments.
Hon. J. Sawicki: The Fraser Basin Council -- and I actually know a little bit of its history -- really evolved as a grass-roots council, and it had several predecessor organizations, in an attempt to look at the whole Fraser basin. It has done tremendously good work in many, many communities throughout the Fraser basin. Always, both the predecessor organization and now the Fraser Basin Council have had one of the ADMs from MELP, Mr. O'Riordan, sitting on that council. So we have been working very closely with them. There is no sunset to this. This is a very grass-roots-driven process, and as long as it continues to do the good work that it's been doing, I hope that that partnership will continue.
M. Coell: I would agree and wish them well.
I want to touch base on the Environmental Appeal Board. I'd be interesting in knowing how the ministry goes about appointing their board members and whether there has ever been any thought given to a time limit that a board member can sit.
Hon. J. Sawicki: We try to make sure that there is real expertise -- and I think there always has been -- on the Environmental Appeal Board. But I do understand that there are three-year terms for the chair and board members, so there is a term. Some of them can be renewed, but very oftentimes we are appointing new people to that board.
M. Coell: What I was looking at is how many times someone can be reappointed. Could you make a career out of sitting on this board, or is it something we're looking at for rotating expertise?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I don't have that information right now, but I will get back to the hon. member as quickly as possible on that -- if there is any limit to the number of times that a board member can have their appointment renewed.
M. Coell: In wrapping up this section, those are all pieces of information that the ministry's staff had given me during briefings. As I said, it was quite extensive, and I appreciated that.
What I would like to do now is
J. Wilson: Last year -- I believe it was last year -- the ministry was involved in a land transaction where they added Empire Valley to the Churn Creek protected area in exchange for some Crown land in Fort St. John. Does the minister have any information as to the amount of harvest that came off those lands in Fort St. John and what the current state of those lands are?
Hon. J. Sawicki: The information that the member is asking for is not readily available within our ministry. In terms of the harvesting level for the land that was involved in the exchange, I think we'd have to get to the Minister of Forests for that information. My understanding is that it has been harvested and that silviculture planning is taking place, but I really can only give you a general comment. I think I would have to refer the member to the Minister of Forests for that.
J. Wilson: We asked the Minister of Forests in estimates for the numbers, and apparently he's forgotten about it, because they haven't been forthcoming. I was hoping that there was some liaison between the Minister of Forests and the Minister of Environment and that perhaps they did know what was going on with each other's ministry. But it's not the case. So we'll still go back to the Minister of Forests and ask again.
It's my understanding that the Ministry of Environment was perhaps the lead agency in what happened in this land transaction. The private property that was transferred into a protected area and the land that was exchanged was an operation carried out by the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks and didn't necessarily go through BCAL.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Yes, since this was the creation of a protected area, we were responsible for the land exchange.
J. Wilson: Do we have, this year, any more of these land exchanges in the works or underway?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Our ministry, in pursuing its goal to carry out the recommendations of the land use planning processes -- or on Vancouver Island, the goal 2 lands - is always looking for creative ways to deliver on those commitments. So at any one time, staff may be working on land exchange possibilities to deliver on those commitments.
J. Wilson: We have a number of land exchanges in the works or being worked on, and some of them may come to completion. The people involved in the Empire Valley land transaction, I've been told, came out rather well. It's secondhand information, and how accurate it is I'm not sure, but it was somewhere in the millions of dollars that the parties gained from the sale of the timber there in addition to the value of the private property.
I guess I'll have to be a little more specific here. Is the ministry currently negotiating or working towards another land trade with the same people who were involved in the Empire Valley trade?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I would just say, as a general comment around land trades, that they are always done on a value-for-value basis. They are always done with an appraisal. Of course, the land exchange that the member is referring to, I
[ Page 16532 ]
think, was carried out a couple of years ago, before I was minister. I don't have the details about that. But he has asked if there are any other discussions going on. I can't confirm any specific ones. I'm not personally aware, but as I say, there could be discussions going on all around British Columbia around possibilities for land exchanges in order to realize and carry out our commitment in terms of protected areas.
If the member has something more specific that he needs to know, then certainly if he could put it on the record, I would happy to get back to him. It's the best I can do at this point.
J. Wilson: I have some information that would lead me to believe that the Minister of Environment is taking a lead in setting up some areas of private property in the province that are of interest to the ministry because of their special status or special needs, unique features -- this kind of thing. I have reason to believe that there is going to be another trade-off here with the same people that were involved in Empire Valley. I would expect the minister to be aware of what this trade will be.
I would like to know -- a lot of people would like to know -- where the next land trade is going to occur: whether it'll be in Fort St. John, another huge block of timber up there; whether it'll be in the Cariboo; whether it'll be in the Kootenays or on Vancouver Island. I think we need to know when the ministry is in the process of trading Crown land for private land. That's something that is important to a lot of people, and I find it difficult to understand. I don't necessarily expect the minister to know all the details, but she has a number of staff here who are undoubtedly involved, have heard about it, and she should be able to get these answers from her staff at this time.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I want to assure the hon. member that my staff do keep me very well informed about the business of this ministry, and that does include land trades or other land exchanges especially related to our mandate. I want to assure him that I am kept up to date.
But I think that he can also appreciate that even if informal discussions are happening right now and creative solutions are being sought to meet everyone's needs, one doesn't want to start prejudging the outcomes of that. My information is that there is nothing specific at this point that it would be wise to be talking about.
I can only reiterate that I am kept very well up to date. Clearly, when a negotiation is nearing completion, there are decisions to be made, and at that point I would expect to be advised by staff. I would only repeat that I think the hon. member can appreciate that if there are informal discussions going on, looking for creative solutions, that's not the time to be prejudging what the outcome of those may be.
J. Wilson: The reason I'm asking the minister is that there was a subdivision that took place. It was a BCR property at Lone Butte. It was subdivided, and one of the lots had on it the butte, which is a
The developer tried to sell it to the government. The Ministry of Environment turned him down. The asking price was $75,000, I believe. He then came back to the government and said: "Well, if you would put a road in on my other existing subdivision, you can have it." He was again turned down. He dropped his price to $55,000 and offered to sell it to the Crown, because the people there wanted to make it into a protected area on that lot. The ministry turned him down and said: "No, this would take too long; it's too onerous a process to do this."
Then it was put on the market. In the middle of March the real estate agency there received a call from the Minister of Environment's office telling them that there would be someone coming in to purchase the property. A few days later there was someone who showed up to purchase the property. That person was none other than the person that had been the owner of Empire Valley and had made the land trade with the Ministry of Environment. That piece of property was then put into the holdings of a numbered company. Word around the real estate office
That is the reason I'm asking the minister these questions. I would like to know what this much bigger package is that her ministry has been working on through the winter, how much land is involved and what the trade will be in the end.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Hon. Chair, I think it's pretty clear that the hon. member does have some fairly specific information of what sounds like a very complex proposal or whatever. I do apologize; I just don't have that specific information here at this time. But I certainly will commit to get back to him before the end of our estimates and be able to give him the information that he's requesting, if indeed that information is available to give him. I just can't confirm or deny the process that he's describing at this point.
The Chair: The member for Saanich North and the Islands, on vote 29.
M. Coell: If I could move to the Sea to Sky corridor. I have one issue with regard to this. First nations' government representatives within the planning area have been invited to participate in a manner of their definition. I just wonder whether the ministry can confirm: are first nations participating in any effect in this? You know, it's a rather large undertaking. I know, I guess, that B.C. Land and Assets is the contact for it, but it seems to me that it has a lot to do with the minister's ministry. But I'd be interested to know whether first nations have taken up the invitation. Are they participating?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Perhaps the member could just clarify. There is potentially a couple of things he could be referring to in terms of process on Sea to Sky. I do know that BCAL, through the minister responsible, Ag, Food and Fish, has been conducting a study especially related to commercial back-country recreation. Or I wasn't quite sure whether the hon. member was referring to the Sea to Sky LRMP process, which hasn't actually got operational at this point. Therefore perhaps he could clarify which process he's asking a question on.
M. Coell: It's the commercial recreation that has been going, not the LRMP.
[ Page 16533 ]
Hon. J. Sawicki: If it's the BCAL commercial recreation study, I'm sorry we in this ministry don't have any specific information as to the involvement of first nations in that study.
M. Coell: Just briefly, I guess that's one of the problems with moving BCAL out of your ministry. I understand the reasoning for doing that. But I think it would be nice to have those Crown lands and assets within the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. Thank you for that information. Not having the information is helpful. I will turn it over to a colleague.
The Chair: The hon. member for Delta South, on vote 29.
V. Roddick: Hon. Chair, I have a few questions on the bog. Based on the environmental review completed earlier this year, released April 5, does the government agree with the findings of the report and the recommendations?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I think that the Burns Bog ecosystem review, which this ministry commissioned and the environmental assessment office coordinated, has provided us with incredible amount of scientific information of the highest quality. It certainly does confirm that Burns Bog is an ecologically unique domed peat bog of real significance, not only locally but nationally and internationally. I think the information contained in the very extensive report has really contributed greatly to our understanding of the bog. I was very pleased to receive that information, because we now collectively know a great deal more than any of us could have known before about the bog.
V. Roddick: I take it that means you mean yes.
Recommendation No. 8 says: "A drainage plan should be prepared and implemented immediately." Has the province acted to address this drainage issue that is threatening the bog?
Hon. J. Sawicki: One of the difficulties about Burns Bog is that at this point it is privately owned. She's absolutely right. The study and subsequent recommendations from Greg McDade did highlight that the drainage issue is potentially extremely damaging to the continued sustainability of the bog, but there's a lot of
V. Roddick: I would like to ask the minister, when some sort of decision is made on the bog, the drainage -- and the McDade report said uppermost that this was one of the things they want to do right away -- that they take agriculture into consideration on this specific point.
I would like to mention three maps in this report -- figures 4.8, 4.10(a) and 4.10(b) -- and that the ministry get in touch with Albert Weaver, who is at the present time the president of the Delta Farmers Institute and also a cranberry farmer on the edge of the bog. He did the specific work on 4.10(a) that is creating this drainage problem that they're concerned about. He is the one who can really tell you about how it can be filled in and changed without affecting
Hon. J. Sawicki: I think the hon. member has raised a very, very important issue. I have been a longtime, passionate supporter of agriculture, as the hon. member well knows. She and I have been in many events together in support of agriculture, and that includes in Delta.
The issues that she raises about the critical urgency of the drainage systems feeding agriculture are points that are important to consider as we try collectively to achieve the preservation of the bog. Clearly the studies that we have asked to be done were focused on Burns Bog and understanding the ecology of Burns Bog, what its future could or would be and the things that we would need to do to ensure that it could remain a sustainable bog ecosystem. As the hon. member knows, at this point one of the Greg McDade report recommendations has clearly said that it's going to take all of us to achieve a resolution to this. I have certainly met with the mayor of Delta; the GVRD was also represented there. We've got a long way to go yet before we resolve all of the issues related to the bog. The hon. member has raised a very important one, and I will make sure that the points she has raised are made available to staff, so they will keep that in mind from the perspective of our ministry. Of course other ministries would be concerned and have issues as well.
V. Roddick: The minister mentioned that she has worked with the mayor of Delta and the GVRD, etc. I'd like to ask the minister if the federal government has indicated any willingness to help preserve the bog.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I would say, at this point, that I certainly have had personal discussions with my federal counterpart. I know there have been some discussions at the staff level. Very soon after the reports were tabled and released, the mayor of Delta did take it upon herself -- and I really credit her for this initiative -- to call on all the orders of government to get together, as the recommendation in the report suggested, and see what we could do in terms of rolling up our sleeves and finding a collective resolution to the issue of the Burns Bog. We did have one meeting. At that meeting there was a staff person representing a federal ministry. But at this point, it hasn't really gone any further than that.
V. Roddick: I'm asking here for a further commitment by this ministry and this government. In 1996 the lower mainland protected areas strategy called for the protection of the bog, yet just very recently, less than six months ago, the government was willing to go against this recommendation and put a theme park in the bog. I would like to ask the ministry and the minister if this government will commit to preserving this bog and commit to the fact that a theme park is definitely not on the books.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I think it has been obvious that this government has always been very, very committed to achieving preservation of Burns Bog. In the past, several efforts have been made to have discussions with the owner, but you need a
[ Page 16534 ]
willing seller as well as a willing buyer. That situation has not been the case in the past. As a result of the theme park proposal and, quite frankly, widespread public reaction to that, it was this ministry that did commission the ecosystem review that we were just speaking about earlier. The report is now in, and we do have much more knowledge and understanding of the ecology of the bog. As I said the day we released the report, we are very committed to trying to achieve protection of that bog.
We will do our part, but as Greg McDade's recommendation suggests, this is a huge undertaking, and no one level of government can do it all. So I really very much hope
V. Roddick: Along the same lines of protection, habitat and land use, it is important to us all; it's not necessarily exclusive to the Ministry of Environment. Therefore I would ask the minister: will she work with the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, the Tsawwassen first nations and the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that the 2,000 acres of the Brunswick and Delta South is returned or sold back to the original, expropriated farmers? That will ensure that the land will remain in agricultural production and therefore be able to provide habitat and good stewardship in perpetuity.
Hon. J. Sawicki: As the hon. member well knows, this is an issue of such long standing that we're in double-digit years and then some in terms of what used to be called the Roberts Bank backup lands. In previous capacities I've certainly been aware of the long processes and discussions that have been going on. But clearly, in my capacity as Minister of Environment at this point, I don't have any direct involvement as to the disposition of those lands. I would have to ask the hon. member to address it to other ministers.
V. Roddick: I have addressed it to other ministries, and I feel that the Ministry of Environment, which looks after and is responsible for habitat, is part and parcel of this entire problem. This particular problem is only six months old: that the 2,000 acres has been cut off and being used in negotiations with the Tsawwassen first nations. That could very conceivably take it out of the agricultural land reserve and remove it as bird, vole and raptor -- or whatever is tied with that kind of wildlife -- habitat. It's always been my understanding that it is very definitely part of the Ministry of Environment.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I hope the hon. member can appreciate that it's the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs who is working with the Tsawwassen nation in terms of any negotiations they may have around their treaty settlements. Certainly in this ministry we recognize that Brunswick Point does have very important environmental values, and that would be our interest. I certainly will commit to the member that I will continue to work closely with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and the Minister of Agriculture as we try to unscramble this very long, complex ownership around these lands, because I know it is around 26 or 27 years old. I can't predict where we will end up here, but I certainly will commit that this ministry will work closely with the other ministers to try to get an eventual resolution here.
V. Roddick: I just want to reiterate that although, yes, the Roberts Bank from the original expropriation is 27-plus years old, this particular problem is only about six months old. So I really would like that on the record.
M. Coell: I'd like to move on to Osoyoos Desert Society's proposal for parkland. If the ministry could update me on the status of that. It's parkland potential -- Osoyoos Lake waterfront lands.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I am aware of that specific situation, but it's not currently on our acquisition list for priorities.
B. Penner: I would like to thank my colleague the member from Saanich North for giving me this opportunity, in light of the fact that I have a briefing to attend to shortly. I will keep my remarks focused and, hopefully, get this done in one question. I hope the minister can provide a full answer so I don't have to follow up with additional questions.
Late last year I was contacted by some people that work for B.C. Parks in the Fraser Valley. They had heard a rumour that the provincial government was considering designating an area as an ecological reserve in the vicinity of Cultus Lake. The specific location was described to me as being an area close to Liumchen Lake in the mountains above Cultus Lake. I undertook on their behalf to find out what I could. Accordingly, I instructed a researcher who works for the B.C. Liberal caucus to submit a freedom-of-information request. He did so.
The request went as follows: "I request a copy of any studies, reports and/or questions for decision in any format whatsoever with respect to the designation of the area at and/or around Liumchen Lake and/or Liumchen Creek as an ecological reserve, all from June 1, 1998, to date." This was submitted, I believe, in either late November or early December 1999.
Well, in January of 2000 I received a copy of the letter that our researcher got from the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. This letter was signed by Susan Butler, manager of the information and privacy office. In the letter she states: "The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks was unable to locate any relevant records on this issue within the time frame of your request." So I thought that that was the end of the matter and that there was in fact no activity taking place with respect to designating Liumchen Lake as an ecological reserve.
Imagine my surprise approximately one month later when I received a letter from the minister herself telling me that, in fact, this area had already been designated an ecological reserve. Furthermore, she was attaching the appropriate order-in-council document making this area an ecological
[ Page 16535 ]
reserve by law. That order-in-council was dated December 9, 1998, within the time frame of the freedom-of-information request.
I then contacted the people that I know at B.C. Parks, who thought that I must be mistaken. They said that there was no way that this area could be an ecological reserve, given the fact that they have statutory responsibility for managing it, and surely the government would have contacted them to tell them that they now have this new area of responsibility in their back yard to look after. The person did not believe me until I faxed them a copy of the minister's letter, the accompanying order-in-council and a copy out of the British Columbia Gazette establishing the Liumchen Ecological Reserve. This is no small reserve, I add in passing -- 2,190.4 hectares. Using the old system of acres, that's better than 4,000 -- perhaps closer to 5,000 -- acres of area that has been proclaimed an ecological reserve.
Now, as the minister well knows, an ecological reserve is the highest level of protection afforded to lands within British Columbia. It is a higher level of protection than we give through even class A parks. In fact, I'm told that the Parks staff mandate is not just to defer or avoid encouraging public use of those lands but to actually consider steps that would discourage the public from going into ecological reserves. Hence the importance of this designation.
I also note that this is an area that is popular amongst hikers. I tried to get up there last weekend, but there was too much snow on the road. I'm certainly not looking forward to the day when the parks branch takes steps to discourage hikers and others from going into the area, possibly by deactivating the road or, I don't know, tearing up the trail. I hope it doesn't come to that.
My question to the minister is: how can it be, when a freedom-of-information request is put forward asking whether an area, the Liumchen Lake Ecological Reserve, has been created, or if there are any records, that we get a reply saying that there are no records -- no documents, nothing to indicate that anything is moving forward with respect to an ecological reserve -- when in fact it was already in place by law at the time of the request?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I would say two things. I want to deal first with the nuances, if you want to call it that, of freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy requests. I don't pretend to be proficient in being able to describe those. I sat on the parliamentary committee with some of the members across the way here, and I know a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It's very, very complex. But my understanding is that the FOI request was dealt with in a literal sense. It asked for studies and reports and certain other things within a set time frame, and the ministry responded accordingly: there were no studies during that time frame.
However, the designation of the Liumchen area as an ecological reserve really shouldn't have been a surprise to anybody. It was recommended as a protected area by the lower mainland regional public advisory committee. It does have exceptional values, in terms of conservation, old-growth fir and spotted owl habitat, some rare and endangered species, and some very complex ecosystems in that area. So it was felt that it was appropriate to establish it as an ecological reserve, and that was part of that process.
I do want to assure the hon. member that, by definition, "ecological reserve" doesn't mean that it's closed to use by people. Indeed, the Liumchen Ridge area -- by the way, it's an area that I have hiked in the past, long before it was protected in any way -- does provide day use activities such as hiking, nature study and photography. They're not forbidden in the ecological reserve, but clearly that designation is added to a protected area when there are key environmental conservation values that need and warrant that protection. So that's why the ecological reserve designation was chosen.
I hope that will put the member's mind at rest. Yes, there is a conservation priority, but it also does allow access by people with, clearly, a great concern to make sure that ecological damage is not done in a very special area.
B. Penner: Well, you can understand how the public -- and certainly I feel this way -- could be led to believe that the left hand of government doesn't know what the right hand is doing. We got an answer back from the ministry saying that they had no records, no information or anything with respect to Liumchen Lake reserve, at a time when they had already designated it an ecological reserve of greater than 2,000 hectares. It doesn't give me a great deal of confidence in the freedom-of-information process.
I wonder how many other times requests are submitted -- not just by us, but by the media or members of the public -- asking for information, and they end up being told: "There's nothing here." People take that at face value and go away, and they never find out that in fact the government has made a decision or has done something.
Maybe this is an issue I need to take up elsewhere. But certainly there might be some procedures that need to be examined in the minister's own department with respect to how freedom-of-information requests are handled. If members of the public are being told there's no information on topics when there really is, then we're doing everyone a huge disservice, and it's less than honest.
With that, I just note again that the obvious conclusion here was that the left hand of the Ministry of Environment didn't know what the right hand was doing. With that, I will yield the floor.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I think, as the hon. member appreciates, that the rules and guidelines given to ministries related to freedom-of-information requests are very well spelled out, very detailed. I'm very confident that our ministry follows those requirements. But I also suggest that the ministry, in responding to freedom-of-information requirements, cannot begin to start interpreting what other information, perhaps, the request might have wanted but didn't specify.
In future I would really encourage the member to just come and ask the ministry. I know that my ministry is very forthcoming with information, as I know the opposition critic would agree, and I very much regret that the member didn't receive, for whatever reason, the information that he sought. I would really welcome him, in the future, to just phone up the ministry or my office, and we will try to get that information and save the long and onerous process of going through freedom-of-information requests.
M. Coell: I've been following an application from the Deep Bay waterworks district -- it's file No. 1408985, for your
[ Page 16536 ]
staff -- that was a request for the use of Crown land in 1997. I've actually had it in my files for some time. I just wondered whether the minister can update me as to the status of that particular application. They were told 18 to 24 months, and then they were told another year on top of that.
Hon. J. Sawicki: As is often the case, because this ministry is such a horizontal ministry that spans -- is so much a part of -- everyone's life, it's sometimes difficult to determine what's within our ministry responsibility and what is not. My understanding is that the Deep Bay issue that the member has raised is an improvement district issue, and if that's the case, it would be handled by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
M. Coell: Maybe the minister would have a second look at that. I believe that your ministry is involved, but you can get back to me on that, if possible.
K. Krueger: I raised a number of issues in the Agriculture estimates around the problems of the inland fishing resort industry in British Columbia. I won't repeat all that material here, of course, but I refer the minister to it, if she would have a look at it.
I know the hon. minister knows that the tourism sector has been very active in most land use planning processes. Throughout these processes this sector was uncertain whether to support protected-area status for areas with existing or high potential for tourism and other complementary environmental values. The alternative was to opt for the somewhat lower environmental protection but greater operating flexibility of a special resource management zone. In many cases -- and with assurances from the conservation sector that tourism would be allowed to remain viable and flourish within sustainable limits -- the sector agreed to support protected-area status.
As we all know, these areas are now becoming parks, in many cases, and are under the management of B.C. Parks. In both these new areas and in many existing parks, I have reports that the tourism sector is very disappointed with the lack of commitment to tourism support and development being shown by some park managers. The industry assures me that they recognize and respect the high priority placed on our parks in the minds and hearts of citizens. However, the goals of preservation, protection and public use within our parks must be measured in priority to accommodate an appropriate variety of activities. Frankly, many in the resource-based tourism industry feel thwarted in their efforts to provide a quality tourism product within the parks and protected areas and betrayed by those they supported to achieve protected status for the new areas.
What is the government doing to ensure that there is a positive attitude and supporting policy direction toward the development and maintenance of viable and sustainable tourism within B.C. parks?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, certainly in this past year the minister responsible for Tourism and I, as the champion of the green economy initiative, did announce, under that initiative, the ecotourism strategy and gateway community projects around this province, basically adjacent to parks, to do exactly what the hon. member has suggested, and that is to encourage tourism and promote the use of our provincial parks in that regard.
K. Krueger: I'm told that the staff in some areas of the province is great and recognizes the need for balance, but there is an inconsistent approach by staff within the ministry. Some are disrespectful and autocratic and restrictive and quite arbitrary toward tourism. That, of course -- if it's true; and I'm told it is -- needs correction. I would just ask the minister to be mindful of that -- that that is a complaint. The minister is nodding, and I won't oblige her to spend any time getting up, unless she wants to, of course.
Another issue is budgeting to the parks themselves. We have a beautiful park in my constituency -- Wells Gray. Every year there seems to be a crisis as to whether or not the staff have enough budget and can eke out enough funds to open the Clearwater River Road so that people can go up and enjoy their fishing and rafting and other activities -- camping and so on.
At one time someone had taken it upon themselves to dig a water bar across the road by which people get up to the Trophy Mountain meadows. We have elderly people who like to go up there every year, and they have to drive part of the way, or they'd never make it up. But it's just a problem year after year that the staff of Wells Gray Park, for an example, don't have the budget to really provide public access, even though I'm sure that the government wants people to have access. Is this an issue that the minister feels is being addressed in this year's budget, where individual parks such as Wells Gray will have enough budget to open the necessary routes to the public?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Yes, I can confirm that this year there was no reduction to the Parks budget in the region where Wells Gray is located. Indeed, this year, as was mentioned earlier, we were able to allocate a modest lift of $1.6 million to B.C. Parks in order to increase the resources to both operate and manage the facilities and take care of the very expanded parks system that we have.
K. Krueger: The Paul Lake system in my constituency starts at a little lake called Pinantan Lake. I believe mistakes have been made in the past by governments who allowed subdivision around the lake to get down to lots small enough that the septic fields aren't being properly accommodated by the small lots. The result is contamination of Pinantan Lake. This is an issue we've been working on for several years.
We had a very active regional district director who had done an admirable job of pulling together staff from the various ministries, including this one. I was at some of those meetings, and substantial progress was being made. He lost his election in the last local government elections, and local people are expressing some consternation, because no one seems to be moving forward on the issue any longer.
Again, I would just like to bring that to the minister's attention and ask that staff be encouraged to continue the momentum. We always were concerned about this; with the crisis -- the calamity -- in Walkerton, Ontario, of course, all of us are even more mindful of these concerns. And it's a beautiful system; it certainly involves fish and an active inland fishing resource. So perhaps the minister has some update on the status of Pinantan Lake, and I'll give her a chance to say so.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I can provide some information to the hon. member. I certainly can agree that the small lots that have
[ Page 16537 ]
developed around the lake are an issue. It's not a unique situation in British Columbia, where a very attractive setting does attract vacation cottages, etc. And he is correct that contamination is an issue in the lake. So my staff will continue to work with the local community and the regional district in order to put in place some utility arrangements to actually deal with the liquid waste that's coming out of that small community.
K. Krueger: One issue may be that the plan was moving toward using spray irrigation from a community septic system on lands that belong to the Harper Ranch. The Harper Ranch was sold last year to the Kamloops Indian band, who are not sure that they are going to continue using it as a ranch, which calls into question whether or not the leases that have attached to Harper Ranch will continue to belong to the same owners as the Harper Ranch.
I dealt with that in the Agriculture estimates. The minister confirmed that the normal process would be for those leases to be offered to someone who does intend to use them for ranching purposes. But there is going to be a need, I believe, for really good coordination between this ministry, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, which is pretty complex. So I want to alert everyone concerned to the need for that, because I'm sure everybody shares the bottom-line goal, which is that we don't want sewage getting into Pinantan Lake.
The Chair: The hon. member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain, on vote 29.
C. Clark: I somehow knew you were going to say that. Thank you, hon. Chair.
I want to briefly canvass the issue -- an issue in my riding -- of Crown land leaseholders in what is now the regional park on Indian Arm. As the minister probably knows, there are, I think, 29 leaseholders who were not given the option to purchase their land when the land was returned to the park; everyone else did. But after some back-and-forthing with the government, the leaseholders finally got the government to agree that they would have the terms and conditions of their leases renewed without any changes, it's my understanding -- under the same conditions that they had in their current leases. They're having trouble now getting the government to live up to that commitment. I wonder if the minister can give us a status report on what's going on.
Hon. J. Sawicki: The previous minister in this ministry had actually agreed to extend the terms and conditions of those leases of leaseholders that would now be in the park. Of course, the mechanism that would be used is the park use permit. But I can assure the hon. member that it's what the agreement was, put in place by the previous minister. I'm continuing to honour those discussions. So those leases would be able to be renewed, based on the same terms and conditions.
C. Clark: I'm very interested to hear the minister say that, because that message
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, I can confirm, I guess
C. Clark: I understand that. But my point is that while the ministry says that they're going to renew the leases, they're not actually renewing the leases. These leaseholders are finding that when they phone the ministry, they're not getting any response. So they've got these leases that they're trying to renew, based on the government's commitment. But the government isn't, I guess, doing something different; the government's just not doing anything at all. So their inquiry is: how can they get the government to actually live up to its commitment and get those leases renewed?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I can confirm for the hon. member that the draft park-use permit documents have been developed by district staff. They've been forwarded to Victoria for legal services review. And I think that we all appreciate that one must be careful, both for the leaseholders and from the Crown's perspective, to make sure that adequate review does happen. These documents have now been returned to the district for distribution to the permittees. So if the member wants to check the status of any particular lease on behalf of her constituents, then she should contact Ray Peterson, who is the district manager of parks in that region. I am sure he would be very happy to update her.
C. Clark: Now, it's my understanding -- and I may be wrong -- that these folks have been operating under a lease. Now I hear the minister saying that they're going to be getting a park-use permit. Does this represent a change in their status?
Hon. J. Sawicki: That was the commitment made by my predecessor. Clearly these lands are now in a provincial park, and the mechanism that would be used, then, is a park-use permit. The commitment was made that they would be able to transfer their lease, based on the same terms and conditions. The process has happened, and the documents are back to the district for distribution to the permittees.
C. Clark: Their leases have expired now, and so they're all in limbo. My understanding is that they're not paying anything to the government for the use of the land. They're not paying any taxes on the land, because it's parkland, and here's an example of where they'd like to be paying something. But the exchange for that is the certainty that they're going to be able to use their land and that their park-use
[ Page 16538 ]
permit will be renewed under the same terms and conditions. Perhaps the minister could elaborate for us.
I don't understand why there's a time lag and why the ministry has taken so long to get this done. When the park was created in 1997, the commitment was made -- I don't know -- probably a year afterward. Their leases have all since expired, and there's still been no action from the ministry.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I do appreciate the hon. member's concern for the time that has passed. I can be confident that while the process might have been a little bit of a complex one, we are very committed to delivering on that commitment to ensure that the permittees have the security that they're clearly looking for in terms of their leases, which will now be park use permits.
But I have said that the documents have been returned to the district. So I would really encourage the hon. member to call Ray Peterson, and hopefully this will be resolved very quickly.
C. Clark: I appreciate the minister's commitment to do it quickly. But in light of the ministry's performance on this file, I have to admit that I'm a little bit cynical about their ability to meet that commitment. These folks have been dangling out there without any certainty for three years now, sort of wondering what's going to happen. The ministry keeps saying, "Yes, yes, yes. We'll do something; we'll do something," and the ministry hasn't done anything. They would probably take some comfort in an explanation about why it's taken so long, why they've been dragged along and left out in limbo for all this time. Secondly, they'd certainly appreciate some certainty about a deadline for when they might expect that their leases would be renewed.
Hon. J. Sawicki: At the risk of repeating myself -- in fact, I won't repeat myself, because I have tried to be as forthright as I can with the hon. member -- it's the process, the necessity to make sure that the legal reviews take place as these documents are drawn up. But I have confirmed that the documents are back at the district. I think I will sort of stick my neck out here and say that the permittees should be able to expect the actual documents within the next few weeks.
But I want to reiterate that the commitment was made in letter form, in verbal
C. Clark: I will follow the minister's commitment very closely. I'll put a note on my calendar three weeks from now to check that these 29 folks have gotten their documents in the mail. Three years is a long time to be left out there dangling, wondering if you're going to have any certainty about the ownership of your land and whether your lease is going to be renewed. In the absence of any real solid explanation about why they've been left waiting so long, I mean
R. Thorpe: I feel a little bit embarrassed if my colleague was representing constituents for three years
The minister may be aware that the city of Penticton mayor, Mike Pearce, has sent a letter in with respect to Crown lands, foreshore and roads dated April 20, looking for some action by the provincial government. On May 10, I followed up; on May 31, I followed up. On June 13 we still haven't heard a word. I'm just wondering if the minister is conversant with this subject. Could I get a commitment that we will hear from the minister on this issue with respect to a request by the city of Penticton within the next two weeks?
Hon. J. Sawicki: The short answer is that this issue has been referred to BCAL as the agency that deals with the tenuring of Crown land.
R. Thorpe: Was the city of Penticton made aware of that referral?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I believe so.
R. Thorpe: Could the minister advise if their land use policy
Hon. J. Sawicki: As Minister of Environment, I'm actually not at liberty to say what criteria BCAL would use in terms of determining the disposition of this Crown land. I think that would be up to BCAL.
R. Thorpe: Just to help me quickly here
Hon. J. Sawicki: We certainly are responsible for policy of Crown land values. But if you're asking if we have a policy to give preference to local government in terms of Crown land leases, I think the answer is no.
M. Coell: I've got a number of issues regarding shellfish and fish farm licences. There's a study that's been done, supplied by the Canadian Wildlife Service, on birds in Baynes Sound. It brings an interesting issue when BCAL and the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks are at odds on whether a fish farm or a shellfish farm licence should go ahead. Who has the final say?
Just following up on my colleague's question, I'd be interested in knowing, from the minister's perspective, who's going to have the say when her ministry is saying that there could be damage to property and BCAL is wanting to go ahead with a licence.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, yes, just a few weeks ago -- to clarify that relationship -- a memorandum of understanding
[ Page 16539 ]
was signed by myself as Minister of Environment and the minister responsible for BCAL to just make sure that everyone understood clearly what the lines of responsibility were. So while BCAL will obviously continue to deal with the leases and the tenures around aquaculture sites, this ministry sets the parameters in terms of the environmental management, the condition of the waters underneath the pens and ensuring that aquaculture is carried out in an environmentally responsible manner. We are taking several initiatives in that regard.
M. Coell: I have a copy of the memorandum that was signed. Actually, I have an unsigned copy. I'm sure it's been signed.
But the study -- and I'm not sure whether the minister has a copy of it in front of her
Hon. J. Sawicki: In this instance, we are conducting this bird study in cooperation with CWS, and BCAL is helping to fund it. So I wouldn't suggest that we are at odds, but clearly I think this is an example where we are all trying to work together to ensure that we have the information we need to help inform future BCAL tenure decisions.
M. Coell: I'm pleased to hear that, because I think I dealt with the shellfish farms and fish farms in BCAL, as did the critic. One of the things that I came away with was that BCAL seemed to be in a hurry to do a whole bunch of things. In many cases, that's probably a good thing. At the same time, I think you want to make sure that you're not endangering the environment by doing it and that you're also using a consolidative process for residents.
I can give the minister an example. Denman Island is one that she's probably had a number of correspondences about, where there could be a significant expansion of the shellfish industry. And the process, I guess, for getting input from the small-lot owners and the cabin owners seems to have bogged down in some cases. So what I'm suggesting is that if the industry is going to expand -- and I think that we all, for the most part, agree with the expansion of the industry -- two things have to happen: that there is a consultation process that is encompassing of the present lease owners -- whether they be foreshore or across the road from it -- who will be affected, and that the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks has a veto when there is a disagreement with BCAL.
If I can just digress for a minute, I guess that's one of my complaints with having BCAL moved from ministry control into other ministries. It's that you're going to have a number of instances where you probably wish you had more control over it -- that entity -- than you do.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, certainly the hon. member has raised an important issue. Certainly it's an issue that you, hon. Chair, are very, very familiar with, because you did an incredible amount of work on the whole aquaculture issue and certainly had a major role to play in the announcement last October about the expansion of the industry. So I just want to take this opportunity to commend you for your work.
But this ministry's role is a very clear one, and we have made tremendous progress since that announcement last October in terms of interim monitoring programs around existing aquaculture operations, engaging in intensive sampling of environmental conditions around and beneath the aquaculture operations -- leading towards very tough performance-based standards, so that this industry is a sustainable industry and that British Columbians can feel confident that it is carried out in a very environmentally responsible way.
As well, part of that -- and this is the part of the package that I feel most excited about -- is the moving towards closed-containment technology and using the green economy initiative to really motivate innovation and movement towards that technology which clearly, in my view at any rate, is the long-term direction that I would hope we would go.
But I would just confirm, again, that this ministry's clearly responsible for the environmental side of aquaculture. With that, we are working very, very closely with BCAL and the Minister of Fisheries to carry out the commitment that we made in the announcement of last October.
M. Coell: I thank the minister for those comments. One of the other issues -- and I think it was dealt with in BCAL's estimates -- is the potential for first nations to benefit from this expansion. I know there are a number of first nations on the Island interested in being part of that expansion. So I hope that's another aspect that, although it's not a part of this ministry, we can be involved in at the same time.
The issue of Riverview lands has come up a number of times this year. And to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure whether the ministry is involved in any assessment of those lands this year or whether that can be seen as complete and
Hon. J. Sawicki: These lands are owned by BCBC; they're BCBC lands. And so I'm not aware of any involvement of this ministry in any studies related to those lands.
M. Coell: The next issue that I would like to canvass
[A. Sanders in the chair.]
Hon. J. Sawicki: I think this issue does date back a few years, when a former minister had indicated his support for the dedication of this property to the Galiano Conservancy Association. So staff have been working with the conservancy association for some years to try to clarify, especially, the issue of access to lands beyond. It has become quite a local issue, I understand, and I'm sure the hon. member is much more aware of that than I am.
I had recently written to the local trustees of Islands Trust asking that they deal with the issue of access as part of their community planning. I think that's what's really required for this thing to move ahead and finally be resolved.
M. Coell: That seems to have been a sticking point for the last couple of years. I did ask the previous minister with
[ Page 16540 ]
regard to this site whether it was being considered as part of the PMHL process -- that it could be part of the government contribution to the national parks strategy, through the PMHL.
Hon. J. Sawicki: My understanding is that yes, it is being considered.
M. Coell: If we could spend a moment or so talking about PMHL at this point
Over the past years we've seen the federal government put forward about $30 million into the PMHL process, and the province really hasn't done that well. I believe they have put in about $3 million and put in a number of pieces of land as part of the project. Now, I don't disagree with the province doing land as part of their contribution.
There is the beginning of the creation of a first national marine park in this area. There are also some areas on Saltspring Island, as the minister is aware -- the Texada Land Corp., around Burgoyne Bay. We have also the McDade report. He's been consulting with residents as to what provincial parks they could see putting into the national park system.
I'll just, if I can, outline a couple of ideas for the minister and maybe get her comments. There are a number of pieces of Crown land on Saltspring that border the Texada property. There's a large piece on Saltspring Island near Mount Maxwell and Ruckle Park, which the McDade inquiry looked at. There's also about $700,000 that has been raised in the community towards the purchase of sensitive areas in the Burgoyne Bay area of the Texada lands.
The capital regional district is also willing to be a participant, and I believe their dollar figure is around $1 million. There's the potential for the province to use some of its Crown land, either at Mount Maxwell or Ruckle Park, to add into that with the CRD and the citizens. You just have to convince the federal government, who I believe, through a number of their ministers, are interested in the proposal. You would have a number of pieces of park to add into the system for very few -- if not none -- dollars coming from the provincial government, but land. That land might make the deal all fall into place. I'd be interested in the minister's comment on that.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I am pleased to hear the hon. member's strong support for PMHL. I think all of us are excited about the potential of a federal park in that area. It is a spectacular and very unique part of the province. I certainly can confirm our government's support for PMHL, and we have signed an MOU with the federal government to extend the term of that agreement. In this year's budget is the first $1 million over the next ten years to try to fulfil our part of the bargain.
The hon. member is correct. We have not been able, in the past recent years, to contribute the amount of dollars that we would have hoped. However, he also outlined some of the creative solutions that we are looking at in terms of some of the Crown lands and some of the existing provincial parks. That indeed is exactly what Greg McDade, as the special adviser that has been agreed to by both Canada and B.C., is out there consulting on. I'm very hopeful that he will come back to all of us with a very creative proposal as to how we can realize the joint community, provincial and national aspirations around a federal park and protection of these very special values.
M. Coell: I thank the minister for her comments. When you look at Pebble Beach, the Burgoyne Bay area, Mount Maxwell and Ruckle Park, they're all pieces of property that have a value of many millions of dollars. If the province is able to convince the federal government -- as they haven't obviously been able to do in the past
I think also worthy of mentioning is the amount of money raised by individual citizens, being close to $700,000 at this point, to protect those sensitive areas and also the willingness of the capital regional district to actually participate in a park. Probably in some respects they would be getting a very interesting and good deal, in that you don't pay for maintenance of a national park if you're a municipality; the federal government does. The benefit to the province by having the provincial Crown lands and parks managed by a national parks system is that it would be paid for by the Canadian taxpayer rather than the British Columbia taxpayer. That's a little added bonus for the minister to consider.
That probably covers my comments on PMHL. If the minister doesn't have anything further to add, I'll move on to my colleague.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Actually, if all members are agreeable, I wonder if I could just move a brief recess.
The committee recessed from 4:51 p.m. to 4:55 p.m.
[A. Sanders in the chair.]
T. Nebbeling: I have some questions on two ski area projects: one in my riding and one just outside my riding. I'm talking about the Garibaldi ski resort at Squamish and Cayoosh. One of the things that these two areas have in common as far as proposals are concerned is that they both have gone through a very extensive time period of consideration. To the surprise of the proponents and maybe even more to the chagrin of the opponents, they are still as projects in a kind of status quo.
My first questions are related to Cayoosh. This is a project that now has been going on for about eight years. The proponents have reached over the last four or five years, constantly, periods where they were really told that they were so close to a final decision by government. I can attest that to be a true
[ Page 16541 ]
fact by stating that I've been asked, a year or two ago, by the Minister of Employment and Investment at that time, how I felt about approval of the particular project. I definitely give it my support, because of the great opportunities it will create for that area and particularly the community of Lillooet.
So I'm still surprised to see today that again delays have been introduced. That is actually driving the proponent to the point that he may not be able to continue with the project. Can the minister give me a quick rundown on why this time delay has happened and why the ministry has not seen that this type of delay really caused discouragement towards tourism opportunities, which this province claims to be very strongly in favour of?
Hon. J. Sawicki: The member is correct in that this project has been in the EAO process for some time. But I understand that the recent delay was actually requested by the proponent so that he could do some more work on first nations issues.
T. Nebbeling: I don't agree with it, because when the ministry announced that there was a further 90-day delay, the proponent, Mr. Raine in this particular case, was more than outraged. This was not just in a telephone call; this was publicly, in the newspapers and on the radio. The outrage was more based on the fact that the ministry allowed, at the very last moment, new groups to come up with opposing views to that project, where the process has been going on for years to allow certain groups or any groups to express their opposition. So this was certainly not at the request of the proponent. This was an announcement that surprised not only the proponent -- the delays announcement -- but again also the community of Lillooet, which is really getting to the point that they do not necessarily believe that the ministry is really serious in its commitment to the opportunities that tourism can provide for this area.
[D. Streifel in the chair.]
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, my understanding is that certainly the proponent did agree to needing more time to try to address the outstanding issues, especially around first nations. But the report, the review, is nearing completion. The project committee is expected to make its recommendations to ministers in the very near future.
T. Nebbeling: Just to complete this particular project, my question on it is: when would the announcement be made? Considering that for eight years and at a cost of more than $2 million this proponent has fulfilled every requirement that the ministry has ever asked him to comply with, especially under the environmental assessment project, is there any chance that this project could be rejected at this point?
Hon. J. Sawicki: My understanding is that the recommendations from EAO will reach the ministers responsible by the end of June. The time lines in the legislation require that we make a decision within 45 days. So that's the only information I can give the hon. member at this time.
T. Nebbeling: As I said, I will not pursue this, for time. I don't think I'm going to get another answer out of the minister. But I truly hope that the 45 days that are still out there while the parties make up their mind are indeed the last time frame for this developer, or proponent, to have to deal with.
The investment that has been made in that project up to now, which is to a large extent private money -- not corporate money
Going to the other project, the Garibaldi ski resort proposal on the outskirts of Squamish
I would also like to ask the minister, then, what the time lines are on this project. Again, there was a clear understanding about a year ago that approval was going to be coming forward. The Premier supported this program. The then Minister of Employment and Investment spoke very positively on the project. And of course a year later we're still facing all kinds of studies. Basically what this proponent is saying is that if he can't find the funds for the studies -- and that's becoming very questionable now -- where is this going to end? When is the ministry going to be satisfied -- demanding more information, more studies, after two or three years of the environmental assessment process having gone on in that area?
Hon. J. Sawicki: This project is in the EA process, as many projects are. I mean, that is the legislation that is in place to ensure that thorough, comprehensive environmental assessments are done on projects. My information on this particular project is that the application review did reveal some outstanding issues. The EA office is currently awaiting a project report from the proponent. In other words, the ball's in their court.
T. Nebbeling: Can the minister, then, quickly give me an idea of the process and if there are time lines of that process of environmental assessment? Or is it just an open system where, you know, it will take as long as it takes to come to conclusions that will then make us comfortable making a decision?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I can give a couple of the dates right now, and I can have all of the time periods under the legislation if the member needs that.
Upon receipt of the report, we have seven days to respond to it. I've already said that at the tail end of the process, once the report comes to the ministers, we have 45 days to make a decision. The time lines in the legislation are to ensure that government ministries respond in a timely manner. But there are no time lines for the proponent, as I mentioned to one of your colleagues earlier. The proponent does his or her studies in whatever time frame they choose, and in that regard, the EA office can just wait until the proponent provides those studies.
T. Nebbeling: I was looking more at the principles of time lines. Does the proponent, at the beginning of the pro-
[ Page 16542 ]
cess, get a list of studies that he or she has to perform in order to give the ministry satisfaction? Or if the proponent fulfils the study requirement, is there then still an opportunity
The point is that this process has been going now for years. I can say that one of the last studies that was required, which was done recently, was the requirement to do a study on the reduction of ozone levels in the atmosphere, on the ski resort -- for the next 100 years, I think
Hon. J. Sawicki: There are time lines, very specific time lines. When a proponent first enters the process, they get a clear understanding of the time lines that government commits to meeting at the various stages of the process. As I mentioned earlier, the project's specifications are agreed to by all of the parties. But ski hills are complex, and several government agencies do have interests and concerns. When those issues are raised, then they must be reviewed by the environmental assessment office, and the studies must be done to respond.
T. Nebbeling: Then I would suggest that somehow a brainstorm session be held within the ministry to consolidate all these groups that have input on, or requests for, a study, and get all the studies on the paper right from the beginning so that they can be done concurrently. The developer should know right from the beginning what he or she will face, rather than -- "Here's another study
A. Sanders: A few questions on the constituency of Okanagan-Vernon. One of the problems that's painfully obvious in our area during the summer months is control of Eurasian milfoil. What budget figure has been allocated this year for control of Eurasian milfoil?
Hon. J. Sawicki: There is no money in this year's budget in our ministry for Eurasian milfoil.
A. Sanders: I'm sure all of the members of the Okanagan and Shuswap will be very unhappy to hear that, and thank you from all the taxpayers in the Okanagan for that contribution to controlling an environmental pollutant, I suppose.
My next question would be: if it is not in the jurisdiction of the Minister of Environment, where does the minister anticipate that money to come from?
Hon. J. Sawicki: While there are no dollars in this year's ministry budget for Eurasian milfoil treatment, I would note to the hon. member that the equipment that was purchased -- about 1.9 million dollars' worth -- has recently been transferred to local ownership for a nominal amount so that this issue can be dealt with at the local level.
A. Sanders: Certainly in the Okanagan we've seen the results of downloading of provincial responsibilities onto the local governments. We've seen them try to work within the hardship of having a balanced budget and not breaching legislation but yet not having any help from the Minister of Environment.
My second question to the minister is: how much money from the Ministry of Environment has been allocated to control knapweed on Crown rights of way?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Staff is going to need to get back specifically on that. Clearly, again, this is one of those situations that involve several ministries. It may be Crown land, which would be this ministry. However, the Ministry of Forests is involved, and I know the Ministry of Agriculture is involved in terms of noxious weeds. So I will have to get back to the hon. member on specifically whether there are dollars in this year's budget in this ministry for noxious weeds or for knapweed.
A. Sanders: I'm aware of the knapweed program under the Ministry of Agriculture for farmland. What I'm specifically asking for is Crown rights of way.
Two years ago I asked the then minister for a copy of a report on the review of the black bear incident at Liard Hot Springs. I have yet to receive that report. Has that report been done, and if so, may I have a copy of it?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I'm advised that the coroner's report about that incident did actually come out long before I was minister. If the member didn't get a copy of that report as was promised, then we will make sure that you promptly receive one.
A. Sanders: I did get a copy of the coroner's report. I had wondered whether there had been an internal investigation following the coroner's report to look at the problems that have been cited with respect to the park -- the access to emergency supplies and other things -- and whether there had been some internal document to look at that for the future, to make sure that we didn't see such an incident again.
Hon. J. Sawicki: There's no report that would have come out of our ministry on this. But clearly anytime a tragedy like this happens within a provincial park, our ministry does try to analyze if there is anything that could have been done to minimize that impact.
As the hon. member knows, many of our parks
A. Sanders: I don't want to go all the way back through that, but there were a number of very good, solid recommendations put forward by some of the people who had been at Liard Hot Springs. There were suggestions -- for example, an
[ Page 16543 ]
alternate route down, other than where the bear was killing people on the causeway, to be instituted so that there was an alternate escape route. Those things were part of what I was anticipating might occur with internal reflection of that tragedy.
I have one final area I'd like to canvass. I will start with asking the minister if she's aware of the air quality concerns in the North Okanagan.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Yes, I am aware of some of the air quality issues in the North Okanagan. We do have some monitoring work taking place up there. I do understand there is some difficulty with particulates and temperature inversions, and they can come from several sources. So yes, I am aware of those issues.
A. Sanders: The air quality in the North Okanagan is a serious problem. Often when I am here and hear the air quality index for the Fraser Valley, and people are very upset about that particular number that day, the similar indices in Vernon will be worse. We live at the top of almost a U-shape that goes all the way down to Wenatchee. All those folks in the South Okanagan and the United States send their smoke up to us, and unfortunately we can't get rid of it -- to Kamloops. One of the things that is very concerning about that
One of the things that the former Premier did promise to British Columbians and did deliver to the North Okanagan was campsites. Those campsites on the Kalamalka Lake and in the Kekuli Bay area all have now got access to fires. My question to the minister is: did the Ministry of Environment do any impact studies on the addition of a significant number of new fires during the summer at the Kekuli Bay site with respect to the air quality index in Vernon, which is already terrible at best during many of the days in the summer?
Hon. J. Sawicki: The hon. member has mentioned the new campsites, which I'm sure that her constituents are very pleased to have in their area. But yes, I can confirm that air quality will be monitored at that site. We'll be utilizing the B.C. Forests ventilation index and fire hazard ratings in order to monitor that.
I just want to add, to the hon. member, that I certainly share the concern that she has over air quality and especially particulates, and that's why we're working very hard. I hope that the hon. members across the way will support this effort to hasten the elimination of things like beehive burners, which contribute to particulate matters as a source of poor air quality.
A. Sanders: There is no question that there's a shortage of campsites around the Vernon area, and that in itself is a problem for tourism. The addition of new campsites is welcome. However, I have to question the ability of those campsites to each have their individual fire. I would urge the ministry to ensure that this does not compound a very serious problem that already exists.
J. Reid: I have a question to the minister with regards to park acquisition in Qualicum Beach. Recently the Brown Property Preservation Society in Qualicum Beach was honoured for environmental achievements, for tireless work in raising funds to purchase environmentally significant land for preservation as a park. I was wondering if the minister could tell me what the ministry has done to aid in this effort.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I want, through the hon. member who represents that area, to really offer congratulations on the incredible community spirit that has led to the achievements thus far around the Brown property. I did meet with a delegation a couple of months ago and certainly tried to encourage them on their way. I was very pleased that, through the process of choosing the environmental award winners this year, they came to the top of the list and have received that recognition. I hope, on a personal basis, that it will certainly help them in the upcoming referendum that I understand is going on in that region to try to raise additional funds for the rest of the property.
J. Reid: Yes, the people appreciate that accolade. The question is: has the ministry done anything to help in the acquisition of this land?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, as the hon. member may be aware, certainly, as part of the land use planning process on Vancouver Island, there are some goal 1 and goal 2 lands. We have been working tremendously hard in recent years to work down that list of the recommended acquisitions that came out of the land use planning process. We have made several of those acquisitions. But the Brown property was not one of those properties that came out of that land use planning process. Regrettably, our ministry just does not have the dollars to assist in a direct way with this particular property.
J. Reid: The minister mentions that she met with a delegation that included the mayor of Qualicum Beach. It's my understanding that at that time, there was a request as to whether there was any other way -- if there wasn't a possibility of directly participating with funds, whether there were any other supports that could be given to the town or any other creative solutions, even to provide alternate Crown land to the town to help offset the cost I understand some of these ideas were discussed. I was just wondering if the minister has had an opportunity to see whether there are any other solutions or any other supports that could be given in this effort.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, that is always -- if not the first, sort of near the top -- on the list of tools that we might look at and ways that we could assist. But that's becoming more and more difficult, especially on Vancouver Island, in terms of available Crown land. A huge, long list of priority areas are already on our goal 1 and goal 2 lists. After the meeting, the member is correct, I did say that I would ask staff to just take a look and see if there were any obvious areas that we could use to assist in this way. But at this point none have been found.
J. Reid: Is the minister still looking? Is this a finished process? Is there any hope that we can offer to these people for the effort that they've put in, the considerable amount of money that they've put in locally? Is the minister still pursuing any ideas, or is this a dead issue now for the minister?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I can assure the hon. member that in the context of attention that the staff can give to this property, yes,
[ Page 16544 ]
they would continue to pursue anything that would come to the fore and that they think would be helpful. We would be very happy to lend any kind of assistance that we could, but at this point nothing has come to the fore.
B. Penner: I have a question regarding the draft management plan for Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park. Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park is an area near and dear to my heart. It's where I once patrolled as a park ranger in a previous era. We had to keep our hands out of the picnic basket, and that was a difficult endeavour. Late last year I became aware, along with my colleague the member for Abbotsford, of a proposal to restrict motor vehicle access along the north and east side of Chilliwack Lake.
At present there's a forestry road that has been there for decades which provides motorized access to those who seek to go to the opposite end of the lake. It's a long road; I think it's 14 kilometres in length one way, from one end of the lake to the other. This affords an opportunity to get out and see the great outdoors for people who are not physically capable of hiking 14 kilometres one way -- people such as my mother, who likes to go there for a Sunday drive at least once a year. The only other alternative to get to the other end of the lake is to take a boat, and on Chilliwack Lake that can be a dangerous proposition. People died while I worked there because of attempting to cross the lake, ill-prepared to deal with the waves that come up almost every afternoon in the summer after 1 p.m.
My concern has been expressed by many people who have contacted my office about plans to restrict access to this expanded area of Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park, noting that the boundaries were dramatically altered in 1997.
With that, I ask the minister to give us an update as to where we're at. I'm told that she has the report and has been considering it for some time. I'd like her to indicate what her inclination is at this time about the recommendation that motor vehicle access be either eliminated or curtailed -- restricted, limited, whatever -- along the shore of the lake.
Hon. J. Sawicki: The access question on this particular park is under review via the park management plan. But no, I have not seen the draft plan yet. I think it's still sort of in the process, so it hasn't reached me. I can say to the hon. member that the intent is to keep summer access open and to maintain that informal camping opportunity on the east side of the lake. But other than that very general comment of intent, I don't have the report.
B. Penner: I wonder if the minister can tell us when she expects to make a decision on the draft management plan for Chilliwack Lake.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I'm advised that I can expect to receive that report sometime during July.
R. Thorpe: In the Okanagan Falls area there's a small park called Christie Memorial Provincial Park. I've been advised a number of times of difficulties in keeping the drinking water supply accessible there for people going to this park. Can the minister advise if the park has a policy of
Hon. J. Sawicki: Clearly the broad policy of B.C. Parks would be to ensure that drinking water is available at parks, once they are established there. But I don't have any specific information on Christie Memorial Provincial Park. If there is a specific situation there, then the member will need to articulate that so that we can get back to him.
R. Thorpe: There is in fact something specific, and I just wanted to try to find out the generalities. When we had a couple of calls on the issue, we made some inquiries. My constituency office was told that the reason they can't keep the drinking water supply available there is because the budget has been cut by Victoria.
Hon. Chair, why don't I just leave that with the minister? I'm sure the minister will have staff reply to me very promptly on that issue. Is that fair? Thank you.
B. Penner: I'm about to ask about protected areas in the Fraser Valley. Before I do, I'd just like to get a commitment from the minister to share with me, as soon as it's possible, the report or decision document related to the management plan for Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park. I look forward to receiving that as soon as it's available.
My question now deals with the Fraser lowlands protected-areas strategy, which gained some notoriety about maybe two months ago, when it became public knowledge that the government was moving ahead to protect, through law, a number of islands and areas located along the Fraser River in the upper Fraser Valley. This prompted the Cheam Indian band to take action along Highway 9, which provides access between Agassiz and Chilliwack in my constituency.
I wonder if the minister could tell us what has happened to the Fraser lowlands protected-areas strategy. Is the government's intention to move ahead with it and put it in place? And if so, when?
Hon. J. Sawicki: The hon. member is correct. There were some protected-areas proposals along the Fraser River foreshore there. I think we're all very aware of the recent concerns that have been expressed, not only by the Cheam first nations but also by local governments, and I have certainly met with some of the local governments. So in view of these concerns, we are sort of revisiting the input and consultation that did happen and that led to our intention to move forward on those protected areas.
So the member says: "Where is it going right now, and when will it be there?" I can't answer either of those questions. But certainly we take seriously the concerns that have been expressed by several areas of interest, and we will go back and touch base with them.
B. Penner: So if I hear correctly, the minister's committing to engage in more consultation with all affected parties prior to actually implementing the proposal.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I can answer yes to that and just also further provide for the member that the land use coordination office is coordinating this just because of the interministerial interests in this whole issue.
M. Coell: I want to cover two issues that are somewhat related: the Park Legacy panel recommendations and the park
[ Page 16545 ]
management plans. As the minister said in the House the other day, we have doubled the number of parks, and we have recommendations for how they should be managed coming from the Park Legacy panel.
I just wonder whether the minister can take a moment and outline for us the number of park management plans that we intend to see completed this year. I realize this is a long-term project; you're not going to have park management plans for another 200 to 300 parks overnight. But is there a plan in place that has identified the more sensitive parks? Are they going to be prioritized? What number of parks can we realistically see management plans for per year, and how long will it take us to get up to completion of the new parks? As I said, I realize that this is a long-term project.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I thank the hon. member for recognizing that this is a long-term project. We are proceeding as quickly as our resources will allow. Since 1989-90 there have been about 124 management plans done for parks. This year, give or take, we are hoping to complete around 35 of them. We have priority settings to decide which parks are in most urgent need of the management plans first, and we proceed through the list.
M. Coell: I'm pleased to hear that. I wasn't aware that you'd prioritized them as to sensitive areas, and I think that's a very positive thing.
With regard to the Park Legacy panel recommendations -- and I don't need a lengthy answer from the minister -- is there progress being made as to identifying and implementing those recommendations?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I will try to give a succinct answer. We are responding to the legacy panel in two ways, two parallel streams. One is the work on legislation. Certainly the hon. member was part of the debate of the first part of that legislation just a couple of days ago in the House. Second, of course, is the business plan. The legacy report did recommend that we undertake sort of a five-year business plan to work out how we will manage these parks. Those are the two streams that we're working on.
M. Coell: With the identification of a five-year horizon in the business plan, is that five years before we get the business plan? Or are we going to get it in pieces, and at the end of five years, you have a whole project?
Hon. J. Sawicki: My mind just went blank here for a moment. I'm trying to remember what the question was. But I think the question was -- and the hon. member will correct me if I'm wrong in remembering this -- whether this is a five-year business plan or whether we're going to wait five years to do the plan.
I can assure him that staff are working as diligently as resources will allow in responding to the Park Legacy recommendations for a plan. I can't predict when that will be done or when I would be able to get that through cabinet or whatever, so it's very difficult to say the timing on that. But we are working on it right now. I would hope -- in fact I have asked staff to make sure -- that it is a plan that will project ahead five years as to what this package of management options would look like.
M. Coell: I'm pleased to hear that.
I wonder if could move on to wildlife issues. The first one I would like to touch base on is endangered species legislation. We have seen the federal government move more than once in this area and then backtrack. If I can paraphrase what the minister's predecessor has told me in the past on endangered species legislation, there is a whole range of legislation now on the books in B.C. that cover species -- endangered or not -- in some aspect or another. Is the present ministry moving to change that and to consolidate some of those acts into endangered species legislation? Or is the government satisfied that endangered species are protected in various acts by the government as it is now?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Certainly since I became minister, this issue has achieved a greater profile across Canada. I have committed and our government has committed to meet the requirements of the national accord that we signed. We use a great range of tools in order to do that. But we are committed to meeting that accord. I have not ruled out legislation, but I would say that my position at this point is
M. Coell: I've been to more than one speaking engagement where people have said: "Yes, we understand that there are a number of different avenues for the province to protect species and ecosystems, but we don't see it in one package." I understand the reasoning why we haven't done that. But I just wondered whether, for more than optics
Hon. J. Sawicki: That's a point well taken. There was a review done by an agency that looked at all of the provinces as to how well they were meeting the, I think, 14 or 15 points of the accord. Actually, in terms of having tools available, British Columbia faired quite well. That doesn't mean that we are resting on that, because we still do have some gaps, and we are committed to filling those gaps.
I can say right here today that I agree with the hon. member. Consolidation of the work that we're doing into a package where British Columbians could feel confident that we were addressing these issues would probably help a great deal. I've asked staff to look at ways of how we could do that.
M. Coell: I think that would be helpful. Even if it isn't complete at this point, it's something to build on.
I was optimistic about the federal legislation and then realized that most of the environmental groups in the province didn't like it. My impression of endangered species legislation is that it's an evolving piece of legislation. It isn't something that's put in place today and that stays the same; it evolves as you identify ecosystems and species and ways to protect them. So I wouldn't be one to complain if I saw a piece of endangered species legislation from B.C. that was a start
[ Page 16546 ]
and where there was a commitment to build on it and to work with the people who are affected.
One of the, I think, good points about the federal legislation is that it deals with compensation rather than penalties. Far too often in the United States we've seen endangered species legislation that makes it more profitable for you to not tell or to shoot and bury or to ignore. If someone who has a piece of property realizes that they can actually be compensated or their property enhanced by identifying an ecosystem or a species, that is a far better way of going. I think that's a start -- not to complain about the legislation federally. What's good about it and how can we improve it? I think we have that opportunity in British Columbia, as well, by packaging all of the things that we've got and then pointing in areas where we need to go. As we finish with the regional plans, as well, I think they will assist in identifying ecosystems that assist in maintaining species.
I don't think the minister and I are in any disagreement about the way to go; it's just how we get there.
R. Thorpe: As the minister is no doubt aware, we had an unfortunate massive die-off this past year with respect to a California bighorn sheep herd. I have been advised that the ministry has said that it is going to aggressively attack the situation and immediately embark upon a comprehensive plan for the rehabilitation of this herd. So (1) can the minister confirm that, (2) has the plan been completed, and (3) what are the financial resources that have been allocated to aggressively attack this problem in the South Okanagan this year?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, as the hon. member can appreciate, one can't predict an event like this massive die-off. Our ministry has responded very, very quickly in terms of closing the hunting in that area. We are working, with our existing dollars and as part of our existing budget, as quickly as possible with the stakeholders towards a recovery plan for the sheep in this area.
R. Thorpe: When will the plan be completed?
Hon. J. Sawicki: If all goes well, in about three or four months.
R. Thorpe: Could the minister please commit, through the Chair, to share a copy with myself when that plan is completed in three or four months?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I would be pleased to do that for the hon. member.
R. Thorpe: We look forward to that. It's a shame that these things happen. In the South Okanagan
Quite frankly, I'd just like to say that the staff that I worked with and had consultations and discussions with when this was happening were very professional and very prompt. It was a pleasure to work with them. In that regard, because I won't be back here after dinner, if I could, I just want to take a moment
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, that wasn't exactly a question, but I do want to take the opportunity to thank the member for his kind words. I will make sure that staff does make Ken aware of the accolades that have been given to him. I too am always very proud of all of our ministry staff, because I think they do have a reputation for being very dedicated, very professional and very committed to their work.
The Chair: The member for Saanich North and the Islands, minding the time.
M. Coell: Thank you, Chair. I thought it was a member of the government side who wished to ask a question, and I was going to yield the floor. After dinner, if we can deal with issues of wildlife from
And noting the time, I'd move we rise, report progress and
The Chair: Hon. member, pardon the Chair's interruption, but apparently we would be asking for a motion to recess the committee tonight until 7 p.m.
M. Coell: I move a motion to recess the committee until 7 p.m.
The committee recessed from 5:50 p.m. until 6:59 p.m.
[D. Streifel in the chair.]
M. Coell: A number of issues
The province has banned the use of the claw leghold trap, and to my understanding, most of those are out of service now. There are a number of other leghold traps that, I guess, don't do the physical damage that the claw trap does. But we're still using the claw trap on the weighted drowning traps. I just wonder why we're still doing that.
Hon. J. Sawicki: The reason that it is still permitted is because, of course, as soon as the animal is caught in the trap, it drowns. Therefore you don't have the injury issue to deal with.
M. Coell: I would beg to differ. I think that the claw trap does the damage, and then the animal drowns. The other trap would not do the damage, and the animal would drown. I
[ Page 16547 ]
guess we're looking at degrees of suffering. A trap that didn't use claws would cause less suffering.
Hon. J. Sawicki: My understanding is that the trap is set under water, and it is felt that because of the drowning aspect, this is as humane a way as possible. The member may be correct that using the padded trap and then the animal drowning may be one step further. The fact is that because these are underwater traps, the animal does drown.
M. Coell: I wonder if the minister could outline for me the number of animals
Hon. J. Sawicki: I can provide some information to the member at this point. We have approximately 6,000 registered trappers in British Columbia. About half of them are first nations. In terms of counting the number of animals, because trappers -- other than first nations trappers -- need to report back in terms of their fur sales, we could compile that data. But I don't have it with me tonight.
M. Coell: I would be interested in seeing that. I suspect the minister would as well. If it's not something that is readily available, I can wait, and that can be delivered after the estimates.
Is the ministry satisfied with its policies on trapping? Realizing that there are a number of categories
Hon. J. Sawicki: I would say that at this point British Columbia does use the best technology available. We were far, far ahead of the European Economic Union agreement that came out, which said that the traditional leghold traps needed to be gone by 2001. We banned them in 1983. Certainly I personally feel confident that our ministry will always try to keep ahead on any emerging technology that would trap animals in as humane a way as possible.
M. Coell: With regard to species at risk, when a trap is placed in the woods, it doesn't have an ability to decide which animal is going to have its foot fall in it, for the most part. I just want to be assured that, in conjunction with endangered species
Hon. J. Sawicki: I'm advised that most trappers do have some flexibility in the mechanisms they use; they can adjust how they set the trap to target a specific species. But certainly, if there was an instance where we had an endangered species in an area that we were concerned about, we would not hesitate to take action to ensure that that species was protected from trapping.
M. Coell: I thank the minister for that. If we can turn our discussion to
Is the ministry involved in the treaty process, guaranteeing that mechanisms within treaties to deal with endangered species, threatened species, are taken into consideration and that avenues within the treaties are found to deal with lands -- the reason I'm saying this is that native land claims will cross border ecosystems, so you may have an ecosystem that is partly in the Nisga'a land claim, partly in Crown tenure -- to make sure that the animals that would be seen as endangered or in need of protection are the same on both sides of the treaty issue as well as the Crown land issue?
Hon. J. Sawicki: As the hon. member knows, the Nisga'a agreement was the first extensive modern treaty. As part of that treaty, under the wildlife management agreement, both ourselves as the province and Nisga'a did agree that conservation is the number one priority. There is a committee in place to ensure that that need for conservation and protection of critical habitat for things like endangered species is addressed. In terms of subsequent treaties we are going to continue working to try and make sure that we can have that confidence.
M. Coell: I am pleased to hear that. I think that's important, because when we're finished completing the treaty process, it's going to be a patchwork quilt all across this province. You want to make sure that the environmental standards for species are consistent -- for their protection more than ours.
One of my colleagues has a couple of questions with regard to this issue.
B. Barisoff: I understand my colleague from Penticton asked some questions about the bighorn sheep. This is further along the line of the reporting issue that the South Okanagan Sportsmen's Association has brought to my attention. It's not only to do with the bighorn sheep; it's to do with all the animals, not only in region 8 but all over the province, and the fact that there seem to be two different standards of reporting -- whether the reporting is done the same by the resident hunters or by non-resident hunters or by aboriginal people.
I would just like to ask the minister whether there is a standard reporting system that takes place for game that has been shot in region 8, or wherever it might be, so that conservation can be looked at. I know from consulting with the Sportsmen's Association that they feel very strongly that the reporting isn't the same for everybody. I'd just like to ask for the minister's comments on that.
Hon. J. Sawicki: We receive our information basically through the hunter sampling process, but there are certain species where there is compulsory reporting. Everyone -- other than first nations, of course -- needs to report in for those species.
[ Page 16548 ]
B. Barisoff: I guess the question would be, then: if we're looking at a conservation issue here, and it's compulsory that people report
Hon. J. Sawicki: I think the hon. member appreciates that part of his question is much, much broader than just this ministry. But in terms of the Ministry of Environment, around hunted animals, we have been discussing with the Northern Nations Summit some voluntary agreements in terms of reporting from them as well.
B. Barisoff: I understand what the minister is saying -- that it is broader. But in the big scheme of things
The sportsmen's associations throughout the entire province are probably what I would consider the best conservationists of all, because they're the ones who are in the hills. They're looking after things and trying to make things work. They have a difficult time -- particularly in the area I come from, where we've seen what happened with the bighorn sheep. All of a sudden, they're almost being wiped out. I understand, again from my colleague, that the minister has an aggressive program taking place there to look after that.
If we're not keeping track of how many sheep, moose, grizzly bears, elk, deer -- whatever they might be
Hon. J. Sawicki: The concern over conservation and trying to make sure that our ministry establishes its policies based on the best information available
B. Barisoff: Not to belabour it, but you're not acting with the best information possible, because you don't have all the information. I think that if we look at what has taken place
I think that we have to look beyond that and make some decisions now that say that all of the management, the reporting out, has to be done by everybody that's out there doing any kind of hunting whatsoever. That's the only way that the ministry can have conclusive data to make some decisions on.
G. Abbott: I have a few questions about the federal Species at Risk Act -- at least the provincial view of the Species at Risk Act -- and its relationship with the provincial identified wildlife strategy. I'll begin by just noting a few of the provincial concerns that I'm aware of with respect to the Species at Risk Act. For example, I have here a letter from the British Columbia director of the wildlife branch, the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, to, I guess, essentially his counterpart in the Canadian Wildlife Service in Environment Canada in Ottawa. The letter outlines about a dozen distinct concerns that the provincial jurisdiction has with the Species at Risk Act. I don't propose to go through all of them, but I do want to ask about a few of them, particularly the ones that, at least in my view, would appear to be the more consequential of the concerns.
The first concern noted in this letter, which is entitled "Provincial concerns with respect to the draft Species at Risk Act," is the impact on the provincial economy:
Now, I'm assuming that when the director laid out that concern, he was referencing our resource industries -- forestry, mining and so on. To what extent does this concern that was identified on January 26 still exist, from the province's perspective? Further, what was the response from the federal government with respect to the possibility of a scenario-testing exercise?
"Application of SARA will have significant impacts on resource extraction within provinces and territories. As you know, the resource section still remains the primary economic driver of many jurisdictions. It is critical that jurisdictions and the federal government work closely to minimize the known impact and to prevent unintended consequences. We feel that the best way to accomplish this would be to partner in a scenario-testing exercise prior to tabling the bill. In this manner we could build some confidence that impacts on the economy will be considered and managed to the extent possible."
Hon. J. Sawicki: The government did not agree to our suggestion to do some scenario testing, but we are continuing to work with the federal government on several of the issues related to the proposed legislation.
G. Abbott: Does the concern with respect to the impact of this bill on resource extraction industries persist?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Yes, that concern does persist. We are doing some work internally, working with the Ministry of Forests. Certainly, prior to my going to the previous Ministers of Environment conference that discussed this, I met with groups like COFI and other stakeholders to understand thoroughly what their issues were.
G. Abbott: Has the ministry done any social or economic analyses or modelling to assess what the impact of SARA would be, alone or in combination with the identified wildlife strategy?
[ Page 16549 ]
Hon. J. Sawicki: That is exactly what we are doing in cooperation with the Ministry of Forests at this time.
G. Abbott: I'll ask, first of all, when we might anticipate seeing the product of that. I'll just tie that in with the next question, in the interests of time.
The second concern raised by the director was around feasibility:
Now, I'm assuming from the minister's first response that the federal government declined to do that. So that's my second question, after the first about when we might see the product of the social-economic analyses.
"We wonder if a robust feasibility test has been applied to the draft SARA. It has been our experience that significant legislative initiatives such as SARA can have unintended consequences. We believe that it would be beneficial to partner with a province or territory to test the feasibility of the draft bill."
Third, I want to note the director's concern with respect to capacity:
My third question here for you is: did this happen? Was there any willingness on the part of the federal government to look at the capacity issue in the way proposed? And if not, does the concern still exist, and how does the province propose to address it?
"We are concerned that the administrative responsibilities outlined in SARA may be beyond the capacity of the federal and provincial governments. Meeting the multitude of time lines in the draft statute, the permitting provisions, the enforcement obligations, the investigations and the registry will be a challenge to both levels of government. We note there is a federal plan to create several secretariats to service the federal obligations of the bill. These, in and of themselves, will present a capacity issue to all jurisdictions that must respond to these agencies. We would be pleased to work through a number of case studies with the federal government to scope out the extent of the responsibilities inherent in SARA and to evaluate our joint capacity to meet these responsibilities."
Hon. J. Sawicki: Yes, I'm advised that the report to which we referred earlier should be available in late summer, perhaps August, September.
The second question: yes, we do continue to be concerned about the feasibility and, again, continue to work with the federal government on that.
In terms of the third question, it has always been our strong view that the dollars that the federal government says they're prepared to put in to support this initiative actually be upfront stewardship dollars to assist the provinces in recovery planning. Clearly the potential economic impacts to which the member referred earlier are much better addressed if we can get those dollars at the front end and into recovery planning. That's been a very strong point that we have made in the past and will continue to make.
G. Abbott: The last concern that is raised in this letter that I'll bring to the attention of the House is around funding. Again, to quote here:
My understanding is that a significant proportion of the species at risk identified here is in fact native to British Columbia. Could the minister indicate, as well as the proportion or the number, what they expect the financial burden of this to be?
"We believe that some provinces (B.C. and Ontario) will have a disproportionate financial burden once SARA is implemented. Our review of the draft bill has confirmed this belief. We expect that federal money available for the implementation of the SARA would be distributed to the provinces and territories consistent with the amount of obligation assumed under the act."
Hon. J. Sawicki: There's no question. British Columbia has the greatest biodiversity, and by definition and geography and the way our population has grown, we will likely always have the greatest number of species at risk. That's why we have argued strongly that when the federal government does apportion dollars to help provinces deal with this legislation, we should get a proportionately larger amount, because we have the greatest biodiversity.
G. Abbott: In the debates I've had with the Minister of Forests, this year and previously, with respect to the impact of the identified wildlife strategy, the goal of the province, as I recall, was to keep the impact of that strategy below 1 percent of the annual allowable cut. Now, the minister can correct me if I'm wrong; I'm going on memory there, but that's my recollection.
One of the concerns that I have is that the 1 percent, if indeed we can hold it to 1 percent, won't be distributed evenly across the province. As the minister has noted, those regions of the province that have the greatest biodiversity now -- and I would suppose the area in and around the riding of Shuswap would be one of those -- where there are a lot of variety of species, might bear a disproportionate load in terms of the impact of the identified wildlife strategy.
Can the minister assure me that we are going to see the implementation of the federal SARA and the provincial IWS in a way that is not going to duplicate or overlap and result in such severe impact that, in fact, in some regions of the province we will see an end to resource extraction and or development?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I do understand the point that the member is raising. Certainly we would want to work hard to ensure that there is no duplication or overlap here. In that regard we are pursuing a bilateral agreement with the federal government; that is something we have proposed. I would also mention that in British Columbia many of our endangered species don't occur on forest lands but, in fact, are on grasslands and wetlands, so those areas wouldn't be affected by the point that the member is making.
G. Abbott: So can I be assured, then, if that's the response of the minister, that for the area around Columbia-Shuswap, for example, where obviously there's a lot of emphasis on resource extraction in those communities, there will be a careful consideration by this minister of exactly what will be the consequences of the provincial legislation, the federal legislation and the combination of those two with respect to the jobs and the economic future of those communities?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I can assure the member that, yes, we would do that.
M. Coell: I'd like to just spend some time now looking at some individual species and the status of them. The grizzly bear population in B.C. has of course been under, I would say,
[ Page 16550 ]
a high degree of public comment in the last few years. There have been a number of studies which the province has done, which individual environmental groups have done and which the guide-outfitters have participated in as well.
I guess what I'm looking for is: is the ministry now comfortable with the numbers of grizzly bears in regions and in areas through the province? I guess that for the longest time all of the different groups had different numbers on their songbook, so to speak. You had estimates from 4,000 to 6,000, 6,000 to 10,000, 10,000 to 16,000. I think that in order to have some consensus on the issue, the province needs to take the lead.
I've read a number of the studies that the province has been involved in. I would like the minister's opinion as to whether she feels comfortable that the ministry now is in the lead and has the scientific data and background to estimate the number of grizzly bears in regions and areas in the province.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, there's probably not another issue that is debated as openly and freely and often as the number of grizzly bears that we have in British Columbia. Certainly our ministry has spent an enormous amount of time and dollars -- upward of around $3 million -- on several studies to try to confirm our estimates. Right now those studies do confirm that the estimate that our ministry uses, about 10,000 to 13,000 grizzly bears, is about as close as we can get right now.
M. Coell: One of the positions from both guide-outfitters and environmental groups is that the regions
Hon. J. Sawicki: I think the member will agree that animals like grizzly bears are very hard to count. But I am very confident that we have in place the best tools we have to make management decisions and that we manage grizzly bears conservatively. Each year the regional wildlife managers collect all of the data they have and the knowledge and information that they have in their region, and determine what the take will be for that region. Clearly there are some regions where we know that grizzly bear populations are declining. We do not hesitate to close hunting if that's required for conservation purposes.
M. Coell: Is the data, the regional data that the minister
Hon. J. Sawicki: Yes, that data is available by region and management unit.
M. Coell: I would be interested in receiving a copy, if that's possible. And the minister is nodding her head, so that would be fine.
I guess the number of black bears that the ministry is actually shooting is
Hon. J. Sawicki: There are many factors that do affect bears coming into communities, where they can be of danger to human safety and property. We have been very diligent to try to remind people to handle their garbage properly. We have some very successful bear-aware programs in several communities, where communities have really taken up this cause to try and help everyone to reduce the number of bears that have to be killed.
K. Krueger: I'd like to raise a specific constituency example of mine to counter what the minister just said. We have what is known as the Owl Road Landfill in Kamloops. Kamloops has residential communities around this landfill. One is called Juniper Ridge; the one below it is called Valleyview. This is what is known as a pre-existing non-conforming operation, from the municipal zoning and regional district points of view.
The operator, Dan Ambrosi, operates on a permit which specifically excludes him from putting putrescibles into that landfill. Yet he has contracts to pick up the waste from a number of restaurants in town -- indeed, from the school district, where children's lunches, discards and so on are in those dumpsters. The local people are utterly convinced, and I am too, that he is burying putrescibles in that landfill all the time. I've personally gone up to try and catch him at it. He's a very quick operator; he buries what he brings in extremely quickly.
When a load comes in while one of the ministry's employees is there, he dutifully sorts it in their presence. But most of the time, of course, there aren't people there. I have dealt with the pollution control staff and the Ministry of Environment staff repeatedly on this issue, and they simply do not have enough resources to actually monitor this dump the way it needs to be monitored. So there is this rapid burial of whatever arrives in the trucks. The individual has contracts in the lower mainland, where he brings up garbage from there as well.
I don't think there is any doubt at all that the dump is attracting bears. The ministry did oblige the operator to build a fence around the dump. The result is that the bears can still smell the putrescibles that I believe are buried there. They can't get through the fence, so they end up in neighbourhoods in Kamloops -- Juniper Ridge, Barnhartvale, Valleyview, Dallas. And they're shot by ministry employees; it's just an ongoing travesty, and it infuriates people.
This operator seems to be able to continue on and on in what we believe to be a violation of the permit, because there aren't sufficient staff to monitor him. Dick Anderson, the regional manager of pollution prevention, is a good man, I believe. He and I have spoken about this frequently. He's very frustrated. But there just doesn't seem to be the staff to deal with the situation.
In our briefing meeting in advance of these estimates we were told that there are at least 35 people employed by this
[ Page 16551 ]
ministry who have been deemed to be redundant, but are still on the payroll, and I gather some of them are biologists. I wonder if the minister could commit to assign somebody to deal with this problem. We can't have an individual flouting the law, if that's what's going on. It's unacceptable that dozens of bears are being shot and that people are put at risk. A lot of seniors live in Valleyview, and they're very frightened of these bears. They can't enjoy their lawns and gardens in the summertime; bears come and visit them before it's even dark, and it's really a problem. I wonder if the minister could comment.
Hon. J. Sawicki: The member is right. Our ministry staff is very aware of the Owl Road Landfill and certainly have been paying close attention to it, with the result that it's the ministry's sense that this operator has been a lot more careful and cautious with his work than he might have been previously. So we do try to monitor as closely as we can.
This ministry will never have as many staff as it could use out there in the field. But we do try to give priority to ensuring that there is adequate staff in the regions to be able to cover off all of these issues. I just wanted to add that the member referred to 35 redundant staff; these are redundant positions. But I want to assure the hon. member that those staff are still employed doing very useful work already. They're not sitting around doing nothing, I assure you.
K. Krueger: My point was, though, if the positions are redundant, then the staff who are filling them, I'm sure, are doing valuable things but perhaps could be reassigned to work on a problem such as this, which is an urgent problem. I mean, if the ministry can't enforce the permits and regulations already in place, then how can it deal with the additional regulatory burden that we've been adding with legislation year after year, the additional number of parks and so on?
There was a press release issued by the Concerned Conservationists of British Columbia, April 19, 2000, and it includes quotes such as:
One has to agree that if they don't even have the staff that they had five years ago, and they're trying to enforce new regulations, they're trying to protect and deal with new parks, it's not hard to understand why they're not able to look after problems such as the one I've just outlined.
"We were absolutely aghast when we saw the budget figures. It's just incomprehensible to us
. . . .We are trying to recover the budgets and staff levels that were in place six years ago . . . .In the absence of these resources, things are going very badly for environmental interests . . . .We are saying to 'put the resources back' and 'do it over the next five years.' "
The operator also has a permit to temporarily stockpile gypsum; he recycles gyproc. The pile of gyproc is a source of real irritation to the residents nearby; it often looks to be at least triple the size that he's allowed to have. Once again, the law just seems to be flouted. There's no action on these apparent violations of his permit.
I'd like the minister's comments on whether or not it isn't true that she is drastically understaffed compared to the workload that the people in her ministry are facing. If that's not true, or even if it is, could she make a commitment to me to assign the necessary staff to deal with these Owl Road Landfill problems specifically?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, certainly my staff have investigated -- they did go up there and investigate the gypsum issue. But I'm also advised that this is one of those situations where a community or neighbourhood is built up around this landfill and that there are some local issues there that do need to be dealt with. I can assure the hon. member that my staff will continue to carry out their mandate and monitor that permit.
On the larger issue of the budget for the ministry, I did make some comments earlier on, both in my opening comments and during the questions and answers in estimates. There is no question that this ministry has undergone considerable cuts over the past five years. This is the first year when we've been able to put back some modest dollars into our operational priorities. I will assure the hon. member that I will continue to be a strong advocate for increased budget for this ministry, because there certainly is a need out there.
K. Krueger: I wish to return obliquely to the issue of the grizzly bear population and safe levels of hunting and so on. In my capacity as Labour critic, I ask this minister about the situation of Mr. de Leeuw, up in the Terrace district. He's a government biologist who had written a report, as I understand it, on his strong views on the ministry's direction and performance with regard to maintenance of the grizzly bear population. As I understand it, he circulated that report to his peers, not outside the ministry.
As a result he was disciplined with a ten-day suspension without pay, which would seem very harsh. Biologists are not toadies of the government. They are not people who have to respond to the government Whip, not people who have to deliver the government line, but people who are charged with a responsibility in the public service, people who need to speak the truth. They certainly shouldn't be muzzled. This government's history about so-called whistle-blowers is not a happy one. But this man, in circulating a report to his peers, couldn't even be called a whistle-blower. As I understand it, he's simply a public servant who was looking for collaboration or argument -- a discussion, at least -- from his peers on a report that he'd written on an important subject. He appears to have paid a heavy price and has no doubt been subjected to a tremendous amount of stress as a result. I'd like the minister to update the House on the status of Mr. de Leeuw's grievance and her views on that whole unfortunate event.
The Chair: Before the minister responds, I would get direction from the minister as to whether this is an item that falls under the direct administrative control of the minister or whether it's a grievance under a collective agreement.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I was just going to note that this is a staffing issue. It was dealt with appropriately by the deputy minister in his capacity and clearly in accordance with the public service standards of conduct.
K. Krueger: Let's shift to generalities, then. This minister said a few moments ago that grizzly bear numbers are an issue that should be debated "openly, freely and often." Before the dinner break, the minister and the member for Okanagan-Penticton spoke with pride of the retirement of a long-service employee. The minister spoke in glowing terms about the value that this government and this province place on its long-term civil servants.
We share those points of view, and we think that the staff have to know that they are valued, their work is valued,
[ Page 16552 ]
they're respected and they're expected to contribute. They don't just work for the political party of the day; they work for the people of British Columbia. If you're a professional biologist, and you have an opinion that the government is messing up and allowing too many grizzly bears to be killed, you've got a perfect right to say so to the government, to ask the input of your peers and even to circulate that opinion to the public without fear of retribution.
One wonders about the shock-wave that's gone out throughout this ministry, this government and this civil service upon the realization that this sort of retribution could fall upon a person who took as understandable and mild an action as Mr. de Leeuw appears to have taken. If the minister doesn't want to update the House on his specific situation
The Chair: Come to order, please, hon. member. The issue is really outside the purview of the minister. The answer was that it's a staffing issue that's been dealt with. Reference to the specific grievance is out of order, hon. member.
K. Krueger: I'm now referring, hon. Chair
The Chair: Member
Hon. J. Sawicki: I will take every opportunity to express my tremendous respect and appreciation for the work that's done within my ministry by the public servants and public employees. Yes, I do value all of their work. But there are ministry and collective agreements in place, and there are procedures. Every public employee has to follow those procedures.
M. Coell: Two issues as related to whales: first, I'd be interested to know whether the ministry has a position on the killing of whales and first nations treaties, as we're seeing down in the United States, where there's a great deal of interest around the harvesting of whales for the first time in many decades, and separately, whether the ministry is involved in any of the research with regard to the number of whales that have washed up on the shore this year with toxins in them.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I really don't have any comment in my capacity as Minister of Environment, because whales actually come under the federal Fisheries Act.
M. Coell: I am sorry to hear that. I, for one, don't think we should be harvesting whales, whether it's federal or provincial policy. I think that there's been a long, long history of human beings abusing that large number of species. The longer they can go without an interest in harvesting, whether it's first nations or anyone else
There are a number of environmental issues that I'd like to move to now. I'd just make a comment that I am pleased to see the B.C. environment industry growing, as I'm sure the minister is. I would hope that the ministry will continue to encourage that. There is a whole range of new businesses that could be attracted to British Columbia, which deal with the environment. I know the minister commented on that in her opening remarks. But I would just like to say how pleased we are on this side of the House to see that industry thriving in Canada and the United States, and we hope that the ministry can encourage some or more of it to come to British Columbia.
T. Nebbeling: I will briefly try to get some answers from the minister related to Britannia. I don't know if you need to bring anybody in.
A Voice: No.
T. Nebbeling: Everybody there? A competent team.
Just a very brief rundown of what we have seen happening at Britannia, of course: approximately a year ago a proposal was presented to the communities throughout the Sea to Sky corridor; that is from Squamish, Whistler, Britannia itself, of course, right up to Lions Bay and West Vancouver. This proposal was made by the private sector to deal with the problem at Britannia, which is the acid rain dropped and its consequences on Howe Sound.
I think I should state up front that everybody who lives in the Sea to Sky corridor or gets out by the environment was very much interested to hear if there was indeed a solution to this horrendous pollution of the Howe Sound. I think many people who participated in the public process truly gave it a good evaluation, that this proposal that came forward was indeed the answer to the problem. The proposal basically was made up two components, one the creation of a toxic soil landfill above the community of Britannia, a fairly large toxic soil disposal area. The revenue from that landfill would then in return pay for not only the creation but also the maintenance of a treatment centre that would then deal with the acid rock drainage problem we have over there. That is a consequence of the copper mine that was abandoned a number of years ago.
As I say, many people with an open mind gave this proposal a chance for fair consideration. But it became clear that every community where this proposal was presented had serious reasons to oppose this particular route to save the Howe Sound from further pollution.
An offensive part of this whole process was also the fact that although an environmental assessment was proposed, not unlike other free enterprise projects, whereas most other free enterprise projects that go through an environmental assessment process often get delayed and hindered for years on end -- this afternoon I brought two projects to the minister's attention where the process has been going on for six to eight years -- this particular project was pretty well approved while the public process was still going on, in a matter of about four months. Some subjects had to be dealt with after the professional approval was given for this landfill and for the construction of the drainage treatment plant. The drainage treatment plant should have been close to completion, if indeed the conditions had been met by the proponents of this project. That has not happened.
Before I go into questions on what the consequences would have been if indeed this project had been brought to
[ Page 16553 ]
completion and this landfill had been created above the community of Britannia, I would like to ask the minister if she can give me a quick rundown not only on the status of the proposal, but also if the proposal still is a viable option, in spite of the fact that it has missed every deadline that it was given, starting in January this year.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, the member probably knows this issue in much more detail than anyone living in that area. He is correct. We did issue an order with several very tough conditions. The Copper Beach Estates is out of compliance. They did miss many of their deadlines. We understand now, in terms of the current status, that the owner has been replaced by another owner and they have not been able to raise the funds for the plant. So we are looking at other avenues under the legislation that we have, to begin to seek out previous owners of the property.
T. Nebbeling: Can I translate the words of the minister, then, to mean that this particular proposal, with the group that has been involved in getting this project off the ground, is indeed dead? Or are there still remnants out there of that group that are trying to resurrect the project again?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I would not say that it is dead. At this point they have not met the requirements of the order. We understand that they don't have the funds for the treatment plant, but I can't prejudge what the owners may do. We believe that the proposal was feasible. Clearly there were many other parts of the process around consultation
T. Nebbeling: My main reason for asking that last question is that I think there are groups that have viable proposals not only to make the financial commitment up front to get the treatment plant in place but also to create an environment where, in the long run, we will be assured of the cost recovery of the operation of the plant.
I get some satisfaction that the minister is looking at other options as well, because my main problem
At the time, this was actually a discussion we had on your side in the House so it was not official. At the time I was thinking that it was more problematic than the minister thought it was.
My question now is: was the minister, at the time that we talked, aware of the fact that it's not only the contaminated soil that was going to go into that landfill but also the very highly-polluted sludge that came out of the treatment plant? I ask the minister this because, when I talked to the proponent, not so long ago, he actually insisted, or she insisted -- she was a partner of the proponent -- that the sludge had to go into that landfill, although they didn't think under the existing permit that it was permitted, because otherwise it was cost prohibitive.
I bring this up in case the proponents are coming back to the minister. I want him to be very much aware that the financial viability of the whole operation that this group saw was based on the sludge returning into the landfill, thereby making the pollution levels of that landfill much higher. And of course, over the years, when that sludge then drains into the mine as well, and the residue through the drainage comes back into the treatment plant, the level of toxicity of that sludge is just getting higher and higher. Thirty years from now, we would have a major environmental problem there. I want the minister to recognize that that was one of my problems -- that it was not just the landfill waste, but also the toxicity of the sludge that went back in again.
Just to complete my statement here to the minister, I did some checking to see if there were other ways of getting rid of that sludge. Apparently there's only one place in North America, and that's in California. So it would be extremely expensive to ship that sludge to California to dispose of it. So that's the reason that the proponent felt that the only way he could get rid of this sludge -- which is a natural consequence of the treatment -- was to put it back into the landfill.
I don't know if the minister would like to respond to that, but that concluded my questions.
Hon. J. Sawicki: The priority concern of my ministry is to ensure that the site gets cleaned up, and that the severe damage to fish habitat and other habitats is reduced. To that end, as I understand the proposal
In terms of the sludge, I understand the issue that the member has raised. I want to assure him that detailed studies would be carried out in terms of how to manage that sludge prior to any approval, and that any deposition of that sludge on that site would clearly have to meet very high environmental standards of our ministry.
T. Nebbeling: I've looked at the plans; I've looked at the provisions under which the conditional permits were issued, and there is nothing in the permits that prohibits the people that made the proposal to indeed deal with the sludge as they intended to do. If the group comes back with another partner for the financial part, I hope that the minister will very much focus on that particular part, because that is not an acceptable component to add to that landfill that ultimately will become the drainage base that goes back to the glory hole into the mine. So it is not that that landfill does hold the water residues from the drain. It will ultimately go back into the mines, so that would really be a heavy pollutant.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I'm pleased today to assure the hon. member that, should that proposal carry on from here, our ministry will pay particular attention to the sludge issue.
[ Page 16554 ]
M. Coell: The Yellowstone to Yukon conservation initiative -- I've met with the proponents of that proposal. I've also had correspondence, which I'm sure the minister has, from regional districts and municipalities that find themselves to be part of that proposal. I would be interested in hearing the minister's comments.
One of the things that we're doing right now is the LRMPs -- kind of rezoning the province, putting them in place. Now you've got an initiative that comes out of a joint American-Canadian initiative that sort of overlaps that. I think what is frightening many of the regional districts and municipalities is: is this going to be another initiative that the government accepts, and is it going to just create more protected areas and take timber and mining opportunities out of production within the province? In listening to the proponents, I'm not sure whether they intend to be over and above what the LRMP process is and, if that's the case, how the ministry is going to deal with this initiative, being that it's an international proposal, in context with our LRMP process.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Certainly we recognize the legitimate concerns of communities, but also I think that if we look at our geography and some of the values that the proponents of Y-to-Y are looking at, in terms of providing linkages and wildlife corridors, our land use planning processes and our protected areas are doing that already. So I can certainly assure the hon. member that we have no intention of opening up any land use planning processes. The whole point of doing these plans is to achieve some certainty. I think I can leave it at that.
M. Coell: I guess that -- and I know the minister has commented on this -- the mid-coast Greenpeace-industry initiative is being dealt with outside of government as well. And it makes it very difficult, when we're in a process that's very intensive and very consultative throughout the province, to have other groups also planning and then expecting government to deal with their plans. As I say, the mid-coast, where Greenpeace and the forest industries are dealing but have neglected to include the owners of the land -- the people of British Columbia
Hon. J. Sawicki: I think, very briefly, I will say that our government's position and message to the partners in CFCI is that government's process is the land use planning table, and that's where they should be. That just reiterates my earlier comment: that is where the decisions around land use will be made -- around the land use planning tables.
M. Coell: I'm pleased to hear the minister say that. And if industry and the environmental groups want to know, both sides of the House agree with that -- that government and, really, the people of British Columbia need to be included. They're being included through the LRMP, and negotiations outside that are in the wrong place. So I'm pleased to hear the minister say that.
I want to touch base on the green economy initiative that the minister spoke of in her opening remarks and just to look at what the initiative means in this year's budget. What goals is the ministry hoping to accomplish this year? I guess, if I could say this, I'm a little bit skeptical that we might not see accomplishments; we might just see discussions. I want to be assured that if we're moving in that direction, we actually have some concrete goals that we want to achieve this year -- or the two-year planning process that we talked of earlier.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I need to restrain myself; otherwise we'd take the rest of the evening just on this one answer. I can assure the hon. member that in terms of the green economy initiative, we have tangible achievements in the previous year, including the tax-shifting discussion paper and the announcement of building retrofits to encourage energy conservation and waste reduction. The ecotourism strategy and gateway community initiative was another one from last year. So we do have tangible goals and specific projects.
This year's budget for the green economy initiative is $5 million. A large proportion of that, of course, is targeted to the environmental industry development fund to encourage environmental technology, which the hon. member referred to earlier in a very positive way.
M. Coell: Just to follow up on that, I wonder if the minister could outline for me the amount of money that is available to industry to renovate or innovate and how much of it is government pay for salaries and the like. I want to get an idea of how much money there actually is in a pot for industry or small businesses to use.
Hon. J. Sawicki: The goal of this development fund is to target, specifically, companies that have a credible, proven environmental technology and need that little bit of partnership assistance to get into commercialization. It was a gap that was identified in terms of other programs that existed, so it's targeted very specifically to that. Because I am so excited about this initiative, I really would be happy to invite the hon. member to a briefing on the whole green economy initiative. It is a fairly new initiative of government, and I know staff would be very happy to go through all of the information about it.
M. Coell: I thank the minister for that. I think, possibly, I'll take her up on that later in the year.
I guess my concern
What I was looking for is how the ministry sees that fund. Is it going to be picking winners or losers? Is it going to be going out looking for businesses, or do businesses come to government and apply to the fund? Basically I'm more interested in how that will work.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I want to assure the hon. member that this fund that's been set up is responding to a recommendation from the environmental technology industry. I'm sure the hon. member is aware of the extensive report that was done about a year and a half ago to see how we could encourage the growth of the environmental technology industry.
In terms of how this fund will be spent, companies will apply for it. They'll clearly have to go through due diligence in
[ Page 16555 ]
terms of demonstrating that this is a good use of those dollars. I would also stress that the green economy secretariat is a very, very small group of people; it numbers from three to six. Mostly it works across government to encourage green economy initiatives, whether it's the building retrofits that I referenced or any other of the projects that other ministries may be taking on as part of their own ministries.
M. Coell: I think the green economy is sort of like the dot-com economy; it's coming whether we like it or not. If we can encourage it in British Columbia, so much the better. There are a number of ways of doing that, of course.
I want to touch on SkyTrain -- the environmental assessment of SkyTrain. Whether the minister has staff to deal with that
Hon. J. Sawicki: My information is that the provincial environmental assessment was completed, the federal environmental assessment was completed, and the conclusions reached were that the impacts could be mitigated. So it's a matter of monitoring and ensuring that, as this project is built, those environmental impacts are addressed and indeed followed through on.
M. Coell: Will there be a reporting out as the process continues and the SkyTrain is completed?
Hon. J. Sawicki: There's not anticipated to be any final report here, but clearly the environmental assessment report is there for all to see. In the course of the various permits that this project has to go through, step by step, that's probably the main way that it will be ensured that the mitigative measures that were identified are indeed followed through on as part of the permitting process for the project.
M. Coell: I'll just relay this: I see that as a bit of a problem, because there were so many groups in the Vancouver area that were concerned about it. They would probably be comforted by at least having to know when those permits are taken out and what information is there to guarantee that it's been done. I suspect that that can be dealt with; I don't see that as a problem. I just flag that as an issue that would be helpful to the community in the greater Vancouver area.
Hon. J. Sawicki: The only thing I can add at this point is to say that the Rapid Transit Project office, who are the proponents and are building this project
M. Coell: I don't doubt the minister. I think there would be more comfort if your ministry was involved, is what I'm saying. SkyTrain isn't necessarily
In fact, if I could shift to tax shifting, I just want to make a couple of comments. One of the comments that I have been getting is that people don't seem to trust government, unfortunately, of any kind nowadays. When they say, "We're going to shift taxes," it usually means: "We're going to tax you, and we probably won't shift it."
I just wondered how the ministry is dealing with that issue. How are we going to convince people that tax shifting doesn't mean tax increasing?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I have to say that I'm very encouraged on the public consultation that we've had around the tax-shifting discussion paper that was put out jointly by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Environment. That has had several workshops now; we have had a very positive response, including from the business community. I've talked to chambers of commerce; I've met with the B.C. Business Council. They understand the logic of tax shifting.
I'm really pleased now that while British Columbia is actually the lead in North America on this, I notice that the federal government now is also talking about embracing tax shifting as a way of ensuring that people -- individuals, businesses and industries -- that do the right thing for the environment actually benefit financially for that, and that those who choose to ignore the environmental parameters actually pay closer to the full cost of their actions. That's all that tax shifting really is. I hear what the member is saying in terms of cynicism about all governments, as to whether a tax shift is really tax shift. Revenue neutrality is one of the fundamental principles of tax shifting.
M. Coell: I think it's an area that, as an opposition, we'll be watching -- watching with some interest and watching closely. It may be of benefit, when any tax shifts are announced, for the reduction in some tax to come first, and then the increase in the tax that the Environment ministry is looking at, just to show a sense of good faith.
I have a number of issues with regard to forestry that we could move into at this point. If you need staff, then I'll
G. Abbott: I would like to get from the minister some indication of how things are going with respect to the control of mountain pine beetle and, I suppose, other insect pests in the parks and protected areas of British Columbia.
Everyone knows very well that we are facing a very considerable crisis in the forests of British Columbia around the bark beetle problem. The bark beetle infestation has escalated almost beyond the ability of government and industry to control it. We've had considerable discussion of the bark beetle problem in the Ministry of Forests estimates. Of course the Minister of Forests is reluctant to talk a lot about what goes on in parks, as I expect the Minister of Environment would be reluctant to talk much about the control program outside of the parks and protected areas in British Columbia.
The estimated infestation of bark beetles in 1999 in British Columbia was just over 125,000 hectares, which is a considerable amount. I understand that -- in large measure due to the
[ Page 16556 ]
mild winter, the hot summer and the typically cyclical nature of this pest -- we are probably well in excess of 125,000 hectares now. I don't know how much larger it is. Perhaps the minister can advise, if she knows.
What I would like to know is what the estimated level of infestation is in British Columbia's parks -- particularly of the bark beetle, but if there are emerging forest health problems of other species in other parks in the province, I'd like to know that. I would also like to know what the estimated level of infestation is in the protected areas in British Columbia.
Hon. J. Sawicki: The member is correct. The mountain pine beetle is going through an epidemic cycle because of the warm winters. Certainly I, along with my colleague the Minister of Forests, have flown over the area in sort of north-central British Columbia to see the extent of the damage. In this year we are spending about $2.7 million within parks and protected areas, in our ministry, to handle the beetle within protected areas.
Of course, as you know from your estimates with the Minister of Forests, they have another pot of money. We're working very, very closely together. Clearly we are using different tools to deal with the bark beetle inside protected areas as opposed to outside. Some of those dollars are to do the mapping and inventory that we need to do to get a real handle on the extent of the infestation.
G. Abbott: The information provided is useful, although I'm afraid it's information I already have with respect to the distribution of the available forest health funds. The question I asked was about the level of infestation in parks and the level of infestation in protected areas. Could I get some idea of what the current magnitude of infestation in British Columbia's parks and protected areas is, in hectares, and perhaps some indication of how that is growing?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I'm advised that we've got a couple of issues here that make it a little difficult to answer the member's question specifically. I mentioned that we are doing monitoring, mapping and inventory, but I also understand that we need to wait until the bug flight is finished, which is about July, before we can then determine to what extent they have spread this year. However, we did, last year -- and we intend to take the same approach this year -- look at each park that has been affected, set our priority projects and allocate the dollars that we have to handle those infestations on a priority basis.
G. Abbott: Am I to understand from the answer that there is no estimate by Parks or ministry officials about what the -- estimated, at least -- size of the infestation is in, for example, Tweedsmuir Park, or the various protected areas around it, or in other parks in British Columbia? Is that correct?
Hon. J. Sawicki: Last year was the first year that we actually had a funded program to deal with the mountain pine beetle in protected areas, and so we will be able to get, let's say, the ballpark figure from last year to the hon. member. I don't have it with me here. But in terms of this year, as I say, until the bug flight is completed, we won't be able to give you that figure; but when we have it, we will certainly share it with the hon. member as quickly as possible.
G. Abbott: So with the $2.7 million that is earmarked for the parks and protected areas portion of the forest health budget, the objective by the ministry will simply be to establish the magnitude of the problem that is being faced, as opposed to actually undertaking control measures to deal with it?
Hon. J. Sawicki: No, hon. member, that's not what I'm saying. We are spending a substantial amount of those dollars, as we did last year, in treatment that includes fall-and-burn, pheromone traps, etc. So no, we are not waiting until we have all of the information in order to treat, but we are using a portion of those dollars to increase our understanding of the extent of the infestation.
G. Abbott: I'll turn to the management strategies that are being pursued by the ministry in parks and protected areas. As I understand it, the menu might be a little different between parks and protected areas; the menus may not be identical in terms of management strategies, but the minister can certainly advise me on that. I'm guided in some measure by this useful little pamphlet that is produced by the ministry, entitled "Bark Beetles in British Columbia." It makes very clear, as I'm sure everyone in the province knows, that clearcutting in parks and protected areas is not deemed to be an appropriate treatment option.
But beyond that, as I understand it from this brochure, there are several other strategies which the ministry would pursue in parks and protected areas: pheromone baiting, sanitation harvesting, fall-and-burn, pesticides, snip-and-skid and mosaic burns. I don't see -- at least there's no reference in this pamphlet to -- any injunction against the use of those in parks and/or protected areas.
Can the minister advise whether in fact that's the case -- that the summary I've presented is a fair one? And secondly, what is the emphasis in the year 2000 in terms of the ministry's management strategy for the bark beetle? Where is the emphasis going to be on, in terms of the menu of management strategies, and what evidence do we have about the relative efficacy of these different treatment approaches?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I'm suspecting that the hon. member is looking at a Ministry of Forests pamphlet about the mountain pine beetle, because certainly within parks and protected areas we don't use techniques such as snip-and-skid. The two that we rely on most heavily, in addition to the pheromone baiting, are the fall-and-burn and the prescribed burn.
G. Abbott: I know one of my colleagues has to get on with some questions here, so I won't belabour this point. I did ask what, of the menu of strategies, has proven to be the most effective -- if indeed any has. I also asked whether there was a difference in the menu between parks and protected areas. Again, I understand from our estimates debate last year with the previous minister that in fact there are differences in the menus between those two. But perhaps I'll leave the minister to discuss that with her officials, and perhaps my colleague would like to move on to his issues.
Hon. J. Sawicki: On the policy level there is no difference in the menu treatments between parks and protected areas.
[ Page 16557 ]
The only exception to that -- and this may be what the member is referring to -- is the Entiako area, where we are using snip-and-skid. That was more in keeping with just the process of the land use planning process report out. But that is, I understand, the one exception. Otherwise there is no policy difference.
In terms of what we are finding is the most effective, the bait-and-burn technique or tool -- based on our limited experience of last year -- is the one that is proving to be the most effective.
M. Coell: The ministry, as we've mentioned, has gone through a number of changes. One of them you would know more than most, probably: a number of the fisheries programs have left this ministry. We did canvass many of the fishing industries with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, BCAL
J. van Dongen: In the time we have left today, I just want to touch on a number of fisheries issues fairly quickly and give the minister an opportunity to simply comment on the work that's being done in her ministry.
First of all, the Fish Protection Act -- we've seen a couple of stages of implementation. We've seen the announcement of the sensitive streams that were designated. One of the issues right now that we're facing is the reaction of local governments and property owners to the streamside setback issue.
I wonder if the minister could just comment on that status and what kind of consultation and implementation plans the ministry has there.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I am very up on that one, because I just had a very encouraging meeting with several mayors and councillors north of the Fraser River about some of their concerns around the streamside protection directives.
We, assisted ably by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, are working very cooperatively with local governments to try and address their concerns and still fulfil the provisions under the Fish Protection Act. Those discussions are still going on, and we have changed our proposals several times to try and address the various issues.
J. van Dongen: I would hope that the local government of Chilliwack was involved in that. Certainly they had a very strong view on some of the provisions. I ask the minister to check that.
With respect to the shellfish industry and issues around water quality, I know that the minister mentioned in her opening comments today the completion, within the ministry, of a new municipal sewage regulation. I know that there's a certain volume level where there's a cut-off between the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment. I'm not hung up on that particular cut-off. What I'm concerned about is the history of effort that's been made on water quality in areas like Baynes Sound. There's been a lot of work done, but there's still a concern there about water pollution due to malfunctioning septic systems.
I think it's important that the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and possibly the Ministry of Health -- because of their jurisdiction on residential on-site sewage -- get proactive in actually developing a solution there. I think there's a lot of work that's been done on innovative on-site sewage systems. I personally feel that the Ministry of Health has been slow to test and adopt and bring along this new technology. I wonder if the minister could just comment on what efforts are going on within her ministry to try and precipitate a more focused effort by these other two ministries on this water quality issue.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I think one of the motivations for my predecessor in this ministry in bringing in the change to the municipal sewage regulations was exactly that: to encourage innovation and continue the transition that's happening in my ministry from being sort of so proscriptive at the front end to be much more performance-based, clearly indicating the environmental conditions and requirements and then leaving it up to communities to use innovative technology, hopefully -- something that we're also encouraging through the green economy initiative. While I mention that, I just want to acknowledge that the assistant deputy minister for the green economy initiative, Ken Baker, is here this evening.
The member is correct. There are several agencies that have a lot to do with water in the province, and we are working through a directors' committee to coordinate all those agencies to make sure that we can address the very wide-ranging issues around sewage treatment, water quantity and water quality.
J. van Dongen: I'm pleased to hear that. I think that there's a whole range of issues there, including the capital cost of replacing the septic facilities for the homeowner. But I think even there the Minister of Municipal Affairs, working with local governments, needs to look at innovative financing arrangements and whatever it takes to deal with the problem.
The Baynes Sound water quality committee I think has done a lot of good work. But they've kind of hit a roadblock now in terms of trying to deal with these malfunctioning systems. There are too many of them there to just ignore that issue. As the minister knows, that's also going to be a factor in the success of the shellfish industry, because they're like the canary in the mine shaft in terms of water quality.
I made a number of comments, and I would hope that the minister and her staff would take a look at the comments I made in Fisheries estimates, particularly with respect to fish farms, shellfish and enforcement issues. I don't really like the word "enforcement," but compliance issues -- trying to achieve compliance.
So, particularly with respect to fish farming, that's an initiative that we have supported on this side of the House. But we support it on the basis that there is good environmen
[ Page 16558 ]
tal management. I think we want to make it clear that we support efforts at good environmental management, mitigation of impacts, and that we need to look at all kinds of creative ways
Just a couple of
The Chair: Minister, minding the time.
Hon. J. Sawicki: Well, I'll make the hon. member a deal. I'll certainly be very happy to read the Hansard of his estimates questions to my colleague the Minister of Fisheries, and I really invite him to read the Hansard from earlier this afternoon, when I did actually comment on what our ministry is doing to support a sustainable, environmentally responsible aquaculture industry.
J. van Dongen: Just a question on the mysis shrimp-kokanee situation. Just to register with this minister the concern that I have that there's been a fair bit of effort expended there, but I'm concerned about focus and whether or not the primary focus is to reinstate kokanee as the primary stock there, or whether or not the focus of all of the effort between this ministry and the Ministry of Fisheries is to develop a commercial mysis shrimp industry. I think those are two different objectives, and I wonder if the minister could clarify, from her ministry's perspective, how they see the mission on Okanagan Lake in terms of the kokanee stock.
Hon. J. Sawicki: From our ministry's perspective, our priority is to recover the kokanee. In order to meet that goal, we are supporting the harvesting of the biomass of the shrimp. The commercial feasibility of what you do with the shrimp is a secondary issue. Our priority is to try to ensure that the recovery of the kokanee can take place in Okanagan Lake.
J. van Dongen: Just one final issue with respect to the fisheries section. This is the steelhead controversy in the Bulkley Valley, or the Bulkley Valley and Morice River. That is an area of concern. I realize there are multiple issues there. I wonder if the minister could define for us how she sees the controversy there, and what this ministry is doing to try and deal with it.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I am aware of the history of the project to which the member is referring. Some work has been done in terms of using that sampling or test fishery kind of pilot to try and determine the numbers of steelhead. Our sense in the ministry at this point is that that is a pretty blunt instrument, and we are looking for a better tool to use in the future. We are working very closely with the Ministry of Fisheries to improve those techniques, because clearly our goal is to try and get as accurate an indication as possible of the numbers.
The Chair: Hon. member for Abbotsford, minding the time.
J. van Dongen: I just have a couple more questions, hon. Chair, and I'd like to complete those.
The minister is referring to the fish renewal project there, and certainly I've read, in these documents, her staff's concerns. It gives rise to one comment I made to the Minister of Fisheries that I think is important: that we need to work towards a common database. That's the primary goal, and if we can't do it through a project like this, then maybe we need to look at in-house ways to do it.
There are two other concerns there that I just want to mention. One is a personnel concern with respect to that fish renewal project. My understanding is that there was a ministry staffer that was on sick leave but then working on the project. I'm not going to ask you to comment on that, but I would appreciate some feedback -- maybe at another time -- because these are the allegations that are being made, and they seem to be valid.
The other concern there is the management of steelhead and whether or not there should be a kill fishery or not a kill fishery and simply hope that the ministry will try to work towards
The Chair: Minister, minding the time.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I'll be very brief, Mr. Chairman.
The management is dependent on getting better data, and that's what my ministry and the Ministry of Fisheries are working very hard to do.
The Chair: The member for Abbotsford, with an eye on the clock.
J. van Dongen: I just want to mention to the minister that with respect to air quality, we have two very difficult and controversial air quality concerns in my area of the Fraser Valley. One is an old concern, mushroom composting; and the other is a potential concern, Sumas Energy 2. I'm going to leave it to the critic and the member for Chilliwack to deal with the Sumas Energy 2 issues.
As the minister knows, mushroom composting is a problem that has been with us for some time. We have worked, as you know, very diligently with your staff to try to work toward progressive solutions. We're still, I think, quite a ways away, but I would just like to give the minister the opportunity to provide assurance to all of the neighbours of this composting facility that this issue will be dealt with as expeditiously as possible -- and, I think, at the same time, some comment on assurance to the operator of fair treatment and fair process.
Hon. J. Sawicki: I know how long and hard the hon. member has worked on the issue of mushroom composting. This ministry did issue an order. It is being appealed to the Environmental Appeal Board, and I understand the board will be hearing that appeal in June.
[ Page 16559 ]
J. van Dongen: I thank the minister for her comments. We will stay with that issue. I just want to say that we've had, I think, a very good working relationship with all of your staff, particularly the Surrey office. I think I spend more time in the Ministry of Environment than any other ministry, without a doubt. So thank your staff for their cooperation.
And with that, hon. Chair, I'll move that we rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 8:58 p.m.
[ Return to: Legislative Assembly Home Page ]
Copyright © 2000: Queen's Printer, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada