2000 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, JUNE 27, 2000
Volume 20, Number 17
[ Page 16805 ]
The House met at 2:08 p.m.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: First of all, I met yesterday with the legislative interns, as did the Leader of the Opposition. The legislative internship program provides a unique opportunity for young British Columbians to experience the political process from the perspective of both the public service and the political life.
This is the last week of their caucus assignments, and I want to thank those assigned to our caucus for their hard work and enthusiastic contribution to the research department. Deborah Cooper, Sean Edwards, Sean LeRoy and Jennifer Vornbrock have been outstanding. They took on very important projects and met often difficult deadlines with grace and good humour.
Marc Coward, Jennifer Erickson, Simrita Johal and Gerry Muir have done similar work for the opposition. I know Simrita was asking me questions about how many weddings I have to attend every weekend, because she comes from the same community that I do, and we had an interesting conversation. Will the House please make them all welcome and wish them well in their future endeavours.
B. Barisoff: Today I'd like to introduce, from the city of Grand Forks, Tony Goode, the administrator; Lynne Burch, the city clerk; Steve Burt, a councillor; Jake Raven, a councillor; and Kerri Medley, the economic development officer. Could the House please make them welcome.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There are two Dosanjhs in the gallery from my ancestral village. One of them lives in Surrey; the other one lives
Hon. U. Dosanjh: It is a dusty village, yes. The other one is here from Britain, and his father and my father were the best of friends particularly in their later years. His father is currently residing in Britain, and, of course, my father passed away some time ago. The first Dosanjh is Sandokh Singh Sandokh, who I just talked about.
Sewa Singh Dosanjh is the other Dosanjh, and he was the village headman for a while in Punjab
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Headman, yes. There is a word for it, but you wouldn't understand. The people accompanying them are Avtar Singh Nirwan, Joginder Singh Gill and Baldev Singh Danoa. Could the House please make them welcome.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: Today in the members' gallery we have a number of special guests from China. They are from the Shanghai Administration Institute. The delegation is headed by Zhu Minyan, who is a professor at the Shanghai Administration Institute. Mr. Minyan and his colleagues represent the largest post-secondary institution of its kind in Shanghai. During their time here, their group will be expanding its knowledge of public administration education in Canada. I ask all members to join me in making them welcome.
J. Cashore: In the gallery today are four people who work on a daily basis to enhance the quality of life for seniors in the Coquitlam area. Alex Graham is president of the Burquitlam Intermediate Care Society, which runs the first-class Burquitlam Lions Care Centre. He's also the president of the Lions Club, which raises thousands of dollars each year for the care centre. He's accompanied by his wife Mary. With them is Ellen McManus, the administrator of the care centre, and her husband Ron. They're in Victoria to deliver a petition urging the government to provide the necessary funding to expand and upgrade the care centre. Would the House please join me in making them welcome.
G. Abbott: In the gallery today are two friends from the Truck Loggers Association, Tony Toth and Rick Jeffries. I ask the House to make them welcome.
Hon. J. Pullinger: I have the pleasure today of introducing four people. First of all, Wanda Hop Wo is my constituency assistant. The note here says that she works very hard in my constituency office, so I suspect she wrote the note. However, that is absolutely true and then some. With her is her son Jon Aaron Hop Wo, who is a student in French immersion at Cowichan Secondary School. Jon Aaron has received honours in both academics and athletics.
With them are two people from a little farther afield. Yoshiki Yamamoto is visiting here from Kyoto, Japan, and has been staying with the Hop Wo family and going to Chemainus Secondary School. Yoshiki is participating in the Cowichan district's very successful international student program and will be returning to Kyoto for the summer and then coming back to the Cowichan Valley in September to continue his studies. Also with us is Izumi Yoshida, who's also visiting B.C. from Japan. Izumi is also an enthusiastic participant in the international student program and has been attending Frances Kelsey Secondary School. I'd ask the House to make these extraordinary young people -- and, of course, Wanda -- very, very welcome today.
SUPPLY ACT (No. 2), 2000
Hon. P. Ramsey presented a message from His Honour the Administrator: a bill intituled Supply Act (No. 2), 2000.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. P. Ramsey: This bill is introduced to provide supply for the continuation of government programs while debate on the government's estimates for 2000-01 continues. The first interim supply for this fiscal year granted by the Legislative Assembly was for one-quarter of the tabled estimates for voted expenses. This funding will be exhausted by June 30, 2000. Therefore a second interim supply is required to provide for the continuation of government programs for one additional month while debate on the estimates is concluded. I move that the bill be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 27 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.
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G. Plant presented a bill intituled Substance Abuser Rehabilitation Act.
G. Plant: I move that a bill entitled Substance Abuser Rehabilitation Act, of which notice has been given in my name on the order paper, be introduced and now read a first time.
G. Plant: In 1997, I introduced a bill entitled Motor Vehicle Amendment (Substance Abuser Rehabilitation) Act. Its purpose was to require repeat impaired drivers, at their own expense, to undertake assessment and treatment for substance abuse problems before they could get their driver's licence back. Later in 1997 the government introduced its own legislation, giving the superintendent of motor vehicles the power, in appropriate cases, to order persons to undertake counselling for substance abuse as a condition of obtaining a driver's licence. That provision was section 5 of the Traffic Safety Statutes Amendment Act, 1997. Three years have passed. Section 5 has not been proclaimed, but the carnage on our highways continues; 40 percent of all fatal traffic crashes in B.C. are caused by drinking drivers.
Hon. Speaker, the criminal law has an important role to play in keeping our streets safe, but some people who drive while impaired need help with a substance abuse problem. These people are a menace to the public and themselves every time they get behind a wheel. They should not be allowed to drive without getting help.
Three years ago section 5 was the government's answer to the victims of impaired drivers. But like so many of this government's initiatives, once the press release was issued and the fine speeches made by the cabinet ministers, nothing happened. My bill, therefore, is simple. My bill simply proclaims section 5 -- the government's legislation -- into law immediately. It would take five minutes. The victims of impaired driving would like to repair one broken NDP promise. I move that this bill be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill M208 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.
QUESNEL SPINAL CORD INJURY CASE
AND B.C.'S HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
J. Wilson: Hon. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Health. On Saturday, a 32-year-old woman was involved in a motor vehicle accident west of Quesnel. She sustained severe spinal cord injury. Here is a log of the doctor's frantic attempts to get treatment for his patient.
They called the Vancouver General Hospital spinal unit at 9 p.m. At 9:30 they were advised: "There are no beds available." Will the Minister of Health tell us what he thinks that the doctors in Quesnel should have done with this car accident victim once they discovered there were no beds available at VGH?
Hon. M. Farnworth: I can't comment directly on a particular case, and clearly this is a tragic situation. What I can tell you is that we are working closely with the health authorities to identify what the critical pressures facing each health authority and community health council are in British Columbia and to look at ways of resolving particular issues in those communities, to ensure either that there are services available when they're required or that, in the larger context of how we, in tertiary care centres -- that the facilities are acquired so that people can have access to them when they're required.
The Speaker: The hon. member for Cariboo North has a supplemental question.
J. Wilson: Yes, hon. Speaker. That's all we're asking for -- that services are available when they are required.
When the doctors could not get a bed at the VGH, they phoned the Vancouver trauma hotline searching for any bed in British Columbia for this spinal cord injury. The doctor was told at 9:45 p.m. that there were no beds available anywhere in British Columbia. Will the Minister of Health please tell us what he suggests that the doctors in Quesnel should have done with this patient at this point?
Hon. M. Farnworth: We recognize around this particular time of year that we're coming into a period where there are particular stresses placed upon the health care system. That's why we're working with health authorities to identify what some of those key pressures are. That's why we're trying to address the issues around, for example, the shortages of nurses, so that we can get beds open when they're required.
There's a host of things that we're doing, and we're doing them as efficiently and as quickly as we can. We recognize the challenges that are there. That's why we've devoted the resources to ensure that we can meet those challenges, and we will continue to work with the authorities to ensure that we can.
C. Hansen: I think the minister's comment that we are coming into the most difficult time of the year is accurate. It's still ahead of us; the worst is yet to come.
Well, at 9:45 last Saturday night the Vancouver trauma hotline told the Quesnel doctors to call Alberta. Fortunately, they managed to get hold of a physician at Foothills Hospital in Calgary, and that Calgary neurosurgeon said that she was appalled that that situation would happen anywhere. She made arrangements to make space available at Foothills hospital in Calgary. The doctor in Quesnel was then told that there were no B.C. air ambulances available to move his patient to Calgary. Will the Minister of Health tell us what the Quesnel doctors were supposed to do at that point?
Hon. M. Farnworth: One of the things that our health care system is able to do is work cooperatively with other provinces to ensure that we can
[ Page 16807 ]
able place for them to be. Sometimes there aren't beds available, and what's important is that we find the services for that person. And if it's in Calgary, it's in Calgary.
Likewise, if you're in Alberta and you're in an accident, and there's not a bed available there, we will find one here if there's one available. They can move one here. That's how our system works: cooperatively.
We have challenges in our system, and we're working to deal with them. We're working to deal with them in terms of finding 400 new nursing spaces that are coming on this year. We're working on them in terms of strategies to attract physicians to regional and referral centres, so that we have the supply of physicians that are required. We are working with health authorities to ensure that the resources they're getting go to meet the challenges that are facing them, and we'll continue to do that.
The Speaker: The hon. member for Vancouver-Quilchena has a supplemental question.
C. Hansen: Well, frankly, flying patients that need trauma care from province to province is not acceptable.
Hon. Speaker, it took 12 hours to get this woman into the care that she needed, and she got there by way of an Alberta air ambulance that came to pick her up. This patient was failed at every step of the way by B.C.'s health care system. Will the minister tell us why this system in B.C. is so bad that we have to rely on Alberta hospitals, and we even have to rely on the Alberta air ambulance system to get our patients into care in that province?
Hon. M. Farnworth: I'm going to repeat for the hon. member what I just said. We as a province don't operate in isolation. One of the beauties of our health care system is that provinces work together. We work together to put the needs of the patient first, to ensure that there are beds available. If there's not one here in British Columbia, then we will take advantage of one that's available in Alberta, and vice versa.
When we're trying to look at how we reform the health care system to ensure that there are the resources that we require -- whether in British Columbia or Alberta or Ontario or Quebec -- and that there's a standard of health care available, we work cooperatively with Ottawa to identify what the pressures are, what the challenges are and what funds are required to meet those challenges. That's how we do it, not operating in isolation, but recognizing that the system is the strongest when it works together for everybody regardless of where you are.
Nobody likes the fact that we get pressures and sometimes there aren't beds available here in B.C. But it does occasionally happen, and at that point in time I am glad that provinces work together in the way that we're working with them and working with our health authorities to identify the challenges and meet those challenges.
C. Hansen: The minister knows that it happens too often that British Columbians cannot count on the health care system being there for them when they need it. Will the minister assure this Quesnel family that they are not now going to be sent a bill for the air ambulance service that Alberta had to provide?
Hon. M. Farnworth: You know, they're not going to be sent a bill.
What we're working on is to ensure that we have the services that are required. That's why we're working with health authorities; that's why we're working with health providers in this province to identify the challenges. That's why we're working with other provinces and, in a cooperative, non-confrontational manner, with Ottawa to get more funding into the health care system to meet the needs of the people of this province for whom the health care system works on a day-to-day basis.
M. de Jong: The words, actually, that I kept waiting for the minister to say are: "It's unacceptable." It's about a patient who, on Saturday night, was brought into a facility in Quesnel and whose doctor worked desperately and, at the end of the day, unsuccessfully to find treatment for that patient in British Columbia, who called VGH -- no room -- and called the trauma centre -- no beds in all of British Columbia -- and then managed, through advocacy on behalf of this patient, to find a bed in a crowded facility at Calgary Foothills, only to discover that it was beyond the capacity of the province of British Columbia to transport that patient to that facility in Calgary.
Why is it that health care under this government in British Columbia has been allowed to deteriorate so seriously that you can't find a bed for a trauma patient, and when you do, it's in Alberta, and then you can't get your patient to the bed in Alberta?
Hon. M. Farnworth: We're dealing with types of injuries that require, quite often, specialized services, so not just any location is suitable for a patient to go to. Is it unacceptable that there's not a bed available? Of course it is; no one denies that for one second. But what we want to ensure is that the individual gets the care that is required. And if it means that we work with other provinces to see that that happens, we will do so at the same time as we work in our own province and with other provinces to find out how we improve the system -- to improve the system, to work, to deal with the pressures that face the system and to ensure that those pressures are funded. That's what we're trying to do.
We have invested over $600 million this year in additional funding to the health care system. We have a system that is based on needs, which serves the people of this province, recognizing that certain areas are able to provide the specialized care that's required because they have a critical mass in terms of population and in terms of physicians and in terms of specialists to provide that type of service.
Sometimes the beds are full, and that's why I come back to what we said. We work in a cooperative manner with other provinces, and if they need help, we're there to provide it as well. It's one of the beauties of the Canadian health care system which we are committed to maintaining.
The Speaker: The hon. member for Matsqui has a supplemental question.
M. de Jong: Well, I wouldn't presume to speak on behalf of this 32-year-old patient, but I dare say she's not very impressed with anything the minister just said or anything this government has done over the last nine years. It wasn't there for her when she needed it most.
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It's getting worse, Mr. Speaker. In spite of all the minister's protestations to the contrary, it's getting worse. How many patients in British Columbia have to go looking in Alberta for the care they deserve?
The minister and the government are in denial. And the question for the minister, the question for the government, is: at every step of the way, when this doctor and this patient had doors slammed in their faces and heard there was no room at the inn, what advice did this minister have for them? He had none. I take it he's got none today, except: "Well, we'll see how it goes." Why doesn't the minister just admit that he and his government have failed patients in British Columbia and continue to fail them time and time again?
Hon. M. Farnworth: I guess today is this member's attempt to redeem himself from the last time he asked a health care question in this House.
We recognize the challenges that face health care in this province. That's why we are working on issues around a nursing strategy, so that we have nurses now but also in the long term to provide the care that's required, so that two or three years down the road we know there are nurses here then and there are nurses here today. Secondly, that's why we're working to look at issues around physician supply with the BCMA, for example, so that we can have the required number of specialists and physicians in the different parts of the province that need to be there when they're there. That's why we're also injecting $600 million this year into the health care system to meet the needs of our province.
But you know, we in this province can have the best system in the country, and it will still have challenges. What we have to do is ensure that when situations arise, there's the ability for people to get the care they require. And as I said, if it means that we work cooperatively with other provinces, we do. They can rely on us when they face times of challenge as well. Every province in this country right now is facing the same challenges and the same pressures on it. That's why we're working to address them and will continue to do so. That's why I would like to hear what their suggestions for dealing with the pressures facing the health care system are, because we've heard precious little to date.
C. Clark: The minister is right. We in British Columbia could have the best health care system in Canada today, but we don't. After a decade of New Democrats, we have one of the worst health care systems in this country. That's because of the negligence of this government.
This minister stands up, and he still doesn't get it. This example is not an isolated incident of what's happening in our health care system. The system is broken. My question to the minister is this: when is he going to clue in, recognize that it's broken, roll up his sleeves and do something to really get it fixed?
Hon. M. Farnworth: The red light's on for you.
The only thing that's broken is that member, who is a broken record every day in this House. This is the same opposition that said $6 billion is enough for health care. This is the same opposition that's proposing a massive $3 billion tax cut to business and industry and selling off Crown assets to pay for it. At the same time, not one penny of that will go into health care in this province. What is their plan?
The Speaker: The bell ends question period.
J. Cashore: I rise to present a 3,000-signature petition in support of the expansion of the Burquitlam Lions Care Centre as promised by government in 1993 and '96, in view of the cost savings to be achieved by meeting the urgent need for long-term beds.
Hon. D. Lovick: By leave, I would move that the Select Standing Committee on Parliamentary Reform, Ethical Conduct, Standing Orders and Private Bills be designated as a committee to review statute revisions pursuant to the Statute Revision Act.
Hon. D. Lovick: I call Committee of Supply in both chambers. In Committee A, the Douglas Fir Committee Room, we will be debating the estimates of the Ministry for Children and Families. In this chamber, we will be debating the estimates of the Ministry of Labour.
The House in Committee of Supply B; T. Stevenson in the chair.
The committee met at 2:38 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF LABOUR
On vote 38: ministry operations, $29,752,000 (continued).
Hon. J. MacPhail: Hon. Chair, if I could just take the time to answer some questions that I took on notice from the sitting this morning, the member for Richmond Centre asked the question about how much is billed for photo radar. We now have the statistics up to May 31, 2000. I gave the statistics up to December 31, 1999. The amount billed is $82 million to date; of this, the amount collected has been $78 million. So there's an outstanding amount to be collected of $4 million over the course of the
The member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove asked a question about criminal proceedings. Criminal proceedings are open to the public, so ICBC staff are entitled to attend proceedings and take notes. However, there is no policy in the corporation that requires ICBC staff to attend at criminal proceedings.
[P. Nettleton in the chair.]
Regarding the attendance at juvenile criminal proceedings, provided that the proceedings are open to the public,
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ICBC staff would be free to attend. But of course, the corporation would not be able to attend any criminal proceeding, whether against a juvenile or an adult, should the court order that the proceedings be sealed. Criminal proceedings and civil proceedings are entirely separate matters. There are, of course, different standards of proof and different evidentiary requirements.
On the body shop accreditation programs, I'll just give the information about the update on that -- that all major automobile optional coverage insurers in British Columbia deal with a select group of repair shops that they deal with exclusively. So the practice of ICBC accreditation is probably less in terms of directing people than other optional coverage insurers, and the whole industry trend is toward direct or approved repair. ICBC's accreditation program is inclusive; it's not exclusive, the way other insurers have it. And of course, as we've already said, a body shop doesn't need to be an accredited ICBC car shop in order to do business with ICBC customers.
Roughly 60 percent of ICBC accredited car shops would be considered small operations. The member for North Vancouver-Seymour suggested that it was the multinational companies, but 60 percent are small operations with annual sales ranging between $150,000 and $750,000.
The public insurers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba have accreditation programs very similar to ICBC, and industry trade associations in Alberta and Ontario have their own accreditation programs. That brings us up to now.
D. Jarvis: Some of the other members have questions that they want to bring up. Just prior to the lunch break, I was talking about the public trustee. And I don't know if I mentioned, at that time, the monetary figure. Would the minister have the information as to the dollar figure where it clicks in that they must report it to the trustee? If so, should it not be at $1?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Sorry, I'm still taking that question on notice. I now understand that your question is: is there a threshold? So I'll find that information out.
D. Jarvis: I would like to introduce the oyster lady, the member for Parksville-Qualicum.
J. Reid: I have a question with regard to gross vehicle weight and recreational vehicles and licences. Over this past year, there has been a changing attitude in ICBC, as far as what was going to be enforced and what wasn't. I just want to make sure that I have the up-to-date information and explore some of the ramifications of what's going on in this situation.
For clarification background, it's my understanding that trucks are assigned the gross vehicle weight rating by the manufacturer. It's also my understanding that this is set perhaps lower than is necessary, in order to protect the interests of the manufacturer. The province accepts that rating. In the past, these weight limits were commonly exceeded, and it was last year that there was a concern that weight limits should be enforced.
Now, ICBC has responded and made a decision -- and I'm looking for clarification on this -- to not enforce the gross vehicle weight restrictions on vehicles of 5,500 kilograms or less if the vehicle was manufactured before January 1, 2001, unless obvious safety violations have occurred. Could the minister confirm whether that's the present situation?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I can give you
I'd be happy to move on to hear the concerns around application of it, but let me give you the information that I have here: "On February 3, 2000, the following amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act regulations were enacted: section 19.11(3), repealed and amended to exclude vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 5,500 kilograms or less and manufactured before January 1, 2001, from the requirements of section 19.11(1), which specifies that the vehicle must not exceed the manufacturer's GVWR."
J. Reid: Okay, that's the confirmation that there's going to be an exemption for the older vehicles. So the question then is: with that exemption, is it that those vehicles are still illegal but there isn't going to be an enforcement of that illegal situation?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Again, sections 25.15(1.1) and (1.2) are added to provide for enforcement of unsafe, overweight conditions for vehicles that would now be exempt from section 19.11.
What do they say? Well, I can get that information. Section 25.15 gives enforcement officers the ability to issue a notice-in-order when they have reasonable or probable grounds to believe that a vehicle is overloaded or unsafe and is exceeding the gross vehicle weight rating or gross axle weight rating. The exempted vehicles may be subject to enforcement under the addition of 25.15, if they are overweight and unsafe. All vehicles manufactured on or after January 1, 2001, will be subject to 19.11(1) and may be issued a violation ticket if the vehicle exceeds the GVWR.
J. Reid: Thank you for that. Yes, that's what we've stated. The question is: are those vehicles still illegally operating? We've just decided -- ICBC has decided -- not to enforce that. The implication here is that for people who are operating those vehicles, their concern is if there is an accident. Now, they might not be enforced; those sections might not be enforced anymore -- that they're operating overweight -- as long as there's not an obvious safety violation. But if they're still operating illegally, and if there's an accident, then what position are these people in?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The exemption makes them legal.
J. Reid: Thank you for that. Now the question is
Hon. J. MacPhail: The whole purpose for this is to make sure that businesses make informed choices about the vehicles they need in order to comply with the law.
J. Reid: In particular, I'm concerned about RV users. Certainly, in my constituency there are an awful lot of people
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who are retired and enjoy the use of recreational vehicles. Government is recognizing that there was a situation where the gross vehicle weight rating wasn't necessarily an unsafe situation. It has recognized that. So now the question is why, in the future, it's going to start enforcing
Hon. J. MacPhail: In order to actually achieve what we're trying to achieve here in assisting people who purchase vehicles -- in other words, that they make the informed choice that they need in terms of size, etc. -- retailers are also required to inform the purchasers of the GVWR. We're actually looking at -- perhaps the member could comment on this -- making that a requirement by regulation.
J. Reid: Does the minister think that there is some kind of a problem perhaps in the way the GVWR rating is given, seeing that it's given in a very conservative way, so that people can obviously safely operate vehicles in excess of that rating? ICBC has admitted this and yet isn't dealing with the real problem here. Instead it is making an arbitrary date decision to bring in compliance. Certainly people need to be informed of what their choices are when they're purchasing a vehicle and to be informed of what is safe for them to operate as far as weight goes. But at the same time, we're still restricting people who could be operating vehicles entirely safely within the capability of their chosen vehicle and saying that, as of this date, we're no longer going to consider them safe, even though we considered them safe the day before.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I understand the problem, and if the member has solutions, I'd be happy to hear them. I'd welcome them. The approach that we're taking is this. People were in vehicles where they would unknowingly exceed the GVWR. With the addition of a couple of snowmobiles, they would unknowingly exceed the limit. What we're trying to do is give a period of grace and give them the best possible information not only from ICBC but also from the retailer and then say that after a certain period of time, this is the way it should be.
People were finding themselves in violation unknowingly because of the addition of extra trappings to the vehicle. But there's also an issue here of
I just want to let you know that we did do this in consultation with the RV association and the Safety Council, etc. But I'd be happy for more input.
J. Reid: Continuing on with the issue of RV users and overweight vehicles, there's another complication. That is that people who are driving the larger RVs actually need a class 3 licence. A lot of these people don't know that they need a class 3 licence. So the question is: how many people does ICBC estimate should have a class 3 licence who don't and are driving RVs?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I remember once when I was the minister responsible for social services and welfare -- that included social assistance -- and they said: "How much fraud is there in the system?" Whatever fraud was in the system, we captured. So I can't give you an estimate of undetected licensing violations.
J. Reid: Then ICBC hasn't identified this as a problem within the system -- either a problem to people, a problem on the road or a safety concern.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Well, if the member is giving it to us as notice, we'll surely look into it. But the corporation is unaware of it as being a problem, other than a regular problem of enforcing the law.
J. Reid: I have a constituent who was driving a truck with an RV, who realized when he took it over the weigh scales that he was considered over the size limit and needed a class 3 licence. Wanting to be legal and wanting to do everything in his power to be able to operate safely, he looked into that and had to take the test for a class 3. This requires $15 for a written test, $50 for a road test, $75 for a medical that's required every two years and another $17 for a licence fee so that he could legally drive his RV.
Now, the problem with this, other than the cost and the hassle and the stress that go along with it, is that the entire process is geared for truck drivers, not RV drivers. Yes, there are people who are operating RVs that are over, who should legally have a class 3 licence. But the whole test, the whole procedure, is geared for truck drivers.
For example, he had to know about handling explosives, and he had to know how to adjust the straps to hold down loads, but he didn't have to know about the actual operation of his RV. Does ICBC have any plans to look at the concerns of people who are driving RVs to be able to, just in the former situation, realize that there is a problem? These people are driving illegally, and in the case of an accident there certainly could be very serious repercussions for them.
With the present system of ignoring that this is applicable to RVs, there is no testing or mechanism that takes into account the usage and the safety concerns of RVs. Again, as ICBC looks at these problems and identifies areas of concern, is there anything that is going to be done to actually provide the services required for conformity and legality for people who are driving these large RVs?
Hon. J. MacPhail: It's an interesting proposition to add another
J. Reid: The concern is that people don't want to be operating illegally. They're concerned if they're in an accident
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R. Neufeld: When you're dealing with a driver's licence class
I want to ask a couple of questions around driver's licence and also tridem-drive trucks. Just for my clarification, can the minister tell me how long British Columbia has been experimenting with tridem-drive tractors on our highways?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'll take it on notice and get it to you, as the staff in the other room can hear the question.
R. Neufeld: I'll continue on with it, and maybe whoever is getting the information can listen and get it for me.
It's not a trick question. I'm just not sure how long we as a province have been doing it. I know we've been doing it, and we've been doing it specifically in the logging industry -- tridem-drive tractors. I would like to know what the rationale is and why -- and I think it's quite a number of years now, probably five or six -- we are just having that kind of an experiment in the logging industry. I would think that by now we've either decided that tridem-drive tractors are fine on our highways or not. There are huge investments made by people in the logging industry to buy this type of equipment.
I'm asking why we can't now expand that to other types of trucking in the province of B.C., that being tractors that drive up and down the highway hauling freight or those, specifically where I come from, that haul huge loads in the oil and gas industry -- why we wouldn't look at tridem-drive tractors there. I don't know whether the minister has that information here or some idea about it or whether she would get that for me.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'll get that information along with the original question.
R. Neufeld: One other issue I have -- fairly quickly -- it's a driver's licence issue also. This goes back quite a few years. I didn't realize it was even around. A gentleman in Fort Nelson came to me just recently. He has a class 1 driver's licence. He has been driving a truck all over British Columbia and Alberta for quite a few years. He's probably 50 years of age. And when he got his driver's licence -- and there's quite a number of people in Fort Nelson that got their driver's licence quite a few years ago -- there was no British Columbia driver examiner that went to Fort Nelson. They do now. So the RCMP administered the test.
The differential was that this person -- whoever that happened to, if an RCMP officer administered the test -- could not drive south of the 55th parallel. These people obviously have been operating all over the province and all over Canada, and they go on holidays and all kinds of things. But to close them off their driver's licence and say that they can't drive south of the 55th parallel, I think, is something that we should look at seriously in ICBC. I think it would just take a stroke of a pen to say: "Look, that regulation is no longer needed. It shouldn't have been there."
These are people who are my age, who have been driving for years in all kinds of conditions and who all of a sudden find themselves in a legal position where, again, their driver's licence says they can't drive any further south than Fort St. John, which is, I think, a bit bizarre. But it happened. I'm wondering if the minister would look favourably at just carte blanche saying that if anyone has that on their licence when it comes up for renewal, we would remove it from their driver's licence. If I could get that assurance, I would sure appreciate it.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'll look into it and get back to the member very quickly.
K. Krueger: I was pleased to hear the minister and the corporation's answer to the GVW issue. It was certainly a thorny issue last year, and there were actually RV magazines in North America that were urging people not to go to British Columbia with their RVs, for fear that they would end up having them towed and not being able to use them on our highways.
This GVW issue, however, is still an issue in the ranching community. When we hosted the cattlemen on Agriculture Day during this session, they asked that a number of issues around the GVW concerns be addressed. I don't know whether these were put to the minister through her caucus. She's nodding, so I'm going to be really quick about it, and she can just confirm if action is being taken.
Of course, the GVWs are set rather lower than the vehicles' carrying capacities, because that protects the manufacturers warranty and helps them avoid warranty claims. I don't think there have been many claims in ICBC's history that were deemed by ICBC to relate to the vehicle having been operated while overweight. I wonder if the minister can confirm that -- that there have been very few, if any, claims in ICBC's history related to a vehicle having been operated overweight.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'm informed that when the police attend an accident, they don't separate out the cause of accident by input. For instance, they wouldn't say that it's road conditions over gross vehicle weight over improper loading or that. But the police themselves inform the corporation that being overweight is an issue. But we don't have statistics, because at the time of an accident police don't separate out the inputting factors of the accident.
K. Krueger: I worked for ICBC for 20 years and reviewed a lot of files and knew a great number of claims personnel. I don't recall ever dealing with a light vehicle that was thought to have had its accident because of being overweight. I just wanted to put that point on the record. Certainly we're all concerned about vehicle safety, and with commercial trucks and so on it is rightly a major concern. But we certainly don't want to be damaging the ranching community or the recreational vehicle community or our tourist industry by unnecessary regulations. Again, I'm pleased with what we heard today.
Just to get the ranchers' concerns on the record, they say they're still having problems with inconsistencies across the province, where staff in some areas appear much less lenient on the GVW issue than in other areas. They say that ICBC is unique in Canada -- according to the ranching community
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countrywide -- in such close attention to GVW issues, that some enforcement people are very legalistic and that there's a lot of confusion in ICBC staff regarding how to properly license and permit them.
They've asked ICBC for a written guide and been told that it's almost done, but it wasn't done at the time they were speaking with me. Maybe the minister could just confirm what's happening with the written guide.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The Minister of Agriculture and I are working on and have signed off on the written guide, which has been signed off by ICBC as well. I thought it had been distributed, but if it hasn't yet, I'll check and give you a copy of it.
K. Krueger: Well, that's great. Thank you for that. Was the ranching community consulted in the development of that guide?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes.
K. Krueger: The consensus around the table dealing with the ranchers was: "We need a clean set of regulations, and we need proper enforcement of them." It sounds as though the corporation and the ministry have been working in that direction, and I'm pleased to hear it.
About the concern with staff being, as the ranchers put it, all over the road on these issues, I wonder if the corporation has undertaken or would commit to undertake a bit of a training program to make sure of consistency along with the publication of that guide.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Training of corporation employees is ongoing. I'd be happy if the member could provide us with examples of inconsistencies -- not by name, but examples of inconsistency that would form the basis of the training.
K. Krueger: I'll ask the ranching community to do that, and I'm really pleased about the progress on this issue.
On another ranching issue, cattle are frequently victims of motor vehicle crashes as well, and this often happens in areas that are open range. Again, there have been some inconsistencies over the years. This has been a cyclical problem over the 25 years that I've followed ICBC matters -- a problem with staff not really knowing how to deal with cow claims, frankly. Adjusters are trained to investigate accidents and try to determine how a court would split liability between drivers, sometimes they try to split liability between a driver and a cow.
The courts in the past have held that if a driver is negligent at all, then the owner and operator of the vehicle is obliged to pay the value of the animal if an animal is killed in a collision. So the corporation had a pretty clear-cut policy about that for a number of years. Over the last several years, we've been hearing complaints, and the cattlemen brought them to us again. They're getting into these liability hassles with the corporation over claims where their cattle are hit in open range. I want to make it clear to the minister that we're not talking about a situation where an animal has escaped a fence and got onto a public highway where they're not allowed to be. We're talking about an incident where a driver has connected with an animal and either injured or killed it. I wonder if the minister could confirm what the corporation has resolved on this issue, and I do know that the claims division has been working on it.
Hon. J. MacPhail: There has been no change in policy. Again, if there are problems, though, in terms of the application of the policy, we'd be happy to look into it. But there has been no change in policy in this area.
K. Krueger: Well, then it's probably simply a matter of training. Like every other business, the corporation has to hire new people and train them. It's probably a matter that could be cleared up with a claims division bulletin, and I'd recommend that to the corporation.
Also on the matter of interactions between vehicles and cattle, which always end up unfortunate for both sides, the province used to participate in fencing programs that protected cattlemen's stock from these unfortunate incidents. Many of the roads that we still use in British Columbia actually started out as ranchers' wagon trails and ended up being public roads. The province has cut back substantially and eliminated its funding for fencing in a number of areas. They're contributing very little anymore to fencing and protecting cattle, and obviously the cattlemen would like to see that situation reversed. Has the corporation, as perhaps part of its road safety mandate, been contemplating a fencing program to deal with this issue?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Sorry. Correct me if I'm wrong; we should get this information. I think the Minister of Agriculture just recently has announced a program in this area. Or if not, he certainly is
Hon. J. MacPhail: Okay. Well, then the answer is: I'll look into it.
K. Krueger: Just to put the matter in perspective, a tremendous amount of fencing can be done for far less than a single claim for a serious injury would cost. People are often seriously hurt in animal impact. A large animal coming through the windshield does terrible damage to the occupant. These programs in the past often involved the provision of materials and the property owners doing a substantial portion of the labour. Things like that can be worked out. I'd like the corporation and the ministry to agree to have a look at bolstering whatever little funding is still available through Highways and through Agriculture and to deal with this issue.
Perhaps the minister didn't hear that. I asked if the corporation and the minister are willing to make a commitment that they will consider, as part of their road safety budgeting -- which I believe is in excess of $10 million per year now -- looking into this issue of participating in fencing and alleviating this concern about collisions with stock.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I had said yes, I'll look into it. I thought the member was just filling out what more I should look into. I had made that commitment.
K. Krueger: I missed that. To ranchers, it's very similar to governments paying for sidewalks and streetlights in the city. I thank the minister for those commitments.
I wanted to ask, in the interest of people who provide emergency service to accident victims all around the province,
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usually on a volunteer basis and often with equipment that they've raised money for themselves, if the corporation is willing to change its longstanding policy of not paying for the Jaws of Life and for emergency foam equipment for these emergency personnel. I'd like to see -- again perhaps from the road safety budget, but from some budget of the corporation -- provision for purchase of the Jaws of Life, replacing them when they need to be replaced, fixing them when they need to be fixed, providing the protective fire-retardant foam that you have to use along with that equipment. Would the minister update us on ICBC's policy on the Jaws of Life and similar equipment?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Actually, this will inform the discussions that are ongoing now with the Attorney General, so I appreciate the input. Those discussions are occurring.
K. Krueger: Then just to flesh out the request a bit, these people are called out in the middle of the night. They clamber down steep banks; they go into rivers. They put their life and limb at risk. I went to a meeting up in Clearwater one evening, where a number of volunteers who had rescued several people from a mangled car were being counselled by a doctor. They had been scratched and cut, and there was blood all over the vehicle, and they learned that they had been exposed to hepatitis C. They take tremendous risks, and it just isn't right that they aren't provided the equipment. They actually have to chip in themselves and have bake sales and what not to try and get this necessary equipment. So I'm pleased to hear that's being considered. I hope the minister will throw her weight behind the request that that equipment be paid for, for these wonderful volunteers of ours.
I want to move on, then, to an issue that brokers have been raising. That is apparently a pilot project of some sort with a broker named Sussex, having to do with renewing policies over the phone and having the licence plate decals couriered to the people who do such renewals. Is that a fact, and could the minister and the corporation advise this House what the details of the pilot project are?
Hon. J. MacPhail: ICBC has been willing to work with all brokers on alternate distribution methods. This has been going on for about 18 months, looking at alternate methods. So the corporation's focus is very much on customer service. ICBC has been advised by the Sussex Group that the method of selling Autoplan renewals by way of call centre contact has received the appropriate approvals from the regulatory authority.
There is a dispute, though. There is no question that there is a dispute between Sussex and IBABC, and that's where the dispute lies. ICBC is also launching initiatives that will make it possible for even the smallest brokerages to take advantage of e-commerce by providing access to state-of-the-art hardware and software programs. So ICBC is working from the point of view of helping all brokers into the twenty-first century and always from a customer focus.
K. Krueger: How long, though, will Sussex have the exclusive right to provide renewals in this way when other ICBC brokers don't?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There is no universal request for this kind of access. Other brokers are looking at other ways of delivering service in alternate ways that will be even more beneficial to them. There isn't a request for exclusivity, nor is there a request for universal inclusivity.
K. Krueger: That may well be because the other brokers didn't know that this was happening. The way many of them found out about it was by seeing Sussex ads in the yellow pages. As I understand it, when some of them complained to the corporation, the matter was put on hold for a short while. Now I hear Sussex ads on the radio. Definitely this puts Sussex at a competitive advantage, because other brokers haven't been allowed to renew policies over the phone or to courier decals. People have had to actually deal with a roadrunner who comes out from the agency or go into the brokerage themselves.
I take the minister's answer, then, to indicate that if other brokers want this ability to service their customers in this way, they need only ask for it. Is that correct?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Just so you know the history of this, the program was put on hold for 30 days when the Insurance Brokers Association brought it to the corporation's attention. Everybody else was caught up to speed in having access to it if they so wished, and then Sussex went back into delivering this form of service. I'm informed that as recently as the brokers' convention of a few weeks ago, this was not a sticking point. But if the member has different information, I'd be happy to hear that. The corporation is very much interested in getting everybody on to even broader forms of communication with customers. That's what we have to do in order to remain in the game.
K. Krueger: Perhaps it isn't a problem at all. The minister didn't hear part of my last question, which was: if a broker wants to be able to provide this service, just as Sussex is able to, is the minister saying they only need apply to the corporation and they'll have that ability?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes.
K. Krueger: That clears that one up quickly. The brokers have long been considered by the public to be one of the best assets that the Insurance Corporation of B.C. has. A number of them have longstanding concerns that the corporation would really like to shrink the number of brokers it's dealing through. This was perceived as an indication that that might be happening. Just to clear up the record on that question: does ICBC have a goal to reduce the number of brokers that service its clients?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The corporation has never had a quota for brokers. It's irrelevant to the corporation.
D. Jarvis: On this same subject, with regards to brokers, I understand that the brokers contract is coming up fairly soon. Have any negotiations been started with regards to renewing the present brokers licence, and is that
Hon. J. MacPhail: The initial five-year accord, by agreement of the parties, was to be the period in which both the
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Insurance Corporation and the brokers association would look toward what the relationship would be like in the new millennium. There's still a few years to run on that.
The example of Sussex going into e-commerce and how that forms a relationship between the corporation and brokers is exactly the kind of discussion that is taking place. Those discussions are ongoing. How the contract gets renewed at the conclusion of those discussions is still up for discussion. It's going very well.
D. Jarvis: In view of Mr. Thompson's co-op and mutualization discussions or feelers, have there been any studies by ICBC with regards to going to a direct rating?
Hon. J. MacPhail: No.
D. Jarvis: I wanted, then, to ask a couple of brief questions. Could the minister explain to us what the status is and how the Punky Lake Wilderness Camp program that's out in the Chilcotin was initiated?
Hon. J. MacPhail: ICBC received 71 grant applications for the auto crime 2000 program and awarded 50 grants. There's a panel that reviews it. There was a 30 percent decline in auto theft reported to the Williams Lake claims centre over the period that the Punky Lake Wilderness Camp Society has been in operation. Punky Lake Wilderness Camp Society has also now received funding from the National Crime Prevention Centre, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the federal aboriginal justice directorate. So there has been a 30 percent decline.
D. Jarvis: With regards to Punky Lake, I understand that it's only been open since May 8. I was wondering. This is a 30 percent reduction in this short time, in a month and a half. Can you tell me what the problem was prior to that? How many cars were being stolen in the Williams Lake area? How many are today? It's rather surprising, if not startling.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The Punky Lake plan has been awarded grants under this program for the last two years. In their 2000 grant application, Punky Lake reported an overall 45 percent reduction in the 1998-99 period. Sorry, it's been going on for two years.
D. Jarvis: Thank you. I hadn't been aware of that. I had phoned up to the RCMP in Anahim. The constable there said the camp is not officially open; this was on May 8. Also, he expected an invitation to the opening, and he hasn't received it yet. He has no clients, as far as they know there. That's something to think about, I guess.
In any event, I just wondered what the status of it was. Not that I disagree with it, but if there has been a 30 percent drop in the rates there, then that's probably good.
I wanted to ask the minister with regards to fines, mostly through motor vehicle and others because of photo radar, etc. I've got one here. I seem to get a lot of calls pertaining to people that have tickets that are outstanding for a long time.
On May 8 this one lady received notice from a collection company in Montreal, Quebec, about an outstanding ticket in Vancouver. It was four years prior to that. I was just wondering what extent we go to, to get a ticket. I imagine that for $100
Then I get another one here which is really surprising. This gentleman received a summons on May 16. It was for $75. He had a search made on it to find out what the ticket was all about, because he had no idea what it was about. They gave his licence number. It was for an incident that happened at 2 p.m., December 3, 1990. That was ten years ago. Are we that desperate that we're still issuing tickets and having them served ten years after they occurred?
On that premise, I'd like to ask: can the minister tell us why this situation is still ongoing after ten years? Surely it's not even worth going to a collection agency on that premise. What are the costs of our collection agencies? What's the cost to the corporation for serving the tickets -- i.e., for photo radar and for all the other services required through motor vehicle? By the way, ten years ago photo radar wasn't around, so it wasn't for a photo radar ticket. That just seems ludicrous to me.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I expect this is one of those questions, though, where one is damned if one does and one is damned if one doesn't. I'm sure that the Liberal opposition would be dismayed if the corporation decided to just stop collecting outstanding fines and insurance premiums, etc. What we have done is changed the basis by which one does have to pay outstanding fines and insurance premiums and claims. Under the six-point plan, now, in order to renew one's insurance, one must be debt-free. So this is less and less of an issue. The point that the member makes won't occur now.
D. Jarvis: Do you not think that ten years after a parking ticket or something along that line, it's completely out of order to be serving it now? I mean, when does it come that it's a good business risk to start and stop serving tickets, especially for the amount it costs?
I still haven't had the answer to what the costs have been up to this date with regards to serving tickets -- i.e., for photo radar and for all the other costs of motor vehicle. It's a point of interest that I would be interested to know.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'm not going to offer an opinion on whether one should be collecting a ten-year-old debt. But I do find it interesting that the Liberal opposition feels that we shouldn't be collecting ten-year-old debts.
The costs of ticket processing and process serving amount to -- this is for photo radar -- $2.1 million and $2.6 million respectively. The ticket-processing component, $2.1 million, is the cost for developing the film, printing and mailing of tickets. I will have to get the information for the member for non-photo radar ticket collection.
D. Jarvis: Just to follow up with a little comment on that. You said you'd be interested to know why we're so interested in it. It's a business of the tickets. It's a business that ICBC is in. That's where they get a lot of the revenue that comes directly to them, some $80 million a year or $80 million for photo
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radar. Is it worthwhile when you have a ten-year-old ticket? How many times have you tried to serve it? How many times is the cost for it
I want to ask the minister if she can give me a summary of what is occurring with regards to the Surrey mall and the proposal for the technical university out there.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'm just going to give you some
Let me also fill in for you on the public trustee answer. There is no dollar threshold. All claims, including injury, must go to the public trustee -- the full amount. But those involving property damage only do not go to the public trustee. Otherwise, everything else from zero dollar goes.
The Surrey centre project. Let me see. You know exactly what's happening. ICBC has an anchor tenant for the new Surrey centre complex. The contracts have been signed, and we expect to be breaking ground very soon.
D. Jarvis: Can the member tell me, for example, how much has been spent so far on the Surrey mall?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Last year, you may remember, we spent $40 million buying the mall. This year the costs have been minimal -- about $4 million this year to date, just doing architectural redesign.
D. Jarvis: In the construction of it, though, I understand -- I have a copy of a memo of understanding -- that in the development obligations of the Surrey agreement, ICBC is responsible for providing, say, 250 parking spots for an existing recreation facility in the area and paying 75 percent of the replacement costs of any of (a) North Surrey Recreational Centre, (b) the existing library, or (c) the existing seniors centre that are relocated to accommodate the development on the parcel. That sounds like quite a bit. I'm not saying it's unusual, but is it usual? What does that add up to in your construction costs? You paid $40 million for the deal. How much has ICBC invested since then?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There is a plan for a new parkade, yes. There's going to be quite a substantial amount of expansion there. But I've given you the construction costs to date.
D. Jarvis: Just to clarify, then, $40 million is all that ICBC is responsible for in the Surrey mall. That was the original land purchase.
Hon. J. MacPhail: That's the acquisition cost of the mall last year. This year there's been $4 million in construction costs, in architectural redesign of the mall.
I think the member is asking about the provision for parking. There will be a parkade built there, yes. The five main components of the project include the construction of the realignment of 102nd Avenue, a four-storey, 1,200-car parkade on the west parking lot of Surrey Place Mall, a galleria on top of the mall, a quadrangle building beside the northwest corner of the mall and a 20-storey tower above the quadrangle.
D. Jarvis: Would the minister advise us as to what the estimated cost for the construction of that parkade is? From what I interpret, that's over and above the $4 million that has been spent to date. What is ICBC faced with as far as total costs in this whole project?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The whole project cost, beyond what ICBC paid for the mall -- and not having to pay for 12 acres of free land, which was the city contribution by Surrey -- is approximately $208 million for the entire project.
D. Jarvis: With regards to the Surrey agreement, then, there are some items in there. Item 4.19 indicates that there could be some potential costs in here. I wonder if she can make it clear to me as to what the pending costs may be on that one -- that is, to build. "ICBC acknowledges that Tech B.C. has undertaken a process to build a facility, on a stand-alone basis, utilizing a form of design, build, selection process. ICBC agrees to indemnify Tech B.C. from any claims wrought by any of the shortlist of proponents." Has this been calculated into that $200 million, or is this over and above?
Hon. J. MacPhail: It is my understanding that, yes, it has. But I'll certainly get further information if I'm wrong on that.
D. Jarvis: Just one more question, and then we can pretty well wind this up. Also in this same agreement there's a no-strike clause. It says that the development company will make all reasonable efforts to obtain a no-strike clause in the contract. Is that a usual thing for a corporation like this to put forward?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Guarantee of a construction timetable is certainly an absolutely desirable goal, and if indeed the successful bidder is a unionized construction company, yes, absolutely.
D. Jarvis: Would there be any costs for that?
Hon. J. MacPhail: To my understanding, project agreements with unions are negotiated and include no-strike, no-lockout clauses. But does the corporation pay for such a commitment? No.
D. Jarvis: Why I brought it up was the fact that, say, for example, the Island Highway
Hon. J. MacPhail: Certainly the member's interpretation of what happened on the Island Highway is incorrect. But let me just deal with what happened in this.
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It's a request for proposal. This is a proposal. People bid on it, and the company incorporates in its bid all of the costs for it to deliver on the proposal. That's what it is.
K. Krueger: I had to go to a briefing meeting this morning, and if this matter's been covered, I apologize, and we'll just move on.
There was some discussion a while back about ICBC considering a new rating system, where they charge premiums according to the mileage that was being driven on the vehicles. Is that proposal still being given active consideration?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes. I did answer the question. What I said was that the proposal is on the table; it's under consideration. There's work being done on it, but there's a heck of a lot more work that needs to be done on it.
K. Krueger: I wish to put it on the record, then, that that's a matter of tremendous concern to people outside the lower mainland, where the accident frequency and the claims experience is actually a lot better than it is in the lower mainland. People in the interior and up and down the Island depend on their vehicles to make their livelihoods; nevertheless, they enjoy, as I said, a much better claims record. So it would penalize the wrong people. It would be a real problem in the local economy; it would be a real imposition on those drivers. I strongly urge the minister not to entertain that notion if it is brought forward.
I wanted to ask the cost of production of ICBC's annual report for the past year.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Approximately $50,000.
K. Krueger: And is the minister aware how much extra it costs to have this centrefold of Mr. Williams and Mr. Thompson on the front -- unblushing?
The Chair: The member continues.
K. Krueger: The minister's not responding. Perhaps she thinks that was a facetious question, but it wasn't. I think the public expects respect above all else, and respect is demonstrated in good stewardship of their premium dollar, in good service and in fairness. And the staff expect those same things: good stewardship, respect for themselves and their customers, and fairness.
I have a long familiarity with the Insurance Corporation of B.C. I can tell the minister that morale is not what it used to be in the corporation. People are ashamed and concerned about the high expense ratio, the 22 percent that we discussed earlier. That is a marked departure from the way things used to be at ICBC.
We've raised things on the record before, such as the move of the senior managers across the water, away from the head office. We didn't think that was appropriate. Senior management disregarded that and did it anyway. I understand that people really feel a loss of team spirit in the head office as a result. They feel as though the senior people have made themselves a bit of an elite by making that move.
I'm hearing disturbing claimant complaints. The corporation used to be very conscious of its customer service levels and its image, and I'd like to see that continue.
We have senior managers refusing to disclose their salaries, at least initially. We have them saying, "Well, you have to pay us this much, because that's how you attract good people," when most of the people who are paying the premiums in this province are really scratching to come up with their annual premium. There are many worthy people who could be considered for those jobs.
The public and the staff question whether the respect is there for the staff, for the premium-paying public, for the drivers of British Columbia and for this Legislature. So fair warning to those involved: the public and the opposition certainly expect a demonstration of respect at all times for the people who own this corporation.
That being said, we're prepared now to move on to gaming issues. If the minister wants to have a few comments on the changing of the guard, this would be the time to do it.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Thank you to the opposition for the good discussion on the Insurance Corporation of B.C., and thank you to the staff for the excellent service in this debate.
I'd just like to read into the record that the staff have an answer on the tridem-drive tractors. Tridem-drive tractors were first approved for use in the logging industry in October of '97. Field-testing has recently been completed on a new configuration incorporating a tri-axle trailer. A computer simulation, required support of specific field-testing to test for off-tracking and rollover, was done. The test is complete, and the regulatory proposal to be provided to government is in development.
Other industry evaluations of similar configurations include tridem low-beds, which will begin soon. Computer testing has been believed to be conservative in its results in the past, and field validations are required to confirm the accuracy of results and to ensure the safety of other road users. An evaluation of ore-transporting configurations of this technology was designed, built and tested in six months last year.
Anyway, thank you very much, and we move on to gaming.
S. Hawkins: We had quite an interesting discussion last year around gaming. The estimates last year came up
It's interesting that just in the past year and a half we've seen four gaming ministers, and since 1996 we've had eight gaming ministers. Within the nine years that the members have sat on those government benches, I believe we've had 12 gaming ministers. So I think we can start to understand some of the confusion and lack of continuity and leadership around the gaming industry and issues in the province.
But anyway, I think I'll start by asking the minister to perhaps lay out the government's gaming policy as it stands today.
Hon. J. MacPhail: There has been a lot of work done in the area of gaming over the course of the last year. Certainly the Meekison report summarized recommendations to gov-
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ernment about how gaming can be on a stable footing here: recommendations for legislation, recommendations for how to ensure proper revenue flow to the charities, ensuring that there is good enforcement, recommendations on how to distance decisions around operation and management of gaming from cabinet -- that policy decisions regarding gaming should remain with cabinet, but beyond that, the delivery and enforcement of gaming should be at arm's length.
We have reached agreement with municipalities that there will be no gaming if a municipality does not want it. There's a revenue-sharing agreement in place that's proving to be very profitable to communities who choose to have gaming in their community. The policy is that there will be no expansion of gaming.
S. Hawkins: There is an outstanding issue, obviously: the investigation that ensued after the then Premier's house was raided last March, I believe it was. I wonder if the minister can give us an update on the status of that investigation and where we are as far as getting some of those issues resolved.
Hon. J. MacPhail: No.
S. Hawkins: I wonder if the minister would like to introduce the people who are advising her at this time, and I will follow up with some questions from her very informative answer she just gave me.
Hon. J. MacPhail: To my left is Vic Poleschuk, who is the president and CEO of the B.C. Lottery Corporation. Derek Sturko, on my right, is the executive director of the gaming policy secretariat. And Gary Martin is behind me and is the assistant deputy minister from the Ministry of Labour.
S. Hawkins: Is the minister unable to answer the questions because of legal advice, or is she just unwilling to answer questions around the investigation of the member for Vancouver-Kingsway?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I have no knowledge. I expect that it's inappropriate, and it's not part of this portfolio.
S. Hawkins: We did go through quite a chronology of the so-called Casinogate scandal last year. And because it does fall within how casino applications were reviewed and some outstanding applications or agreements-in-principle that are before this government, it would have been nice to have the minister at least give us an update on what was happening there. But I will move on.
I wonder if the minister will tell us what the status is of the casinos that received agreements-in-principle and when they're expected to be built.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Final approval has been given to the Star of Fortune, and it has opened. Lake City Casinos has opened. Trillium Gaming Inc., which is the Casino of the Rockies, is anticipated to open next year. Charity Bingo in Burnaby is a numbered company. It opened in 1999. There are five that have outstanding facilities that have various dates of changes due to the changes expected to their final plans, ranging from the end of this month through to November 30 of this year.
S. Hawkins: Has the government imposed any deadlines for those outstanding casinos to proceed?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Sorry, those were the deadlines that I was reading out.
S. Hawkins: Can the minister tell me who's handling those files? Who is responsible for making sure they proceed?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The B.C. Lottery Corporation.
S. Hawkins: I understand that for some of the applications there might have been some changes in the terms. I am wondering if there is a process to change the terms of an agreement-in-principle.
Hon. J. MacPhail: There is no permit for substantive change, but there is room for minor changes. This is from the original proposal that was submitted that led to an agreement-in-principle. There is room for minor changes. That's what the B.C. Lottery Corporation negotiates to conclude the agreement. If there's some question about whether it's substantive or minor, there's a legal opinion sought. If the legal opinion sought says it's a substantive change, the negotiations stop on that item.
S. Hawkins: I was at a conference at the Pacific Law Institute about a month ago, and one of the minister's advisers was also there. There were a lot of questions around what was a minor change or what was a substantial change. Perhaps we could get into that here.
The minister is saying they would seek a legal opinion. But the minister's staff must have some idea of what they would consider a minor or a substantial change. I wonder if the minister can give me an example.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Substantial changes would be defined as, and certainly not limited to
S. Hawkins: The casinos that received their final approval -- were they all in compliance with the original plans? Or were there minor changes that were accommodated in their application?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There were minor changes incorporated.
S. Hawkins: Did I hear the minister say that they would get a legal opinion every time there was a change that was proposed? No? Okay.
Can the minister tell me what minor changes -- if she can give me some examples -- took place in the applications that got final approval? What kind of minor changes were accepted in those applications?
Hon. J. MacPhail: An example of a minor change that was approved was a change in the financial underwriter.
[ Page 16818 ]
S. Hawkins: Were there any unsuccessful proponents with respect to the agreements-in-principle?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The member may be aware that the AIP of the North Burnaby Inn was cancelled, but all the rest are under active negotiation.
S. Hawkins: Were any unsuccessful proponents then -- the one that the minister just named -- refunded any moneys?
Hon. J. MacPhail: No.
S. Hawkins: The revenues from the gambling expansion at the level that the government envisioned when the expansion was undertaken
Hon. J. MacPhail: Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Finance, who would be most interested in this
S. Hawkins: I just want to address the gaming policy secretariat for just a minute. I'm wondering what the staff complement is in the gaming policy secretariat and if it's up or down from last year.
Hon. J. MacPhail: There are seven working now. That's an increase of one from last year, and there are five vacancies.
S. Hawkins: That's interesting, because I had seven FTEs from last year. The minister says there are seven this year and there's an increase.
S. Hawkins: Okay, maybe it's eight. What is the gaming policy secretariat's role in casino relocation analysis? Can the minister lay that out for us please?
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
Hon. J. MacPhail: The question was relocation, I believe. If that was the question, there's no role of the gaming policy secretariat.
S. Hawkins: Is the secretariat responsible for the minister's advisory council?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes.
S. Hawkins: Can the minister explain why Mark MacKinnon was replaced?
Hon. J. MacPhail: He applied for a different job and got it.
S. Hawkins: There are some concerns, certainly from the charities, that the processing time for access applications is quite long. In some cases it's over three months. I'm interested to know what the causes of such delays are.
Hon. J. MacPhail: That, of course, is the responsibility of the Gaming Commission. I think the Gaming Commission itself would have agreed with the member's point of views. Hence they've just recently announced a new application process, much more streamlined -- one process for all. They hope, and I believe, that that will reduce the onerous aspect of the application process.
S. Hawkins: Is that new process in place now, and is there currently a backlog? Does the minister know what the backlog of applications is?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The process is in place. There is no backlog under the new process, but there is a backlog left over from the previous processes. I just don't have that right here, but I will find out what that is. But it is shrinking.
S. Hawkins: What is the status of the executive director, Harry Elliott?
Hon. J. MacPhail: It's a personnel matter, so I'm not at liberty to comment on this in detail. I can tell you that the board of commissioners oversees the operations of the B.C. Gaming Commission. The board indicated that it had lost confidence in the ability of the executive director to continue overseeing the operations of the commission. The executive director is currently on leave with pay while the ministry reviews the matter.
S. Hawkins: I understand that Mr. Elliott worked as the director for the last four years. He appears to be quite a well-respected person in that position. There was an article that appeared in the local paper here, the Times Colonist. It was written by columnist Les Leyne. I'm going to quote from it, just to get it on the record. There are some concerns around Mr. Elliott being moved out of that position. I quote from the article:
The article goes on to say:
"The removal" -- and that is referring to Mr. Elliott -- "came not long after Elliott raised questions about how many bingo halls are failing to meet the minimum requirement for dispersal to charities. All of them are slumping in revenue since the introduction of slot machines and the expansion of casinos.
"Elliott flagged the point that only three of the 15 charity-run halls are meeting the requirements for dispersal of funds to charities. That came after he distributed a breakdown of what every hall in B.C. was taking in and putting out. All of them are being artificially propped up by the government, which tops up their revenues every month to make up for the damage wrought by casino expansion."
That's coming from people who apparently have some knowledge of the incident.
"Elliott is described by people who know him as a very straightforward, stubborn man who goes by the book. 'He can be abrasive, and he has ruffled feathers over the four years he did the job. He had questions about some halls, and they took exception to it and went through political connections to have him removed,' said one insider."
The article also goes on to say:
"Another expert in the field said: 'I am exceptionally disheartened by the move. He doesn't b.s.; he says what he thinks
[ Page 16819 ]
is the truth to people who don't want to hear it.' Even people who have clashed with him and complained about him overstepping his bounds with the commission are wondering about the move."
I wonder if the minister has any comments about that.
"Elliott also crossed swords recently with the B.C. Association for Charitable Gaming, a two-year-old outfit set up by the government to advise on gaming. Their recent newsletters say $100 membership fees are its only source of income. Elliott bluntly made it known that the group has in the past received $588,000 in grants and forgiven loans, much of it from the interest generated by a trust fund created after a court battle. And association board members confirm that more than $200,000 of that went to their lawyer over the course of an absurd argument between charities and government about disposition of those funds. If the association spent $200,000, the government spent two to three times that on the case."
[P. Calendino in the chair.]
Hon. J. MacPhail: I've already said that it's a personnel matter, and I'm not at liberty to comment in any detail. But what I can say is that the newspaper column that the member just read into the record is not relevant to the decision to put him on paid leave.
S. Hawkins: Well, it appears that there's something amiss here. You have a very well respected executive director of the Gaming Commission who's removed from his post -- and, it seems to me, because he blew the whistle on several things. First of all, it appears that the government's been funding the BCACG. I have a memo here that's written to the BCACG, the British Columbia Association for Charitable Gaming.
Apparently, in their newsletter, they did write that they were in no way funded or obliged to anyone other than members and that their membership dues was their only source of income. This memo very clearly outlines that there was funding that was received from the B.C. Lottery Corporation, from the province of B.C. and from the provincial charity fund in the amount of $588,071 for this association. I'm just wondering: is the minister aware that this money went to that organization? And is she willing to comment on what the money was used for, for this association?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes, I'm aware of it, but again, it's not relevant to the decision that's been made in this personnel matter. Two hundred thousand dollars was originally given for start-up costs for the association. After that, approximately $400,000 was court-ordered as a result of the court decision around the charity trust.
S. Hawkins: I wonder why the association would be telling their members that their membership dues were the only source of income, then. It's interesting.
The government's giving them almost $600,000 in funds. The minister might not find that relevant. I mean, I see shoulder-shrugging over there. That's $600,000 in government funds coming from the B.C. Lottery Corporation or the provincial charity trust fund or the province of B.C. I'm just wondering what accountability this minister's office got for the way that money was used.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I have no idea why the association itself communicates with the information to its members, so I can't answer that question. The court-ordered portion of $400,000 is a court order. The $200,000 startup cost is in the form of a loan, of which $100,000 has to be paid back to the Lottery Corp.
S. Hawkins: When is the decision regarding Mr. Elliott going to be made -- about where he goes? I understand he's on paid leave; that's what the minister said.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I don't know.
S. Hawkins: Is he going to be on paid leave for a month? Six months? A year? Or is the ministry trying to find him another position within a certain amount
Hon. J. MacPhail: The commission is working on that and working on it actively, I'm told, or is looking for a position for as soon as is practical.
S. Hawkins: There are quite a few concerns about electronic bingo in the province, and I'm wondering if the government can outline their position on electronic bingo at this time.
Hon. J. MacPhail: It would be helpful if the member could give her understanding of what the concerns are. Electronic bingo is now managed and operated by the B.C. Lottery Corporation. The Criminal Code requires that it be a Crown agency that operates electronic bingo. Certainly the Meekison report recommended that that needs to be changed. We're now in consultation with pretty much everybody to talk about how we can achieve the requirements of the Criminal Code. There are several options being considered on how to do that. But it's all part of a broad consultation. I understand that there are different views, but perhaps the member could be clearer in what she knows as concerns.
S. Hawkins: I understand that the charities have been in discussions with the minister and that they are in trouble. Bingo is in trouble because of casinos, the expansion in gaming. We know that charities have depended on gaming revenues over the years, and they've lost that revenue to the B.C. Lottery Corporation. Certainly, with electronic bingo and high-tech gaming, they feel like they've lost out. So I know that there are options for the government, and I'm wondering if the government has come to a decision on what they're going to do with electronic bingo, and whether the charities are going to be given control of that or if it's going to remain with the B.C. Lottery Corporation.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Well, indeed, electronic bingo has to be
But the point is well taken that bingo is not keeping pace with other forms of gaming. So the B.C. Lottery Corporation has got quite an interesting program going on to assist the bingo industry. I actually had the privilege of viewing that a few weeks ago. They're working with the various bingo halls to integrate electronic bingo with paper bingo. There's even new hand-held machines. There's a provincewide nightly bingo contest. All of the money goes to the charities from electronic bingo.
[ Page 16820 ]
Lastly, just let me reassure the member -- but more importantly, the charities -- that there's a guarantee of money that flows from the government to charities, and that guarantee is unaffected by the amount of revenue actually collected in electronic bingo.
S. Hawkins: I understand that, and I'm wondering if the top-up to the bingos will continue indefinitely. Is that something the government is proceeding with?
Hon. J. MacPhail: As long as the NDP is in government, yes. I can't assure the charities if there's a change in government.
S. Hawkins: When I was reading from the previous document
Hon. J. MacPhail: I will get that information for you.
S. Hawkins: If the government is going to continue to make up the difference for the revenues -- and I understand, from the bingo halls and the charities, that it is a direct result of the casino expansion -- is the government worried about that? Is the government worried that general revenues or other revenues are going to keep on supplementing that and that the bingo industry will face a dramatic downsizing as a result of casino expansion?
Hon. J. MacPhail: We're supporting the charities from many fronts. First of all, we are working with the bingo industry itself. They're coping with a market that's in transition. There's no question the consumer now has many choices of gaming facilities. But the $125 million is guaranteed, and it will be guaranteed to the charities. That's our way of saying to the charities that they play a very important role, and regardless of the shift in gaming, that important role will be funded by our government.
S. Hawkins: The Lottery Corporation, from the documents that we were given -- it doesn't appear that they're going to provide as much money to the government this fiscal year as they did last year. It was $413 million last year and $398 million this year. However, we know that there's more slots than last year. I wonder if the minister can explain the decrease in the expected revenues.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Prudent financial planning around revenues.
S. Hawkins: I'm sorry; I didn't get that.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I said: prudent financial planning around revenues in the budget. There are factors that are affecting the revenue that were put in place last year. One is the host local government's share of gaming revenue. The charities will be given their $125 million, and there's development assistance compensation to support developments ancillary to destination casinos, which generate economic activities in the community. That's prudent financial planning. I expect that there will be good news on this front.
S. Hawkins: The Lottery Corporation is very careful to say that the money they raise does go for health and education. I'm wondering if the minister can tell me how much of the breakdown will go to health and how much goes to education, of the moneys that the Lottery Corporation turns in to general revenue.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Charitable organizations get $145 million; municipal governments are estimated to get $27 million. The revenue to the provincial government is estimated at $398 million, of which $136.4 million goes into a health special account. The rest goes into general revenue for all government programs.
S. Hawkins: Thanks for that breakdown. I also understand the corporation is planning to change its approach to lotteries, and they're looking at its distribution channels and product line. I'm wondering what the corporation envisions. What's their vision?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The market is mature. The Lottery Corporation is looking at some expansion of its retail outlets, but other than that, no -- no changes.
S. Hawkins: So there's no vision for new product lines or distribution channels. Is that my understanding?
Hon. J. MacPhail: No, there's no significant change to product line. There will be an addition of a game, but it's the same kind of product that is already out there in the market now.
S. Hawkins: The corporation has identified casino relocations as a source of new revenues. I'm wondering if the corporation has undertaken any studies to identify how many slot machine-based casinos the market can handle. Have they done any of that?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There was a study on projected total capacity of gaming done around 1997 to inform the government about expanded gaming -- destination casinos. The corporation is now updating that study.
S. Hawkins: Is the original study that was done a public document? I'm wondering if I can get a copy of that. And when will the corporation finish its review of that study and have the update ready?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes, the original document is available, and we'll get that to you. The next document should be available within a couple of months.
S. Hawkins: Maybe the update of that study will address this as well, but perhaps the corporation's done some studies already on the expected impact on administrative costs of the new casinos and possible casino relocations. Have there been any cost analysis studies that have been done?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There are no changes in administrative costs on the basis of relocation, not to the corporation. I gather the proponents that would wish to relocate would take that into account themselves in their business plan.
[ Page 16821 ]
I. Chong: I would like to ask the minister at this point about the allocation of gaming revenues. I heard her respond to the member who asked questions about that. I'm just curious. In the area of gaming revenues, there has been some discussion from the amateur sports athletic associations about revenues that have been generated as a result of sports lotteries and those kinds of things. I'd just be curious, if the minister can advise whether there has been any consideration made to these organizations -- amateur athletes' organizations. Would there be any potential for an increase in revenue-sharing or a commitment to revenue-sharing?
I know this has been a topic for some time, and as the critic for Small Business, Tourism and Culture and amateur sports, this question has been posed to myself on a number of occasions.
Hon. J. MacPhail: If the sports organization is designated a charitable organization, they can apply for a direct access grant. I know that funding for sports organizations is always a topic of discussion at Treasury Board during the course of budget planning.
I. Chong: My understanding, then, is that only if an organization applies through this would there be an entitlement to receive any of this revenue in the form of, I guess, a charitable distribution, and that at this time there is no commitment by this government to change that and consider some of the proposals that have come forward from the amateur athletic associations. The reason why it keeps coming forward is that years ago when the Lottery Corporation started
I know that she's heard this, and I appreciate the fact that she says that this is a topic of discussion each and every year. But again, I would just want confirmation at this time. If there is no commitment, what avenues do those who can't access the funds, these other smaller organizations -- because they can't apply through a licence for whatever reason -- have to access some revenues from the Lottery Corporation? Are there any other alternatives, other than through a charity licensing approach?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There is a difference between the licence and direct access grants. Licence means you go into the bingo and work. But if you've got a worthy cause and you're a charity, you can apply for a direct access grant. Those are the methods by which charitable organizations have access to lottery funding.
I'm sorry; I imagine you would have this discussion with the Minister of Small Business, Tourism and Culture about other methods by which organizations can receive funding. That would be his responsibility.
I. Chong: I thank the minister for her clarification. I am aware that there is opportunity for direct access grants, although what I'm hearing is that there seem to be fewer and fewer. My questions were to find out whether there was going to be a shift in terms of allocation of commitment to that pot of money. As I heard the minister indicate earlier, in the breakdown that she provided us, the provincial revenue of $398 million, of which $146 million went to Health and therefore the other $252 million went to general revenues, for which I presume grants are made -- whether there would be a shift in that, whether there would be a dedicated amount to ensure that they would go to amateur sports organizations as part of their request
If that's not the case and there's no change or no anticipated change, then I will have to accept that and continue to pursue the Minister of Small Business, Tourism and Culture. But if the minister has a response, I'll defer to her.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Well, it is an interesting point -- the difference that a couple of hours makes. I would suggest that our highest priority for funding of dollars that are available would go to Health. And of course, a couple of hours ago, that was certainly the pitch that the Liberal opposition was making as well.
However, we have seen our way clear to fund amateur sport through making a $2.5 million commitment to the 2010 Olympic bid legacy. That's all about amateur sport -- a substantial commitment from the government.
I. Chong: I just want to also confirm for the record that I was not suggesting that in the two hours that have occurred there was a shift on this side of the House -- that the commitment was not to Health. But the other $252 million that goes to general revenue, which is not committed to Health, whether there were opportunities there for an increase or change in the allocation that goes to amateur sports
In regards to the $2.5 million going to the Olympic bid, that is a new venture as opposed to the existing amateur sports organizations that are continually asking for assistance from a corporation that was originally set up to deal with this specific funding issue. So I just want to make that clear for the record. As I indicated earlier, I will continue to pursue this with the Minister of Small Business, Tourism and Culture, although he doesn't seem to have a very strong voice at the cabinet table in this area.
The other issue I'd like to canvass, which was raised last year, is the area of Internet gaming. We all know the exponential growth there; we know the problems that are associated with it. At that time, two ministers ago, the now Minister of Health provided us with some, I would say, reasonable debate last year, offering that some work was being done in this area. I would like the minister to advise at this time specifically what work is being done by our own Lottery Corporation, or by whatever ad hoc committees or subcommittees that are established, and what other initiatives are being looked at specifically to deal with this problem, because it's not going away.
Hon. J. MacPhail: This is actually a growing issue. It's not getting smaller; it's growing. I'm sure the member is aware that under the Criminal Code of Canada, only gaming conducted and managed by the province or by the holder of a licence issued by the province is lawful. Therefore all other gaming, including Internet gaming, is unlawful.
In Canada no province or territory has approved Internet gaming, including B.C. or the federal government. The B.C.
[ Page 16822 ]
Lottery Corporation is working on this issue through the Interprovincial Lottery Corporation; that's the cross-Canada lottery corporation. There's a lot of work being put into a growing issue interprovincially.
I. Chong: I would confirm with the minister that we all acknowledge that Internet gaming is illegal here in B.C. and across the country, yet it continues to grow, as the minister acknowledged. And it is continually a complex problem, because the Internet is very difficult to regulate. We're not just talking about telecommunication lines now; we're looking at fibre optics and the various kinds of wireless communication that are occurring. So it's growing exponentially. It will continue to plague this province and other provinces and indeed the federal government.
I appreciate the minister advising there's an Interprovincial Lottery Corporation or committee looking into this; that was not made clear last year. My question specifically was: what specific initiatives are being looked at? Can the minister provide us with what is happening? All we were hearing last year from the minister was that they were working on it. So a year's gone by. I'd just like to know what advances we've made, if any.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Well, there are no easy solutions to this question. Of course, the solution will not come from a small jurisdiction, by any stretch of the imagination. What the Interprovincial Lottery Corp is working on is a protocol, an agreement amongst the provinces, that will level the playing field and hold any jurisdiction free from harm if one province does enter into licensing of Internet gaming.
I. Chong: I'm not trying to be difficult. I'm just trying to establish and get clarification as to what work or what initiatives are being done. Perhaps I haven't made myself clear; if that's the case, I apologize to the minister.
Last year when I perused this issue with the minister, he indicated that work was being done with other jurisdictions. Work was being done with the federal government, which we can all appreciate because of the complexities here. He gave an example, such as
So if identifying where the problems exist was one of the works that was being done, I'm just trying to find out further from this minister what other initiatives
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'm sorry, I did answer the question. It's that the Interprovincial Lottery Corporation is working on a protocol amongst the provinces that levels the playing field if one province decides to enter into licensing Internet gaming. What they're working on is a protocol so that if one plans to do it, the other provinces that are part of the Interprovincial Lottery Corporation are not harmed by that. A protocol is being worked upon, and a code of conduct that protects the jurisdictional base of gaming.
I. Chong: Then can the minister advise as to when that protocol agreement might be expected and whether there would be a white paper or draft that is available for the public to review or whether there would be public hearings available? Last year the minister had indicated that we were not at the stage to have public hearings or information sessions with the public. I'm wondering whether that might be forthcoming and at what point that would be forthcoming.
Hon. J. MacPhail: We can expect some results in the fall of 2000.
I. Chong: Also, when we were speaking, we were advised at the briefing back in April about the government's role in gaming. As a result of the Meekison report, the topic of government's role in terms of broad policy being made on the issue of Internet gambling did come up in that discussion. I'm just wondering, apart from the protocol agreement that is being worked on in the Interprovincial Lottery Corporation, what other broad policy statements are being developed through this ministry, if any.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Mr. Meekison recommended legislation. That's the big, broad policy initiative. It's substantial.
I. Chong: In the area of Internet gaming, we're aware all too often that there are domains that are here in British Columbia, although the bank accounts are in other provinces. This is why the complexity of the problem. Does the gaming office or a staff person through this ministry monitor sites that are opening up each and every day or each and every week? Or is there anybody overseeing that expansion, even though we cannot control that?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes. The corporation monitors it. But the vast majority of this is offshore.
I. Chong: I do acknowledge and realize that there are a lot of offshore activities. That's the only way in which these operations are allowed to continue. But I didn't know in what form that the corporation or the gaming office was monitoring these. Are they monitoring them in the sense that they can see the links made through other sites? Or are there other means of monitoring this? If there is a process in place, would the minister share that with us?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I think probably what the best thing to do is to offer the member a visit to the lottery corporation to see if they can fully demonstrate for you all the information they have on Internet gaming. The member is sort of asking: how do you monitor the Internet? How do you record it? Well, they monitor it by checking, as one would monitor the Internet in any other area. But I'd be happy to have the member attend to the corporation and see the work that is monitored in this area.
I. Chong: I thank the minister. In the interests of time, that probably would be a good idea. I just wasn't aware that this opportunity was available, so I appreciate that.
I also note that in last year's comments from the minister he did indicate that there was a major conference on Internet gaming that was being held in the year. Since the estimates in this area were discussed in June of 1999, then I presume that conference was held in the fall of last year or perhaps in the
[ Page 16823 ]
winter. Can the minister advise on staff's attendance at that or what outcomes were made available apart, from the Meekison report recommendations?
Hon. J. MacPhail: It's called the Global Interactive Gaming conference; the most recent one was held in Montreal this year, and the corporation did go. It's the software developers of Internet gaming. So it wasn't about monitoring.
I. Chong: But then again I'm not clear as to which conference it was, because this was the minister last year in June of 1999 who referred to it.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Same conference, a year later.
I. Chong: Okay. And perhaps last year's topic was specifically about Internet gaming. That's what I was lead to believe, and as I just checked the Hansard, that's what it said. But if it wasn't about the monitoring issue, then I will accept the minister's confirmation of that being the case.
Also, I did want to just quickly ask the minister, in the area of dealing with this very complex issue, whether there is a commitment of funds that go to this interprovincial committee. Are all provinces sharing in this on an equal basis to have this corporation continue, and if that's the case, what would the share of costs be for British Columbia?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The Interprovincial Lottery Corporation has existed since 1975. The costs of running the corporation are shared amongst provinces on a pro rata basis of sales within that province.
I. Chong: Then can the minister advise what amount our British Columbia share would be? Or if there is a schedule for the last two years as to what the amount has been, can she provide that to us?
Hon. J. MacPhail: It depends on how many people buy lottery tickets for countrywide games. Yeah, we'll get that. It varies from year to year.
I. Chong: I acknowledge that it varies from year to year. Given that the '99-2000 fiscal year has just concluded, I just wondered if those figures were at hand, and if the minister doesn't have them, I'll appreciate her conveying them to me.
I just would like to conclude, then, that I appreciate the staff providing assistance here. I will undertake to meet with staff to have a look and see where they're proceeding in this area.
I think it's important to note that all members in this Legislature are opposed to the expansion of Internet gaming; that was said by the minister last year, and I concurred with him. It is an expansive problem; it's growing at an exponential rate. If we are to protect our families and our communities, especially our youngest, most vulnerable members of society who may be subject to or be the victims, fall victim to this kind of gambling, we do have to find out whatever processes we can put in place to avoid that.
Whatever criteria or guidelines that this ministry or the Lottery Corporation is developing in this area, I would hope that the staff can keep members on this side of the House informed on that so that we might be able to participate with solutions, as opposed to being critical once things are brought forward. So I thank the staff; I thank the minister.
K. Krueger: The B.C. Lottery Corporation enjoys a wonderful reputation as a good corporate citizen in Kamloops, our region and, I think, in the province. As the B.C. Lottery Corporation has assumed a great deal more responsibility with the advent of gaming expansion in B.C., I'm interested in having the minister tell the House how the Lottery Corporation has embraced the social responsibilities that have come along with the expanded gaming.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The Lottery Corporation makes the contribution of $2 million to the problem gaming programs administered through the Ministry for Children and Families. The 25-year history of the corporation is to provide responsible, controlled gaming products. They've applied that to all casinos. Of course, the corporation lives well within the NDP government policy of no expansion of gaming.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
K. Krueger: This minister was, I believe, Health minister when the NDP launched its dramatic expansion of gambling in British Columbia. To her credit, in the estimates debate that we had that year, it was she -- with considerable input from the opposition -- who came up with the funding allotment of $2 million per year for addiction programs in B.C.
It's always been a bit of a puzzle to us why that responsibility was given to the Ministry for Children and Families, which has had tremendous responsibilities dealing with children, obviously, and with getting organized as a brand new ministry when that responsibility was given to it. Perhaps that's not something the minister would care to comment on. If she would, we'd welcome it. We do intend to talk about the performance of the addiction programs in Children and Families estimates tomorrow.
The $2 million number was a somewhat arbitrary number at the time, I think. Some jurisdictions link their contributions to the social costs of gaming -- in particular, addiction programs -- with the actual revenues received, by way of a percentage. I'd like to know this government's thoughts about that.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The contribution our government makes of the $2 million is just one aspect of the provincial government's contribution to problem gaming. There are other policies in place to provide socially responsible gaming. For instance, the exclusion policy of the corporation says that anybody can self-identify and say: "I don't want to be permitted into a casino." And that's enforced with sensitivity but rigor. The gaming activities are restricted to highly regulated and controlled facilities.
Trained staff -- I met some of the trained staff, who are world renowned for their training. The casinos, both community and destination facilities, are relatively small in scale. The video lottery terminals are prohibited in British Columbia. There's a minimum gaming age of 19 established. Casino operators are not permitted to offer credit to patrons. The sale and service of alcohol is prohibited at community gaming establishments. The sale and service of alcohol in destination casino facilities is prohibited in gaming areas.
[ Page 16824 ]
All casino operators must comply with operating standards set by the provincial government. Casino owners, managers, employees and casino gaming suppliers are required to register with the gaming audit and investigation office, GAIO, and satisfy high standards of honesty, integrity, financial responsibility and act in accordance with the law and in the public interest. Government is also committed to establishing dedicated police and prosecution resources to combat illegal gaming.
K. Krueger: Would the government consider expanding the funding available for these important responsibilities and perhaps tying it directly to the amount of revenue as a percentage of revenue?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Not at this time, certainly. But feel free to ask the Minister of Finance that question.
K. Krueger: It's something that I'd like the government to consider. I think it's only appropriate that as revenue has risen, funding for social responsibilities should also rise. We had presented a proposal to the government several years ago for a centre of excellence in addiction studies, to be housed at the University of British Columbia. This would be beneficial not only for gaming addiction but also for alcohol and drug addictions.
Addictions tend to travel together. There are cross-addiction effects, and I know that's why the government has that restriction against alcohol in casinos, which we certainly approve of.
A centre for excellence for addiction studies would be helpful across the board. We are still a relatively unique jurisdiction in North America in that we were one of the last to go into gambling expansion. I think we have a particularly rich opportunity to make a centre like that successful. Would the minister consider assisting me in championing a centre for excellence in addiction studies in British Columbia?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'd be happy to hear the member's proposal.
K. Krueger: We'll resurrect the documentation and pursue that. As I say, I've always appreciated that it was this minister that twisted the government's arm to come up with the $2 million-a-year allotment in the first place. We could be doing more, and I think we should. Youth, according to all the studies I have ever read, are particularly vulnerable to gambling addiction. I know we try to keep youth from getting involved, but their parents are involved. I see very young college students coming out of the casino in Kamloops, and I'm concerned for them. There was a story in the local papers early on, when that casino opened, of a young man who lost all his tuition money for UCC for the year in one night. This is a very addictive behaviour for some people, and we have a responsibility to protect them.
I want to move to a question on government policy that I've never understood with regard to the way that proceeds of charitable gaming can be used. We had another inquiry -- I've had a number of them over the years -- from a charity who had received approval for a gaming licence, having applied for it, and then learned to their surprise that they would not be allowed to spend the proceeds on capital projects. That has been a fairly longstanding policy. I wonder if the minister could explain to the House why there's that restriction on the use of those funds on capital projects.
Hon. J. MacPhail: It is the Gaming Commission that establishes the criteria for charitable use, which is probably a good thing. It should be at arm's length from the executive council. They currently have a policy in place that doesn't allow for capital expenditures.
K. Krueger: Does the minister know why, though, Gaming Commission has that policy? I know it's there. I wonder if there's an explanation for it, or if it's one of these things that has just kind of been there over time and there's no clear reason for it. If a charity is a worthwhile recipient of gaming funds, then it seems logical that capital projects they might want to undertake should also be recipients.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'll undertake to find out from the Gaming Commission.
S. Hawkins: I'm interested now in the whole issue of comprehensive gaming policy and legislation. As the minister knows, government-run gaming and horse racing are regulated under the Lottery Corporation Act and the Horse Racing Act. But licensed gaming in British Columbia does not have legislation. There is a huge gap, and since the early or mid-eighties there has been a very identified need for comprehensive gaming legislation. We've seen a variety of reviews. This government did a gaming review in 1997, a report on gaming legislation and regulation in 1999, a bingo review in 1999, a horse racing review in 1999 and, most recently, the Meekison report.
Again, we've seen a lot of reviews. We've seen draft legislation in the White Paper; that was the paper that Mr. Rhodes did. And we still haven't seen new legislation. It has been promised; it's been promised over and over and over again. Certainly the need is there. We saw that need identified with the Casinogate scandal last year, and I think that is something this government certainly has failed to provide. I've been to a couple of forums where I've heard the different ministers stand up and say they were going to introduce gaming legislation. It hasn't been done.
From the last conference I was at in the last month or so, I understand that the legislation is ready, and there are parts of it that address concerns that Mr. Meekison raised in his report. I guess it's just troubling that we haven't seen it. No one has seen it. I would think that the stakeholders and the groups that are affected might have had a boo of the legislation, but no one has seen it. I'm just wondering if the minister can tell me today what recommendations the government agrees with in the Meekison report and how they're planning to implement the recommendations in the Meekison report.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Actually, there's been extensive consultation up to and including this morning on gaming legislation. It has been going on for months. I'm well aware of the government's commitments to introduce comprehensive legislation. I support that commitment; I'm actively working on delivering on that commitment. I expect to be able to deliver on that commitment, and I would hope that we can have a good, solid debate around the legislation when it's introduced.
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The Chair: Member, just a reminder that under Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia, "the necessity for legislation and matters involving legislation cannot be discussed in Committee of Supply" -- just a reminder of that.
S. Hawkins: This isn't a new issue; it's been debated. Certainly the need for legislation has been debated in the last few sessions of this Parliament. I'm not asking the government to explain their gaming legislation; I'm just reiterating, again, the need for comprehensive legislation, something this government has promised.
The Chair: Member, Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia is quite clear. It reads: "The necessity for legislation and matters involving legislation
S. Hawkins: Well, I won't dwell on whether the government's going to introduce it or not. I do note that the gaming policy of this government has been less than adequate in dealing with the problems and the issues that have arisen in the last year with respect to casinos, casino applications, approvals of casinos and how the government's massive expansion in gaming has affected the bingo industry, the charities and the horse racing industries, to name a few. Certainly the Meekison report deals with recommendations. One of the recommendations, very clearly, is the need for a comprehensive gaming policy and legislation. Mr. Meekison says that if the government isn't going to introduce legislation, then perhaps regulation is the way to go. So that is something we'd like some clarification on from the government.
The government is talking, certainly in forums, around the province. We've heard the government talking about a gaming control authority, not something that was envisioned by Mr. Meekison's report but certainly something that the government has culled out of the report. I'm wondering if the minister will explain to me what they are doing as far as setting up this B.C. gaming control authority and what responsibilities this new authority will have.
Hon. J. MacPhail: That comes under the ruling of discussion of legislation.
S. Hawkins: Well, that was certainly freely discussed at the conference I was at a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I have a briefing note from the policy adviser sitting right beside the minister that addresses the gaming control authority. So I'm asking the minister if there are plans to set it up, if there's a new authority in place and what the minister is doing with that authority.
I wonder if the minister wants a break. She seems to be a little restless here this afternoon, not too forthcoming with answers. Obviously the government must be embarrassed, because they really don't have a gaming policy. We've been sort of floating in free fall in the last year. We've gone from scandal after scandal -- a Premier's house that was raided. We've seen the government fall down. I think they're most vulnerable, if they are in any area of government policy, on this policy.
An Hon. Member: How many court actions?
S. Hawkins: We've seen lawsuits by municipalities, by individuals, by charities -- you name it. The government has lost court case after court case on this issue.
K. Krueger: They lost two Premiers.
S. Hawkins: The member from Kamloops says two Premiers fell because of this issue, and I agree with him. So, you know, it's something the government has not done a good job on. As I mentioned before, I think in the last year and a half we've seen four gaming ministers. Certainly since 1996 we've seen eight gaming ministers, and since 1992, I believe, there have been a dozen gaming ministers. So it seems to be this hot potato that seems to go from minister to minister. No one wants to carry the ball. No one wants to be the quarterback and actually lead towards something that's positive and will, hopefully, put some meat around the bare-bones policy that government seems to be flying on the seat of their pants on with respect to gaming in this province.
Certainly if the minister had been at the conference that Mr. Sturko attended, he would have seen how frustrated the stakeholders are. There don't seem to be any answers forthcoming for them, and they are just as anxious to understand what the government's going to do around the question of gaming and how it's going to be regulated and what kind of changes the government is proposing. There's a lot of confusion out there; there are a lot of gaps to be filled; there are a lot of unanswered questions. It's unfortunate the minister wasn't there to answer some of the questions.
Certainly a lot of those questions were around casino relocations. I know that Meekison addresses some of those issues in his report. The government has announced some new rules for casino relocations, and I'm wondering if the minister can tell me what those are and if those recommendations follow directly from the Meekison report.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes -- and I'm surprised the member doesn't have a copy of it. They were issued June 12 as part of a media release, and they follow directly from Meekison. I'd be happy to provide the member opposite -- I'm actually sure that she did get it -- a copy of the relocation process. I'd be happy to provide her with a copy; I can do that right now. Have you got an extra copy?
S. Hawkins: I'm surprised there's only one press release, because usually the government is in the habit of issuing at least several before anything ever gets done. The Meekison recommendations -- thank you -- clearly outline that these issues should be handled by a neutral entity. Right now the relocations are being handled by the Lottery Corporation. So that's why I asked if the government's actually following the report that they commissioned, because in this case it doesn't seem to be happening. Meekison did envision that the relocations would be handled by an agency that would be arm's length from government and would have a sense of openness, transparency and accountability. I wonder if the minister has any reservations about the Lottery Corporation, which generates revenues for the Crown, overseeing gambling expansion through relocations.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The Meekison report actually recommends that the BCLC be the interim agency for dealing with relocations. Let me just make the record clear here, hon. Chair. It's not a matter of us being unwilling to discuss legislation, but the Chair has made a ruling based on practice, and that's it. There'll be plenty of time to discuss legislation. I mean, the Chair makes a ruling, and the member wants to challenge it.
[ Page 16826 ]
I actually think that it's appropriate that we discuss the issues appropriate for estimates and at other times have a free debate on the structure of gaming, etc. So there's no fear of a debate whatsoever, but I also don't think it's necessary in an adolescent way to challenge the Chair.
The Chair: Thank you, minister. Member, the Chair does stand by its ruling on this matter. Just to remind you, we're dealing with the subvote on the B.C. Gaming Commission, and only the administrative action of a department is open to debate.
Thank you, members. Please proceed.
S. Hawkins: Thank you, hon. Chair. I would never even think of challenging your ruling, and I certainly
The conference I was at in the past month
There were questions coming out of the Meekison report with respect to first nations. Had the minister been at that conference, I think she would have gotten a sense of the frustration from the aboriginal groups that were there. I want to know and to have on the record the government's position on aboriginal gambling, and if they've developed a position as far as whether the first nations are seen as a host government, because that's not clear. Certainly the representative from the first nations who was at the Pacific Law Institute conference was unclear about that and their role, as far as having a say in what happens in casino relocations or getting new casinos. So what is the government's position on aboriginal gaming?
Hon. J. MacPhail: To read from the news release that I just gave to the member opposite, it says in the first paragraph, quoting from Vic Poleschuk, the president and CEO of the B.C. Lottery Corporation: "We will seek expressions of interest from all local governments, including first nations and municipalities, and will engage in a fair and open process to identify potential casino locations." Of course, the first nations participated freely and openly as part of the destination casino process.
S. Hawkins: Is it the government's position that first nations can open casinos on their lands, or is it something that they would have to go through with the gaming authority?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There are no new casinos being considered beyond the ones that have been approved in principle, but first nations can be considered for relocation.
S. Hawkins: Is this the position, then, when the government is in treaty negotiations and they consult with this ministry? Is that the position that the ministry is putting forward in treaty negotiations?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I have no idea. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs could answer that question, but the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs upholds the government policy in treaty negotiations. Government policy is that there are no new casinos being approved, but first nations can be considered for relocation of casinos and can be considered as a host local government.
S. Hawkins: As far as the memoranda of agreement that were signed with the municipalities and the charities, can the minister just update me? Is the government in compliance with all the terms of those memoranda of agreement?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes.
S. Hawkins: I had mentioned a bunch of reviews that were done, and I'm just wondering if the minister has the numbers in front of her. What did it cost to do the Meekison report?
Hon. J. MacPhail: We'll get that cost for you.
S. Hawkins: There is an inquiry going on right now -- the so-called Bingogate inquiry. I'm wondering if the minister has any idea of when it's expected to be complete. Can the minister explain to us how those recommendations from that inquiry will be incorporated into the government's gaming policy?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I just know from public information that the commissioner sought an extension, so I have the same information that's available to the member. Of course, the purpose of the inquiry, really, is to talk about the activities of the Gaming Commission, not broad public policy around gaming. However, having said that, the commissioner is completely within the circle of consultation on gaming policy generally.
S. Hawkins: The minister is absolutely right. The commissioner seems to have a wide scope of what he's looking at, and they are looking at a whole bunch of areas with respect to licensed gaming, Criminal Code requirements, new legislation, provincial governments and licensed gaming, charitable gaming. It's just a whole host of things, so obviously
I'm interested, again, in the municipal issues, because there were questions that the municipalities had with respect to what right they had as far as existing facilities, existing casinos, in their jurisdiction. I wonder if the minister can explain to me
We talked about minor and major changes as well. Certainly the UBCM representative at this conference had some questions with respect to recommendation 17 of Meekison that says: "That if either the gaming control commission or the
[ Page 16827 ]
local government classify the changes to existing facilities as major, the process for relocation is to be followed." Again, the question was: what was the major or minor change? Has the government laid out to UBCM or the municipalities the difference between major and minor changes?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The minister's advisory committee is grappling with this issue. It's a complex issue, and they're making some suggestions on how to move forward on this matter. The UBCM is represented on that committee.
S. Hawkins: Again, with respect to municipalities, what is the scope of veto power that host governments have on changes, then, or relocations of casinos? Has that been dealt with?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I believe the member's question was: what powers does the host municipality have in terms of relocations of casinos? They have full veto power.
S. Hawkins: As far as relocations go, if a destination casino is in trouble or in financial difficulties, will it be allowed to move to another jurisdiction?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Destination casinos can't be relocated.
S. Hawkins: The minister said that there are groups that are being consulted right now with respect to the Meekison recommendations. I'm just wondering if she can either give me a list or, if she wants, outline for me the groups that are being consulted with respect to Meekison and how the changes or his recommendations are going to be incorporated into government policy.
Hon. J. MacPhail: All the named agencies have been consulted, all the charities, and the UBCM is being consulted as we speak.
S. Hawkins: I have some questions with respect to the B.C. horse-racing industry. I know the government has made some changes to the parimutuel taxation. Certainly, again, the expansion of gaming damaged -- significantly damaged, I would say -- the horse-racing industry. I'm wondering if the minister is confident that the changes they've made are going to put the horse-racing sector back on solid ground.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I want to be confident that the assistance we've given the industry, basically to give them all of the tax that's now collected from the horse-racing gaming sector, as well as giving the industry much better flexibility on how they distribute that revenue
The horse-racing industry is struggling throughout North America. It's a very valuable component of the economy in British Columbia. Many thousands of people are employed, and I am fortunate to have one of the largest tracks in the province in my own riding. I consider it very important. The only hope, of course, which is a dim hope that there could be a combination of gaming facilities at a track, is to have casinos relocated to a horse-racing track. Right now the two host municipalities of the largest tracks in British Columbia have vetoed any gaming in their communities.
S. Hawkins: I agree with the minister that the horse-racing industry does provide a lot of jobs. I had a real crash course, an interesting education, in the type of jobs that the industry provides. Certainly they provide a lot of good agricultural jobs as well, which I had not been aware of before. Again, I think the problem has been and is compounded by the government putting the cart before the horse, massively expanding gaming without looking at how it impacted on different parts of the industry. Certainly the horse-racing industry suffered the consequences of the government's bad move in that regard.
I wonder if the minister would release the terms of the new loan and financing agreement with the Pacific Racing Association, as it's related to their outstanding debt. Are those documents available?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'll look to the Minister of Finance. I don't know whether we release terms and conditions of loans. Whatever is available to release under the FOIPP law, we can certainly make available.
S. Hawkins: There was some talk about moving the thoroughbred racing from Hastings Park to another venue in the lower mainland. I wonder if the government has entered into any negotiations or has any knowledge of talks around this issue.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The government doesn't own a track, particularly Hastings Park. It's a non-profit society that leases the facility from the city of Vancouver. Any relocation of a track would be a private sector initiative. Of course, I have been informed of proponents who would wish to relocate the track. I've been informed of that as a local MLA. But to my knowledge, all of the proposals remain proposals.
S. Hawkins: Last year when we were in estimates, the minister had advised that there was an NDP caucus committee on gaming. I'm wondering if that committee is still active and what recommendations they make to the minister, as far as the gaming policy of this government.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The recommendations of that gaming committee have been acted upon by the government in areas of policy around expansion of gaming, the memorandum of agreement with the municipalities and confirmation of continued revenue flow to the charities. I don't think the committee meets currently.
S. Hawkins: I think I am pretty well exhausted in my questions, as far as the government's gaming policy goes. Again, there's a lot of gaps; there's a lot of needs. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the next few weeks, the next few months, because there was
[ Page 16828 ]
that Mr. Meekison recommended regulations to set up authorities, which frankly, I don't agree with. So we'll be waiting to see how the government's going to deal with this very important issue.
I thank the officials for their time. I'm still hoping to get a briefing with a couple of the agencies. We'll set that up later this summer or early in the fall. So I thank them for their time.
K. Krueger: I'd also like to thank the gaming officials, and if the minister's ready, we'll move on to the Workers Compensation Board.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Let's feel free to start. Staff will join us shortly.
K. Krueger: The Workers Compensation Board is a very large presence in many British Columbians' lives. In spite of the best intentions, no doubt, of at least many of those involved, a lot of the experience related to me by employers and employees is very unhappy experience. I and many other MLAs in our constituency offices have more constituent complaints generated by the Workers Compensation Board than by any other agency or ministry or corporation or arm of government.
It seems as though the Workers Compensation Board feels as though it has an unlimited money well to draw from, and I constantly receive input about the rising administrative costs of the WCB and the continuing expansion of intrusion into people's lives and the lives of businesses. And yet I constantly hear from WCB claimants who are terribly unhappy with the experiences they've had with WCB and the effect on their lives. I hear from people who are contemplating suicide; I hear from people who say that their loved ones did die as a result of their stress and their unhappy experiences with the WCB. It's a major concern.
This government spent a great deal of money on a royal commission, which listened to British Columbians over a very protracted period of time and submitted its final report in 1999. Yet people are puzzled about what actually flowed from that expensive commission and its inquiries. People begin to feel as though the whole process was used as a way to sort of keep them off the government's back and believing that something was being done, because they aren't seeing much change as a result of the commission and its recommendations.
This government frequently compares itself to Alberta and speaks of Alberta in a pejorative way, yet being our neighbouring province, it provides a lot of opportunity to compare the results of our respective workers compensation boards. According to the B.C. Workers Compensation Board's own data for 1998, B.C. had 4.4 claims per 100 FTEs -- full-time-equivalent covered workers -- while Alberta had only 3.4 claims per 100 FTEs, which means that 30 percent more workers per capita were being injured in B.C. than in Alberta.
I don't have the Alberta comparison for 1999, but British Columbia spends about $40 million a year on health and safety activities. Alberta spends about $11.7 million per year. On a per-capita basis, B.C. is spending more than twice as much on safety, so it's hard to understand why our frequency would be higher than Alberta's. Would the minister please explain if she has some rationale as to why B.C. is spending more money on accident prevention yet gets worse results than Alberta?
Hon. J. MacPhail: This is my first time exploring the issues of WCB, so I just want to, in a collegial way, seek the guidance of the member opposite on this, if I may.
I'm not here as a minister to defend WCB. It is a corporation that receives -- I'm asking for guidance here -- not one cent of tax dollars. There is no vote, of course. We as a government don't have input into the decisions or the administration of WCB. It is a wholly independent board governed by representatives of the employer and the employee, and it is funded by employers and employees. It's a very important institution, but it's not one over which I have control.
I seek the member's cooperation on this. I'd like to propose this. I can't sit here and defend the administrative policies of the WCB. In fact, I share the member's opening comments. I completely agree with them. I worry about us getting into a situation where I'll just rise and say: "That's not my responsibility." That's not a healthy debate.
I have spent quite a bit of time, though, as Minister of Finance, ensuring that the interests of the small business community are represented in other forums. I'd be happy to have some sort of forum in which we could discuss these issues. It's just that it's an awkward situation to do that in estimates. It would not be a government answer or a minister's answer, for instance, to the question that the member just asked, yet it's a legitimate question for the WCB. I seek guidance on this matter.
In the same way that I would not want to interfere in decisions that the WCB makes around the application of the act, I don't want to answer for them either. I seek the member's input into this.
K. Krueger: Certainly one of the major concerns of employers and employees throughout this province is their perception that the Workers Compensation Board is not accountable to anybody. It's a law unto itself. It's an organization that conducts its own appeals. It's an organization that decides the levels of assessments that employers are bound to pay. It's an organization that chooses how it's going to spend money, and from the point of view of many of those who have to provide the money, it chooses very foolishly, very arbitrarily and flat-out isn't accountable.
In previous years the Workers Compensation Board has provided its executive to sit with the minister in this House and answer questions of the opposition, and we expect that again this year.
The Workers Compensation Board is a huge presence in people's lives. It accounts for a significant percentage of the population when they have problems in the workplace or when they're injured. It's their form of securing justice when something has happened to them at their place of employment. But obviously employers also have a right to expect just treatment by the WCB, and they don't feel that they're getting it.
This is our opportunity, as an opposition and a sitting government, to put to the Workers Compensation Board some questions that the people of British Columbia have been rais-
[ Page 16829 ]
ing with us. Clearly the minister has received the same sort of input as I have. I know the member for Malahat-Juan de Fuca has often gone on the record in WCB estimates expressing the same concerns. And I think, in honesty, probably every MLA in this House is besieged with issues arising out of the WCB, and they had better not have become so haughty and arrogant that they're not going to deign to show up in this House during the estimates debates of the Ministry of Labour.
So I would like the minister to have the executive of the Workers Compensation Board join us in the chamber. I would like to be able to put these questions to her, so that they can provide her with the answers, and she can put them on the record.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Well, you're missing my point. I think, actually, the executive director is on his way; that's not the problem. But this is an issue where, I have to tell you, you may put a question -- sorry. Through you, Chair, the member may put a question that I could easily ask. I've had the same concerns, because I am in exactly the same position as the member opposite around the matters of WCB. So far, frankly, I agree with everything he said.
I'm just curious. I don't want to
G. Farrell-Collins: Perhaps we can look at the historical practice of this House. Certainly in the time I've been here and in my reading back to the time before both the minister and I arrived here, it was a similar process. Crown corporations don't appear as votes; no Crown corporations appear as votes in the estimates process. It has always been the practice of this House for ministers who have responsibility for those Crown corporations, statutorily, to be prepared to answer questions that deal with them.
Hon. J. MacPhail: It's not a Crown corporation.
G. Farrell-Collins: It's an agency. The minister says it's not a Crown corporation. The board is appointed by the minister on recommendations from labour and business representatives.
G. Farrell-Collins: What I'm trying to
Certainly the practice has been, through previous ministers who have been responsible for a while or the member for Esquimalt-Metchosin who was responsible for a while
Those, historically, have been the types of debates that have taken place. As far as I know, the government was made aware that WCB was going to come forward in the estimates. The minister can choose to answer or not answer; that's her call. But certainly the member is more than entitled to ask the questions. It's well within order, given the practices of this House over the years. The minister can choose how she intends to deal with it, much as other ministers have. I would think it would be in the same manner, but she may have an alternative.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I don't want this to be confrontational; that's not my point at all. I fully appreciate the practice, but the practice has been on something that, frankly, I think is misplaced. I share the concerns of every member of this Legislature about the WCB. Frankly, on issues around assessments, around practices, around administrative provisions, I don't have any control as the minister. The accountability doesn't stop here with me. So that's my only point.
We can proceed; there's no problem. But what I'm trying to say here is that the WCB has to be held accountable in a form that perhaps is different than this. Feel free to proceed. But it won't be a government policy that answers the question that the member just raised, for instance. It won't be a government policy if he asks questions about administrative efficiencies, and it won't be a government policy if he asks about assessments. So I'm fine to proceed, but it is bizarre.
G. Farrell-Collins: I think there's a lot of bizarre things about what we do in this chamber, this being one of them. I understand the minister says she doesn't want to be confrontational, but this sort of comes out of the blue when after
I know how the WCB is funded. I know the administrative structure; I know the management structure. And yes, there probably is a better way for this to come forward. I would have thought that the government would have wanted to bring in at some point
G. Farrell-Collins: The ministry tells me it's not a Crown. I understand
[ Page 16830 ]
G. Farrell-Collins: The minister should wait until I'm finished, and then she can stand up and make her comments. She may want to rewrite the way estimates work for her purposes, now that she's responsible for the Workers Compensation Board. I'm only relying upon the nine years of experience that I've had, that I've been here. You know, if the minister's not uncomfortable with the questions, and if she wants to put them to her staff and then answer them, that's great.
If the minister would rather that there were direct questions asked of a member of the representatives of the Workers Compensation Board directly, there are two ways to make that happen. One would be to move them into the other committee room, and then those questions can be asked directly. That's certainly something we'd be willing to entertain; we can switch the two estimates that are in there now. Or we can move a motion to allow members to do that here. So if she wants to improve the process, there are a plethora of opportunities available to her. She's in government, and we can do that. Otherwise, I think we should probably proceed with the way it's been done for years -- and proceed.
K. Krueger: I do appreciate what I think is very genuine frustration being expressed by the minister. In fact, that frustration's been coming out in correspondence that claimants have been receiving from her and employers have been receiving from her. They write me and say: "How can this minister say that she's not responsible for the Workers Compensation Board, when it is a responsibility of the Ministry of Labour?"
The bottom line, of course, is that if the minister has the authority to appoint the people who govern the Workers Compensation Board, then the public has some reason to follow the logic that since she can put the people in charge of Workers Compensation who have that responsibility, then certainly those people ought to be able to satisfy her that they're doing a good job. And part of that is being able to come up with satisfactory answers to the questions put to the minister by MLAs from either side of this House. As I've mentioned, this is a serious enough problem in British Columbia that there are often -- usually, in fact -- questions from both sides of the House.
So I wonder now if the minister is willing to proceed with giving me an answer to my initial question, which was a comparison between Alberta and British Columbia. Alberta is spending half per capita on loss prevention and safety initiatives compared to B.C. and yet is having a far better result in terms of the number of injuries sustained by Albertans compared to British Columbians.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The information would have to be gleaned on an occupation-by-occupation basis. Averages don't work when dealing with worker safety across a diverse economy. And, of course, the economies are different from Alberta to British Columbia as well.
K. Krueger: It's generally accepted, though, that the results of an organization are the best measurement of the organization. These are global results. These are the statistics that are being generated by two very similar operations in two neighbouring provinces. The fact is that while we spend far more on loss prevention and safety initiatives, Alberta has a far better record, having fewer workers injured on the job.
One logical conclusion to those results is that our Workers Compensation Board is not doing nearly as good a job as the Alberta Workers Compensation Board. Now that the minister has an official with her, I wonder if she would like to introduce him and if he could assist us in accounting for that disparity.
Hon. J. MacPhail: My answer stands, the previous answer. And further to that, the Alberta Workers Compensation Board only covers 68 percent of the workforce, whereas we cover 90 per cent of the workforce.
K. Krueger: Perhaps we'll move on to another issue. This issue is the amount that the Workers Compensation Board of British Columbia has been pouring into new computer systems, both for claims and for assessments for communication with employers. As I understand it, WCB has spent tens of millions of dollars on new computer systems for claims, for example, but the record of caring for injured workers is getting worse.
A problem, as I understand it, is that the e-file system that the WCB created and launched just hasn't worked, for whatever reason. I'd like to know what those reasons are. WCB has ended up running both paper files and e-files for its constituents.
According to data from the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, the AWCBC, the average calendar days from injury to first payment in Alberta is 18.4 days; in B.C. the average is 32 days, again close to twice as long as in Alberta. In fact, it takes 74 percent longer for the worker to get payment in B.C. than it does in Alberta. Will the minister explain why B.C. workers have to take such a distant second place in service levels to the workers of Alberta?
Hon. J. MacPhail: WCB informs me that 50 percent of claims were paid within 13 days and that the average time lines of first payments have been improving from 21.6 days in 1997 to 20.2 days in 1999. The WCB has set an operating annual target for timeliness in 2000 of 19 days.
K. Krueger: That target still wouldn't be quite as good as the Alberta achievement, but it's encouraging if we are moving in that direction.
Is it true that the e-file system for WCB crashed as soon as it was introduced and also caused problems with the rest of the WCB's computer system?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The computer startup experienced problems. Everything is fine now. Files that were instituted prior to 1999 still exist on paper, but the WCB is doing all they can to convert those to electronic files.
K. Krueger: I'm told that there were 300 consultants who were hired to work on the e-file system when it was created. I'd like to know what the cost of the creation of the system was and whether all the knowledge to run the system walked out the door with the consultants, leading to the problems that were experienced.
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Hon. J. MacPhail: Much of the development occurred by in-house staff, so the knowledge is retained. I'm informed by the WCB that the total costs, which we will have to get for you, are being amortized over a long period of time. So the employers are not being unduly penalized -- not penalized, but bearing undue costs early on.
K. Krueger: Is it true that there were some 300 consultants involved in the startup of that system?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There may very well have been dozens and dozens of people working on the system at different times. I'm informed that in no way were there 300 full-time people working on the system.
Hon. Chair, noting the hour, I would move that the committee recess until 6:45 p.m.
The committee recessed from 5:56 p.m. to 6:46 p.m.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
K. Krueger: Over dinner, I was thinking about the conversation we had at the start of this segment of the estimates, and I really want to express empathy for the minister. The optimistic hope is that if we have much common ground on the issues that I raised at the beginning of the WCB portion of the estimates, maybe it's something we can actually collaborate on in a non-adversarial way. There would be thousands of people in this province that would be grateful to us if we could, because these problems are not only real but have a tremendous direct effect on their lives and their families' lives.
Obviously the minister is receiving from her local constituents the same sort of input that I am, from employers and employees alike -- a very unhappy input. I do need to work through these individual questions. But I feel really optimistic that if there's a common experience in this House and everybody's frank about it
A few weeks ago Mr. McGinn and others on the executive said they knew at the time that that had never happened, that it wasn't achievable, that it was just Dale Parker's idea even though nobody at the table disagreed with him at the time. I wonder if the minister can confirm that that prediction was made.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'm told that Mr. Parker did make those comments, but in the context he said: "
K. Krueger: For the minister's benefit, I would point out to her -- it's not a question, and her officials can confirm it to her -- that of those employers who were added, many of them were in very low claims frequency industries such as real estate offices, lawyers' offices and so on. So that's not a satisfactory excuse for WCB on anything. In fact, their stats have probably all benefited by the fact that they threw the net so wide and included all of these employers who really don't generate very many claims.
Neither the minister nor I should accept that answer for a moment. When I say that, I feel badly for the people who are advising the minister. They are speaking for the board, and that's the board's answer. I don't think the minister has actually had a chance to introduce the people that are with her, and maybe I'll give her that opportunity to do so now before we continue on the E-file system.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Terry Bogyo is director of corporate planning with the Workers Compensation Board, and Don Chiasson is assistant deputy minister, labour relations. Jan Rossley is director of policy.
K. Krueger: I know them, but I want the House to know who is helping us tonight. I am told that one of the problems, at least, with the e-file system was that it was implemented too quickly and was complicated by the board's embracing of a process which it knows as the continuum of care. Because it was implemented too quickly and complicated in that way, it just didn't work. That's why, for at least some considerable time in the interim, both systems had to be used. I wonder if the officials would explain to the minister what the continuum of care is all about and whether in fact that did complicate this implementation process.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The conversion to E-file is unrelated to the policy of continuum of care. E-file is literally a conversion of paper files to electronic files, while continuum of care is the method by which clients are treated and rehabilitated.
K. Krueger: Yes, the continuum of care would be presented to the minister that way. It reminds me of things that happened to people and staff at ICBC when I was there. It reminds me of what's been happening to the health care workers in Kamloops as they have been subjected by new management appointed by the appointed health board, who fired the competent management. They've been obliged to take on these new systems of dealing with their patients. They call them gentle care in the health care system in Kamloops, but they don't work compared to the old systems.
The continuum of care sounds a lot like that. You get some manager with a notion -- often an appointee, somebody who is new to the organization -- who says that this is the way we should do it, and they impose it on a whole massive system. If it doesn't work, it hurts a lot of people.
What I'm told about the continuum of care is that it involves sending unfortunate WCB claimants to a series of contractors who have programs that are supposed to help them rehabilitate and get back to work. When one doesn't work, they're just sent to the next one. They feel as though they're on a merry-go-round or a treadmill, caught like a hamster in a wheel going around and around: "Well, that program didn't work, so here's another one."
The severities -- that is, the length of time that it takes a claimant to actually recover and get back to work -- have
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been exacerbated and made considerably longer as a result. I wonder if the minister could tell me what WCB says about that.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The continuum of care, I'm told, is supported by the theory of best practices. It's a model based on an outcome of rehabilitation and is modelled so that it's a best-fit program rather than shuffling around to various programs. I'm also told, though, that with the implementation, as with any new program, there are challenges but that WCB has chosen the continuum of care based on all of the current literature available.
K. Krueger: I've been told that WCB is actually close to abandoning this approach known as the continuum of care. Is there any truth to that?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The program is constantly being modified to best meet the needs of the clients. Of course, the program is working based on the current provincial outcomes, which is 79 percent fitness to work, 80 percent durable return to work, high client satisfaction and 20 days of average treatment. So the board will continue to work within the context of a continuum of care but constantly monitor and change as is necessary.
K. Krueger: My understanding is that this so-called continuum of care approach isn't working, and I'm glad to hear it's subject to constant review. I'd like the minister to demand an ongoing report from WCB about it, because people's experience is that they are essentially parked with these various contractors in their various clinics for six to eight weeks per little program.
The contractors, I'm told, get $1,000 a week for these poor claimants being in their clutches. I get that out of WCB. Many of them are people who lack the skills to actually diagnose and prescribe regimes, and they have a social worker approach. Of course, arguably, it's in their interest to be able to keep the claimants rolling on through, whether their little program works or not. But $1,000 a week per claimant and a never-ending income stream is what it looks like to me. Can the minister confirm that they're paid $1,000 a week per claimant?
Hon. J. MacPhail: No, I can't confirm that. But the WCB will get you the figures and the fee schedule, and your comments are noted.
K. Krueger: I referred to statistics earlier from the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, the AWCBC, and I have some more now. The WCB disagreed with those statistics, but obviously they are representing themselves, and this is a national association of workers compensation boards. There are nine others involved, and these are their numbers.
So in another comparison from the AWCBC, the average calendar days from registration of injury to first payment is documented as 13 days in Alberta and in British Columbia 30.6 days, which means it takes 135 percent longer for the worker in B.C. to get payment in this comparison to Alberta. I'm not happy, and I know the minister wouldn't be either, about Alberta doing better than British Columbia in anything. That's not the natural way of things, in my experience. I grew up in this province. I know the minister has tremendous loyalty to the province. Here's another comparison neither of us can be happy about. So I wonder if the WCB can explain to the minister why our workers have to wait 135 percent longer to get paid by the WCB than Alberta's workers.
Hon. J. MacPhail: We'd be happy to get that information from the member, the report from which he quotes, because the information of the WCB, of course, is as I stated earlier. It is that 50 percent of claims were paid within 13 days -- and that's a calculation from the date of disablement to the first short-term disability payment -- and 90 percent are paid within 39 days. So there's a challenge of information here. I'd be happy if the member could provide it to the board, and they can respond to the statistics that you have available there.
K. Krueger: I'll do that, and that'll be interesting
Here's another comparison. Maybe some of these numbers will jibe. This one had better jibe. It's done by the B.C. Workers Compensation Board itself, and the data shows the total numbers of workers who return to work after injury in B.C. is 69 percent. In Alberta the total number of workers who return to work after injury is 86.2 percent. So it looks like a 25 percent better achievement record for the province of Alberta and its workers compensation board. How does this board respond?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There are two different statistics. The Alberta statistic refers to the number of people who return to work at the conclusion of a claim, whereas the B.C. statistic in the annual report is the number of people who are referred to rehabilitation.
K. Krueger: Well, then perhaps the WCB could explain or give us the accurate number, according to them, using the same criterion as Alberta is using.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The WCB is working on this, and, yes, they'll commit to doing that as they complete their work.
K. Krueger: Certainly we would expect, I'm sure -- the minister and I and everyone in B.C. -- that our WCB would be delivering at least as good quality of assistance to workers in British Columbia as workers in Alberta, our neighbouring province, receive. Considering now the cost of funding the Workers Compensation Board, of course, B.C. employers pay that cost. There are benefits to them; it's a no-fault system. They don't have to have the costs of going to litigation if their employees are injured on the job. That's the historical trade-off. But it's a heavy price, and it's a price that has inflated over the years
I know the WCB has made some changes recently, known as experience-based rating, which we will cover a little bit later in these estimates. But overall in B.C. the average assessment rate is $1.84 per $100 of payroll. In Alberta the average assessment rate, all employers considered, is $1.10 per $100 of payroll. So B.C. employers are paying an average 67 percent higher assessment rates than do employers in the Alberta Workers Compensation Board. People say to me bluntly that this is because people at our British Columbia Workers Compensation Board have been indulging in expensive social engi-
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neering at the cost of employers in B.C. -- which would be one thing if employees were happy with the results. But they aren't happy, either, as the minister and I both routinely experience.
So I wonder if the WCB can explain to the minister, and through her to this House, why they have this dismal record of much higher assessment rates on average in British Columbia than in Alberta, with much lower results in terms of satisfaction and service.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The WCB does have a comparison on the basis of industry, which I would expect would make more sense. Even from a business point of view, it doesn't make sense to compare what a coffee shop owner pays and what a chamber of commerce pays, for instance. For the general small retail or dry goods jurisdiction -- this is the rate per $100 payroll -- it's 85 cents in B.C. and 38 cents in Alberta. Yes, that's true. But a service station is $1.28 in B.C. and $1.53 in Alberta. Optometry is 30 cents in B.C. and 33 cents in Alberta. A coffee shop is 47 cents in B.C. and 81 cents in Alberta. Gardening and garden maintenance, though, which is a highly intensive industry here in British Columbia, is $3.06, and it's $2.19 in Alberta. Just to note, in the jurisdiction of Oregon virtually all rates are higher than in British Columbia.
K. Krueger: In defence of British Columbia, they only have about two weeks that they can garden in Alberta, so it's hardly surprising that they'd have a lower rate in that area. Still, the overall result, the $1.84 on average in British Columbia -- that 's the global average per $100 payroll -- is substantially higher, 67 percent higher, than the $1.10 in Alberta. Global result is a result, and it's actually a result that our WCB presents as a positive -- and it is, in that it has come down somewhat from last year. They credit various things for that. But it's still much worse than Alberta. Again, I 'd encourage the minister and the people who are advising her not to consider that there are any laurels to rest on, because we're failing in the comparison to Alberta.
We don't have to compare just to Alberta; we can compare to ourselves and our past record. One of the critical measurements of any workers compensation system is the duration of claims, the average length of time that a worker stays off work following an injury. The performance of British Columbia over the last decade has kind of been a Dark Ages performance. The data for 1990 shows the average time off work was 32.8 days -- just under 33 days. In '99 the average is 52 days, which is an amazing 59 percent increase in duration.
Presumably, if you broke your arm in 1990, it probably healed as quickly as it would in 1999 and vice versa. If you had a back injury of exactly the same type in '99 as in 1990, it would have taken you the same length of time to recover -- well, if you were still the same age. But the fact is that 59 percent longer is the length of time it's taking people to recover from injuries compared to ourselves nine years ago.
Once again, this Workers Compensation Board appears to be failing in one of its most important mandates. We'd like to know what plans the WCB has to deal with this disaster.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The member opposite made a salient point in saying that if people were the same age, the recovery time would be the same. However, it's interesting to note that the average age of the population is four years older now than it was at the beginning of the decade. Everyone in this room is contributing to that.
An Hon. Member: Just some of us.
Hon. J. MacPhail: That's true -- just some of us.
The nature of the economy is that the severity of the injury is on the increase, so there are those two factors and the complexity of the injury as well. The WCB understands that it has to address those three factors, but I think it's safe to say that the entire system is being adversely affected by the aging process increasing costs of recovery.
K. Krueger: I think we can accept that this is a partial explanation -- that our workforce is older on average than we were at the beginning of the decade. I'm told repeatedly -- and I'm quite certain it's correct -- that the average age of a nurse in British Columbia, for example, is 47 years. Certainly our youth unemployment rate is very high. I think it's double what Alberta's is, and that's no doubt contributing to that statistic. But four years older on average doesn't really account for a 59 percent increase in duration of claims. Four years older is by no means a 59 percent increase in average age. Perhaps the minister would like to respond to that.
Hon. J. MacPhail: It's not linear math.
Hon. J. MacPhail: But it isn't linear math. These are health issues. However, I did outline the other two factors as well, which are the complexity of the injury and the severity of the injury, that are contributing to the statistics.
K. Krueger: I wonder, then, if the WCB advisers are telling the minister that injuries on average are more complex and more severe in 1999 than in 1990. I submit to the minister that I can't see why that would be so.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Part of the success of increased occupational health and safety training is that the injuries that were minor and straightforward are now eliminated because they don't occur with the increased training. So the complexity and the severity are as a result of the fact that the statistics are not modified by simpler, less complex injuries because those injuries simply aren't occurring. They're being prevented, which is good news. So that is contributing to the statistics as well.
K. Krueger: The recent annual report of the Workers Compensation Board -- which was a little overdue, but I am grateful that we have it in hand for these estimates -- indicates that the costs of claims did a substantial jump again over the previous year. Specifically, the costs for WCB claims increased to $1.267 billion. In the previous year they were $1.104 billion, also a very substantial figure; the jump is 14.8 percent.
People tell me that the only thing actually keeping the system afloat is that WCB has an investment portfolio of over $7 billion of money previously collected from employers,
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which has benefited -- as any other large investment pool should -- with an 11 percent return. It generated $858 million in investment income. I am told that without that good fortune, the WCB would essentially be bankrupt. But that kind of investment return can't be counted on forever; it's relatively rare. So the question to the minister is: what plans does the WCB have to control and reduce its escalating claims costs?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The main target for reduction of costs is just to simply prevent the injuries; hence the heavy concentration on injury prevention and occupational health and safety training.
K. Krueger: I want to say to the minister that neither she nor I should accept that response. Loss prevention is a worthy effort; I really believe in it. I spent 18 years at ICBC dealing with claims -- the fallout from motor vehicle crashes -- and then the following several years dealing with loss prevention. And I thought I had wasted my time for those 18 years, because what you really want to deal with is prevention. An ounce of prevention will always be worth a pound of cure. I believe in prevention.
But that is not the only way. And to say that
We should all be striving for improvement all the time, and WCB should really be striving for improvement -- judging even just on the basis of the reports the minister and I receive in our constituency offices every day, but also judging on the basis of the report of hundreds of people who came to the royal commission hearings believing that a report would follow, which would deliver recommendations to the government, which would be implemented and which would make sure that the same misfortune that had befallen them didn't befall other WCB claimants in future.
It is totally misguided for the WCB to rely only on loss prevention initiatives. The WCB has to look at itself internally, and I submit that I don't think they're capable of that, or they would have done it already. I think that the government and the opposition have to take a really hard look at WCB internally and those recommendations of the royal commission and make the necessary changes, because loss prevention alone will not cut it. Loss prevention is the ideal solution. If the loss didn't happen in the first place, everybody would be far better off. But it's not the only answer.
People tell me that WCB is a colossus out of control, and it just is feeding on itself. I know the minister said she agreed with those things when I said them in my preamble. An illustration of that is the administration costs per WCB claim. Again, looking at long-term trends within British Columbia, not necessarily comparing to Alberta for the moment, but long-term performance of the Workers Compensation Board, comparing once again the year 1999 to the year 1990, the dark decade, as people call it
And that, as the minister just said moments ago, is to the credit, I expect, of loss prevention programs. That's great. It has something to do with a terrible economy too, I'd submit, but no doubt the loss prevention initiatives take some credit.
But going on from there, the numbers get substantially worse. Even though the claims dropped by that number, the administration costs in 1990 were $132.418 million. And in 1999 they're $231.818 million. So the average cost per claim of WCB administration has risen from $610 in 1990 to $1,300 in 1999. Everybody in British Columbia who pays the price wants to know what the Workers Compensation Board and the government are going to do to reverse these ballooning administration costs at WCB.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Just to note it, there has been a change in the population since 1990. I mean, there are 30 percent more people living and working in the province than in 1990. I'm informed that the cost proportionately is the same as it was in 1990. But that isn't right; that isn't acceptable. I'm informed that the board is working on things other than just accident prevention in the area of ensuring that there's a better system of rehabilitation, a quicker system of return to work, and that the people get health care when they need it -- all very complex issues. But the board is also working on that.
I might just update the member in an area that is executive council responsibility, and that is what we're doing with the Royal Commission on Workers Compensation. We do, of course, remain committed to a fair and effective workers compensation system.
I know, in consultation with both small and medium-sized business and people in the labour movement, that there isn't agreement on how to proceed on these recommendations. But staff of the Ministry of Labour are actively engaged with the stakeholders to review and try to reach consensus on how to proceed on the report. There are no plans for legislative change this year, but we do have a work plan to contemplate legislation in the next 18 months or so.
In the meantime, though, the cabinet recommended that WCB improve on their service delivery model and shorten the time frame for outcomes. They had a two-year time frame, and we asked them to shorten that. And I am told that they are working on that by taking some steps on some recommendations. Just a couple of examples: the vocational rehab staff was increased at the board, and there was a network of external rehab providers introduced to provide injured workers with treatment that they need more quickly and locally as well. There's been a quality adjudication program established to improve the quality and consistency of adjudication. And all appeal division decisions have been made publicly accessible. And there have been program improvements made to assist workers transferring from one rehabilitation program to another.
I think WCB is also working on a summary paper that identifies the actions the board has taken or will take in response to the non-legislative recommendations. The government expects to receive a draft copy of that in the very near future.
K. Krueger: I want to caution the WCB: it is inappropriate to give the minister red-herring answers. The change in population has absolutely boom all to do with the question
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that I put to the WCB through the minister. I talked about the number of claims received by the WCB, and I think the gentleman from WCB should wait until I'm finished my question before he speaks to the minister.
The claims received by the WCB are substantially lower in 1999 than they were in 1990, and that is a statistic on which the WCB bases some pride and perhaps rightfully so, although I think the economy has something to do with it. But the point I made and the statistics which the WCB itself provides demonstrate that the administrative cost per claim -- nothing to do with the population of British Columbia; you can't work this out per capita; we're talking about the cost of delivering the service to claimants -- is $1,300 in 1999, and it was $610 in 1990. So let's not have any red herrings; let's have a straight answer from the minister. What is the WCB doing to corral its spiralling administrative costs?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Sorry, I may have misrepresented what the WCB officer was telling me. The reference to the population is that there's a cumulative increase in the number of claims that the board is dealing with. That was my misinformation. But there are 55 percent more employers that come under the auspices of the WCB now. There are 22 percent more widows, widowers and pensioners who are covered by WCB now. So there is an increase in staff in order to deal with those.
But in terms of how the board is dealing with its administrative costs, which I'm told compare favourably with other jurisdictions in Canada, the board invited the auditor general to come in to make recommendations on administrative cost improvements. The auditor general made 39 recommendations, and the board is acting on all of them.
K. Krueger: We spoke a few moments ago about Dale Parker's optimistic projection at the time that the e-files were introduced -- that there would be a 10 percent reduction in staff as a result. He was far from right about that. The WCB numbers are also worth comparing for the period of 1990 through 1999. And again, using the WCB's own numbers, in 1990, the beginning of the dark decade, the WCB had 1,911 staff. In 1999 the WCB had 2,718 staff. To return to the other statistic, the number of claims in 1990 was 217,152 and in 1999 down to 178,187. So the WCB had 38,965 fewer claims in '99 than it did in '90, a decrease of 22 percent. But it had 807 more staff, an increase of 42 percent. So the work volume dropped by 22 percent, but the staff increased by 42 percent.
Even given the things that the minister just answered, the fact that many of these files just don't go away, albeit we have to understand that a file doesn't require the same level of staff involvement as it gets older. It may well just involve regular payments, regular liaisons with medical practitioners and the claimants and so on. It is not nearly the same level of work as it was at the outset. But even allotting a little bit of allowance for that explanation, we have 42 percent more staff handling 22 percent fewer incoming claims, among other things. The WCB's budget shows that they actually plan to increase to 2,842 staff this year, the year 2000, which again is a substantial increase from the 2,718 that they had in 1999. Will the minister tell this House what steps she thinks need to be taken to restore some level of efficiency to the WCB?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Just to note some changes that have occurred since 1990, which have affected employment levels, there's been the addition of the appeal division based on the Munroe report of the previous Social Credit government. There was no appeal division, and that's been added. The freedom of information and protection of privacy has been added; the policy bureau has been added; the ombudsman has been added. There's been increased occupational health and safety resources added, etc. So those have contributed.
But what I think the member should be interested in is jurisdictional comparisons and also other agency comparisons -- which, I'm informed, the board constantly compares itself to, hence inviting the auditor general in to make the 39 recommendations. I'd be happy to get the auditor general's recommendations and the status report on them for the member.
K. Krueger: In fairness, the minister warned me, at the beginning of this section of our estimates that she would only be repeating what the WCB had to say to her. I submit to the minister, as the member for Vancouver - Little Mountain and I did at the beginning of this section of the estimates, that she does have control over the WCB in that she can say who runs the WCB, who governs it, who is on the current panel of administrators or who is on the board of governors if a new model is chosen.
The member for North Coast did at one time fire the people who were running the WCB, obviously because he felt that they were running it badly. He's with us here in this chamber, and I doubt if he's got any regrets about that. But these results ain't great either, frankly.
On June 2, 2000 -- not even four weeks ago, not quite -- a press release came out from the Ministry of Labour that three WCB panel administrators had been reappointed. Who are they? Well, one is George Heyman, the president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union -- obviously a very busy guy. I don't know how much time he has to devote to this job, but it is a full-time job running a giant union like that -- a really busy guy and clearly not necessarily oriented to things like administrative cost reduction or management considerations. He is a labour person, and I don't know what his expertise is in management, but it certainly hasn't been his orientation.
Wolfgang Zimmermann is another person who was reappointed. Well, I'm told that Mr. Zimmerman has his own enterprise, his own organization as a disabled workers' representative. I'm told that he gets $250,000 a year from the WCB to run this organization. I'd like the minister to confirm for me whether that's correct -- that he has this organization that's funded by the WCB at a quarter of a million a year and that he has never had a worker actually return to work through the good auspices of his organization. He does a lot of travelling around the world at WCB expense, and he sits on the very board which approves contributions to his organization. I'd like the minister to tell me if all of that is true. That's what I have on good authority. Well, let's just start with that. Is that true?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I understand the point that the member's making, but I don't think it's really helpful here to personally attack the governors. Let me just deal with the concerns raised by one individual, Mr. Zimmermann. He is a governor. He does represent injured workers, and he does work for an institute that gets funding from the WCB, but
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that's an arm's-length funding arrangement -- nothing to do with Mr. Zimmermann. His institute isn't responsible for returning people to work. The institute deals with teaching employers about disability management and keeping workers at work.
I expect that the member opposite gets lots of inside information from people who clearly sound like they're very disgruntled, and that's fair enough. But personal attacks aren't appropriate here. I can't imagine what a better model there would be for a board of governors. These are actually a panel of administrators -- sorry. The former minister responsible for WCB fired the board of governors.
So do we just keep firing people? No, these people do come as highly respected panel of administrators with a track record there. I know a couple of them personally from different lives, and I don't think we can attack their dedication. But it is true that they are responsible for the outcomes, and they need to be held accountable. I do that regularly as Minister of Labour, but I also tell the business community and the labour community that they've got to hold the WCB accountable.
My gosh, when there's a change in the taxation by this government, both parties hold us accountable. They're being taxed by the WCB. Why is there a different method of accountability? I just simply don't understand it. When I meet with employers and worker representatives, I ask them why they see this as a different issue, and I'm not convinced that they can explain the difference.
K. Krueger: I appreciate the minister's caution. I want to say on the record that I try to be very careful about not attacking people personally, nor did I. But we can be so ginger about dealing with these questions that we just don't ask them. If we don't, I don't think I'd be doing my job as Labour critic. If the minister doesn't think about it, she wouldn't be doing her job as minister. I know she does think about things. To me, it's a manifest conflict of interest for a person to run the WCB while his organization is employed by the WCB.
If it were the minister or myself, we'd be in blatant violation of the Conflict of Interest Act. Even the perception of conflict is wrong. This, I submit, is by no means an ideal governing structure for the WCB. The WCB received a ton of input about that in the royal commission. I listened closely to what the minister said about the recommendations from the royal commission. She just said she can't imagine a better model, but that's because her imagination isn't turned on tonight, if that's the case, because there are many better models.
As the minister just said, this panel of administrators -- not governors, an appointed panel of administrators -- is responsible for these results. They've been there for quite a while. They were just reappointed, so obviously their terms had come to an end. I don't think they should have been reappointed, because these are their results.
With respect, two of them are trade unionists. Valerie Mitchell is a dyed-in-the-wool NDP bureaucrat. Eric Mitterndorfer is the only person considered to be an employer-rep on the board, and he has never, to my knowledge, dissented from the rest of the panel on any issue.
So whatever their qualifications, however nice they might be and however much I might like them if I knew them and they were my friends, they haven't got good results. They've got terrible results. The minister and I agree on that. It's time for change. It's time for a new governance structure at WCB.
There are plenty of submissions. The official opposition made one ourselves to the royal commission. Boards of governors that are more representative of the community in British Columbia and of the groups of experts that the Workers Compensation Board has to rely on to do its business day to day to fulfil its responsibilities
The minister said these people are highly respected, and I don't question her for a moment, but I don't respect their results. Their results are awful. Their results hurt people every day, all day long, in this province.
I have people who write these desperate letters to me. The minister said this is not new to her either. I was interviewed recently by a reporter who wanted to know what I thought about the concerns that he was hearing about WCB's performance. I told him what I thought. I said: "I think that WCB is a colossus out of control. It's not looking after employers nor employees. It's not doing a good job. It's got to be fixed dramatically." Right after that interview was published, a lady wrote me this letter. I received it on June 20. She says:
And she signs it. From her point of view, I know she's telling the truth, and that breaks my heart. It's not the only story like that that I've heard. I know the minister hears them. And it is wrong.
"I was so glad to read your article in a local paper about WCB. Did you know it is legal for them to kill their clients? Oh yes, they did it to my husband. But if you listen to them, they have done nothing wrong, and a life is absolutely nothing. They drove my husband to a nervous breakdown and then a heart attack, of which he died. This was a slow and cruel death. Anyway, I just wanted you to know."
So I submit to the minister that if her cabinet is working on any legislation at all, they should work on this legislation. This panel of administrators is not delivering the results that British Columbia deserves or that people are looking to us for. And they're in our care because they have no option. They can't sue their employer; that right was taken away. They're stuck with the WCB, however badly it's managed. I know the minister doesn't want to get letters like that, and I don't either. There's too many of them to believe that there aren't serious problems here. So back to my questions.
The WCB annual report for '96 stated that the panel sets targets. This is the same panel of administrators we're talking about. The panel sets targets for the organization, then holds management accountable for the achievement of those targets. The panel, therefore, set the following objectives: increased productivity, such that by the end of the present collective agreement in March 1998 there will be a 10 percent reduction in total staff. That, of course, was Mr. Parker's prediction with the e-files.
Actually, in '96 there were 2,461 WCB staff. A reduction of 10 percent would have meant 2,221 in '98. Instead, the WCB had 2,359. As I said earlier, for the year 2000 the WCB is budgeting for 2,801. So I ask the minister: how is that accountable? Who has been held accountable for missing the target by over 300 staff in 1998? Who's accountable now for the WCB planning to be 500 staff over the '98 target in this year, the year 2000? Who's accountable?
[ Page 16837 ]
Hon. J. MacPhail: The panel of administrators examined the strategic goals and decided to make accident prevention a much higher priority, so the board was asked by the panel of administrators to add staff in that area. There's also been staff added to have a fair processing of claims. So those are some of the changes.
But let me just talk a bit about the governance model. It's true that the royal commission on the WCB did recommend a different governance model, but that's a point of contention. It's something that the community can't agree on, which is interesting. I have to tell you -- and I would caution everyone in this room to think about this -- that if the government of the day imposes a governance structure that is not accepted by those who are paying the piper, I think that's fraught with trouble. It is one of the issues that we're talking about with the community -- about what is the best governance model. It's interesting to note that when we moved from the board of governors to the panel of administrators, at least decisions started being made. The board itself had ground to a complete halt under the board of governors, in terms of moving forward with this decision-making.
So it is a tough issue, and I have to say that it's one I keep saying to those that are being taxed in this area: why is it that you're not paying closer attention to these issues? Why is it that you're abdicating your responsibility and saying that it's somehow big government's responsibility? We will do everything we can. But at the end of the day
If you're relying on sources that perhaps are internal and narrower than the overall point of view, have Mr. McGinn and Maureen Nicholls, the new chair, come and brief you. Put your questions directly to the WCB, and expect answers. I also might note that labelling someone as an NDP bureaucrat is not helpful and not true. Ms. Mitchell no longer is a panel administrator either. She has moved to other duties.
If this is truly a concern of the constituency that the Liberal opposition represents, which is not only the business point of view but also the claimants' point of view and their families', then figure out some way to hold those that make the decisions accountable.
K. Krueger: The people who actually make the decisions are government -- who gets to be the governors of WCB or who gets to be on the current panel of administrators. And yes, the minister is striving to answer that. This is not a confrontational thing for me. We're talking about what's wrong here. We both don't like the results; we don't like them at all. If Valerie Mitchell is no longer a member, I wasn't aware of that. The most recent list I have listed Mr. Zimmermann, Mr. Heyman, Mr. Mitterndorfer -- all of whom have been reappointed -- a vacancy, previously held by Douglas Kerley, and Ms. Mitchell. Is there anybody on the panel of administrators that I haven't named here, then, or is it just the three that are left?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Ms. Mitchell is not a panellist, an administrator, and the chair of the board is Maureen Nicholls now. She's chair of the panel and sits as an administrator.
K. Krueger: Yeah, I did know that. And Mr. Cott, of course, has departed. I considered him a real strength to the organization. The minister suggested that I should have more briefings. Frankly, I like Ralph McGinn, and I like Terry Bogyo, who has briefed me. They earnestly speak what they perceive to be the truth about the answers to all my questions. But I think it's our job to take a big-picture perspective. These results are awful results, and they're somebody's results. They're the results of the people who are there. If they thought they were doing the job badly, they'd stop doing it that way and do it a different way. But something's going really wrong, because they're delivering these results.
So no amount of tours, no amount of briefings is going to help. If the way they're doing things is the problem, I think it's my responsibility and the minister's to look at the results and to find ways to correct them, to add new people to the mix that are competent in delivering different results. Einstein said, in effect, that we're fools if we think that we're going to get different results by applying the same approaches. If you don't like the results, you have to change the approaches. We have a responsibility to do that. And it's a non-partisan responsibility. It's a duty to the workers of this province and the employers of this province.
I'm going to pause and allow a couple of my colleagues to raise a couple of constituency matters. We'll start with the member for Shuswap.
G. Abbott: I do want to raise an issue on behalf of constituents. I don't expect that the minister is going to have the answer to these questions, specifically, necessarily at hand. But I think there's some principles involved here, and I do want to get the benefit of her advice and the staff that are with her tonight.
My constituents are Rick and Freda Davis who are residents of Blind Bay. Earlier this year -- in fact, on May 10, 2000 -- their 26-year-old son Chad was tragically killed in a helicopter crash. Now, Chad Davis was the helicopter pilot and instructor. He died along with a student pilot in the helicopter crash on May 10. The parents believe -- I gather, with good reason -- that there was a maintenance failure on the part of staff at the helicopter firm. At least, that is the suggestion or allegation, and I presume at some point that is an issue that is being investigated. We'll get into that soon, I presume.
In any event, the Davises have been advised that because their son was single and independent and certainly covered by the Workers Compensation Board in his capacity as a helicopter pilot instructor, after his death the only claim that can be made against the Workers Compensation Board in this case is for funeral expenses. I guess the liability of WCB is limited, as I understand it, by section 10 of the Workers Compensation Act.
Obviously this has been a very difficult issue for the Davises to deal with. Could the minister advise, in a situation like this, what recourse, what opportunities, would parents have in seeking some redress around the tragic death of their son?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Sorry -- the parents' names are Mr. and Mrs. Davis?
[ Page 16838 ]
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes. First of all I can only imagine how they feel. I know such tragedies are beyond the realm of those of us who haven't experienced them, and my heart goes out to the parents.
I'm afraid I don't have very good news, because the system of workers compensation is put in place as a replacement for a litigation system, where any party who feels affected can go and sue. Workers compensation is limited to those who are directly affected by the loss of the worker -- children or spouse. And the workers compensation system would take care of those people. In this case, I understand there is no such relationship, so expenses are limited.
I will ask the WCB to investigate the particular circumstances of this to ensure that a proper investigation is being carried out. Of course, if there is a requirement to take legal action on the basis of that investigation, the board will do that. Once again, this situation is complicated, I assume, by the fact that as well there's a federal role here to play in the area of transport. The provincial WCB relies on
G. Abbott: I should have advised the minister of the WCB claim number in this case, just for the information of staff. Hopefully they can provide me with some backup material on this. It's WCB claim No. XF00423009.
The helicopter which crashed on May 10, it's clear, was in for 100-hour service and maintenance on May 9. The understanding of the parents is that there was oil drained from the rear tail rotor at that 100-hour service, and the allegation is that the oil wasn't replaced. In any event, it's clear the helicopter took off at 9:50 a.m. and crashed at 9:52 a.m. as a consequence of the rear tail rotor falling off.
I understand -- and I think the minister was coming to this point -- that in some situations the WCB will conduct an investigation to attempt to determine fault. In this case, because of the jurisdiction of Transport Canada, is it clear to the corporation that the responsibility for that investigation will rest exclusively with Transport Canada? Or is there going to be a role for both of the agencies with respect to what may have happened, given the possibility, at least, of negligence in this case?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Again, I make general comments based on the information provided. In no way do I claim to make definitive comment on this particular case. But if it is as described, the role of investigation is that of Transport Canada, and we can only take reassurance in that they do have expertise in this area. If there is, after the investigation
G. Abbott: I appreciate the minister's response. If Transport Canada determines that a third party was at fault in the tragic circumstances leading up to the accident, then WCB would litigate on behalf of the corporation itself or on behalf of the estate of Chad Davis, I presume, to secure a legal remedy for the loss that has occurred. Which is it?
Hon. J. MacPhail: We're just deciding on how much information to put on the record. I'm getting a little bit uncomfortable around the particulars of this. Let us examine the circumstances and give you some answers based on an actual examination of the circumstances of the tragic death.
Yeah, I think we should leave it at that. The question's on the record; the file's on the record. We'll inform you.
G. Abbott: So I can assume that I would expect a follow-up in writing to me, in my capacity as MLA for the parents, around what all the issues are here and what the outcome is likely to be of that. Good. I thank you, and I thank the critic for this opportunity.
K. Krueger: I really appreciate the minister's compassion for the family, the constituents of my colleague, and I know all of us feel for them and for others in these terrible circumstances. Again, that's why I think all of us are delighted with the successes that WCB has enjoyed in its loss prevention initiatives.
Just a couple of general questions to add a little bit to that constituent file. I think the minister made it clear the WCB does have a responsibility if there is someone who isn't immune from being part of a court action and who was responsible for the loss. The WCB has an obligation to stand in the shoes of the claimant and his family to pursue that recovery and recover from that individual -- perhaps the helicopter manufacturer, perhaps the maintenance people, if they weren't another employer which the WCB is precluded from suing -- and to subtract what the WCB has paid and pay the balance to the claimant or his estate.
In tort law, in motor vehicle collisions, for example, it used to be the case that when a child died in British Columbia, there wasn't really any tort judgment available -- essentially funeral expenses and any scheduled amount. But over the past decade and a little more, there has been a whole series of jurisprudence where families who can demonstrate that there was a tradition of children supporting their parents as the parents got older did in fact receive compensation from the courts, and perhaps that is a possibility in a case such as this as well. Without asking the minister to respond this evening -- she's indicated that she doesn't want to respond further on that score -- I'd like the WCB to add their opinion on that matter when they write to my colleague from Shuswap.
Returning to some questions about administrative costs, we've mentioned several times Mr. Parker's assurance that he was going to experience a 10 percent reduction in staff and the fact that that didn't happen.
There was also the matter of a tremendously rich collective agreement having been blessed by the same person. I'm told it's the richest contract in labour relations in British Columbia. For example, one perk of the contract is that a WCB employee who works one minute extra each day can claim an extra day off each year. A person wonders how in the world that ever looked like a good idea to anybody. In the same contract, a WCB employee can work for four years at 80 percent of salary, then take off a full year in year 5. I wonder what the effects on WCB and its administrative costs have been of having agreed to things like that in the collective agreement. I wonder if the WCB has done any assessment of the extra administrative costs brought about by that collective agreement, which, as I understand it, was signed by people who then vacated the premises and left their jobs.
[ Page 16839 ]
Hon. J. MacPhail: Just a couple of comments, just to correct the information. This is a collective agreement in force from April 1, 1998, to March 31, 2002. So it's a substantially long collective agreement, four years of stability. The goal of the corporation at the time of settling the collective agreement was to achieve stability of the workforce in order to make the changes that were necessary.
Just to inform, the actual terms of the collective agreement are that overtime, or work beyond the ordinary hours of work, is allowed to be accumulated. But it's proportionate. A minute of work accumulates at a minute, but they're allowed to accumulate and then take that time off together. It's minute for minute. This is to avoid overtime costs as well.
The collective agreement was within PSEC guidelines, a principle that the opposition has asked us to enforce. I also note here from the information that there is a gain-sharing plan in place that has actually realized actual savings of over $2 million.
K. Krueger: It's curious: one would expect -- and this is human nature, I know -- that when people have the flagship collective agreement in a province, they would be the happiest workforce in the province. My information from inside the WCB is that that isn't true at all, that morale is terrible, that there is tremendous unhappiness there, that on any given day, on average, 20 percent of the WCB workforce is not on the job. They're absent on some form of paid leave -- 20 percent. Is that an accurate figure?
Hon. J. MacPhail: No, I think the member is wrong in his information. Well, maybe it's a matter of how you are calculating the information. Let's just talk about sick leave first.
The StatsCan average for days absent per year in the white-collar clerical category is about 4.6 percent days absent; managerial-professional is about 3.1 percent absent. Actually, the sick leave for the employees of the WCB is 3 percent. Of course, 3 percent sick leave includes hours taken for personal sick leave, but also the sickness of a dependent child. So that actually -- let me just see -- is 7.47 days per year per employee. A 4.6 percent absenteeism, which is the statistical average of Canada, would be 11.6 days absent.
But there are other hours of absenteeism: vacation, personal leave. Even taking into account all of those, which are not about sickness but about absences otherwise, hours worked are 85 percent.
K. Krueger: I appreciate the candour of the minister's answer, and 15 percent is a pretty significant figure too. It's not 20 percent, which is the number that I was given, but I think I kind of caught the minister cold on the question too. If the WCB realizes that there is some accuracy of the larger number or something closer to it, I'll be counting on them to provide me with a letter and clarify that when they've had time to consider it. I submit that 15 percent absent
K. Krueger: Yes, including vacation
Once again, how much vacation people are entitled to depends on how generous a collective agreement is. Crown corporations and agencies can become so generous that eventually people hardly have to work at all compared to the taxpayers and the employers and the employees who work for those employers in the private sector around the province.
That's something we all have to caution ourselves about. I know that when we had to make those determinations for the MLAs in this chamber, we submitted all of the questions to the Citizens' Panel. I think that was an honourable way to go about it. The citizens told us that they thought a certain thing was reasonable, and that's what we all accepted. One really hopes that the WCB won't use the same negotiators or anybody related to them the next time around.
A lot of the people at WCB are hard workers, have really good attitudes and have been there doing a good job for a long time, and I want to say that we recognize that. There are other people who don't have good attitudes, and I've experienced them in the same room. I went in with one of my very unhappy constituents -- wasn't expected, just walked in. He had two adjudicators to deal with that day, and it was as though they were playing the good cop-bad cop routine on him. But it wasn't that, because this had been his experience with those two people throughout.
One was just the kindest, most empathetic, smart and nice person to deal with, who came up with solutions that I think ended up resolving the matter. I haven't heard from the constituent since. The other was absolutely unempathetic, tough and mean-minded, it seemed. What an experience! And that had been his experience throughout. There are people like that, who in spite of the fact they have a great collective agreement, a wonderful job and unheard-of benefits compared to other people, are somehow spoiled, and they have no concept of what the claimant's going through or what it's like out there in the private sector -- no empathy for them at all.
The minister mentioned gain-sharing and the figure of $2 million. I was going to ask about that, actually -- that the WCB contract also provides for this extra money to be paid to WCB staff. I guess it was paid to them on April 1, 2000, for what is termed productivity improvement. Employers have referred to that as an April Fools' joke on them -- that in an organization that is delivering the results that the minister and I have been talking about, where employers and employees alike are so unhappy, the people are getting paid for productivity improvements.
Taxpayers, that's who it is -- employers are taxpayers. Taxpayers have forked over, I'm told, $17 million under this program to people who are essentially provincial government workers. Is that number accurate? Or was the minister talking about $2 million in one year? Or is the larger number the global figure since the collective agreement was signed?
Hon. J. MacPhail: No. There's no knowledge of that number. I have no idea where the member got that number.
But let me just talk about the gain-sharing. WCB certainly isn't the first to institute gain-sharing. This is a trend throughout the industrialized world. Contracts are being signed between employers and employees to share in efficiencies that lead to cost savings. But there are a couple of factors that have to be in place. First of all, the savings have to occur and be documented, and then employees share in a portion of those savings. So the gain-sharing plans -- there are actual
[ Page 16840 ]
savings of more than $2 million -- had to be agreed upon. Then the WCB got the benefit of some of the savings and paid out approximately half of that to the employees.
I'm hopeful that the employers understand, and if they think this isn't what's occurring, they should check. But gain-sharing requires that the savings be documented first and only a portion returned to the employees who have instituted the savings.
K. Krueger: Clearly there is quite a lack of understanding on what that program's all about. In fairness, the employers asked me: "What is this productivity that has been improved for the gain-sharing? What are those productivity improvements? If claims are paid more slowly, claims drag on longer and more staff are handling fewer claims, what is the productivity that has been improved?" Perhaps we could flesh that out a little.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The improvement in productivity has taken place through a return-to-work program, where there has been a much more rapid return from long-term disability -- especially amongst workers who had been on LTD for a considerable length of time and where there was an extremely low-percentage prediction of their actual return on their own.
K. Krueger: So are those WCB claimants we are referring to or WCB workers themselves returning from LTD more quickly?
Hon. J. MacPhail: WCB employees on long-term disability.
K. Krueger: So it sounds as though those people received a bonus for coming back to work earlier than people had historically been coming back to work who were on LTD with WCB.
Hon. J. MacPhail: No, that's not how it works. The gain-sharing products
The sharing of the value of that productivity was across the board amongst all employees at the WCB and was capped at a maximum of 1 percent. The whole gain-sharing program is capped at a maximum of 1 percent of payroll.
K. Krueger: My thanks to the minister for that clarification. I'm told that there is a management turnover rate at WCB of 21 percent per year. Is that an accurate number?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I can't confirm that. The board will get that number for you.
K. Krueger: Perhaps when they do they will tell me their understanding as to why that's occurring and how long they've had such a high management turnover rate, because I think that's quite abnormal for most organizations, let alone the public sector. So I will assume that that will come to me.
I'll now switch to a new subject with regard to disability pensions. As I understand it, the WCB uses two different methods for establishing a disability pension for a claimant. One is called the loss-of-function method, which measures the degree and extent of the physical disability and assigns a percent value to this.
The other is the loss-of-earnings method, which determines the estimated loss of earnings for the worker -- the difference between what the worker had earned and what the worker is considered capable of earning post-injury. The WCB provides the loss-of-earnings pensions which are intended to assist when a worker is not able to return to work at a job that pays the same wage as the pre-injury job. Originally, loss-of-earnings pensions were to be provided under what the WCB referred to as exceptional cases. But over this last decade, the last nine years, the loss-of-earnings pensions have grown rapidly from $72 million in 1991 to $172 million in 1999 -- a really dramatic increase, way over 100 percent, obviously.
There are recent examples; I have a whole printout of them here. They show a big jump between the functional loss, which is given as a percent and a dollar amount, and the loss-of-earnings loss, which is shown as a dollar amount -- and the value shown as a capitalized value of the functional or loss-of-earnings pension. For example, there's a 31-year-old worker. Using the FNC approach at 2 percent, his claim value FNC was $162,360. But using the LOE value, it's $423,929, using 40 percent as the number. There's a 60-year-old worker -- FNC at 3 percent, FNC value just under $26,000. LOE is 52 percent, and the value is barely under $479,000.
There's a whole table of these. Many of them include really small percentages, like 1 percent and 2 percent and 3 percent, and, indeed, some are zero. These are really kind of shocking increases for employers to see. I can give the minister a copy of this printout -- or I'm sure her advisers have it. I wonder: what does the WCB intend to do about these increases in loss-of-earnings pensions? Does it have plans to improve and speed up the safe return to work? How does a small functional disability result in these huge pay-outs for loss of earnings?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Clearly, from the question, it's a highly technical area. I'd be pleased to ask the WCB, based on specific cases, to respond to you about why the change. I am informed about factors around the changing economy and workers that cannot be placed in jobs because of age and lack of skills for the new work available, but I think it appropriate that the member take up the WCB's offer on answers and explanations to specifics.
K. Krueger: I will certainly take the WCB up on that. It's their printout I'm looking at. It's entitled "The LOE Financial Report." It's dated May 2000; presumably there's a June 2000 one already. It shows a 40.26 percent increase in these LOE amounts, so it's really significant. Again, rather than sit down for a briefing, I'd like a document that explains this to me. After I have a chance to read it, then I'll gladly sit down with the WCB and ask questions that arise out of that.
There's another form of e-service that the WCB has implemented. There have been a number of press releases on it, like this one, dated June 12, "WCB Expands E-Service to Employers." It says: "Internet 'self-service' option now available for WCB registration."
My understanding is that there was $30 million in the budget when this system was implemented and that over $47
[ Page 16841 ]
million has now been spent on it. It doesn't sound like it's working really well; it isn't integrated. It was designed to operate and join revenue and assessment, but the two systems won't talk to each other. Operations have to and have continued to shut down half a day every week for manual input. Phones have been shut down for three and a half weeks altogether, just since January. And if manual input wasn't ongoing, the information gathered online would be lost.
I'd like the WCB people to advise the minister on that and give us a report of the prognosis. Is this thing ever going to work, or is it throwing good money after bad to keep working on it?
Hon. J. MacPhail: It's two different systems that the member is talking about, not to be confused. The on-line registration by employers is up and running and well utilized. It is working well and was a demand that, particularly, small businesses made of the WCB.
The employers services system is a different system, and there have been growing pains. However, the problems are being worked through, and the downtime is constantly being reduced.
K. Krueger: Can the minister learn for us what the budget projections are for that system, the one she just referred to, and the costs incurred thus far?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The board will get that information for you quickly.
K. Krueger: I want to speak now for a little bit
Of course, I think the history is fairly commonly understood. Certainly the official opposition shares a commitment with the government to protect workers from health hazards on the job. And not only that, people over on this side of the House believe, as I think the government and the WCB do, that environmental tobacco smoke is a health hazard, and to heck with the tobacco industry suggesting otherwise. I think they've been lying to the public forever. I wish nobody smoked.
But the fact is that this thing was mishandled. The courts have been very clear about that. There are consequences to that. Those consequences include further shaking of the credibility of the Workers Compensation Board and of the government, frankly. The first question is: has the WCB ever actually paid a claim for a serious health consequence to a worker relating to environmental tobacco smoke or secondhand smoke?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Yes, and I know that the member will join me in recognizing that every injury is a serious one. And yes, the board has every year recently paid claims as a result of harm from environmental tobacco smoke.
K. Krueger: And I accept that from the minister, that every injury is a serious one. But I've been told by the Workers Compensation Board that they have never paid a claim for long-term disability relating to secondhand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke. They've never paid a claim for heart attack, for cancer, for loss of life -- the sorts of things that I assumed they would have paid, because I believe that this stuff is really detrimental to people's health and hurts people and kills them in fact. So I thought they would be able to tell me they've paid quite a few. But what I was told, and I checked a number of times, was that they've paid some claims for relatively short-term disabilities, generally upper respiratory ailments, but they've never paid one for a heart attack or cancer. But they were looking at a couple, when I spoke with them most recently.
Yet people in workplaces in British Columbia have been exposed to this hazard for as long as our society has been around, for much longer than the Workers Compensation Board has been around. So, clearly, the premise by which WCB presumed to have the right to get involved in this loss prevention initiative is that environmental tobacco smoke, secondhand smoke, is hazardous to workers, and that's been the thrust of the promotion. And I buy that, hook, line and sinker -- that it's a hazard to people. I still do. So I can't understand why no claims have ever been paid for those very awful types of consequences, when WCB has had this responsibility for decades. What does the WCB tell the minister about that?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Well, as the member knows, this is an area in which I am passionate, as I predict he is as well. I know, from my responsibilities as Minister of Health and leading the charge on the issue of reducing tobacco use because of the harmful effects -- well, the former minister did as well -- that new medical evidence emerges yearly. And of course, in this area of damage done as a result of ETS, one, first of all, has to have a claim, and that claim has to be based on medical evidence. I actually would predict, with great sorrow, that claims will increase as medical evidence emerges and is uncontested, as well, about the link between environmental tobacco smoke and long-term harmful health effects.
K. Krueger: Well, I expect so too. And I am shocked -- and I think the minister probably is too -- that none of that severity of claim has been paid thus far. I'd like the board to tell the minister whether any such claims have been presented and if they were denied.
One of the complaints I frequently hear, in my Labour critic responsibilities and as a constituency MLA -- and so do all my colleagues -- is that when WCB gets a claim, it ferrets out the details of the claimant's past life. And if the WCB can come up with anything at all to suggest that something that happened to this individual caused the injury or the illness -- in their home, in their recreation, in their background, anywhere, anything at all -- WCB uses that as its reason not to pay the claim.
People are very frustrated about that; they just hate it in fact. A lot of people have said to me: "We don't believe the WCB will ever pay a claim like that, because just about everybody has been exposed to environmental tobacco smoke in social settings." There was such ignorance around this subject not long ago. People had secondhand smoke in their homes. Maybe their spouse smoked; maybe they're a smoker themselves presently or were at some time in the past. Maybe their
[ Page 16842 ]
dad or their mom smoked, or somebody in their home; or they lived in a dorm at university and the other students smoked there.
People believe that if the WCB can find any pretext at all from a person's past to suggest that they were exposed to secondhand smoke -- even though the medical experts say that secondhand smoke has caused the illness or the fatality -- WCB will deny the claim. And I'd like to know what the WCB says about that, on the record, and also whether they've ever denied a claim.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I think how we should probably accept the comments of the member is as a precautionary note to the WCB that, as these claims emerge, the WCB should try to prevent what has been past practice -- or what are the allegations of past practice -- which is to reject the claims based on what the member alleges. And the WCB should take the precautionary note that these health issues are emerging as we speak, with a ferocity, I would say.
I mean, it's only recently, in the last month, in the United States that the litigation has occurred where the link has been made and accepted by the courts. I think probably what the member is cautioning the board on is that people shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel each time a claim is put forward. Indeed, if claims have been made in the past and rejected, those should be reviewed now. I think the board has informed me that such is taking place.
K. Krueger: The minister didn't quite finish that answer. Does that mean that claims have been denied for serious health problems arising out of secondhand smoke exposure?
Hon. J. MacPhail: Sorry, the claims were made in the past and rejected and are now being reviewed, based on new medical evidence. There's not many, but we'll get that information for you.
K. Krueger: That's clearly a win if we're going to have a really serious second look at such cases, and it may well be fair. I mean, if a person has been a chain smoker all their life, they can hardly blame it on their employer if they also had customers and colleagues who smoked in the workplace. The fact that the WCB has never paid any of those very severe claims has given people everywhere in B.C. legitimate reason to question what standing the WCB felt it had to launch this as a loss prevention initiative.
The question is asked of me repeatedly: don't I believe that the government actually ordered the WCB to launch the smoking ban in the way that it did and in the timing that it did? So that's my question: was this initiative launched at the order of this government?
Hon. J. MacPhail: It would be expedient for me on behalf of my government to claim credit for proceeding on this matter. I would love to be able to make that claim, but fortunately for workers and unfortunately for our government being able to claim credit, this was aggressively pursued as a regulatory change by the stakeholders when the regulatory review of the WCB took place in the mid-1990s -- aggressively pursued.
I think the reason for that is that the evidence began to emerge very quickly -- and eventually became overwhelming evidence -- of the link between ETS and illness and injury. It is an area where the board has taken proactive action to reduce future claims, because the evidence is there now, and the circumstances that create the problem remain. So the regulatory change is proactive and based on prevention of illness and also reducing the cost of claims if they do occur.
K. Krueger: What the hospitality industry argued throughout the term of the smoking ban in the first quarter of this year was that they had essentially been tricked. When there were those public hearings on this subject -- in 1995, I believe -- they were assured that they would have an exemption. And of course, they did get an exemption when other workplaces did experience a smoking ban. So they didn't show up at the hearings. They felt they had no need to make presentations since they were going to have an exemption.
Somebody sneaked in a sunset clause, which of course took effect January 1, 2000, and killed their exemption and subjected them to the smoking ban. A number of people in the hospitality industry believe it was this minister, with her aforestated passion about the tobacco business.
I wonder if the minister could tell us: did it happen that way? Was it her? Who made the decision to impose a sunset clause and terminate the exemption effective January 1?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I actually hadn't heard that accusation made. Yes, I am passionate about it, but I had absolutely no influence over the board. I wasn't even in cabinet. Maybe I should
The board, the panel of administrators, made the decision around the sunset clause in the regulation, which is in their jurisdiction to do. But I think it's fair to say that we need to move on with this issue. The WCB panel of administrators accepted the court decision. The court decision was clear. It was unequivocal about what future action had to be taken by the WCB. The panel of administrators did not appeal that decision and have moved forward in what I would say is a substantially expeditious fashion, given my experience with public consultation.
I also am sensitive to the industry concerns as Minister of Finance. I was very sensitive to the concerns of the hospitality industry. I think it's safe to say that the consultation this time around is over a different regulation and has been very open and transparent. I also might say that the nature of the consultation this time around is much broader than last time, not necessarily to the benefit of one side or the other, because both sides, who passionately held views on this issue, were out in full force at the public hearings.
K. Krueger: I do want to talk about the new round of hearings. One unhappiness that has been widely expressed is the limited scope of the hearings as far as the locations. For example, in the Peace River country, people were actually trying to lead a bit of a mutiny, a secession from British Columbia over this issue, feeling it was the straw that broke that camel's back. I'd hate to see that happen. I grew up in Dawson Creek, and I trust it never would happen. But they were very angry about it up there.
It is a very different proposition for a country that experiences that kind of winter -- from Victoria or even Vancouver. If you're not allowed to smoke inside, it's too darn cold to smoke outside. So people did feel that they might as well just stay away from hospitality venues if they were going to
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enforce the ban, and there was a dramatic effect on those venues -- either that or they broke the law, and British Columbians aren't happy about that. We'll talk about that a little bit later.
In the meantime I have my expert, the accountant, the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, and she has a couple of questions around the cost experienced by the board and the province of having had the unsuccessful attempt at a ban for the first quarter of 2000.
I. Chong: I thank the critic for allowing me to ask some questions -- not very many. I was just curious in reviewing the statistics provided to us that as at February 29, 2000, there had been a number of firms that received inspections, and penalty action had been initiated against 41 of these firms, with more cases under consideration.
But also noteworthy is the fact that there have been penalties assessed, penalties ranging from $3,500 to $13,500. First of all, I'm curious as to the amount that has been collected in penalties. Secondly, with this court case and ruling that has come about, would those penalties then be subject to refund to these firms that have been assessed? Or what is the situation?
Hon. J. MacPhail: There was only one penalty hearing throughout the course, and the penalty was not enforced. So there were no penalties, hence no collections.
I. Chong: So for clarification, there have been no penalty amounts collected, even though I know from the documents that were provided to us that notices were sent. But nothing has been collected. If that's correct
However, I would also just get a general idea as to the volume of the dollars involved, in terms of the notices that were sent. If they were to be collected, what kind of dollars would we have been looking at in these two months? Does the staff have that information available?
Hon. J. MacPhail: We don't have that information. I'd be interested to know the purpose of the board spending the time getting that information, but if it's needed, we'll get it. A hypothetical question about what could have been collected if the board had decided to collect it
I. Chong: It's not so much a hypothetical question, because if the court case had not been successful and these notices had been sent out, the understanding is that these amounts would have been collected. Then, having seen these amounts collected, it would provide us with another basis to compare the amounts, or the cost, of enforcement versus the cost of the penalties or the amounts of the penalty that have been imposed.
That's really the basis of my question. It's not requiring staff to spend more time or work gathering this information. If notices had been sent out -- which, I understand, range from $3,500 to $13,500 -- then there certainly must be a list somewhere. The fact that they are not being collected is fine. I'm just trying to establish what could have been the cost of enforcement.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Well, again, we don't have it. But I guess what's troubling to me is the thoughtless principle of implying that somehow this is a cost-benefit analysis that's separate and apart from what the purpose of this regulation is, which is to protect workers' health and to change behaviour.
I. Chong: I'm sorry the minister misunderstands, because I'm not trying to look at a cost-benefit relationship. I am trying to just compare the costs of enforcement and the penalties received and also, therefore, to have a basis for comparisons in future years where we see, under the expenses of the operations, that there is an expenditure for prevention which deals with expenditures of enforcement. It's not to suggest that if the costs rise in order to ensure that enforcement is maintained, we wouldn't continue to maintain that kind of enforcement. It's just to get an idea of who is measuring particular outcomes, if there are going to be those kinds of outcomes, but not to compare the cost of penalizing versus the benefit to be gained.
I think the critic has made it very clear that members on this side of the House support, in principle the fact that we want to protect workers in the workplace. I'm asking that question solely for that reason. If the minister is saying that she hasn't got that information and that it would be too difficult to get that information, then fine, I'll accept that answer. I'm not trying to put anything more into it than that.
K. Krueger: We are going to have to overlap with WCB estimates into tomorrow's session. So presumably, after question period for a while, I wish to cover a number of other issues, including the loss-avoidance initiative and some other serious worker issues in various industries that I'd like to see WCB address with the zeal it has gone after the smoking ban with. So we're going to have at least another hour of WCB estimates tomorrow.
If the minister would like, I'll move that we rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 8:52 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. MacPhail moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 8:54 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
The House in Committee of Supply A; D. Streifel in the chair.
The committee met at 2:40 p.m.
[ Page 16844 ]
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY FOR CHILDREN
On vote 22: ministry operations, $1,500,955,000 (continued).
C. Clark: I want to follow up very briefly on my colleague from Shuswap's questions about the Sims case up in the Shuswap. I know that the director will be responding to the children's commissioner's report on July 5. I understand, though, that in the period between when the report is issued by the children's commissioner and the response that comes from the director some action needs to be taken by the ministry. I'd like to ask the minister just to confirm that her ministry has been taking some action to address the concerns that were raised by the Children's Commission tribunal in the report on the Sims case.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The answer is yes. Discussions have been going on between the children's commissioner and the band at this time -- no details on what those discussions have led to.
C. Clark: Isn't there also some duty incumbent on the ministry to take some action as well during this period? Or am I misinformed about the way the act should be working?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The ministry social workers, as I've mentioned in the discussions that have been going on, have been working with the band on some of the issues that have been raised. They will report out to the commissioner, who will then make a determination as to whether that action was adequate.
C. Clark: Can the minister advise whether the ministry has taken any action or made any contact with the former foster family for the baby?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The process is that the foster family is in fact a party to the process, as the member knows, and as such will receive all information when the reports are produced. That's part of the process, as I understand it.
C. Clark: I think the minister misunderstood my question. I understand that the former foster family will be kept informed. My question is, though: can the minister advise whether they have been involved in the ministry's attempt that I'm assuming is being currently made, in this 60-day period, to try and mend the breach of rights that the Children's Commission may or may not have found in its report?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: My information is that, yes, the former foster family will be contacted as early as next week for a discussion about new information that they may have. That will feed into, then, a risk assessment process, to explain what the risk assessment process will be about and for their, I presume, participation in a new risk assessment.
C. Clark: Isn't that what the 60 days is for? The Children's Commission tribunal comes out with a report. They make recommendations, which I haven't seen; I don't know what they are. Then in the 60-day period, in which the director of child protection has an opportunity to respond, presumably the ministry makes some attempt to try and address the concerns that were raised in the report. The reason I'm asking this question is because, if the ministry hasn't contacted the former foster family about doing any risk assessment or any forward planning until 59 days or 58 days after the report was produced, it seems to me that the ministry is not doing due diligence. I wonder if the minister would agree.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The children's commissioner orders and recommendations said that a risk assessment needed to be completed, and the process of doing that is winding down. So that risk assessment is happening. For Ms. Sims's role in all of this, we need to check with her to find out if there is more new information apart from what she already has provided to the tribunal, so she has been in contact and has provided the information that she has. I understand that she has not in fact been in contact with for two years in this process.
When the director and this process on risk assessment reports out next week, which is July 5, it will then be up to the Children's Commission to decide whether that response and the work that we've done in the 60 days -- the risk assessment process and all of that -- is indeed adequate.
C. Clark: So the ministry didn't feel any need to gather any additional information from the Sims during this whole 60-day process. After seeing the Children's Commission tribunal's comments on its actions, it saw no need to gather any additional information from Ms. Sims at all. Is that correct?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Ms. Sims may have some new information, but there were a lot of other pieces to this question that needed be addressed and needed to be met with and that have had contact with the child in question. That information needed to be collated before the ministry could then have the conversation around the risk assessment with Ms. Sims, to see if since the tribunal report, which was relatively recent, she had new information that would help with the final comments that are going to be made and sent through to the commissioner.
C. Clark: So who has the ministry been relying on for information about this when compiling their risk assessment and their response to the Children's Commission tribunal's comments? Has it been just the child and the band in question?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Other professionals and folks related to this case included the parents, day care workers, a nurse and the band social workers.
C. Clark: But not the foster family and not the foster family's immediate circle, I understand. It sounds a little bit familiar, doesn't it? Has the ministry been in discussion with other aboriginal bands about the contents of the tribunal's decision in the Sims case?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: No, the issues are specific to this case. As the member knows, the body at this stage
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done the work that is necessary to be done, and the reporting-out process will happen in due course. It is, as I remind the member, a quasi-judicial body. We've worked on the parts of it that needed to be done as we've seen it, and we'll proceed with that. There have been no discussions with any other bands; it's not part of the process.
G. Abbott: Is it the minister's understanding that the tribunal's report and recommendations will bring about a resolution of the sometimes complex jurisdictional issues around the baby Faith case?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The children's commissioner will make the comment on the adequacy of the response. At this point there are no jurisdictional issues likely to be brought forward. But the commission's report is the commission's report, and we'll hear it when it happens.
The Chair: The hon. member for Abbotsford on vote 22.
J. van Dongen: Hon. Chair, I just have a few questions for the minister, and a few comments, starting first of all with the funding issues. From my perspective, there are two issues. There's the issue of general operating funds for the region, and there's the issue of funding for specialized services for special needs children. I'll deal with the last one first.
Certainly I'm aware that there's $6 million in additional funds that have been allocated, and it's under review in terms of how it will be allocated. I just want to simply underscore what I've said to the minister by letter: the population pressures that we face in our region are very, very significant. We've seen, in a ten-year period of time, a 57 percent increase in general population in our region and virtually no increase in funding in terms of the special needs services. I just want to put our concern on the record and maybe give the minister an opportunity to update us on the status of the discussions on the $6 million.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I appreciate the question. There's no question that the upper Fraser as the member has mentioned, is feeling that population increase, as are the services that are delivered there. Indeed, $6 million for new funding for special needs wait-lists is specifically targeting therapies, supported child care and the infant development program. The allocation method will be a socioeconomic model that will consider demographics as well as existing service levels. Given the increase in the population in the upper Fraser, it's expected that the region will indeed benefit from this allocation formula. It's expected that the Fraser Valley Child Development Centre may well be the primary receiver of the new funding.
J. van Dongen: I'm not sure what is meant by socioeconomic and demographic, but I'll accept the minister's answer. I think she knows our concerns.
On the issue of general operating funds within this ministry for the region, certainly in other ministries in other services, whether it's health care or the Attorney General ministry, we have seen severe pressures from this increase in population. I'm wondering if the minister and the Ministry for Children and Families are looking at those issues. If we assume there's X amount of dollars, are we allocating the dollars in such a way that it recognizes
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Essentially the answer is yes.
J. van Dongen: Could the minister elaborate in just a little bit of detail how that is taken into account -- the population increases -- on general funding?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: First of all, the population analysis will include an age group, zero to 64, and then go through the indicators that are used in socioeconomic models, which deal with issues like infant mortality, the number of income assistance families that are there, the general health indicators that a community may have. Those have all been identified at another level of research; that's all available. And all of those get put together into a formula to determine the allocation for the additional dollars. The base dollars there already in that community and in others will stay. It's the additional dollars that will then be allocated on that kind of basis. In other words, it looks like need is where we're going.
J. van Dongen: I have two cases that I wanted to make reference to. I find it difficult to do caseworks in estimates, but I wanted to mention these two cases. Both have been longstanding files in our office. The one case bears a striking similarity to the recent high-profile case that was in the newspaper, involving the removal of children. In this case it started in 1993. These two children were placed in a home in '91 and were removed in 1993 due to allegations of abuse. These people have a continuing concern about what happened to their reputation, and they have a continuing concern about the two children involved. They had tried to adopt those children or had started adoption proceedings in 1993.
These people have continued to seek reviews and have had a lot of reviews. They have gone to court. They've expended significant dollars on trying to review the situation. There have been, in the past year, ongoing discussions and mediation with the director, which I appreciate.
When the children's commissioner's report on this other high-profile case was tabled recently, immediately these people were on the phone seeking a similar review of their case. I want to inform the minister and the ministry of the request that they have. They're out of the country right now, but they will certainly be pursuing their situation.
I'm wondering if the minister could tell me if it's open to the ministry and/or the director to refer such a case to the Children's Commission for a review of the process that's happened to date.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes, I appreciate the sense of history that is involved around this particular case. I understand that the family went to the children's commissioner. It was recommended to them that their first step should be through the complaints process and then whatever happens after that.
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The other thing I was going to recommend was that the member bring the information through to my office. Then we can work on it at a different level and perhaps find the points where we can help out with information and otherwise.
J. van Dongen: I think that's a good approach, and certainly I will take the minister up on that offer.
Similarly, I have one other case that involved a 15-year-old ADHD boy and parents who have worked very hard to work with the ministry. We've worked on that case for about a year and a half. The parents would very much like to place this
They're raising certain questions again that I think are legitimate. They have had an interest in placing this child with a satellite agency. I think there's been some difficulty in terms of the policy direction that the ministry has been pursuing in terms of satellite agencies. Again, hon. Chair, I would just like to get the minister's consideration of possibly reviewing the specifics of this case through her office and see if there's a way that we can deal with it a little more effectively than what's happening right now.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Rather than go through more of the details here, I would like to make the same offer I made on the previous case that the member has: send it down to the office or come around, and we'll work through some of the issues that are involved in the particular case, as there is some information around.
J. van Dongen: I just want to say to the minister that, particularly in this ministry, I consider it very important to give unconditional support to the staff, to the front-line workers and the senior staff dealing with these issues. In our office we will continue to do that. I consider it very important that where we disagree in terms of our analysis of cases -- and we do very detailed analyses before we come to the ministry with our views -- we certainly appreciate being able to work cooperatively on these cases.
The Chair: The hon. member for Parksville-Qualicum on vote 22.
J. Reid: Mr. Chair, I have a question with regards to extended care-eligible adults in community living services for youth turning 19. There are about six or more cases, in the Central Vancouver Island region, of disabled people who have turned 19. There was a policy out last June suggesting that these people were going to be under the Ministry of Health. However, nothing has been formally set up with the Ministry of Health, and now they're falling through the cracks. Could the minister let me know who is responsible for these very disabled youth who are in full-time care, and whose responsibility that is?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Thank you for the question. It is indeed an ongoing issue of that transition time for those severely disabled. We have two processes entrained to try to resolve the issues and come to grips with the situation and with the issues. First of all there is a community living provincial table, where all the stakeholders meet to have discussions about these kinds of issues, particularly for those multi-disabled folk. So we've got all the stakeholders there, who have some views and present some views and make recommendations. As well, there is an associate deputy minister level within the government between Health and the Ministry for Children and Families to deal with case-specific issues.
There's no doubt that we don't have enough of the right kinds of facilities yet. Some are in place. They are eligible for extended care benefits. But extended care facilities are not appropriate, in most instances, when they're as young as they are; that's clearly one of the issues. It depends on health issues and resource issues. We're still working through a better program.
J. Reid: Which ministry is responsible for funding the care of these people?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: There are two entities, and they are both involved, depending on the nature of the individual situation. Children and Families is involved with the adult community living sector and the folks who are part of that. If there are severe health issues and a lot of health issues, then Health is involved. All are eligible for long term care benefits. We work very closely with Health at this level for this particular group in our population. We're working very closely together to make sure that we respond appropriately and that we have the appropriate resources in place.
J. Reid: Then there seems to be an awful lot of confusion. Just as the minister has explained, there are two ministries involved in the care. On the staff level there seems to be confusion where to draw that line.
In my constituency some cases were told that the Ministry of Health should be responsible. The Ministry of Health at the local board level said that they could only fund beds, that it was not suitable that these people be put into beds and that there was no mechanism in place for funding to be transferred from one ministry to the other for care of these. The Ministry of Health couldn't help them. Children and Families said it was no longer their responsibility. As much as it sounds good that there are two ministries looking after these people, actually there's none.
Would the minister express to me where she would like these people to go for help, in particular since the staff of the Ministry for Children and Families doesn't have any idea where to send these people for help? Would she explain, on the record, exactly where these people should go to get the help they need and the assurance they need that their funding isn't just going to be cut off?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Hon. member, it's my understanding that if an individual family comes to Children and Families, they are fully aware of how the process ought to work. If it doesn't work and if cases can't be resolved, then that case should be coming to the ADMs' level. Now, at the same time, at the local level where you and I work sometimes, the local health authority is indeed involved. If they aren't, then sometimes it gets to be the ADMs' group which then says to the health authority: "This is where you ought to be going, however you work out the resources that are appropriate in each situation."
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If there's a particular case, then, as I have said to your colleagues, I'd be happy to help with the process, if snags have occurred through your office. But that's my understanding.
The Chair: The hon. member for Vancouver-Quilchena on vote 22.
C. Hansen: Hon. Chair, I followed that discussion with interest, regarding individuals with severe physical disabilities.
I want to talk a bit about adolescent mental health, and I also want to talk about drugs and alcohol. The minister was on the "Rafe Mair Show" on CKNW on April 28. At that point she made a comment that adolescent mental health fell under the Ministry of Health. I trust that she has since learned that it's part of her ministry and her responsibility. It's an area where I think there is lots of room for improvement.
Certainly one of the biggest areas of concern is the transition that young British Columbians go through when they shift from being a responsibility of the Ministry for Children and Families to the Ministry of Health. My colleague was talking about somebody with severe physical disabilities, and certainly that is difficult enough. But if you look at a young individual facing a psychosis, that is a very critical time of their life, perhaps shortly after diagnosis, at a time when they really have an opportunity, if properly cared for and put into the proper kind of treatment, to lead normal lives and be productive citizens. So that age from 18 to 20 is of critical importance to them.
I wanted to read some excerpts from a letter that was sent to me by a psychiatrist who does a lot of work with adolescents in British Columbia. I'll just quote this, and then I'd welcome the minister's response to it: "Whereas before there used to be a group of civil servants who strongly advocated within the Ministry of Health for such services" -- services for adolescent mental health patients -- "there is no one identified currently as being responsible for these services." I think that when the minister was talking earlier about the multiplicity of individuals who have to get involved in the life of somebody with a physical handicap, you certainly
I go on to quote:
I'm just wondering if the minister could comment on that.
"The result of moving children's mental health to MCF has been nothing short of a disaster. Children's mental health programs, which once were co-located with services for adults, have been moved to different offices entirely. An entirely new bureaucracy has been set up and, I might add, a bureaucracy that has no past record of skills in terms of delivering clinical services. To make matters worse, MCF has recently had a major budget cut, such that mental health services for children and youth have been downsized, whereas other health services are receiving addition funding.
"The school boards around British Columbia have also had a major part in providing mental health services for children and youth. Faced with tight budgets, however, school boards are getting out of the business of providing such services to their students. By example, a Vancouver school board has recently reduced its complement of psychologists from 24 to eight. It is now virtually impossible for children to receive psycho-educational testing with anything under a two-year wait-list.
"In brief, the funding and the responsibility for children's mental health has been diffused between three ministries. This has destabilized the programs and resulted in significant funding reductions in a broad spectrum of mental health for children and youth."
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I welcome the comments made by the hon. member, and the letter. I accept too that adolescent mental health is indeed in this ministry, although hospitalization as such is with the Ministry of Health. I know the member's more aware of that, probably, than I.
One of the things that the member should know and probably knows is that we have put some new clinical staff in place throughout the province. We have 16 new mental health direct-line workers. There are 11 new mental health clinical consultants. We have put in place a health advisory committee of professionals in the field, a number of whom are psychologists and psychiatrists who are part of that. Also within the ministry, early identification plans are in place. We're also developing a youth and young adults plan on mental illness, a mental health plan to complement the Ministry of Health mental health plan that is here.
We also have quite a lot of information -- the member may have some of this; I don't want to read it all into the record now, but I'd be happy to share it with the member -- on some of the issues of initiative updates on suicide risk prevention and intervention strategies. There's an update on early psychosis, early identification -- again, intervention initiatives -- an update on the deaf mental health services and a number of others. And as I mentioned earlier, there's the development of the child and youth mental health plan.
These are all part of the new initiatives and ongoing work in the ministry in order to do what, as we know, is important -- that is, to be able to respond adequately, appropriately, to young people who have mental illness.
C. Hansen: Could the minister tell us when we might expect the completion of the child and youth mental health plan?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: September.
C. Hansen: There is a very tragic case that took place in Victoria two years ago, where a young man by the name of Shawn Arsenault, who was suffering from mental illness, was in care at Eric Martin and left that care. I guess that he tragically committed suicide.
The coroner's report came out with several specific recommendations to be addressed by the provincial government. The four specific recommendations that came out were: first of all, a review of hospitalization at Eric Martin Pavilion; that the Eric Martin Pavilion provide an improved system to notify families; that they establish a time frame by which a patient under the age of 19 can be missing without action being taken; and a review to be undertaken to increase the number of facilities in the capital health region to which patients under the age of 19 years can be admitted, such as the Jack Ledger House. I'm wondering if the minister can tell us what actions have been taken on these recommendations.
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Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We'll have to get back to you on those issues. I'm sorry; we don't have the information with us just at hand on that particular case. But we'll be happy to get back to you on it.
C. Hansen: I think in a general sense that it certainly underscores the inadequate facilities that are available for the treatment of youth who are suffering from mental illness. I know that's an area that the minister had mentioned earlier, but certainly it's an area that there is need for a considerable amount of work to be done. Also, I think it's evident that this is a problem that's been going on for some time, when you realize that this incident took place over a year ago.
In the area of adult mental health, there is a fair amount of evaluation work that is done and increasing. I think that's something everybody welcomes, because it allows us to measure the results of programs so that we can actually see how some regions are faring compared to others when it comes to the treatment and care of those who are suffering from mental illnesses. There's a very good organization at UBC called the Mental Health Evaluation and Community Consultation Unit, which has been doing some of this work.
It's my understanding that nobody is doing that kind of evaluation work in the area of adolescent and youth mental health. I'm wondering if the minister can tell us if there is any work being done to put in place that kind of evaluation.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The member may be aware that MCF funds the centre at UBC, the Suicide Prevention Information and Resource Centre. To that end we have hired a psychiatrist, who is going to be working closely with that group and with us on evaluations and on best practice, which will be a piece of the plan that will be forthcoming in September.
C. Hansen: The track record on the adult mental health plan is certainly not one that the government can be very proud of, given that it was announced two and a half years ago. It was supposed to be a seven-year plan with $125 million, of which we have only seen less than $15 million of that flow over the three fiscal years involved. I trust that the youth mental health plan will have attached to it an implementation plan and some specifics in terms of the time line that individual people can expect that particular plan to unfold, unlike the experience we've gone through in terms of the mental health plan at the Ministry of Health level.
I want to move on to some drug and alcohol issues. Actually, if I can start by quoting another sentence or two from this letter that I received from the psychiatrist, he writes:
I know that there is a program in the Vancouver-Richmond area to contract alcohol and drug services to the Vancouver-Richmond health board for implementation.
"On a related issue, I wish to advise you that drug and alcohol treatment services for children and youth in this province are remarkably inadequate. Again, part of the blame for the situation is that drug and alcohol programs have been orphaned to various ministries over the years."
I'm wondering if the minister can tell us whether that is a model that will be implemented in other parts of the province and, specifically, what is being done in the area of children and youth services in terms of drug and alcohol addictions.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: As the member pointed out, the Vancouver-Richmond health board is undertaking for the ministry the services provided for children and some adult services, to the tune of about $8.2 million. I understand that between seven and eight other health boards are under contract services to provide the same services, and we know that that's being asked for by other health services. I have a great long list of the kinds of contracts that we have for addiction services with various regional health boards, health authorities. If the member would like all that, I've got some of that -- okay?
A Voice: The member was interested in the youth beds.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The youth beds? All right. Well, how many have we got here? We've got a total of 75 beds that were first announced. We have permanent services, in place of 72 beds and nine spaces, if I'm reading these numbers correctly. As of March 30 -- so there's been an increase -- there was a total of 52 beds and nine spaces operational in the form of interim and permanent services. Again, here's a list of the communities: Cranbrook, Kamloops, Williams Lake, Fort Nelson, Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Terrace, Surrey, Maple Ridge, New Westminster, Burnaby, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Victoria. I've got numbers attached to each one of those centres.
C. Hansen: I want to talk specifically about Terrace. Terrace is one of the communities that the minister just mentioned as having new youth beds in place. My understanding is that the beds are in place, but there's nobody there. This is a facility that was purchased with money from the ministry; it was purchased in April. They took immediate occupancy of the building that they had purchased at a cost of $178,000. I am told that the Ministry for Children and Families awarded a one-year contract to this organization, worth $875,000, to set up what they referred to as a pilot project in Terrace. The six-bed facility was for rehab detox of youth aged 12 to 18. Since April 1 this facility has been staffed and working seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with no clients. They do not have their licence to operate from the community care licensing office.
I'm wondering if the minister could tell us how we wind up getting into a situation where a contract is awarded for $875,000, a facility is purchased, it's fully staffed, and yet they're not in a position to provide any care or any treatment for the youths that were supposed to be cared for in this facility.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The latest information: the Terrace and District Community Services Society is, as the member knows, the service provider. An interim operating licence for two of the six beds in the facility was issued June 20. The full licence is expected on July 19. No youth have been admitted to the beds, as community members continue to have difficulty with the location of this facility, the service. And there are some pickets around the outside of the facility.
C. Hansen: Does the ministry have a policy with regard to community consultation and consultation with the local municipal government with regard to setting up a facility such as this?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes, it is a policy to consult with all necessary community, particularly the neighbours and the
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city council. I gather that prior to purchasing the home, the society communicated their intentions to the immediate neighbours and held a series of four community meetings to describe their program and respond to neighbours' concerns. After purchasing the house on April 1, specific location knowledge of the program became widespread, and a number of neighbours objected to the location.
Representations to relocate the program have been made to Terrace city council and to the ministry it's going ahead.
C. Hansen: I think the concern and the reason that there is as much anger as there is in Terrace over this issue today is because there was not consultation. The neighbourhood did not feel that they were consulted and didn't even know this was happening until several weeks after the building was purchased and the staff had moved in.
I want to quote to the minister from the Terrace Standard of May 3. It's referring to the program coordinator, Jeanette Anderson, who is the program coordinator for the Terrace and District Community Services Society. I'll read two paragraphs here:
"What's more, she said the Children and Families minister asked her to keep quiet about the centre until an official ribbon-cutting ceremony was scheduled. That's supposed to happen this week.
" 'The ministry gave me a gag order,' said Anderson. 'I was not allowed to talk.' "
Can the minister tell us why instructions of that nature would be given?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: My information is that there was no gag order. There are protocols about the opening of new services and how that unfolds. We understood that that was all well understood, about how the opening of this facility and the new service and the new program would unfold. We understood that that was accepted and pretty clear. I don't know what happened after that. It's too bad.
C. Hansen: Given that there was an allocation of $875,000 for this service to be provided for this fiscal year, has the amount that will flow from the ministry already flowed? Or will it flow only for those months that they are actually providing a service to the community?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The moneys would be paid out on a monthly basis. Obviously some startup funds have been provided in order to purchase the building and indeed to begin training and getting equipment organized that needs to be there. Because it's a new service, it would get audited within approximately six months to make sure that the plan is unfolding as it is supposed to be. From thereon, if the service hasn't been provided, then they are asked to refund any dollars that are over and above what they should have been spending money on for the service.
C. Hansen: But given that this facility has been fully staffed since April 1 or shortly after April 1 when they purchased the facility, my understanding is that this facility has been fully staffed, and yet they've had no clients. Are the taxpayers of British Columbia paying for that staff to be there when there are no clients, and they don't even have their licence to operate yet?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We don't have the specific information about how that's been worked out. We will get back to the member on that piece of that contract. We have many contracts around this province, as the member knows.
B. Barisoff: A subject that I want to touch on, of course, is the Victoria Creek Youth Ranch. It was an issue I raised in estimates last year that got extensive coverage on what took place there. I'm not about to go back over the entire scenario of what took place in the Victoria Creek Youth Ranch. I guess my question to the minister is whether she will review the case of what took place in the Victoria Creek Youth Ranch and get back to myself with a summary report on the exact reasonings and what took place and why it took place. And what's being offered in the community right now to accommodate some of the young people in trouble who were serviced by that ranch?
As the minister knows, I indicated to her last week about the community support that Victoria Creek Youth Ranch got not only from the mayor, from the RCMP, from the school district, from myself, from the ministerial association. The list goes on and on. I wouldn't be doing my duties if I didn't stand up here and ask, considering that it's a new minister, whether you would look into it. Or maybe you have looked into it. Could you give me some comment on what's taking place?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: This was widely and significantly canvassed last year, in last year's estimates. I have been privy to the documentation and the nature of the discussion and the debate that went on. My understanding is that the decision to close Victoria Creek Youth Ranch was based on a protocol investigation. At this point I have no intention of reopening all of that and going through it all again.
In the meantime, services are being provided in a different kind of way, under a different model. The funds that were spent there have been reallocated to the new model. So we have, in the South Okanagan, opened two treatment beds, created a life skills program for youth and added seven new foster homes in the Oliver area. That's some of the way in which the service is now being provided.
B. Barisoff: Could the minister indicate to me how
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The member knows that the new program is called ARC and ARC House, but it is not a direct replacement for the Victoria Creek Youth Ranch. As I mentioned earlier, seven new foster homes have been opened in the Oliver area. They are funded at the equivalent rates as the ranch.
ARC provides a high-level treatment resource. Two beds are funded at a specific sum, and there is an additional amount of money for transitional workers to work in the transition of youth to foster care settings. The specifics are up
[ Page 16850 ]
to five level 2 and 3 beds, if that's helpful. The model is substantially different from that provided by the ranch. It was a level 3 foster home, with extra funding for staff support for life skills development. This is quite a different model and seemed to be what was needed in the area.
B. Barisoff: My question is on the last comment that the minister made when she said that it "seemed to be what was needed in the area." In my opening statement I said to the minister that the local mayor, the local RCMP, the ministerial association, the local school district and numbers and numbers of residents all sent letters and did whatever. They indicated to me that what was needed in the South Okanagan was the type of facility that the Victoria Creek Youth Ranch offered. Now, I wonder in my own mind about the comment that this is what we felt was needed: who, outside of the community? When I look inside the community, it is saying: "That's not what we needed."
It is also my understanding that some of these young people that are troubled youth are actually placed in motel rooms. Would the minister confirm or deny that that's actually taking place, in place of having the people at the Victoria Creek Youth Ranch?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We're not aware that that has been the case. If the member has information, obviously we'd like to hear that, although from time to time when the number of beds are full, then we need to find a space for a young person who may need some overnight residence. Clearly the numbers of people needing service have increased in the last little while, so we've obviously needed more facilities.
B. Barisoff: So the minister is telling me that any troubled youth in the South Okanagan would, at maximum, be put into a motel overnight, and that it never happens that they're put in there for a week or two weeks at a time; this hasn't happened in the South Okanagan since the Victoria Creek Youth Ranch has been closed.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Not that we're aware of.
B. Barisoff: I guess I'll go back to my initial comment, and I would appreciate the answer by the minister. The question that I had earlier was that the decision to close the Victoria Creek Youth Ranch was not a decision that was made within the local community. From all my understanding, it was not even a decision that was supported
Two things I would like to ask the minister are: again, would she indicate to me who made the decision to close the Victoria Creek Youth Ranch -- whether it was outside the community, including ministry staff? And how much is it now costing us to
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I think the member wanting the information will find it in last year's Blues or the debates that have been
B. Barisoff: I don't need to review them, because I remember quite vividly what took place. It's still my understanding that
I know that there are actually some troubled youth that still are at the ranch. I think there's one at the present time. My concern is that we've closed a facility that had total community support. I'm not saying that the other facilities don't have community support. I'd like to know what the costs are for what we've replaced the Victoria Creek Youth Ranch with, versus the costs that took place when the Victoria Creek Youth Ranch was open.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: My understanding is that the costs are the same as they were last year, which was also canvassed in and can be found in the debates from last year's estimates.
B. Barisoff: I'm not going to belabour it anymore. I feel that there's been a great injustice done there, and I know that the community feels there was a great injustice done. I guess I'll ask the minister again whether she will re-look at the file. It's her choice to say yes or no, if she wishes to do it or doesn't wish to do it. But I know from a standpoint of the entire South Okanagan community that what took place there was wrong and that we should re-look at this and re-look at what took place and see if there's anything we can do to rectify it.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Again I repeat the point I made earlier: the issue was widely, significantly, deeply canvassed in last year's estimates, and that's where the member can find the answers.
C. Clark: I'd like to take a moment to just touch on a case that's occurring in my constituency with the Ministry for Children and Families. James and Linda Cucek have a son who has a triple diagnosis of autism, schizophrenia and psychosis. I appreciate that the minister doesn't like to comment on individual cases, but I think his situation really demonstrates the problems that people face in trying to access ministry services at the front-line level.
In this case, their son, with his triple diagnosis
It's my understanding that the wait-lists in that area are the result of the fact that workers
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So I wonder if the minister can tell us what she's planning to do about wait-lists so people like the Cuceks in this region can try and avail themselves of some help for them and their very, very vulnerable son.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I appreciate the member's comments. I would very much like it if the member would be so kind as to provide my office with the details of the case, and we can review it more closely.
C. Clark: I appreciate the minister's commitment. I'd like a further commitment, though, particularly with respect to this case, because their experience with the ministry has been that there's no recognition that this boy presents a particularly complex problem to them. As I said, he's a triple diagnosis, and it's very difficult for the family. They've had no respite care. They were allotted ten hours a month of -- oh, gosh, I want to make sure I get this right -- support from the Laurel Group, and the worker, when they discovered that they weren't going to get their gas covered, refused to take the job. Since then, they've been allotted ten hours of work by a behaviour consultant, but for a child with this kind of level of complexity with his problems, that's not enough.
So the other commitment I'd like to get from the minister is that the ministry will look at this as a special case because of its complexity and try and provide the family with the extra support that's clearly warranted.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: When the member provides us with the basic information about the family and about the situation, we'll be happy to respond and look into all the pieces of it.
C. Clark: Then my request for a commitment will be for a time line. How quickly
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We'll be happy to get on it as soon as we receive the information and we have the time and we're not doing this, so that the folks who know the answers can actually go to town on the situation. We'll be happy to do that and also to share with the family, too, during that process, some of the other processes. MLAs' offices are, really, one good way, but there's also a complaint process, and there's also the children's commissioner, should that be necessary for them. But that's down the road. In the meantime, we'll be happy to review it just as soon as we can get at it.
M. de Jong: This relates to an issue
The Ratvy family has a child who has been identified as special needs -- a 14-year-old daughter, a spastic quadriplegic. She has been raised in a facility for about a dozen years. This apparently is not an uncommon situation. There are facilities that take care of special needs children.
The specific issue in this case relates to the fact that a few years ago the facility she was in was downsizing, and she was moved to a smaller facility which apparently was deemed to be better for her in terms of the care she required. Contracts were signed between the parents and the ministry with respect to the amount of money, the contribution, the parents will be making towards maintaining the child, the care of the child. In many cases, the amounts were somewhere in the neighbourhood of $100 or up to $400.
Something happened at the end of 1999. This family and others have suddenly been confronted with bills in the range, I am told, of $1,000 to $1,500 a month. That is apparently being assessed against them without the benefit of the abilities test that accompanied the original assessment, and it's causing them great hardship. I think the minister will be as disturbed as I was when I heard this. I'm not in a position to provide her with any paper documenting this, but the unspoken, or perhaps even the spoken, message was, "Well, if you can't afford it, you can take your child back" -- and a lack of sympathy for the ability of the family to provide the care the child needs at home.
A secondary message which apparently has been communicated at times goes something like this: "Okay, we understand the hardship this is going to cause you, but there is an alternative. That is to sign over custody of your child, and within the parameters of how the bureaucracy works, that will relieve you of the obligation to provide financial support." What it of course will also do is relieve the parents of any ability they have to remain a part of the decision-making process for their child.
That, broadly speaking, is the issue and the frustration that these parents are facing. And I have to say that it would strike me as being horribly unfair to a parent to confront them with that choice, where either their child can continue to have the care they have had -- which the parents are satisfied with -- but the price for doing so is to surrender custody of their child. I find that very troublesome.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: As with many of these issues, they are more complicated than we think, and we don't have the
M. de Jong: Am I correct, though, that something different occurred at the end of 1999, and that there was a decision to increase the assessment against the families? If there was, how was that communicated to those families? The impression that I am left with after having been contacted by a number of these families is that they were surprised. It all happened very quickly. If there was notice, a notification letter, that went to families in this position sometime previous, then that would be an answer to that criticism. But they were left entirely surprised by what appears to have been a fairly significant change in approach to the question of parental contribution.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I am informed that some of this discussion also happened last year in the last year's estimates.
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My understanding of the explanation is that in October of last year, or thereabouts, it was determined that the rates being charged which were described as casual, varied from case to case. There was no kind of standard approach. The determination was made that a standard approach was required, and that was put into place.
Information was circulated through some brochures in offices. But probably the families would have discovered it when they came in to renew a contract and to reapply for service. So that's probably how they learned. In some cases, I guess the fee schedule had been adjusted to respond to a more standardized form and system.
M. de Jong: Well, that's helpful. I won't belabour this point. I think it's unsatisfactory. I'm not certain what the numbers of families involved are. But I would have thought that if the decision was made in October to undertake the readjustment perhaps some attempt would have been made to contact the people who were going to be impacted, minimally, to say: "Get ready; chances are you are going to have to readjust your budgets." That apparently didn't happen. The minister indicates that the best information she has is that it's quite possible people would have discovered this when they attempted to renegotiate their deals, their care agreements. I think that largely accounts for some of the anger and frustration.
What happens, though, where those negotiations are taking place -- I think the ministry used that word, too, where they come in to "negotiate" their care agreement
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: My understanding is that it is essentially a set rate. The only case that we seem to be aware of where there was any alteration to that was one where it was not a voluntary process but a court-ordered process. The judge heard the issue and then ordered a particular kind of fee. Sounds a little like it was as much the information process and how they came to know what was to happen, as opposed to that the fees are necessarily hugely out of whack. They are maintenance-based, or at least income-based, as I understand it. The table is a federal one, and so it is not just made up by us. It's one that is used; it's in fairly common use.
M. de Jong: Does the minister agree, though, and can the ministry confirm that for some families, this has meant a dramatic increase in costs of 200, 300, 400 or even 500 percent? Let's start there, just so we can confirm that we're not talking here about an increase of $40 or $50 a month.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Well, first of all, we're shooting in the dark a bit here, because the member has some of the specific numbers of what's happened and we don't. I think that doesn't help us particularly. I think the member would acknowledge that there is a financial obligation on the part of the families, of course, and that they would want to be providing for and participating in the care of their child. The ministry picks up the significant portion of the costs of care. This is just a piece of the parental
M. de Jong: I think the parents that I have been dealing with would want me to emphasize this to the minister: they not only acknowledge but happily accept their parental responsibility and acknowledge the fact that it extends to providing financial support.
If the ministry is not in a position to do this for the minister, let me emphasize and provide her with this information: in some cases, this change that took place in October has resulted in reassessments that have dramatically increased the amount of money that families are being asked to provide as part of these care agreements.
I have two questions. What happens if a family can't make the payments? There's not much of a negotiation. We're told that there are fixed rates in accordance with some guidelines. I take it that the minister can explain specifically what those guidelines are, whether they are federal child maintenance guidelines, if that's what she's
And the one thing we didn't really get an answer to or canvass -- and I do want the minister to address this if she would or could -- is this notion that families are being told, in a situation where they deem it impossible to meet the financial obligations set out in the new arrangements, that the alternative is to sign away custody of their child. Those are the two issues that I'd like the minister to address.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I have in front of me the maintenance tables, "Base Monthly Maintenance Contribution for One Child in Care, Practice Standards." I've got the book if the member wants to see it. I gather that the member was suggesting that sometimes the payments might be in the neighbourhood of $1,000 per month. A family income of $150,000 is what the table suggests would be their income. I don't know, member, but $12,000 or $13,000 a year to contribute to the care of your child doesn't sound out of line to me.
M. de Jong: I'm not trying to get into an acrimonious debate except to canvass a difficulty that has arisen. The quickest way for us to deal with this is
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I was going to suggest earlier, as well, that I think it would be convenient for a meeting with the
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regional director to sit down and go over some of these issues with them. It's obviously been something that's been stewing about for six months, and it's time to put it all to bed. We don't need to be doing it all here. I'm pleased that it's been raised, but I think that to deal with this at the regional level is the best approach. I think that would be where it might go for further discussion. I'm happy to provide the table that I have in front of me.
The Chair: We have Chairs that move today.
M. de Jong: I could think of some Chairs that I'd like to move, but not this honourable one.
Two things to the minister. First of all, we still have not heard the minister's response to the comments and the information I have received around suggestions, apparently or allegedly being made by staff in the offices, that the means to overcome the burdens associated with these financial reassessments is to sign over custody of the child.
The other thing that these families are being told, apparently
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I would concur with the hon. member that it was regrettable if such a statement was made. It certainly isn't part of any government policy or any ministry policy to suggest that it would be an appropriate thing for any front-line worker to have said. It's unfortunate if that's what was said to them at the time. It must have been under considerable pressure of some kind.
C. Clark: I'd like to pursue another general line of questioning unrelated to issues in my constituency. My questions are with respect to the Munroe agreement that was recently signed. What is the ministry's exact costing of the total cost of the Munroe agreement to the Ministry for Children and Families over this fiscal year?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The recommendation about how much money we are to put into our budget and that Treasury Board has agreed to comes from PSEC -- approximately $135 million for Children and Families. The total amount of compensation increases and other costs total $140 million, but the rest of that belongs in several other ministries that also have community service workers on contract.
C. Clark: I just want to be clear about that. The minister is saying that $135 million will be the added cost in this year's budget for the total new costs that will be brought on by the Munroe agreement, and $140 million is the total cost to government, overall, of the Munroe agreement. Is that correct?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The $135 million is included in the $140 million. The total for the whole of the community services sector is $140 million, of which MCF's share -- the piece of that assigned to us -- is $135 million. So it's $5 million for all the other ministries that have contracts in this area and $135 million for Children and Families. This ministry has a vast number of contracts out there. It covers both union and non-union employers with service contracts from several ministries. There are five ministries.
C. Clark: What's the total cost over the life of the agreement?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: That's PSEC's responsibility.
C. Clark: All right, I'll take the answer to that as: "I don't know." How many agencies does the ministry fund that will be affected by this agreement?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We believe it's just over 700 -- both union and non-union contracts.
C. Clark: Is that an exact number?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: It would seem that the world of creating agencies is a very creative one, so our numbers are approximate. It's just over 700. Agencies come together when they apply. When a contract is made available, various groups will come together and apply for a contract. So it's a bit more fluid.
C. Clark: Many of the compensation increases are retroactive or apply in the current year, which isn't so fluid. I imagine that when the government negotiates a sectorwide collective agreement, the ministry will be able to at least tell us, if not how much it's going to cost in the future, how much it's going to cost them today.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I have a memo here to all of us, and I think what I might do, in fact, is to read it into the record:
This is a pretty important part of all this -- that is, the enormously valuable contribution that is made by these contract workers in our communities, many of whom are women, many of whom are single parents for whom this is very important work, and the importance that we all put in having trained and steady workers in the field, working for these agencies with the many clients that need services.
"The first payment of the original 122 unionized employers covered by the Munroe agreement, which includes up to two and a half years of retroactive pay, has been made." The first payment has been made. "This totalled approximately $35 million for wages and benefits. Bargaining is completed or nearing completion on approximately 100 additional collective agreements. We've not yet been told any costs associated with these agreements as they have yet to be costed by CSSEA or PSEC, but funding is in the $140 million" -- that was mentioned earlier.
"For the non-union employers, Treasury Board" -- again, on PSEC's recommendation -- "has approved an increase equivalent to a 5 percent salary lift for front-line workers and an additional increase equivalent to a 5 percent enhancement to benefits -- dental, medical, pension, etc. -- and another 5 percent lift this October. Treasury Board directed that an interministry committee develop guidelines for payment of these increases. We expect the guidelines to be finalized and approved by Treasury Board within the next couple of weeks.
"These compensation increases reflect
. . . ."
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C. Clark: So the ministry has the Munroe agreement. First of all, I should confirm that the ministry is assuming that the Munroe agreement will only apply, as it stands, to the 122 agencies that signed on originally. Is that correct?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: My understanding is that the $140 million includes the Munroe agreement for up to another approximately 100 to 150 unionized contract groups, covering the four unions: CUPE, GEU, HEU and HSA. There will be conditions under the same pattern as the Munroe agreement for those additional contracts.
C. Clark: Should I take that as an assumption on the part of the ministry that the 100 additional agencies that the minister has alluded to that didn't sign on with the original 122 will be signing on to the Munroe agreement as it stands?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Speaking quite specifically about the negotiations that are ongoing with those other groups, apart from the 122 -- the 100 to 150 groups that I mentioned -- negotiations are currently ongoing. This ministry is not involved in those negotiations. Information would have to be obtained from PSEC about where that's going.
C. Clark: Well, my question is: how does the ministry come up with its budget numbers, then? I mean, the ministry must have some knowledge, must have some way to predict what these costs are going to be. So how does the ministry determine that it's going to cost them $140 million, as opposed to $340 million or less, unless they make some assumptions about who is going to be signing on to the agreement and who isn't?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Treasury Board determines how that will work and agrees to let us have that much money in our budget to pay for those contracts.
C. Clark: So the ministry will be expecting more money from Treasury Board if the costs are greater than it's anticipated. Is that correct?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: My understanding is that Treasury Board, when it receives the numbers, will be providing this ministry with the costs to cover those agreements. At the moment, we know that $135 million is for us in this ministry at the present time. When the rest of them are finished, that allocation will be assigned to us.
C. Clark: Does the assessment of the costs include the entire cost of the Munroe agreement -- for example, the added costs that would come to an agency as a result of signing on to the Healthcare Benefit Trust? Or does it just include costs associated with the wage increases?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: All costs are fully included.
C. Clark: What would happen in a case, for example
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Treasury Board will be fully funding the contracts, as it has already said. The contracts that are concluded and those that in the midst of negotiations will be fully funded. Treasury Board will agree to let money be allocated to the ministry to pay those contracts.
C. Clark: Has the ministry anticipated that there will be additional costs for agencies if they sign on to the health benefits trust? The reason I ask that is because I would like to be assured that those additional costs will also be fully funded -- will also flow through the ministry from Treasury Board. If that's not the case, then the ministry certainly needs to be making some contingency plans. I just want to confirm that with the minister.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The answer is yes, fully funded, fully covered.
C. Clark: How will the ministry or Treasury Board -- the ministry, I suppose, would be the agency that passes on that information to Treasury Board -- make conclusions about the numbers and the exact costs for each agency as a result of the Munroe agreement?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The answer is that CSSEA is the one that holds that information and makes those calculations and then informs us. We will know what our payments are, because we will be funding, and we send out the cheques to the agencies.
C. Clark: Well, it seems to me that the ministry has a greater responsibility than just sending out the cheques every month or every year. The ministry has a responsibility to measure the standards and the outcomes for each of the agencies to see whether they're meeting the goals that the ministry and the public expect them to meet. And that should, I assume, be part of every contract that every agency signs with the ministry.
So how is it the ministry can
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The question that the member raises is, of course, a slightly different issue and is looked at in a different kind of way. It is a separate process. Measuring the outputs is part of the negotiations around the contracts, and it's part of what is contained within the sector. We negotiate the kinds of outputs that we expect to receive and that we
[ Page 16855 ]
expect the community to receive in terms of the contracts that they put together and what's contained within those contracts about expectations of how they will do their job.
C. Clark: But surely part of the ministry's duty, when it signs and sends off the cheques, is to ensure that the employees are doing what they're supposed to be doing. I mean, if you don't even know who's working for you or how many people there are working for you, how can you keep track of whether your money's being appropriately spent? After all, most of the money that gets spent by this ministry, in a people-serving ministry -- the vast, vast majority of it -- is spent on wages and benefits.
Maybe I'm going down the wrong path here. Perhaps the ministry does know how many employees there are out there in the agencies that it funds. Maybe the minister could confirm for us what that number is.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We have certain expectations about the specific deliverables from the contracts, from the agencies. We expect certain standards to be met, and those are part of the ones that are negotiated. The contracted agency will determine how and who they will use -- how many people they need -- to deliver the expectations. That information is provided to CSSEA. They know, and that's where the information is lodged. It is all subject to audit at specific intervals.
C. Clark: I should just confirm, before I go any further, the issue of the non-union contractors as well. Is the price for the non-union contractors included in the $140 million?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes.
C. Clark: So the situation as it stands is that we've got 122 employers that have signed on to the Munroe agreement, and the ministry has
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The amount of money is, as I mentioned earlier, $35 million for wages and benefits, and that includes the retroactivity.
C. Clark: And how many employees does that cover?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: CSSEA has that number. We'll be happy to get that number for the member.
C. Clark: Does the ministry even have an estimate of how much this agreement costs per employee? I assume the ministry must have some kind of a thumbnail sketch that it works from to determine how much the agreement's going to cost per employee. Is there even any picture of that in the ministry?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I have some numbers here, in terms of the residential care workers. There's also a category of non-residential care workers. With respect to the 122 agencies subject to the Munroe agreement, prior to the agreement, the average paid was $14.19 per hour. The average for non-residential care workers was $16.95 per hour. These numbers actually also appear in our special warrant debate, which happened earlier this year. These same numbers are there.
The adjustments for the residential care worker will be -- if you want all of them; there's a whole lot of numbers here: retroactive adjustment to $14.45 effective April 1, 1998; an increase of approximately 50 cents on October 1, 1999; 2 percent increase on April 1, 2000; an increase of approximately 50 cents annually on October 1 for the balance of the agreement, until a job maximum of $16.83 is reached on October 1, 2002. They were making $14.19, and by October 1, 2002, it'll be $16.83 for the residential care worker.
For the non-residential care worker
C. Clark: Can the minister at least tell us how many employees were covered by the retroactive payments that they're already making? I mean, surely the ministry must know that. If they can't look into the future and tell us how many employees this might apply to, surely the ministry will be able to tell us how many employees they've already applied it to.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The agency will provide to CSSEA the list of employees, with the calculations about the payments required for each of those employees. The ministry is advised of those calculations, and the ministry then signs an agreement with the agency. The agency's part of that is that the numbers are correct and the number of people is correct. In terms of the actual numbers, CSSEA has those actual numbers, and we'd be happy to get those from them to provide to the member.
C. Clark: I just want to be clear about what the minister's committed to provide me with. I did ask two questions there. I suppose I should apologize if I wasn't giving the minister a proper opportunity to respond.
The first question was, in general, about how many employees this applies to, and the minister said that CSSEA has those numbers. The second question I asked, though, was: how many employees has it already applied to, for the retroactive payments?
If the ministry has already made those payments and done those calculations, then I'm assuming that the agencies will have provided those calculations to the ministry already, which is something the minister says that they will do in the future. But if the ministry has at least that much information about how many employees that would apply to, I'd appreciate getting it from her today in these estimates.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: First of all, there are two parts to this answer. One is that in terms of how the agencies and employees of agencies are paid through CSSEA, the ministry is informed of, if you like, the amount of money that the
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agency requires to pay its employees. The ministry gives them that sum of money. CSSEA has made the calculations; they tell the ministry; the ministry cuts a cheque for the amount of money for all the employees. The ministry does not issue individual cheques for each individual person, because we're not their employer.
Secondly, in terms of the numbers, we understand that there are about 20,000 employees in the sector, approximately, and that about a quarter of those are part of the Munroe agreement.
C. Clark: And of the remainder, how many of those are non-union?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: About half of that 20,000 are non-union.
C. Clark: When will the non-union agencies start seeing some cheques from the ministry?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: As I mentioned earlier in the report that I read into the record, Treasury Board has directed the interministry committee to develop guidelines for the payment of these increases to the non-union employers. Once the guidelines have been approved by Treasury Board, then shortly after that the moneys will begin to flow. We're expecting those guidelines, hopefully, within a couple of weeks.
C. Clark: Is the minister confident that she'll have all the information she needs from the non-union agencies to be able to assess whether the amount of money that they're providing to each of those agencies indeed meets their needs and fulfils the new requirements -- the new financial burdens -- that are going to be put on those agencies as a result of the Munroe agreement?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The simple answer is yes.
C. Clark: How much money is that going to be? We know that there's $35 million in the budget for the 122 agencies, and we know that there's $140 million
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We don't know that number right at the moment. PSEC has some calculations to make, following the guidelines and all of that, so we'll have that number later.
C. Clark: So how did the minister come up with the figure of $140 million, if the only figure that the ministry knows they have is $35 million for the agreement that's been concluded? I mean, you've got a lot of non-union agencies out there -- a lot of non-union employees. You've known for a long time that they've been out there. The ministry has been contracting with them for a long time. How did the ministry come up with $140 million except by grabbing it out of thin air, if they don't even know how many non-union employees they're going to be providing benefits for?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Chair, I may have misspoken myself, or I may have left a wrong impression about things. The $135 million, with a total of $140 million, covers all those costs -- union and non-union -- and that has been calculated by PSEC, who have done that calculation already.
C. Clark: Sorry, that was my misunderstanding. I was the one who misspoke on that. What I will ask the minister to do, though, is break it down for me so that we can tell which part of it is
PSEC has gone out and collected all the information from these agencies, so they've told them how many employees they have. And they must have passed that on to the ministry, so the ministry must be in receipt of information with respect to how many employees there are and how many agencies there are and must be able to put a dollar figure on at least the portion of the $140 million that's going to be directed toward the 122 unionized agencies. I'll ask the minister to confirm that.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: As I mentioned, and remind the member, the portion of the 122 for unionized is $35 million. My understanding is that for the non-union sector, it's approximately $15 million.
C. Clark: So that leaves $90 million for the rest of the unionized sector that is not a party to the Munroe agreement.
I understand -- I just want to confirm before I finish this little section of it -- that the ministry is not assuming and not requiring that any unionized agency sign on to the Munroe agreement or on to the health benefits trust portion of the Munroe agreement, in order to continue to contract with the ministry. The ministry will respect the additional costs or maybe even lower costs that might be incurred when an agency signs a different collective agreement that maybe doesn't reflect any of the elements of the Munroe agreement. The ministry will respect that, will fund it and will continue to partner with the agency. I do want to get the minister's confirmation of that, because there is a fair amount of suspicion out there in the ministry's partnering community about that issue.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: In terms of the first part of the question, which had to do with what the $90 million was all about, it was about the additional payments that would be due on October 1. The Treasury Board has given us those costs; they're all in that $140 million mentioned earlier.
In terms of the second part of the question, the increased costs or the increased moneys to the non-union sector are part of the benefits. That will answer the question that the member thought she wanted to ask. They're doing much better -- much better.
C. Clark: My question was really: is the ministry going to require that unionized agencies that haven't signed on to the Munroe agreement sign something that resembles it? Or are they going to allow those agencies to sign any kind of agreement that they conclude as a result of their negotiating process?
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Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Again, that has nothing to do with us. That's PSEC and CSSEA and the negotiations that go on between them about how they do all of that and how those calculations work out. That's their task.
Part of the ministry's job is to pay the cheques to the agencies, upon having the numbers for the agencies verified and the conditions under which they're going to be providing the service.
C. Clark: I also note that PSEC is going to report to Treasury Board before December 31, 2000, on whether future increases in this contract or in the Munroe agreement are warranted. I appreciate that this isn't directly in the ministry's realm, but it certainly affects the ministry's funding. Perhaps the minister could advise whether that report has been made and what the outcome of that report has been.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: That is a PSEC question and will have to be referred to the chair of PSEC.
C. Clark: I understand it's a PSEC question, but it's also a Ministry for Children and Families question. The funding is going to have to be provided by this ministry or through this ministry, and it's going to affect all this ministry's funding agencies. If PSEC is going to be recommending or not recommending these increases, surely that is something that the Ministry for Children and Families would have considered. So I was just simply asking: has it been to Treasury Board, or has Treasury Board advised this ministry about whether those increases are warranted or not?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: PSEC and CSSEA have costed the agreement. Treasury Board has determined that it is adequate and will pass the full cost through to the Ministry for Children and Families and the other ministries who have small parts of this.
C. Clark: Have they advised the ministry of the total costing of the agreement?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We're back to the beginning again. This is $135 million. That's the advice that the ministry is working with and working on.
C. Clark: We're not precisely back to the beginning, because where we started with this question was on the issue of future costs, and the minister indicated that PSEC and Treasury Board have costed the full cost of the agreement. That's obviously a necessary part of advising about whether future increases are warranted. You can't talk about future increases without talking about the full and total cost of the agreement. So I'm assuming what the minister was telling me is that they have costed the entire cost of the agreement, and my question is: have they advised the ministry of that cost?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I want to say, and I will say $135 million. Future costs that will be attached to future budgets will happen with future budgets. The full costs I mentioned earlier
C. Clark: I understand the $135 million issue, but my very specific question was about the future costs of the agreement and about whether the future costs have been approved. Surely they must know what those costs are. And if they do know, surely they must have advised the Ministry for Children and Families so that the ministry can do some forward planning in its budgeting. Perhaps the minister could answer this, then: have they failed to advise the ministry of how much this will cost in the future?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: In the building of budgets, the ministry would get informed at the appropriate time in the budget cycle of the preparation of budgets about each year and what the agreements will cost, and that information will come forward as next year's budget is being built. But in terms of some of those specifics, that's how it'll happen.
C. Clark: All right. It's also my understanding that Treasury Board, in their costing, only costed the amount that would be due to the 122 employers that signed on to the Munroe agreement in terms of their future costing. When the ministry is working on these kinds of numbers and when PSEC is passing these kinds of numbers on to the ministry, is that normally the basis they use to calculate the total amount?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I refer the member to PSEC.
L. Reid: My frustration in terms of listening to this exchange is that there are huge pieces missing. It would seem to me that if this government is going to engage in a contract discussion with PSEC with CSSEA -- whatever entity it happens to be -- there would be some sense of the overall cost of the agreement. Someone within this government must have the responsibility to hold that discussion.
L. Reid: I'm hearing the minister comment that it's PSEC. It seems to me that that information would be communicated to the minister responsible for funding that line item in the budget. It amazes me if that's not the case. What the minister has said repeatedly through this debate is that she does not have that information. If any one of us in this room is being asked to fund a project over five years or three years or whatever it happened to be, we would have some sense of the cost of that project.
Surely this minister can appreciate that the front-line service providers have huge questions about whether or not the cost of this agreement will be honoured in year two, year three, year four -- huge costs, huge questions. You will know for a fact, minister, that reading this debate will give them no comfort. Surely this is an opportunity for this ministry to provide some assurances to the people who have contracts and have payrolls to meet that indeed those dollars will be there.
I'm not comforted by the debate that I have listened to in the last hour -- not at all. This minister can appreciate that the most discomfort will come from the individuals who had, if you will, it pressed upon them last year that they could somehow find additional dollars when the l.5 percent cut affected front-line service providers.
What if the cost of this agreement asked them to reduce their funding in other areas to meet their obligations under
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this contract? None of us are in any doubt that this contract will come first. It will be what eats up the most dollars that these agencies have at their disposal over the next year or two years. We all understand that will happen. I was hoping that what would transpire here this afternoon would be some comfort for agencies, and the minister will know that they have huge questions. There are questions in every single MLA office across the province. What happens in year 2? What happens in year 3?
I'm not comforted by the level of response. It would seem to me that the minister, coming into this debate, would at least have asked PSEC the answers to these questions so she could have shared them with us. Surely the ministry would have been briefed at some point as to what the overall cost of this agreement would be. The lifetime of this agreement -- what is it going to cost the taxpayers in this province? I think that's a pretty straightforward question.
My colleague, bless her heart, went at it 19 different ways, and the information is still not available. It would seem to me that in this new spirit of open, transparent government, of interministerial cooperation, of some sense of being honest about what the issues are, there would have been some preparation for the debate. Indeed, in all the discussions that we've had about a business plan for this ministry, that would have come up in opportunities for this minister to be briefed -- that the individuals at her disposal today would be able to provide that information.
It horrifies me, frankly, that that's not the case. That is the burning question for service providers across this province today. What is the overall cost of this agreement? Not a single person is prepared to answer the question. The frustration that builds in service providers
My question to the minister today is: will this be one more example where agencies have to find dollars to fund this contract, because dollars are not forthcoming from Treasury Board? There is no long-term plan for what the overall cost of this is. I have no comfort today that there is a plan in place. I would ask the minister to advise me otherwise.
The Chair: The Chair is going to try something. I've listened as intently as possible to the debate for the past hour, and we're in and out of relevancy and order on this debate. This current budget cycle is what's before this committee, not the budget cycle of the following year or the following year or the following year. Had we got into future discussions, the Chair, I believe, would have been questioning the order of the debate at that stage.
I know the members have been very innovative in the presentation of the questions. I would agree with the member for Richmond East that there has been a significant amount of patience in the debate, but I think from all sides. I would just test the committee and advise the committee that questions that aren't under this current budget cycle are out of order in this committee. Whether or not we would all like to pursue year two, year three or year four, they don't fit under these estimates.
The minister has offered back, I believe, an avenue to pursue some of these questions under the various agencies. I just advise the committee that we have been on this topic as such for an hour. I have given the benefit of the doubt to the committee on this issue, on whether or not I would question the validity and whether it's really in order. I would advise the committee in this stage to maybe move on and stick with the current year's budget with the questions.
L. Reid: If I might invite this minister in the next number of days to provide me with the information I have requested
They indeed have reason, in my view, to be skeptical, to have some skepticism about how they have been treated in the past when it comes to clawing back dollars -- dollars that have already been expended for programs that have already been delivered. It doesn't happen in the same way in other ministries, hon. Chair, and I'm trusting that it's not going to happen again within this Ministry for Children and Families.
I'll put on the record another frustration: the 1.5 percent clawback of last year, which is a contractual discussion and fits nicely into this realm we're in at this very juncture. That, I understood and I had assurances, would apply to contracts for one year only. We are now in the situation where contracts have been extended into a second year, and that same 1.5 percent clawback still exists. So I don't believe it was a fruitful, straightforward discussion last year, because at that point I was told one year only. In fact, that's not the case. There are examples -- and more than a few -- that have crossed my desk where because the contract has been extended, that clawback is into year two. And it is affecting front-line service providers; it is causing concern in the field; it is asking providers to do more with less.
Again, my reference of last night: how much more for how much less? Many of these agencies willingly complied, and because their contracts have been extended as opposed to renewed -- in the language of this ministry -- they are still undergoing a clawback. Would the minister comment?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes, I would like to comment on part of what the member has raised, and that has to do with the collective agreement. The assurances are there; the assurances have come from many different sources. The agencies have been assured that the collective agreement is to be and will be fully funded. That information has been provided to the agencies -- no clawbacks on the full funding of these contracts.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's wording, but to be absolutely clear, the agencies are in no doubt that the dollars will be paid to fulfil the obligations of this contract. Their question is: from whence will those dollars come? Right now they have enormous fears that they will come from front-line programs that they offer. So when the minister says "fully funded," I would simply ask her to put on the record that those dollars would not be dollars that had been previously allocated to other delivery systems within front-line service provider programs.
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Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The member was here when I read this the first time. I'd be happy to read it all through again. It says: "Treasury Board has put $140 million for compensation increases and other labour relations costs into the budgets of MCF, MSDES, Women's Equality, Ministry of Attorney General, Ministry of Health." This ministry receives $135 million. That is to cover those compensation costs. Those are there, fully funded. Treasury Board said: "You get the money, MCF; you pay those bills. You pay those agencies." And that's what we're going to do.
L. Reid: I'm hearing the minister say that $140 million is fully funded. So I'm going to accept that indeed there will not be additional costs that we learn of in the next three to six months which will fall within this budget year for this ministry. When she says "fully funded," she means fully funded. If indeed there are additional costs over $140 million, they will not be borne by the front-line service providers of this province. I would hope the answer to that assertion is yes.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes.
L. Reid: The question I posed earlier was around the extension of contracts where the 1.5 percent clawback does exist today. In fact, those contracts were indicated to be for a single year. Because the contracts have been extended, the 1.5 percent clawback has been extended. Can the minister assure me that indeed that situation will be rectified?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: This issue was part of last year's estimates, and the 1.5 percent was an adjustment in the base.
L. Reid: I appreciate the discussion, and I was party to it last year. The question that I'm posing specifically to the minister today is that the 1.5 percent contract language said that it would extend for one year. Some of those contracts have not been renewed; they've simply been extended. So the language of that contract still says that those programs are subject to a 1.5 percent clawback.
Question one: is the minister aware of that? And question two: is she prepared to rectify that?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: As I understand it -- I wasn't part of that debate; this was last year; we're rehashing old stuff -- it was a 1 percent adjustment to the base contract. I don't know where the one year came from, but it was a base adjustment -- I guess a one-time base adjustment -- of 1.5 percent to the base. Those contracts then have been extended, so that adjustment
L. Reid: Allow me to put this on the record perhaps more clearly than I did originally. The minister is correct: it was a 1.5 percent discussion of last year. The agencies that have come to me this year have said that when their contracts came for this year, because those contracts were in some instances extended as opposed to renewed, that 1.5 percent clawback followed that program delivery. What I have difficulty with is that I was assured last year -- it was for last year's budget -- that in fact it would end at the end of the last fiscal year -- i.e., March 31.
So who has misspoken in this discussion? Is it true that it was to end at March 31? That was certainly the discussion that we had in this chamber and in special warrant, etc. -- that it was to be only a part of the fiscal year previous. It appears that it is going on into this fiscal year. So it's not, as the minister says, rehashing old business. It seems to be a current problem.
The Chair: I think the minister will try this answer one more time. It seems to me that this is getting kind of repetitious on last year's estimates.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I appreciate the caution, Chair. As I understand it, it was a 1.5 percent adjustment to the base contract for the agencies. It has not been replaced; it's 1.5 percent to the base amount of money that they use to provide the services. It was a one-time thing; there's not another 1.5 percent this year. It's not 2.5 percent. It was 1.5 percent last time, which would have
L. Reid: So when the agencies read these estimates, they will learn that indeed it is going to carry on. When they were told it would only be in place for one year, that was not correct information that they received.
A Voice: We were told it was going to be restored
L. Reid: Apparently not.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I would suggest
L. Reid: I'm happy to have the ministry receive the correspondence that they put out under MCF signature, which said that it was a one-year reduction. That's not information I generated into the debate. It was information that this ministry shared directly with front-line service provider -- that the 1.5 percent reduction would end in the last fiscal year. So I'm happy to share that information, and I will do it at the earliest opportunity. The minister can appreciate that the frustration builds when there seems to be shifting sands around these kinds of discussions.
L. Reid: In the new spirit of interministerial cooperation
The Chair: Does the member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain desire to get into the debate and get on the record?
C. Clark: I certainly will when the critic is ready.
The Chair: Order. Order, hon. member.
L. Reid: In this new spirit of interministerial cooperation, transparency, accountability, etc
[ Page 16860 ]
that one of these issues I intend to raise is actually MSDES. But I intend to put it on the record, however briefly, because there is some confusion in terms of the debate around MSDES and responsibility, etc. It's something that I think can be easily rectified if indeed this minister and MSDES might actually sort it out and just report back that they'd actually taken care of it.
I had the privilege a few weeks back to visit a preschool program in Penticton called Little Triumphs Preschool. They basically have a subsidy program in place for supported child care for little tiny guys who need some support, and the subsidy pays for 20 days a month. The issue comes and has not been addressed by this ministry or MSDES, and kind of just floats out there hoping to find resolution at some point, is that there were many months in this past year where there were more than 20 days in the month. We have agencies now that are picking up the cost for two days here, three days there. I think the total is six days overall, but that's six days of funding for, I think, 50 children in this program that just goes begging. Nobody seems to want to pick up the responsibility for that.
I don't need an answer from this minister, because I truly appreciate that it doesn't fall here. But the bottom line is that it needs to fall somewhere. There are little tiny guys who are being denied some services because the programs have no dollars. When I go to MSDES: "Oh no, no. You want MCF." When I go to MCF: "No, no, no; you want MSDES." If I'm frustrated, you can appreciate that the parents and the providers in these programs are equally frustrated. It seems to me that if this is, as the Premier will tell us, a new spirit of cooperation, new accountability and new realities around sharing information, truly you and your hon. colleague could do that and resolve this issue as opposed to sending them on this circuitous chase to find some information.
One of the other issues I wanted to canvass
One of the other issues I want to see if we can have this minister and her colleague solve is the issue of the Wee Watch private home day care in Vancouver -- the criminal records review program. Apparently these costs are now going to be borne by employers when in fact
So apparently this is a new direction. This used to be a service that was provided. I bring up both of these at this juncture when we talk about people understanding why the language is different and why the outcomes may be different. Again, these are issues of frustration. They received a letter back stating that day care workers can get checks done through the local police agency. That's true, but it costs $50. So indeed we're prepared to provide that service for some individuals but not others, yet we expect them to be part of creating badly needed day care spaces. So again, this issue footballs back and forth between MESDES and other discussion groups, but it needs to have resolution. It needs someone to demonstrate some leadership and say, "Look, we're going to take care of it," because I think it's vitally important that government should be about putting fewer obstacles in place for people who want to deliver services, as opposed to more.
"The registrar of the criminal records review program
. . .that the program will no longer conduct criminal record checks of day care providers belonging to day care agencies. This is a serious impediment to our opening up of new day care spaces. I thought that day care was a priority with this government. I can't understand why roadblocks are being put up. We are a non-profit society trying to provide high-quality child care. British Columbia families are desperate for day care, especially infant spaces."
Not all day care workers have to pay for their record check. The criminal records review program, a program administered by the Ministry of Attorney General, will do a free record check if a day care receives operating funds from the provincial government. So again, there's lots of disparity, lots of knowing exactly how to hop through each hoop. It's not enough now just to know where the hoop is. You have to know exactly how to hop through it -- in terms of how you fill out the form; in terms of where your funding originates -- so that you can have fewer costs attached to your agency, so that you can actually provide some decent service for kids. I know the minister is as frustrated by this as I am and will take the responsibility for having it fixed.
Noting the hour, hon. Chair, I would move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again -- recess.
The Chair: For clarification, the motion before us is to recess. It'll be helpful to recess for a specific time, because it's kind of never-ending. How about if we
A Voice: Why? Are you in a bad mood? Do you want a break or something?
The Chair: The member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain is
L. Reid: Yes, it was exactly that.
The Chair: Yes, that's what the Chair thought.
The committee recessed from 5:41 p.m. to 6:48 p.m.
[D. Streifel in the chair.]
R. Coleman: I wanted to canvass some issues with the minister this evening. I've been contacted by some psychologists who have some upset with this particular ministry. I asked to have the opportunity to canvass this, because last year in estimates I wasn't allowed to discuss in this Legislature specific psychological evaluations that were paid for, for a Dr.
[ Page 16861 ]
Fisher in another case. I was told that to mention the name of the case or even to go into the confidentiality of such reports was a no-no. What we did, by agreement, was that we struck from the record the names of the individuals and the information.
I'm somewhat disturbed that I can go on the Internet and read some information about the psychological assessments relative to a very high-profile case in this province. It's been in the paper. I'm just wondering what the ministry's policy is, relative to the releasing of that kind of information for public scrutiny on the Internet. In this Legislature a year ago, it was made very clear to me that that sort of information was kept highly confidential by this ministry and was not for distribution and not for public discussion.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I want to reassure the member, if he needs that reassurance, that it was not the ministry that did that. It's not ministry policy to do that kind of stuff, to put private information on the Internet. It appeared on the Internet through the auspices of the children's commissioner. It was his decision to do that, and the Attorney General would be the one to speak to about that issue. We have no control over that one.
R. Coleman: Unfortunately, I made the connection through your web site to get this information, and that certainly leads me to some concern. Is there not a government policy relative to confidential psychological reports across the board relative to Children and Families issues? It is your ministry; it is the Ministry of Children and Families. It is a case where the psychological assessments were actually done on behalf of this ministry. Obviously they had to be released at some time or another to whomever it was.
If it was the Children's Commission, they would have had to be released to the Children's Commission in order for them to review them and include them in their report and release them on the Internet. What's the confidentiality between yourself and the Children's Commission relative to the information that you provide them with?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The MCF site is just simply that
That was another matter. We can discuss that. It's one of the issues that is outstanding about the issue of privacy in that high-profile issue. That will come up at a later time and be dealt with in another way in another place.
R. Coleman: I appreciate what the minister has just said. In reading this information, I get the impression that these psychological reports were done by the Ministry for Children and Families as part of the ongoing issue relative to this particular family. I think we know the family. At some point in time you had to release those to the children's commissioner in order for them to have them in their report. When you released this information from your ministry to the children's commissioner
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The action took place based on the legislation for the children's commissioner. That legislation is not subject to FOIPPA, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The second point is that MCF was required to provide all documentation that we had in that case to the commissioner, who then gave it to the tribunal. They were going to be reviewing all the materials in written form only, and they had to have this material. Then it's up to them. They could have severed some of that information, and they chose not to. And it's a worry.
R. Coleman: I'm sorry, I didn't catch the last part of that.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: It's a worry.
R. Coleman: Well, I think we should discuss that worry. There were psychologists' reports -- two of them -- done on the Draayers and on the children. Psychologists are practitioners who believe that they should have some confidentiality when they're dealing with a client, probably no different than a lawyer or a doctor. There should be a privilege there. I believe this privilege has been breached for these people. That's of a huge concern to me. That information -- the breach -- came from this ministry, because this ministry paid for the psychological reports that had to be done. For them to have not severed
If this is the case, do we now have every Children and Families case in the province of British Columbia open to scrutiny whenever you hire a psychologist or someone that may be doing an assessment on someone? What is the precedent that's being set here relative to this?
Obviously these cases originate with the Ministry for Children and Families, and because they originate there and you have actually taken the responsibility of doing the psychologist's report
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes, there is no question that privacy was breached, although I just got some additional information that, in fact, the psychologists' names, I believe, were severed. The psychologists had some privacy in all of that. The member will recall -- I just said -- that the ministry was required to pass on all that information by the children's commissioner. The Children's Commission requested that, required that. The ministry was not in a position to be able to withhold that information. I also gather that the psychologists were aware of the possibility that their reports might well wind up with the children's commissioner.
R. Coleman: When they were made aware that they could end up with the Children's Commission, were they also told they would be made public by the Children's Commission?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We had no information and no knowledge that the children's commissioner was going to do what the children's commissioner did in making all that public.
[ Page 16862 ]
R. Coleman: I know that the psychologists' names were severed, but what about the privacy of the foster parents and the children? If the mandate of this ministry is to protect children and families, that mandate has to be protected.
I guess the reason for this discussion isn't to take a shot at the Ministry for Children and Families but to make it absolutely clear to anybody in government that has to deal with children -- whether it be the children's commissioner or this ministry -- that at a certain point in time, when people are dealing with people's lives, dealing with their personal history as far as psychological evaluations are concerned and behavioural things that have happened in people's lives, these sort of things don't need to be on the Internet. Somebody can make a decision, relative to being a children's commissioner or whatever, on information provided by a ministry without blasting the whole thing across the countryside.
They've done a number here on the Internet that's that thick of these people's lives and information about them. I have a real concern about that.
I go back to the debates in this House. In this House last year we refused to discuss those reports in this Legislature and the outcomes, even though I knew what the outcomes were -- and the costs, even though I knew what the costs were. And yet you can pick up the Internet a year later and find a family in a Children and Families dispute with the ministry on the Internet. That leaves me with a great deal of concern.
I think that concern has to be dramatically expressed to the people that did this. And if anybody in any ministry had anything to do with it, they should be disciplined. Frankly, I think it's wrong. I think it's wrong to do this to these people. I would like to know if the ministry's working on some policy now or something to close this loophole that could stop this from ever happening again.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: However much I might agree with the member from the opposition, the issue is not one
R. Coleman: I guess the minister could ask the Attorney General to amend the legislation, but in reading the legislation before coming here, I don't see anything that says the report has to release confidential information to the public. I think the report has to make recommendations; it has to be released in a timely manner. It doesn't say you have to put everything out there and do all that. So maybe that has to be clarified in legislation.
Maybe the minister could tell me: does Cynthia Morton's tenure as director of child protection for the Draayers girls come to an end as of her reporting out on June 23?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes.
R. Coleman: So where does the responsibility for that file now rest?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The guardianship for that file has been turned over to the deputy director, Julie Dawson -- no relation.
R. Coleman: I just want to ask a quick question about another file. It was a file that was a Munchausen syndrome by proxy case. It had to do with a family by the name of Neve, out of Nanaimo. The children were apprehended by government for eight months. The family lost their home and lost their business and lost their marriage over that particular case. I'm wondering, since that time
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The ministry would be happy to sit down and talk to the member about this case, but it's not part of these estimates at this time. I'd be happy to have a conversation about that.
R. Coleman: I would welcome that, actually, just because it still pops its way up every once in a while. I'd love to know what the disposition of that particular case is going to be.
A year ago we were in a brief conversation -- before I wrap up on this particular area -- and the former minister made the comment that Munchausen syndrome was not something that this ministry now wanted to deal with, as far as a diagnosis relative to child abuse. They had found that it was a very difficult diagnosis and a very difficult situation, as far as the exacting science of it. Is that still the position of the ministry today?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The short answer is yes.
R. Coleman: I wish the answers were longer, because we do have to wear coats in here.
Last year I also asked a few questions about the status
At that time, there was preparation of some training. It hadn't really been implemented to a large degree. I'd like to know now what the status is of those training programs for staff in the field, what they're being trained on, and how far along it is, as far as us having trained our people who are presently in the field.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: First of all, there are two sets of courses available for staff. One is for those in the pre-employment program. That is the child welfare piece, and there is a day and a half in that program. Then the in-house program is a five-day program. Both of these are provided by the child protection consultants and law enforcement officers; together they do that.
I have the list of the particular topics that are covered, if that's of interest to the member.
R. Coleman: Go ahead and read them.
[ Page 16863 ]
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Validation of child's statements, corroboration of child's statements, statements made by the alleged perpetrator, culpatory admission
R. Coleman: What percentage of the people that are presently employed by the ministry have done the five-day course?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Out of 1,200, apart from some who may have been ill, every one of them has been through this training program.
R. Coleman: And now, once they've done the training program
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: There are three processes that occur to check out quality control. The supervisor's review and the child protection review of each case file as it moves up through the authority ladder -- these get looked at. There is an audit process that checks out standards and what is happening. Third, there is another process that happens from time to time, where the director will do a review of a critical-incident case.
R. Coleman: When these files are created -- and we'll call them investigations for lack of a better description -- weighting is often given to different levels of evidentiary material that would be in a file. I know that the ministry from time to time hires professionals, like psychologists or whatever, to do an assessment. When the decisions are being made, what is the weighting given to the professional assessment versus the person that's in the field that's done the initial investigation, relative to making the decision?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I think the best way to describe it is that it's on a case-by-case basis. Different evidence occurs in different cases. Medical evidence will sometimes overshadow a psychological
R. Coleman: Well, that's about as good an answer, I guess, as you can give to deal with that issue. When the investigation takes place in the field, how many levels of assessment does it have to go through? How many levels does a file have to go up, to get decisions made on it? Or is a decision made right at the field level?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The case would be dealt with by the front-line worker and the supervisor. That would be the general process for that. And then in unusual cases it would move up to the next level: the regional director or the director. But most of the time it would be the worker-supervisor pulling in some other teams they might need -- like, the SCAN team might be a critical part of some investigation process.
R. Coleman: As we go through that investigation
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I think it would be best characterized as those involved with the placement of the child and those involved with whether the child is in need of protection. There may be a number of people, and it's on a need-to-know basis. So the worker, the supervisor
R. Coleman: So is it in every case that the worker would actually be given this information to know how their investigation tied into this, so they would learn from the information that was provided? Or is that confidentiality sort of piecemeal -- sometimes they would see it and sometimes they wouldn't see it? Or is the standard of practice that the person that conducts the initial investigation would be in receipt of all that information?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The answer is yes.
R. Coleman: The tendency in today's environment is to move oftentimes somewhat away from paper to electronic communication, both relative to reports and with regards to ongoing memos of information relative to a file. Of course, that includes e-mail communication. I'm wondering what firewall security has been built into the Ministry for Children and Families relative to computerization in your operation.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I want to assure the member that this is the most important part of any technical communication system that is in place -- that is, the privacy piece of that. The systems we have in place and that are coming into place through IBM meet all government standards. The government standards are pretty stringent, as I understand it. We can get more technical information for the member, who may follow this more closely, perhaps, than I. But in terms of the protections that are there, they're there. We insist on that.
R. Coleman: I would actually like that technical information or just a short briefing on it. I think that we are going to find, more and more in government, as we move to paperless communication and start scanning more and more documents into an electronic format, that we had better have that security at a level such as international organizations like Microsoft, with their 29,000 employees around the world and handling everything in their operation completely paperless.
That may happen in government someday. I just want to make sure that the standards of the firewalls and the ability for people to get in and out of that area and the internal communication -- not just straight e-mail but the e-mails within the operation, the firewall that cannot get to the outside -- are actually being protected. I guess the best way for that is if I could sit down with somebody and discuss this with them.
[ Page 16864 ]
Frankly, I don't think five days is enough to train an investigator, but I think it's a start that your 1,200 people have been through that and that you have to have standards of practice and review. I would encourage the ministry to continue to build on those skills of their people, particularly the ability for them to actually handle the accumulation of information in a manner that is understandable.
Before I move on to the critic, I want to just go back for a second and reiterate that concern about the release of the confidential psychological reports. I will be writing the Children's Commission myself with regards to that and giving them a copy of the Hansard that we've had tonight. I think there has to be a way that we can deal with that so that people have confidence that if somebody is sitting down and opening up their hearts, their minds, their pasts, their presents and their futures to somebody that's in a professional capacity -- like a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a doctor, a lawyer or whatever -- they can rest assured that confidentiality between them and the other person would not be breached by any body, public or otherwise.
That is the fundamental right of a person relative to having that confidential discretion and having those professionals available to us. Otherwise we'll lose the entire trust of the professional. If we lose that, we will not have the ability to actually access the needs of people and assess the risks we may have with people within the system, because they won't trust that they can actually tell somebody something and it won't show up somewhere in some electronic medium in the middle of the Internet. I think that's a real concern, and I just want to reiterate that.
L. Reid: Certainly my colleague referenced the work that Cynthia Morton did. Some of the recommendations she made in terms of legislation were about 11 regional directors of child protection. Is that something that will be implemented this year? In fact, where would we find that in funding for this ministry?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We are reviewing those recommendations, and we do intend to act on them. We are still working out the hows and the wherefores and how we'll manage to do all that. Our expectation is that the new resources required will be minimal, and hopefully we can do this within the existing structures, as we think it's pretty important to do.
L. Reid: I applaud the minister for that, if that indeed can happen, so that decisions are taken closer to where children live. It makes perfect sense to me. I would simply like to know, in terms of a time line
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: In response to the question, we would like to do it as soon as it is practicable. Obviously some consultations have to happen in the field about how we would unroll the new plan of action. But as soon as it is practicable -- which may be before Christmas. Otherwise it might be into the new year.
L. Reid: There's a hesitancy on the part of this ministry to actually commit to time lines. I would love to see some more discussion in the next number of weeks unfold around these recommendations. It's not a new recommendation; it's probably five years old, in terms of being reflected in the work of Justice Gove. So if it's indeed going to happen, it would make great sense that some thought was given to it fairly soon.
Even if an answer is not forthcoming, I'll certainly put on the record my commitment to the other recommendations that she has made. If the ministry at some point can come back to me with the costs of those recommendations, what it would look like
Again, I would concur with the minister that there are probably very minimal costs established around that. But I would be interested to learn, and it can be at a future point. If the minister can keep me apprised of what the progress is of the other recommendations -- perhaps a report card as we go through. I think those are salient recommendations that will hopefully allow this system to be much more thoughtful, much more reflective of communities in which children live.
I want to spend a couple of minutes on the early childhood discussion that the minister referenced in her remarks around -- I think it's $9 million -- investment in early childhood. I only want to put it on the record because I'm continuing to receive correspondence on the Surrey Association for Early Childhood Education, the SAECE group. It's their contention that they will need teachers to teach a preschool program, but in fact they have not received the budgetary allotments that they expected. They do not have a contract next year for early intervention. Yet they have a history of countless years of providing first-class service within Surrey and for the province.
Certainly, in the Surrey-White Rock area there are well over 100 children waiting for service. This is a well-documented superb provider. If there is any way this minister can discover what the delay happens to be and expedite some decisions around funding for this group, it seems like it would be a good thing. If there are other issues at play, if the minister could share with me at a future point as well what seems to be the dilemma regarding this agency. If the minister could comment.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I have a couple of comments in regard to that situation. First of all, I want to reassure the member that there has been no reduction at all in terms of funding for special needs children in the Surrey area. For a significant period of time, I understand, the ministry has been working with a regional parent advisory committee and local service providers, including SAECE, on the implementation of supported child care in Surrey.
The consultation process has led to a request for proposals for supported child care delivery in Surrey. SAECE, as well as other service providers, has the option to bid on this proposal. To assist SAECE in transitioning to supported child care, MCF is funding SAECE at a higher rate than the provincial rate. The ministry has been implementing a supported child care model across the province since 1998, so this is bringing the Surrey area into line on the issue of supported child care and how it is provided in the community.
L. Reid: From the minister's comments, I will suggest that there isn't anything wrong with the services that SAECE has provided over time. It is simply that the ministry is chang-
[ Page 16865 ]
ing the delivery mechanism, that they wish them participate in a supported child care model as opposed to what they did before. Is that clearly what the minister is saying?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I gather that this was also quite exhaustively canvassed last year in terms of the supported child care model of delivery of service. It has been extensively discussed in the community over a number of years. It began to be implemented across the province in 1996, I believe, and it's working its way around the province. It is a different delivery model. It's not the only delivery model, but it's the one that, through extensive consultation, has been determined to be a model that the ministry wishes to pursue.
L. Reid: I won't belabour this issue, but I would simply ask for some clarification in terms of what it is that this ministry would wish the SAECE to do differently. They have, in fact
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: At the risk of opening up a different aspect of this
In terms of what funding was going to SAECE in the past, some of that was part of providing a child care service. Right now what is needed and what the direction is, is supported child care, as opposed to providing day care centres and day care schools for children in day care -- which is a different process, a different delivery system.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's comments. I'm understanding that it is different. What I'm not able to communicate effectively to these individuals is how it differs. They had a group of children last year -- some typical learners, some atypical learners. They were able to access speech language services; they were able to be part of an early intervention model. They were prepared to do the same thing this year. What about that does not qualify as a supported child care model?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: My understanding is that the more parents you have, the more fees can be paid and the more service can be provided. That is what's needed. I'm not intimately involved or familiar with the situation there, but that's my understanding. A lot of children need support; a lot of children need the service. More parents are needed to participate in the program in order to have that part of it work.
L. Reid: It's actually becoming more confusing after hearing the response of the minister. The group that came to me
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Our understanding about the whole picture is that many parents have said they want to put their child wherever they would like, and they want the supported child care services -- the therapists, the speech therapists, all of that cluster of supports -- to be where the child is, if SAECE has got enough children, and the team can go there, then that's fine. That works.
But the ministry doesn't support the establishment of child care centres or a child care service. The ministry provides those therapies and those supports for the child, wherever the child is. If SAECE gathers together enough children, parents and families to make that viable in and of itself -- never mind the supported child care piece, leaving that aside
L. Reid: Just to be absolutely clear on the record, this is not a child care centre. This is an early childhood development preschool. That is how they structure themselves; that is what they ask for when they hire preschool teachers. I don't want the language to be confusing in terms of the reference to a child care centre. It is a preschool program that they're prepared to offer and have offered very successfully, with great thanks from the ministry in the past. They don't intend to offer a different program next year.
What they're seeing is the resources they've been able to avail themselves of over the years drifting away, based on decisions of this ministry, because they no longer qualify under these new criteria, and they cannot nail down exactly what they are. And I'm kind of with them. The discussion about supported child care or not, the minister kept coming back to suggest it was a child care centre. They haven't done child care; they've done preschool and done it very effectively.
So I'm going to share this Hansard record with them and see where they take it.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I just want to reiterate; the point is the same. I have misnamed their service, and I apologize for that. Early childhood intervention -- the point is the same. And that is that what is being provided now are therapists of various kinds to support a child in the centre, as opposed to a block that says you can do various things with this money, including bringing in some supports. No, this is strictly for supports, and if the centre can find a way to fund the preschool, then that's fine.
But it was in that sense that some of the suggestion that they may be closing down is not anything to do with the ministry, in direct
[ Page 16866 ]
B. McKinnon: The minister wrote me a letter in response to some questions I wrote to her regarding concerns raised by some of my constituents about the possibility of a residential program being developed in their neighbourhood by Access Building Society. The minister assured me in her letter that there was no plan to develop such a program in Surrey in this area. She also stated that her staff would be following up with Access housing in this regard.
Because of the way Access housing treated the neighbourhood, a number of them have asked me to ask a few questions of the minister. They feel very strongly that it's very important that the public's anger be registered with the government. So I wish to ask some questions on behalf of my constituents regarding Access housing and just housing in general -- group homes and foster homes.
In the client service agreement, what is the difference between the definition of group home and foster home? Two of the staff in Children and Families told this neighbourhood that there was very little difference between the definition of group home and foster home, but there could be a very subtle difference in the client service agreement. I would like to know what that difference is.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The definition of group home is a staffed residential facility, staffed 24 hours a day with paid staff, upwards of six individuals. A foster home is a house, a home, designated by the director, and it is a family setting and would usually have quite a number fewer than six individuals -- under the Family Care Act.
B. McKinnon: So there is quite a difference in the client service agreement between what is put in that agreement when a group home is in a neighbourhood and what you agree to with foster care.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We're talking about two different arrangements. The client service agreement is for a big agency that can have all kinds of different methods of delivery. The foster home is a foster care agreement with the director. It's a different agreement arrangement.
B. McKinnon: Why does the ministry contract to for-profit businesses for placement and care of youths? The neighbourhood would like to know why people are making money on our youth, basically.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The process, when one gets into contracting services rather than providing them ourselves, is that one will wind up with a mixed model. So there will be some non-profit and some for-profit. It is a tendering process, so it is highly competitive. Groups will compete and say what they can offer in the process. Some of them are union and some of them are non-union. There's a mix on both sides of that issue. Some of the for-profits are unionized and non-unionized, and so too with the non-profits.
B. McKinnon: What sort of screening process is carried out for these contractors and their employees, to work with these youths? Is there a screening process that checks the employees and the contractors before they are actually hired to do the job?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The screening process
B. McKinnon: Whose responsibility is it for making the neighbourhood aware that a group home is going into the neighbourhood? Would that be a provincial responsibility or a municipal responsibility?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We require that the contractor or potential contractor have done all the checks with the neighbourhood and also with the municipality involved, so that they comply with all those rules and regulations. We require that they have made that approach and those checks.
B. McKinnon: So in actuality it's up to the contractor to do the right thing by the neighbourhood and the whole community. Do they have a certain -- or would you even know this? -- radius in that community that they have to go out from where their home is, a certain distance that they have to notify the neighbourhood? Are there any rules on that?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: It would be the immediate neighbourhood and then whatever suggestions that the municipality might have in regards to that situation.
B. McKinnon: Could the minister tell me what type of youth are in these homes? Are they young offenders, criminal or sex offenders? What type of youth are in these homes?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: There's a wide variety of possibilities of who might be housed in a space like that, anywhere from youth justice, young people with mental illnesses, mental situations, persons with physical disabilities, addictions. There's a whole range of possibilities that can be housed in this kind of way.
B. McKinnon: So there could be some youths that are waiting to go through the court system, that could be charged with criminal offences and haven't gone to court yet, or have come out of jail -- sort of transition home type of thing. Could it be that type of youth?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The answer would be yes. It could be any one of those.
B. McKinnon: The neighbourhood wanted to know what the minister's definition of unsafe actually means. Does it apply to being physically as well as emotionally unsafe?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I need to understand a little better about unsafe. What do you mean -- that the facility is unsafe or that there is some concern about the children?
B. McKinnon: I imagine it's the children. I didn't get any further question on that, and so I would go for the neighbourhood. I'd go both ways.
[ Page 16867 ]
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: From time to time there may be a young person who is deemed to have a risk or to be a risk to a community, in which case -- once that has been identified -- then that young person receives enormous support in the sense of 24-hour, very intensive round-the-clock attention. So they're, I suppose, like glue. They are there until something further is required to unfold.
B. McKinnon: This neighbourhood, hon. Chair, was very upset about the way this particular housing co-op, Access Housing, handled the affair in their neighbourhood. They wanted to know what factual evidence the ministry could present or put forward in writing that would confirm that if a group home, as such, was put, say, in their neighbourhood, as operated by a co-op such as Access Housing, it could co-exist peacefully and conform in a suburban environment with the neighbourhood, especially when there is no consultation, and they're basically just being told that this is going to come here, and it's going to be here. Apparently none of it was true in the end. But they wanted to know how you
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Well, Chair, we're back to where we started, with a particular group that is not known to the ministry. We do not fund them; they had not approached us. To the best of our knowledge, the region is not aware of who they are. So it may be that the member will have to provide us with more information. Or it may be a different ministry, because other ministries also have group homes of various kinds.
B. McKinnon: I will change my questioning now. There was a youth addiction facility opened in Terrace. It was called Atlas. It's currently located at 4805 Halliwell Avenue in Terrace. It opened without any notification to the neighbourhood in which it was placed. Some of the people living in that neighbourhood are very concerned about the location of this site. Apparently all the parking for this program must remain on the site, and there is a lot of overflow parking out onto the road, blocking what is a very busy intersection.
B. McKinnon: It's already been asked? Okay, then I will
A Voice: Maybe not your specific question.
B. McKinnon: It's just about where the site was. So that's fine; it was asked.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes, a fair number of the issues around that site and around that issue were canvassed earlier today.
B. McKinnon: Okay. I missed that.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: So the Blues will have those responses; you could check them. If the specific question you have wasn't answered, then you'll know that through the Blues.
B. McKinnon: No, it was merely the location. Thank you.
L. Reid: I want to spend a few minutes this evening canvassing some questions around foster parents and the foster parent situation in the province. I know that each time I pick up a newspaper, the ministry is canvassing for new foster parents. Can the minister give me a sense of how many new foster parents have been recruited since this fiscal year began?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes. The latest information that we have covers a different period, April 1, '99, to February 1 of this year. Approximately 463 new foster homes were opened. We've also added two additional FTEs per region, who are dedicated to recruiting, assessing and approving foster homes.
L. Reid: Of the existing foster home base prior to the 463 new homes, what number of homes was lost to the system? Who was not able to continue as a foster parent in the last 12 months?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: As of March 31, 1999, we had a total of 5,978 foster homes. As of March 31, 2000, we had 6,366, for a net increase of 388. We did close some; there were some 553 that were closed from March 31, '99, to March 31, 2000.
L. Reid: From the minister's last comment, we're actually closing more than we're opening: 500-plus were closed, and a lesser number were actually opened.
My question simply is in terms of the advertising dollars that are expended on behalf of the ministry to recruit new foster families. Two FTEs per region -- so an additional 22 bodies -- are out there recruiting foster families. It seems that we're basically holding the line. Roughly the same number are entering the system as leave the system, if I heard the minister correctly.
What is the need today, if the 5,978 is the number that's probably not going to shift dramatically, because what we lost is basically what we gained? What is the actual need today? Is this an inventory that matches the need in the field for foster placements?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I want to remind the member that I did say that, year over year, there is in fact a net increase of 388. While there have been some losses, there have also been some gains. Over that two-year period we have a gain of 388. We could always use more foster care facilities. In fact, this year we've noticed and we are forecasting a reduction in the number of children in care who would need foster facilities.
L. Reid: For my last question, am I hearing that there's not an actual inventory of need in terms of how many foster placements the province requires year to year?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The important fact here is that the more foster placement spaces we have provides the ministry with more choices for the young people who come into the system. That's why it's important to have as many of those as we can, in as many communities as possible.
L. Reid: Of the foster homes that are currently on record with the ministry, what percentage of them would be members of the foster parent association?
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Hon. G. Mann Brewin: My understanding is that it's approximately 60 percent.
L. Reid: My understanding is that this is a voluntary membership in the association, if you will. What is the benefit to members? I know it's an entity that's funded by the Ministry for Children and Families. What benefit do foster parents receive in terms of joining this association?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: As with any association of folks who are involved in similar services or similar entities, it provides enormous benefits to those who have issues to bring up, issues to discuss, to share common concerns, common issues. They have annual conferences which provide opportunities for them to discuss their situation, to discuss things with the ministry, to discuss what further benefits they could provide or acquire for themselves.
Some of the things that they're working on, and we're working with them to support, are a new foster care education program, for instance; preservice orientation with foster parents; looking-after-children assessment and planning model; a provincial after-hours foster family support line; provincewide foster home recruitment initiative. A whole lot of those kinds of issues can be enormously helpful to them for personal self-development, as well as the issue of learning more about the children they have in their care and how best to support them.
L. Reid: I too can support professional development. I think it's important that we recognize that the majority of foster parents today must have tremendous professional expertise to go forward and parent these children effectively.
My question is in terms of the budget for the foster parent association. I believe it's $1.6 million. Would I be correct in that?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: My understanding is that it's about $1.9 million.
L. Reid: Is that a sum of money that is routinely increased, based on the number of new foster parents that the organization must serve?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: It's a pretty static number, that $1.9 million.
L. Reid: Who in your ministry would be responsible for the drafting of the new contract language around foster parents?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Could you repeat that?
L. Reid: Yes, my apologies. My question is: who in your ministry is responsible for drafting the contract language for the new contracts for foster parents?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The contract work is organized, and those negotiations are organized, between headquarters here in Victoria, the lawyers from the legal services branch of the Attorney General ministry and the foster parent association, which had a lawyer who was also paid for by the ministry and who participates in those negotiations. Apparently a new contract has been just about finalized, and it is specifically for foster parents, as opposed to the general contract language and that sort of thing for all contract agencies of all government. So this is site-specific for foster families.
L. Reid: From my understanding, the contracts have in fact gone out to foster parents in the last, probably, ten days or so, because certainly I'm getting concerns back across my desk around the provisions for liability. The indemnity clauses are apparently causing some concern. So I would ask the minister to give some background on that.
The other issue -- I'm not clear if it's in the contract language or it's in the policy and regs. But it seems to have a provision for the number of years that foster parents must maintain records on the children that have been in their homes. I would like to know the number of years currently under discussion and where that information might be found.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: First of all, if there are some concerns, then those particular foster parents should call their association or call the ministry, because it's our appreciation that, given all the folks who were at the table discussing this, including
L. Reid: How is information shared with the foster parents who are not currently members of the association?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I understand that the association and others developed a whole list of questions and answers and that we sent them out to absolutely every foster family in the province.
L. Reid: If the minister would be so kind as to share a copy of that with me, that may answer a number of my questions.
One of the questions I posed to the minister earlier was about the number of years that foster parents would be required to hold on to records. Is that contained in that contract language?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We will have to check that for the member and get that information to her.
L. Reid: I thank you for that. My next question will be regarding payments to foster parents. It's my understanding today that the service payment is taxable in some regions and not in others. Is that a dilemma? Or is there indeed a consistency across the process today?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: It's my understanding that at this present time, according to Revenue Canada, it is not taxable in the province of British Columbia. Revenue Canada is the one who makes the determination about whether the honorarium they receive is a taxable benefit or not. At the present time they have determined that it is not such a thing in British Columbia.
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L. Reid: I'm going to deduce from the minister's comments, then, that it is consistent across the province, the same prevailing view in each of the 11 regions. I see the minister nodding. I'm going to accept that.
In terms of placement review committees and foster families today, certainly I've had some discussions with Leigh-Ann Sellers regarding placement review in terms of how children are moved in the system. Given the discussion that the children's commissioner has had and the advocate's office has had, that children are entitled to stability of placement and that nurturing and attachment are vitally important to their development, and given that we all understand that to be a very true statement, will that understanding come to bear on children today who are subject to placement review -- that indeed the attachment they have with the foster family they currently reside with will be taken into consideration?
I touched earlier on the minister's comments around the Cynthia Morton recommendation that children should not be moved if they've lived with a family for more than a year without at least ten days' notice. Will that process apply as well to the placement review committee process?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes, we're prepared to undertake to respond positively to Cynthia Morton's recommendation of the ten days when a child has been in continuing care with a foster family.
L. Reid: I appreciate the response, because oftentimes these children may be children that are in a satellite home, in a staffed resource and in a foster placement. Oftentimes it's the same child. They may have lived in a variety of different arrangements, if you will, but it's the same child. And sometimes to say that the criteria apply to them in this particular time period in their life but not in this one, frankly, is arbitrary and typically irrelevant to the child. So I am delighted that the minister is going to advance the notion of a year's residency having some impact on future decision-making. I think that's a valid comment.
I want to spend a few moments on the satellite home situation in the province. I had the opportunity to review the satellite review, if you will, a very large, exhaustive binder that was done on examining the necessity, the need, the relevancy of satellite homes in the province of British Columbia. I thought the report was very positive. I thought that the outcome was that satellite homes had a role to play in service delivery options within the province of British Columbia -- that they indeed fit in along the continuum.
What I hear from satellite providers today is that they frankly receive fewer children. They are perceiving that to be a move away from satellite homes. They were, I think, originally instructed that it has some bearing on the contents of this satellite review. However, once I looked at the satellite review, those two things are completely opposite. The review is very positive about satellite homes. Can the minister tell us today why there would be fewer referrals, if you will, to the satellite homes in the province of British Columbia?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: In general, the member's comments, I know, are referring to a particular report that is available. The plan from the ministry is to be converting the satellite homes over a period of time, phased in to full foster homes.
L. Reid: Given that the satellite review was very positive, why would that decision be taken to do away with satellite homes?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes, the review, the member suggests, had some positive suggestions in it. I've got some of those reports here. One of the main points about the satellite homes -- as the member knows, of course -- is that they are not approved by the director to be formal foster homes within our system. The review made some recommendations about how we could use the spaces and move them into part of the continuum of care that is important for our children, and that the ministry would allow for a wider variety of services.
For instance, the issue of the satellite model being replaced with family-based treatment care and the suggestion of placing this option within the continuum of residential treatment services
There are two others. The second or the third: family-based treatment care homes should be seen as specialized residential treatment services and not as foster homes. The recommendation here, that these homes be approved through agency contracts with the ministry, is accepted. The recommendation will be incorporated into the new policy requirements.
Then there are some other points about how interim measure approval process for the home studies should be continued. There's a whole lot of detail in here that the member might like to see under different circumstances.
L. Reid: I would welcome any material the minister wishes to share with me.
My concern in the explanation that the minister gave is that family-based care often is synonymous with a satellite home. It's usually a single caregiver; there's constancy to the program. There are usually one or two very significantly involved young people who need that level of specialized resource, if you will. It doesn't differ dramatically -- in some cases not at all -- from what the minister has just put on the record in terms of being family-based care.
So my question to the minister is: why the move away from what are, frankly, critical resources along the continuum? They are not going to be resources that apply to every single child, but they are absolutely essential. Some very, very high-risk young people are housed today in family-based satellite homes. There's a single care provider; there's typically a single child in some instances. And I talk particularly of the sexually exploitive youth that are very difficult to house. Yes, they are housed today in a satellite home by definition, but it's a family-based satellite home.
So I'm not clear where the minister is headed in terms of suggesting that this side of the equation is somehow different and more valuable than this. I'm of the opinion, a strongly held opinion, that we need both of those services to continue to be available in the province of British Columbia and not to
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do the semantic discussion. At the end of the day, does the service meet the new child's needs or not? In my view, this should be the benchmark. I would ask the minister to comment.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: What we're trying to undertake here is some consistency in terms of the services provided and consistency in terms of the legislation under which we offer services for children.
Satellite homes are not, at this stage, approved by the director. We the ministry, and our obligations to our broader community, suggest that that must be the case. While we have no argument with the
Part of it is assuring ourselves and assuring our community that we are indeed providing services through the ministry -- and it may be paid for by the ministry -- that we do need and that will benefit the children, and that we have confidence in that.
L. Reid: My question to the minister: when was approval for satellite homes withdrawn by the director?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I don't know whether the member has a specific instance in mind, but they were never approved in the first place. That's my understanding.
L. Reid: Then I'm hearing the minister put on the record that we have had young British Columbians in homes that were not approved. Certainly there have been children who have resided in satellite homes. How was that process undertaken?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: First of all, I want to assure the member that there aren't many of these still there. They're only in a few small areas of the province.
What happened was that after Gove, there was a huge influx into the system. Some contractors came on board, won some contracts and then recruited their own foster parents. They set up their own services. As that became known, the ministry realized that was not appropriate. It is contrary to the act and had to be cleaned up. That's the process that is unfolding at the present time. But the spaces may be useful, and there may be some people who have provided some services. So we have a sense of making use of some of those facilities, but not in that same way.
L. Reid: If the minister is talking since the Gove inquiry more than five years ago now, we have had children residing in satellite homes that the minister told us moments ago have not been approved, yet in fact those satellite homes received funding from this ministry. When you receive a salary for providing a service, I would only assume it's a service that's been condoned by the ministry.
I'm taking offence at the notion that somehow this service was maverick and rampant and rolled off by itself, providing a service. It was a service that was well known, frankly, to this ministry; it was contracted by this ministry; it was paid for by this ministry. The fact that the satellite home review report has come down and has affirmed the very good work that satellite homes do
The minister has not yet put on the record what type of resource she intends to replace this particular service with. Let me put this on the record. What I heard the minister say was that she would accept Cynthia Morton's recommendation that children in this province are entitled to ten days' notice before a move is basically acted upon or is implemented.
I would hope that applies to every single child in British Columbia -- that kind of human rights ethic is not determined by where you reside but is determined by the fact that you're a child, and that each child in the province is entitled to that level of protection, that decency and courtesy, if you will. I don't wish to see Cynthia Morton's recommendations come forward and be accepted for foster families in the province but not accepted for specialized community resources.
If the issue is that it's decent to give notice to children before they can be moved into a different placement, the pivotal point is the notice. It's not where that child happens to reside. If this is about doing the right thing by kids, I'm going to hope that this minister gets to her feet and tells me, without qualifying it in any way, that the principle is sound -- that notice is the principle and that her ministry will do all it can to ensure that that principle is lived up to the fullest.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: First of all, I need to clarify the point about Ms. Morton's recommendation. I appreciate what the member's saying, but it relates to foster care only. And as I know she knows, there's a dramatic difference between foster care, family-centred and contract group centres. I'd like to put onto the record that in terms of what we're undertaking here, we are working with the contracted sector -- so consultation -- to develop a new continuum of residential care for children and youth that will be inclusive of the family-based treatment model. This service model will replace some of the services currently being provided under the term satellite homes.
The child and youth residential services advisory committee will continue to play a big role -- a significant role indeed -- in defining this new continuum and making recommendations to the ministry in the development of policy and implementation of the new continuum, including how the ministry will provide services during the transition period. So that covers a number of the points that the member raised about the children and young people who may be in the current service, as they move into the different and -- what is under the new policy -- more appropriate service.
L. Reid: The minister's example did not respond to my question. I was making the claim and the case, very strongly, that satellite homes are foster homes. Can the minister assure me today that children who reside in satellite homes will be given ten days' notice if they are to be moved? That is the issue.
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Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I'd be happy to accommodate to this degree, and that is: if the setting in which the child is living is indeed a family setting and not a group home -- which is large, a little more distant, removed, not family-run -- then yes. That would fit within the spirit of Ms. Morton's recommendations.
L. Reid: I thank the minister very, very much for that. That will go a tremendous distance to ease the concern of young people today who have resided in these satellite homes for more than a year -- some of them upwards of two and three years. They are in situations where they are living with a family. This is not a staffed, residential resource; it is the same family member caring for them day in, day out. So I appreciate very much the minister's response.
I appreciate the difference very clearly between a staffed residential resource -- i.e., necessarily two or three shifts a day, a number of different staff people coming in
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: We will have to get that number. There are numbers in a number of different areas within the ministry. Unless we've magically produced a number here
L. Reid: I did appreciate that it would be a fairly large number. If the minister is prepared to give me that information at a later time, I'm more than happy to receive it. My concerns are around the number of children, how the service works, the average length of stay within those facilities, and the training and staffing component that allows those institutions -- facilities is perhaps a better term -- to be successful.
Certainly there appears to be a range. I will canvass that more clearly when we talk about accreditation, and I believe that will probably be tomorrow. But my understanding is that there's a range of skill sets; there's a range of placement options for young people in the province. I would want to have perhaps a later meeting with the minister, in terms of how to finesse the actual placement decision.
A number of these young people who have come to meet with me find themselves moving very rapidly between staffed residential resources. Sometimes the stay is two or three or four days before they're in a different placement. Some of that is perhaps adolescence, but some of it, I'm convinced, can be improved upon when it comes to ensuring that there's a better match from the outset. I'm not clear how that process works, but I would love to know more about that process as we go forward.
I want to spend a few minutes on the community living piece, and I referenced it
The groups that meet with myself and my hon. colleague from North Vancouver-Seymour talk about a wait-list and talk about the fact that even though they're 80, it does not mean that their offspring will be in a placement a year from now. It means that they will be considered for a placement for emergency crisis intervention if they were to fall down and break a hip, and we've had two of those instances as long as we've been attending these meetings. But it doesn't mean that there's a cohesive plan in place.
And yet the number of individuals this applies to is known. The offspring themselves are well over 40 years of age, so it's not a new entity. There's a finite group of souls that belongs to this particular support group, yet the plan that is, frankly, not there for most of them gives them great concern. I mean, these people are elderly -- dramatically much older than you and I, minister. These are people who are well over 75 years of age who need to know what will happen to their child, should they pass on, if you will -- a huge concern.
The member for North Vancouver-Seymour and I have spent many, many, many meetings with these individuals, whose concern is palpable. They have true desire to learn what the plan is. And if it's ever possible for this ministry to address a large-scale plan for this particular group, they would appreciate it. They meet monthly. They would appreciate some sense of stewardship, if you will, by the ministry for this very challenged population. These are not individuals who will ever live independently. They require a great deal of care and support to survive. I for one take my hat off to their parents, who have managed them faithfully day in, day out for sometimes upwards of 50 years -- an enormous parental commitment. I absolutely applaud the fact that they have done that.
I think that as a ministry, it would be more than appropriate to thank them often, to support them more readily, to make their lives less stressful. That is what I am placing on the floor today for discussion. I want this ministry to take some responsibility for stewarding these families as they age. They are a unique groups of individuals in this province who have, in my view, gone above and beyond the call of duty to be the parent that their child required for 50 and 60 years.
If that cost had been borne by this province, it would have been enormous cost. The fact of the matter is that they asked for very little, if anything, for upwards of 40 and 50 years. They weren't well supported, even in terms of respite care. We met a gentleman there who had not had a single weekend of respite care in 50 years -- heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking. Yet it's an enormous commitment that they have demonstrated not just to their children but to the social service agencies of this province over the last 50 years. They haven't asked the province for anything. It's time, in my view, that the province makes some overtures toward this group of families. I am happy to share the correspondence with the minister -- and I know she's received it directly -- on behalf of the support groups for parents of adults with mental handicaps.
An enormous obligation, I think, rests with this ministry now that this is Children and Families. These are families that are finding the next three or four or five years incredibly stressful. They found the last three or four or five years incredibly stressful. Those stresses will only increase as they continue to age. They want the comfort of knowing that there is a plan in place.
I respect that. I'm putting it on the table to the individuals who can actually make a difference in the lives of these young
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people and their families. I'm saying young because I too am about that age. But I want this to happen, so I'm trusting that this ministry will rise to the occasion and steward these families who are now well over 70 -- most of them in their eighties. Again, their children are now 40 and 50 years of age. I would invite the minister to comment.
A Voice: Minding the time.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I appreciate that time is being mentioned, but I think I could at least get to talk as long as my colleague on the other side.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: All right, I couldn't talk any faster. But I will talk a bit about this, and maybe we'll take it up again later.
A Voice: Time's up.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I know; time's up.
I too share the member's concerns. I too have met a number of families in this situation. Some of them are finding themselves quite
I heard of one in which the father, who is in his eighties, has a 44-year-old daughter. His wife died, and a sister of the young woman was brought in to help look after the family. The father discovered that there was a residential allocation of money available on a monthly basis. He started applying for it, he got it, and then he decided that maybe he should apply for this retroactively, because in fact this amount of money had been available since the late seventies. I thought this was terribly enterprising of this fellow to undertake this. I have no idea how successful he'd be, but I'm prepared to support him in his efforts to do that.
We recognize that this is a growing concern, and to that end, as the member knows, $7.5 million has been put in the budget for this sector to work on what the needs are. We want to discuss this with the sector in terms of what are some of the ways that we can best help.
First of all, the ministry is going to be asked to review its wait-lists. The options for allocating these funds will be explored by the provincial consultation table, the community living subsector table and the provincial mental health advisory committee. Families will be supported to continue caring for their son or daughter at home through options such as increased respite care, training and support or home support services. When it's no longer possible to support the adult living at home, residential placements will be arranged.
For example, approximately 138 adults could be provided with residential placements, or 600 adults could be provided with training and support services, or any combination of these two options could be used. We have 65 who could receive residential services, and 320 might receive some training and supports. The creativity is there. The regions will be asked to respond, because many of these things are issues that should be dealt with in the regions, in the communities where the families are to continue to support this.
I would like to continue with some of this, Mr. Chair. But noting the hour, I move that we rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 8:49 p.m.
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