2001 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, APRIL 2, 2001
Volume 22, Number 16
[ Page 17595 ]
The House met at 2:07 p.m.
P. Priddy: I know we don't have a list of everybody, but I think almost the entire gallery up there today is nurses who've come from all over the province to talk about the work that they do and how much their work is worth. It is and they are worth more, hon. Speaker, which is the point they made so strongly on the lawns of the Legislature. I would like people to make all of the nurses who are here welcome.
Hon. J. Doyle: I'm very pleased today to have in the gallery two friends. One is a good friend and a lawyer, a QC, who resides in Golden and practises law there: Glen Ewan. On Glen's right is a young woman, Chris McLaren, who works in my office. Chris McLaren has to be one of the nicest and most capable political staff who works in the building for anyone. Make them welcome.
C. Clark: We're joined today in the gallery by two people who are almost constituents of mine -- they actually reside in Burnaby North -- Celso Boscariol and his daughter Angela. I hope the House will make them welcome.
S. Orcherton: I had the pleasure today to have lunch with four truly tremendous community activists from greater Victoria: Ms. Ruth Miller, Ms. Fran Thoburn, Ms. Florence Best and Ms. Bernice Packford. They are Raging Grannies in the community, and they rage on behalf of social activism and to better the community that we all live in -- not only here in Victoria but indeed in British Columbia. I'd ask the House to make all of these wonderful women welcome to these chambers today.
Hon. J. Kwan: We have in the gallery today nine constituents of mine. They are strong community activists who argue and advocate for issues around poverty, housing, women's rights, child care, social rights -- you name it, and these women are there. They are also people who work with the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre. These nine constituents are: Mable MacDonald, Denny Prince, Gloria Baptiste, Debra Twohart, Ann Marie Clarke, Marie Keyespapamatao, Joanne Ross, Linda Moreau and Alice Kendall. Would the House please make them very welcome.
J. Dalton: There are two groups of Handsworth Secondary students somewhere in the precincts. In fact, maybe some of them are up in the gallery as we speak. They come from my neighbourhood, and I'm proud to say that two of my children graduated from Handsworth. Would everyone please welcome them to the precincts.
Introduction of Bills
AMENDMENT ACT, 2001
Hon. G. Bowbrick presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Provincial Court Amendment Act, 2001.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: Hon. Speaker, today I'm introducing amendments to the Provincial Court Act. These amendments will provide sitting justices of the peace with two hallmarks of judicial independence -- namely, security of tenure and financial security. These amendments are required due to the October 2000 Supreme Court of British Columbia decision in which Mr. Justice Sigurdson gave the government nine months to correct judicial independence issues.
Hon. Speaker, the amendments create a new designation of judicial justice. All persons currently called sitting justices of the peace will become judicial justices. The amendments will provide judicial justices with security of tenure by ensuring the judicial office is held until retirement, resignation or removal from office following an inquiry.
To ensure that the judicial justices have financial security, the amendments provide that their compensation will be reviewed by a compensation committee every three years. The committee makes a report to the Attorney General, which includes recommendations respecting remuneration, allowances and benefits. The report and recommendations will be laid before the Legislative Assembly for approval. The first committee will undertake their review this fall and will report to the Attorney General by April 30, 2002.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 22 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.
LABOUR NEGOTIATIONS IN B.C.
G. Campbell: Hon. Speaker, today we sit in this House while a number of labour negotiations are reaching a critical phase. There's great uncertainty, and there is potential for significant loss of important public services. There is no question that the government no longer has a mandate to negotiate these agreements.
So my question is to the Premier: will the Premier put the public interest first, declare a 60-day cooling-off period and call an election so we can carry out labour negotiations in an environment of stability where the public interest always takes precedence?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: We have always known that that side of the House doesn't believe in free collective bargaining. We've also known that the Leader of the Opposition has been asking for the election since May of 1996. He's going to get one pretty soon.
The Speaker: The hon. Leader of the Official Opposition has a supplemental question.
G. Campbell: There are critical public services that may be disrupted because of this government's incompetence. This
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government decided to bring all public sector agreements to fruition on March 31 of this year. We are now sitting in a situation where there is potential for services to be disrupted after the Legislature has been dissolved.
My question is simply put to the Premier: is the Premier willing to put the public interest ahead of his personal political agenda, call a 60-day cooling-off period and allow us to get on with negotiating agreements where the public interest comes first?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Hon. Speaker, I spoke to a couple of hundred nurses outside today, as did the Leader of the Opposition. We believe that public servants and health care workers ought to be paid well, and they ought to be able to engage in free collective bargaining in this province.
We will continue to bargain in good faith, until the writ is dropped, with anyone in British Columbia that the government needs to engage in collective bargaining with.
TENDERING PROCESS FOR
MANAGEMENT CONSULTING CONTRACTS
C. Clark: Hon. Speaker, I have another positioning note here, prepared for the Minister of Finance this time. You know, between the résumés from the NDP that are going out and the leaked documents that are coming in, all the fax machines in Victoria must be busy all the time these days. This note is prepared for the Minister of Finance about the auditor general's review of management consulting contracts. The note says: "The auditor general found inadequate planning, inappropriate contractor selection, poor contract management or a combination of these factors." And guess what the result was: 25 percent of the contracts that he reviewed did not render value for money.
So my question to the Minister of Finance is this: how can he justify a system where one in four contracts awarded does not render value for money for the taxpayers of British Columbia?
Hon. P. Ramsey: In fact, the review of the auditor general concluded that ministries did receive value for money from the great majority of their management consulting contracts. They did indeed also reveal that there are areas in which ministries should do better. I've received assurances from ministries involved that they intend to follow the recommendations of the auditor general and to make sure that, in the future, consulting contracts do meet the test as we get good value for taxpayers' dollars in British Columbia.
C. Clark: You know, somehow I thought the minister was going to say that. It's point 5, actually. I can think of a few other points he might have mentioned, but maybe he'll want to do that in his answer. I am actually sort of surprised that he's received it, because it was dated Wednesday.
I do want to make another quote from the note that's been provided for the minister. It says: "Because direct awards are easier and faster, managers have often opted for efficiency rather than a tendering process that's aimed at fairness and openness." Since when have the NDP decided that government should be run in such a way that they would value what's fast over what's fair, what's honest, what's open and what renders value for the taxpayers?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The member knows the answers. We are going to make sure that we get good value for money in these contracts. They've sampled 37, and they've said that around a quarter of the time there's a problem here. We're going to make sure we have in process a tendering project at the right level, and we're going to get good value for government dollars. We have in the past. That's what the report found out. We're going to make sure we do even better in the future.
R. Thorpe: I want to read another quote from the leaked positioning note. It states: "All of the ministries reviewed, with the exception of the Ministry of Forests, usually awarded their management consulting contracts directly and not in an open and fair manner as required by government policy." Can the Minister of Finance explain why all but one of the government's ministries are violating the government's own policy? Why?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Having made sure the review was underway, having made sure that all ministries are cooperating, having made sure that the findings are distributed, having received assurance from the ministries that they intend to implement the recommendations, we're on track to make sure that exactly what the member requires to be done is actually done in the public service of British Columbia.
R. Thorpe: The auditor general's report reviewed five ministries. Four of the ministries did not award contracts in a fair and open manner. In the spirit of openness and transparency, when the minister looks at his government having 19 ministries, will the Minister of Finance tell us how many other ministries are violating government's own policies?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The whole goal of this is to make sure that we have policies in place that do work. There are some revisions that are needed. The auditor general pointed that out. Among other things, he said the $25,000 threshold is one that should be reviewed, and we're doing it. That's exactly what you need to do to make sure that you're continually improving financial management in the public service. That's what we're doing; that's what we intend to implement.
EMPLOYMENT AND INVESTMENT MINISTRY
CONTRACT TENDERING PROCESS
G. Plant: I have a question for the Minister of Employment and Investment arising out of the same report of the auditor general. The Ministry of Employment and Investment awarded a contract related to the casino RFP process through what was initially a competitive process, but it was initially a $95,000 contract. However, the ministry subsequently amended the contract not just up to $150,000 or $250,000 but in fact all the way up to $800,000 instead of going back through a competitive re-tendering process as was and is the recommendation of the auditor general. Will the Minister of Employment and Investment tell us: why is it that his ministry feels justified in dramatically increasing contract values without returning to a competitive tender?
Hon. T. Stevenson: If you don't mind, I'd like to take that question on notice.
The Speaker: The member for Richmond-Steveston has a different question?
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G. Plant: Yes, I've got another question for the same minister about a
different issue in the report. As I read the report from the auditor general,
it's apparent that
Can the Minister of Employment and Investment tell us why he doesn't believe, apparently, that the work of the auditor general deserves a full and complete and thorough public response from his ministry in order that the public can be assured that action will be taken on these matters?
Hon. T. Stevenson: In fact, our ministry values the auditor general's report. We are certainly looking into and bringing about all the recommendations that the auditor general had.
G. Farrell-Collins: I notice that the briefing note for the Minister of Employment and Investment just came in the House, so I'll give him some time to read it.
The Speaker: Order, member.
ICBC BUDGET PROJECTIONS
G. Farrell-Collins: Perhaps he can answer us after question period.
My question is for the Minister of Finance. Last week we received documents, and the minister confirmed that ICBC was to give to the minister by March 31 their explanation of how they intended to meet the $75 million inflated revenue figure that the Minister of Finance had directed them to. Can the Minister of Finance tell us whether or not he's received that document, what's in it, and will he table it in the House today?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Actually, the minister responsible for ICBC informed the House last week on exactly how ICBC is going to attain its target. That target, by the way -- just to review -- of $75 million would be the lowest revenue that ICBC would have in its bottom line in the last four years -- the lowest. I think there's every opportunity for them not only to meet but to exceed it. ICBC will achieve this by continuing to work, as it has in the past, on road safety, on reducing the actual need for insurance. They have in place a comprehensive road safety initiative. They have in fact proposed additional ones, and the member knows that there's additional moneys attached to it. And they will bring forward a comprehensive plan so we can look in detail at how they achieve their target.
The Speaker: The Opposition House Leader -- supplemental question.
G. Farrell-Collins: I'll perhaps just remind the Minister of Finance
of what he signed in the letter that he sent to the minister responsible for
ICBC. In the first paragraph, it says: "As directed by Treasury Board, ICBC
must provide the following additional information to the Crown corporations
secretariat by March 31, 2000: a revised 2001 budget showing how the $75 million
net income target will be achieved with supporting information on key
initiatives and assumptions
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The Minister of Finance and I have been working away on this along with the board of directors of ICBC, who met last week to put their plan in place. It involves a wide range of safety initiatives to carry on with the good record that already exists over the course of the last five years.
Last week the member for Richmond-Steveston stood up here and said that we were doing political ads. You know what the ads were that he challenged as being political? They were about de-icing your car, to promote road safety. That's what they would do with ICBC. There are other ads and road safety initiatives around bicycling, around highway barriers and around high-crash areas. We are taking road safety extremely seriously. What they would do is end each and every road safety initiative, purely because they want to destroy ICBC.
The Speaker: The Opposition House Leader has a further supplemental question.
G. Farrell-Collins: I would have thought that the de-icing ads might
have been more appropriate in the fall and winter rather than in April, but
The Speaker: Order, members. Order, members.
G. Farrell-Collins: Having been born and raised in Saskatchewan, I don't need anybody to tell me about de-icing a car, thank you very much.
My question is to the Minister of Finance. Has he or has he not received a submission from ICBC that he demanded be in his possession by the end of the fiscal year? Has he or has he not received it?
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The minister responsible and I are working together on this. We will have that, and we will achieve their target.
But listen, hon. Speaker -- through you to the member. I don't know exactly where he lives, but I will report to him and to the House that on Saturday it snowed in Prince George, and I ended up scraping my windshield.
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The only reason ICBC wouldn't be able to attain a modest target of $75 million is if that opposition formed the government and undertook its plan to destroy road safety initiatives and privatize the corporation.
The Speaker: The bell ends question period.
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Janssen: I call second reading of Bill 8.
Hon. C. Evans: Hon. Speaker, I move that Bill 8 now be read a second time.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak today about Bill 8, Emergency Contraceptive Access Act. This bill ensures that women in British Columbia will have a viable option to prevent unplanned pregnancies or abortions. On October 26, 2000, cabinet approved amendments to two regulations contained in the Pharmacists, Pharmacy Operations and Drug Scheduling Act. These amendments were made to provide women another opportunity when it comes to choice about decisions about reproduction.
For nearly 30 years the women in British Columbia have had access to emergency contraceptive pills through public health nurses, doctors, emergency rooms and also through agencies such as Planned Parenthood. However, in some communities, particularly in rural or remote communities, access was not always easy to ensure. In order to work -- that is, to prevent a pregnancy -- emergency contraceptive pills must be taken within a 72-hour time frame. And access to ECPs in that time frame has been an issue for many women for many reasons, such as the inability to schedule a doctor's visit within the allotted time, unwillingness of a physician to prescribe the pill for whatever reason, the inability or unwillingness of some women to seek the prescription from their doctor and the need to rely on a clinic being open at the right time. Some agencies in rural and remote communities are open only one or two days a week, which severely limits women from accessing ECPs.
Bill 8 allows pharmacists to dispense emergency contraceptive pills in the absence of a doctor's prescription. This, in turn, obviously increases access to ECPs. Because the EC program is unique, pharmacists must be trained by a certified ECP trainer and certified by the College of Pharmacists of B.C. before they begin to dispense ECPs. Participation in the training program is voluntary, and to date, more than 1,000 pharmacists in nearly 200 B.C. pharmacies have attended the half-day course. Training for the EC program prepares pharmacists to provide women accessing ECPs with a brief counselling session. During that ten- to 15-minute session the need for ongoing contraception and the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases are reviewed, as are instructions on the proper use of the pills themselves and possible side effects. Some women may also be referred to their family physician, a walk-in physicians clinic, an adolescent clinic, an agency such as Planned Parenthood or an emergency department, depending on their circumstances.
Already we know that the average age of women accessing ECPs in B.C. is 20 to 29 years. Too many women for too long have been denied the use of emergency contraceptive pills, simply because they couldn't get them when they needed them. This is a product that has been in use for 30 years, because it is safe, effective and also practical.
The regulations approved last fall were a temporary measure and were put in place until this legislative confirmation could take place in the spring. Legislative change is also a temporary measure while women wait for ECPs to become delisted by the federal authorities. These temporary measures were put in place so that women would have another option today. This government has always been planted firmly on the side of a woman's right to choose. This legislation further enshrines those beliefs and leaves no doubt as to what our position is on a woman's right to choose.
It's not just that the government supports this legislation; the B.C. Pharmacy Association and the College of Pharmacists of B.C., along with organizations such as Planned Parenthood of B.C. and the provincial health officer, originally initiated this move. It is also supported by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada. It's also supported by the World Health Organization, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Pediatric Society.
Representatives of these groups sat side by side with the Premier at the news conference when he made the announcement in October that pharmacists could dispense ECPs without the need for a doctor's prescription. That conference was also well attended by media and received favourable national attention. Since then there has been overwhelming public support along with support from medical organizations, women's issues groups and individual medical practitioners. National newspaper editorials have congratulated the Premier and emphatically stated that his example should be followed in other provinces and territories of Canada. I am pleased to follow up on that campaign by presenting this legislative change to members of the House today.
I move second reading of the Emergency Contraceptive Access Act.
C. Hansen: This bill is about giving pharmacists the ability to dispense emergency contraceptives without a doctor's prescription. While I do not have a problem with that decision, I do have a problem with how this particular initiative has been reached in terms of the process that it's gone through over the last year.
I was in receipt of a letter from the Deputy Minister of Health -- it's a letter dated August 11 -- where the ministry's position was set out rather unequivocally. I'd like to share some quotes with the minister, because he was not Minister of Health at that time. In his closing remarks, I hope he will address these specific issues as to what changed from the time that his deputy minister wrote this letter.
We have had for the last number of years a process underway by the Health
Professions Council to look at the scope of practice of a whole range of
different health professions in British Columbia, including the role of
pharmacists in British Columbia. That report was only just released last week.
So certainly in October, when this order-in-council was first changed, we were
still waiting for the final report of the Health Professions Council; in this
letter the deputy minister addressed that very specifically. And she writes:
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issue of whether or not pharmacists ought to have 'prescribing' within their scope of practice must still be addressed. As you know, this matter is presently being considered by the council, and its preliminary recommendations were not supportive of such a change."
She goes on to say: "As previously indicated to the college, the government would be unwilling to make a policy decision of this magnitude without receiving the final recommendations of the council on this point." Later in the letter she refers to the relationship with the federal government, and she says: "It would be unprecedented for the Minister of Health to depart from current practice by recommending changes to the provincial drug regulations with the intended effect of 'delisting' certain substances."
Later she writes:
"The ministry would not be willing to proceed to enact a regulation with the express purpose of circumventing this process. I am pleased to note the collaboration with the provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall. The College of Pharmacists and the College of Physicians and Surgeons have made progress in the development of a pilot project to improve access to emergency contraception in British Columbia. In light of what I understand to be significant progress of the pilot project, I do not see the need to revisit the issue of the requested amendments to the drug schedules regulation at this time."
Well, something changed shortly after that letter was written. Basically what happened was that the Premier -- I would suggest on somewhat of a whim -- decided that this would be a great initiative to happen. And suddenly things had to change to meet the announcement that was made by the Premier, in spite of what was clearly the advice and consideration coming from the Deputy Minister of Health.
So in the closing remarks to this particular piece of legislation, I would like the minister to rationalize what is contained in this letter from his deputy with that of the process that has subsequently been followed. Hon. Speaker, in closing I would like to tell the minister that at the time this announcement was made, as official opposition Health critic I supported it. I will support this legislation, but I think the minister still has some questions that this House deserves answers to.
Hon. C. McGregor: It gives me great pleasure to rise in the House and support Bill 8 today. I must say, I was getting extremely disturbed by the Health critic's comments just moments ago. I find it of concern to me that the women members of his caucus seem unable to respond on something that I see as a very important women's health issue.
It's interesting. I have this very same debate on the question of women's health issues and whether or not increased access to reproductive services is an important issue in communities and amongst the women's health community. I said to the reporter: "Well, unnamed reporter, if we had new services available for heart surgery, would we be having a debate about whether or not you get to keep the old level of service because that was good enough? Or would we be insisting that we have access to those new health services in every community around the province?"
I went on to say that if we were talking about knee surgery and there was this new tool and new types of, let's say, laser therapy that's used to correct a knee problem in a non-surgical way, and that improvement became widely available around the province, would we say it's okay that people in some parts of the province can just do with the services that currently exist? Or would we say that every person, regardless of where they live, deserves to have access to that better health treatment?
Women's reproductive services and access to abortion and the emergency contraceptives fall in exactly the same category. These are improved health services to women, and don't let anyone in this House or outside this House be fooled by some little mystical legend they have on the other side of the House that somehow maintaining existing services is a commitment to women's reproductive rights. It is not, hon. Speaker. It is not.
Over the years I've come to know and respect many of my colleagues on the other side of the House, and I'd say that's particularly true of my women colleagues on the other side of the House. I think it's very disappointing that they are being gagged or silenced by their House strategy to not speak on this important issue, because I do think it's worth all of us standing together on improving access to this service for women, no matter where we come from.
The Health critic talked about being opposed to this on the matter of process -- or he's concerned about the process. I won't say he's opposed, because I did gather from the end of his comments that he actually did support the initiatives, so that is also very good to hear. But he talked about waiting until we had a scope of practice report or waiting until physicians and surgeons, the College of Pharmacists and others came to some common understanding about when might be an appropriate time to deliver this new service or a different type of practice, and give pharmacists the capacity to dispense emergency contraceptives.
If we always waited until there was a consensus around how to move forward, we would all still be treading water on so many issues; we would, in this House, be stagnant. We have to take efforts to move things forward. We did have a considerable level of consultation with a number of agencies and organizations including the pharmacists themselves, who agreed that it was very appropriate for them to have higher levels of training and to make sure that they were counselling young women as they accessed this emergency contraceptive in order to avoid a pregnancy.
Of course consultation is important. But do we put consultation ahead of giving women access to a service, a tool, that would enable them to avoid pregnancy before it happens? Or should we instead say: "You'll just have to wait, young woman, until you can get into your doctor's office -- perhaps next week -- because you live in a more rural or remote part of the province. Or perhaps you won't have access at all, in fact, because the local hospital in your area or local physicians in your area don't agree with the dispensing of certain types of medications, and so your choices are limited?"
Is it not better for us to make available now to young women and other women
who find themselves in a position where their original form of birth control
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I spoke briefly to the question of rural access, and I think that's one of the points that the minister responsible made in his opening remarks. I do believe that the question of access is different in different parts of the province. And in fact, as we noted earlier, the weather can also be different in different parts of the province. But we need to make sure that there is a service accessible to young women and other women who might find themselves in need of the use of this pill in order to avoid pregnancy, and this provides one other method through which that can happen.
Young women, in particular, are very interested in the availability of this drug. I understand that the women's health bureau has done some work with campus organizations, young women across British Columbia, to make this information available so that women who find themselves in a position where they're not certain whether or not they've become pregnant as a result of sexual activity are able to access this new service. And it's been highly successful. In fact, in the 12 weeks since the December 1 effective date, 1,207 women have received emergency contraceptive pills from a licensed pharmacist. And of those -- I think this is an interesting statistic, and it's from the press release -- more than 55 percent needed the pills because their first line of defence against pregnancy had failed. So I think it's a significant issue for us to remember that in many cases, this is a backup for young women and other women who have used a certain type of contraceptive that they believe may have failed. And this gives them additional protection to avoid pregnancy when they don't want it.
We had a visit from a number of health care professionals in the Legislature today -- nurses from all over the province. I noticed there was at least one representative from the Kamloops area. And it reminded me of the links between what we're doing here today around this question and health generally. We cannot delink these matters. Women's health and access to reproductive services, new drugs, pharmaceuticals and alternative forms of pregnancy avoidance are all a part of the net of hospital services that nurses, who are here today, support. And so do all of us on this side of the House. I think it's important for us to remember, in the context of the importance of health services, that reproductive services for women and new services for access to emergency contraceptives are something that we must do to move forward on the women's health front. We cannot separate out this health issue from other women's health issues.
I do want to quote briefly from an article that I read in the Globe and Mail in October of last year, when we first made the decision to pass, through regulation originally, the capacity for pharmacists to deliver this product to young women. It starts off by saying: "Here's a click of the champagne flute to British Columbia Premier" -- and it names our Premier -- "for his announcement that the morning-after pill will soon be available to women over drugstore counters."
Let's talk about why it's important. I'm just going to select one paragraph from this. It's not about process, hon. member, with all due respect. It's about giving patients better access to the kind of information and services they need in order to control their own decisions about when to have children. And here's how it's phrased: "The Premier's announcement is a step forward in the growing trend to give power to the patient. A woman in British Columbia can now decide for herself whether to use this preventative measure. She does not have to face a potentially hostile or indifferent doctor to get a prescription. She doesn't have to wait a week to get in to see her family doctor and then miss the opportunity to forestall a pregnancy she doesn't want." And then, hon. Speaker, the alternative is other kinds of more interventionist health services in order to end that pregnancy.
This is the right thing for all of us to stand up and support in this House. This is about the fundamental value of giving women the right to choose and to control their own bodies. This is about making a commitment to improving health services to 52 percent of the population of this province, and that's women.
I urge the members here to support Bill 8, and I hope to see some of my women colleagues across the way stand up and speak to it as well.
L. Boone: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to stand here on what I see as one of the most progressive bills that I've seen come through this Legislature in the 14 years that I've been here, whether it be as a member of the opposition or as a member of the government. I heard some colleagues over there indicating that we were filibustering our own bill. However, hon. Speaker, I'll have you know that I'm speaking on this not because we want to prolong this debate, but because I and many of my colleagues believe that this is an extremely important issue and one that we want to express our support for. I would hope that others might stand up and also express their support.
I also believe within my heart -- and I hope they're not going to show me differently -- that the opposition will in fact vote for this bill. It is a progressive bill, and it's one that is about choice. It's one that shows that women have the right to choose what they do with their bodies. It gives them an alternative to some conditions and situations that may not be ones that the opposition would like to see, such as abortion.
This is not an abortion pill. Some may think of it as being the abortion
pill, but it is not an abortion pill. What it in fact does is, if taken within
72 hours after unprotected intercourse, preferably within 24 hours
So for me, this is giving women a choice, an opportunity to make decisions about their bodies, about the medical procedures that they want to be involved with. I look back and think: why hasn't this been around for a long time? Maybe I'm wrong, but you've got to think that sometimes it may be because men are making a lot of these decisions. I think that we ought to be able to make the decisions.
I strongly believe that our first line of defence against unwanted pregnancies has to be education, has to be informing individuals about how they can prevent unwanted pregnancies and what they can do with their bodies. But if that fails, if the education has not seeped through and they haven't understood what this information is, and a woman or young girl finds herself in a situation where she could possibly be pregnant, from my position I believe that this pill is the best alternative for that individual -- rather than undergoing an unwanted pregnancy and having to face the situations that she does or having to have an abortion later on if she wants to.
To me this seems like a way for a woman to make a choice about her body that I wish had been there had I been a
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young girl. Mind you, I was a young girl once, wasn't I? I don't remember those days. I was lucky not to have to ever make that decision. Both of my daughters were wanted pregnancies, and I was lucky that I had parents that informed me and gave me lots of information and lots of options. So both of my daughters -- I'll say this quite publicly -- were wanted pregnancies; they were both there. And I love them very dearly. I was never put in a situation where I had to make a decision such as that. But I know many who have been, and I know that they wish they had an opportunity to have this pill available to them.
So from my perspective, hon. Speaker, I see this as being a landmark piece of legislation. If people may question why the Premier intervened and why he brought this in now, I'm saying: "Right on." If he went ahead and said, "I'm not waiting for more discussions on this; I'm not waiting for a body to make a decision on this. I believe this is the right thing to do," then right on for the Premier. He's done the right thing as far as I'm concerned, and he ought to be applauded for that, not chastised.
When it comes down to the final vote, I think the members opposite -- many of whom I know, as well, especially my female colleagues -- will stand up in support of this bill. I look forward to seeing them join with the government in celebrating a bill that truly gives women an alternative to abortions, an alternative to unwanted pregnancies and something that I think will be well received throughout the population.
Hon. S. Hammell: I rise to support second reading of the Emergency Contraceptive Access Act. Before I go into the body of what I want to say, I do want to comment on what I understand the opposition's position on this issue has been to date. I understand that one of the major positions the opposition has taken is that choice is a federal issue and therefore should not preoccupy the minds or the time of provincial legislators. Now, the delivery of health services is quite clearly a provincial issue, as are a number of the issues that we deal with in general around the abortion issue.
But I did get somewhat confused, because then I understood from the
opposition that the first
But then I understood that choice was a confidence motion, so that anyone who
spoke out against -- and I believe it was -- the status quo, given these issues,
would be considered
It is disturbing because as my colleague has mentioned, we are moving into the twenty-first century. And as we move in any health field, new information is discovered. There are new breakthroughs, given the constant search for new ways of doing things. If we are to make these things available to women, we have to be prepared to move with the times. Therefore the status quo is not good enough; it is just not good enough. I think that nothing could say it clearer than the emergency contraceptive.
Imagine a women's concern when she discovers that the first line of defence in birth control has failed, and she begins to worry about the possibility of pregnancy. We all know -- and many of us know very well -- that there are other options. If you are pregnant, you can continue with the pregnancy; you can have an abortion; if you're young, you can actually keep the child -- and many of us support a young mother doing that -- or you can give the child up for adoption. But this option provides the possibility that you don't get pregnant. You actually don't get pregnant.
We know that we believe that women should be able to decide whether or not they get pregnant. And here is a pill, a method of contraception, that actually prevents pregnancy. It's new. We are now talking about the fact that we're rushing. I mean, it's been around for a long time. Maybe we shouldn't be worried about the fact that this pill today can make a huge difference to women in this province.
We said that too many women, for too long, have been denied the use of emergency contraception pills simply because they couldn't get them when they needed them. Whether it was because they couldn't schedule a doctor's appointment within that necessary time limit, because they had doubts about getting them from an emergency room or because the local agency dispensing ECPs had limited hours of operation -- that isn't the point. The point is that emergency contraceptive pills should be readily available to all women and not just some.
For many women the difficulty in accessing emergency contraception means a great deal of heartache and unnecessary anxiety. But with the passage of this legislation, we will now have a legislative basis for broad and convenient access to ECPs directly from pharmacies. Allowing pharmacists to dispense ECPs without a doctor's prescription enables women to have closer control over their own bodies.
ECPs have proven safe and effective, and as mentioned in the House last week, they have been in use in B.C. for almost 30 years. Now, I know we shouldn't rush into things. I know we should maybe wait a bit longer. Basically they are a form of birth control that, as has been said, when taken within 72 hours prevents unintended pregnancies. ECPs are a form of backup when other prevention methods have failed.
Over half of the women who have received ECPs directly from the pharmacist since this was taken in received them on weeknights and weekends -- exactly when they are not available through prescription from their family doctor.
The average age of women requesting ECPs is 20 to 29 years old, the same group that is most likely to have an abortion. What we're doing here is preventing the pregnancy in the first place. To make women wait any longer for something that has proven to be medically safe and highly effective is unnecessarily callous.
After the passage of this legislation, ECPs will be widely and readily available to all British Columbia women. This change to legislation is right for women and right for all. The move to legislate easy access to ECPs was first initiated by the B.C. Pharmacy Association and the College of Pharmacists of B.C., together with such agencies and organizations as Planned Parenthood of B.C. and the provincial health officer. It is also supported by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, the World Health Organization, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Pediatric Society and many more.
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With that kind of support from so many professionals, it would be unconscionable not to provide women with easy access to ECPs. Acting in the interests of all women in B.C., I lend my full support to this legislation. I know that across Canada, the medical professions, policy-makers, researchers, educators and women watching the B.C. government as we take a leadership role in women's health initiatives applaud us.
Improving access to emergency contraceptives will help reduce teen pregnancies, which are alarmingly high in particular parts of the province. It will also help reduce abortion rates across the province.
I would like to note that the World Health Organization recognizes that the emergency contraceptive pill is highly cost-effective. The cost of supplies and services to provide ECPs will be more than covered by the savings to the health system in preventing unplanned pregnancies and abortions. In the long run, it will also mean savings in the social services sector.
But the most compelling reason to make this change is simply because women have the right to choose, and this government supports that right.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I too am pleased at what I think is a historic moment to rise and offer my support for the Emergency Contraceptive Access Act and to talk about it a little bit in terms of the experience that I've had over the last ten years in what I considered to be an honour in many of the jobs that I've held in government and also as a person who is integrally involved with educating youngsters.
I must say, hon. Speaker, that when I was given by then Premier Harcourt the honour of my very first assignment, which was then Minister of Social Services, I was on a very steep learning curve. I came from a background where my family was working class, but we were never faced with poverty such as the poverty that I saw when I became Minister of Social Services. Some may remember that in those days the portfolio included not only financial assistance, social assistance, but also the welfare of children.
While our province was a rich province and we had a high standard of living -- and we do have a high standard of living -- there were people living in poverty throughout this province. I saw the effect of that deepening poverty when young women, particularly teenagers, had children that were a result of an unwanted pregnancy. There were many reasons for those unwanted pregnancies, but the first and foremost reasons were (1) the lack of education on how to prevent pregnancies and (2) the lack of ability to quickly stop the effects of their actions.
We know that teens who are young moms and young dads -- but mostly young moms -- end up single parents in the vast majority. They end up having to struggle out of a life of poverty. They also, until the very last decade under our government, usually faced having to end their education. Our government reversed a lot of those horrible situations that young moms faced. We provide day care in many high schools in this province. We provide for young moms to get an education, through social assistance and special assistance, to make sure that their educational training is not broken. We've also changed the student financial assistance rules so that young moms have a much better chance of completing a degree or completing an aspect of post-secondary education and are then able to support their child.
But when you talk to anyone, they will say -- whether it be the grandmom, the granddad or the parent: "My gosh, if only I had the opportunity to reverse the effects of being a mom too young. If only I had the opportunity to have available as much education as I possibly could have in order to practise proper birth control. If only there could have been something to help me avoid pregnancy." That doesn't mean that they don't love their children; they love their children. But they struggle each and every day, and the child struggles each and every day -- that child who is the result of a surprise pregnancy.
What our government has done is taken a very courageous step. On the one hand it is a courageous step, but on the other hand it seems almost a required, natural step: to take advantage of the medical technology available to allow every child to come into this world wanted and well supported. And that's what the emergency contraceptive pill is all about. It's called the morning-after pill, because it's taken the morning after, and it prevents pregnancy from even occurring.
Some may say that this is an unusual subject to have in the Legislature. In fact, as a cabinet minister very committed to ensuring that there's broader access for women's reproductive choice, I can't tell you how many times I faced that question last week. "Why are you doing this in the Legislature? Why does this belong in the Legislature?" And I expect some of the young students who are here with us today may be a little bit taken aback by the debate that's occurring. But the provision of health services is the responsibility of legislators. The provision of health services is not only the responsibility of legislators but the responsibility of provincial legislators. That's why the services for reproductive choice that are offered in Prince Edward Island are entirely different than the health services for reproductive choice offered to women in B.C. That's why our education system addresses this matter in a way that's much different elsewhere in Canada.
I must say that as I tour the province as Minister of Education now and go to towns that are outside of the lower mainland and outside of the lower Island, students are very interested in ensuring that they have every viable opportunity as they move forward to have a strong, secure financial future. They understand that the issue of reproductive choice is front and centre in providing them with those future opportunities and the best chance in life.
So today our government is passing legislation that ensures the provision of the emergency contraceptive pill and that entrenches this health right for women in British Columbia. It is certainly being lauded in other parts of the country. Just as with so many things that happen in British Columbia, one must go outside of B.C. to actually have people celebrate the advancements that occur here, because there's so much din and noise and so much doom and gloom from the official opposition around so many issues that it overrides the wonderful health news that exists. And this is a perfect example of this, hon. Speaker.
Members of the opposition would stand up and say that the status quo is fine. What status quo? I'd like them stand up and say exactly what they mean by the status quo. Is it back in the late eighties when the same people that are now running
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as Liberal candidates stood up -- I think it was in this Legislature or certainly in the precincts -- and said: "If you're on welfare, you won't have your abortion paid for"? That same person is running as a Liberal candidate in this upcoming election. Or is it that the same candidates would prevent having this discussed in the education system? Is that the status quo that they're supporting?
You know, this is a legitimate discussion to have. It isn't just about abortion. I understand that that's a controversial topic for people to discuss in public, even though it's a women's health issue. But it's about the future of young people. It's about people being able to have access to every health care service available to make their future better. It means that if a child breaks her leg when she's a young person, she should be able to have that leg repaired so that she can go on and have a bright future and she isn't disabled by that broken leg. It means that a young woman who finds herself in a situation that she chooses not to be in should be able to avail herself of every health care service available to change that health course. It's no more complex than that.
So what status quo is the opposition talking about? If they were talking about the status quo, we would be in a declining situation each and every day from having women have this women's health service available to them. Eventually we would be in a situation where the health care service probably wouldn't be able to be provided. The emergency contraceptive pill is not a breakthrough. As my colleagues have said, it's been available for 30 years. But it is a breakthrough in British Columbia. Yes, it is, just the same way that our provision of the national clinical trials around mifepristone -- RU486 -- is a breakthrough for women in British Columbia, just the same way that our providing security against horrible attacks on health care providers of these services is a breakthrough for British Columbians.
Others say we're courageous. That bastion of national discussion, the Globe and Mail, has said that we should be lauded for our progress in the area of early contraception. They don't say it's the status quo, though. They say it's a breakthrough; they say it's something that needs to be done to advance with the women's health agenda. So what's status quo? I really need to understand the definition of status quo that the Liberal opposition would say exists in British Columbia.
I must also say that if the Liberal opposition refuses to define their status quo, each and every woman is at risk in obtaining a legal health service. If they refuse to say what that is, every woman in this province should fear that every service is at risk, because things have changed substantially over the last decade. This whole area of health service has changed substantially over this decade. And if we cannot be guaranteed, as women in British Columbia, that not only are all of the gains made in the last decade assured but also the newest advances guaranteed, then they're all at risk.
This emergency contraceptive pill will help each and every young woman in this province learn to be able to make sure that any unforeseen actions can be reversed and that that young woman is given a chance to be fully educated on all of her reproductive health care choices. That's what the resolution was about that we debated last week, and that's what this bill is about this week.
This is truly a good moment in time for health care in British Columbia. It's a good moment in time that we're having this open debate. Public policy is made in the open. Public policy isn't made around such an important issue by remaining silent, by refusing to say what your position is. I really hope, as is often the call from everyone in this Legislature, that debate may break out, because that's exactly what's needed now, hon. Speaker.
[D. Streifel in the chair.]
J. Pullinger: I'm very pleased to stand in this House to speak in
favour of this issue. It's been quite interesting, but not at all surprising, to
watch what's happening on this issue both from the members opposite and in the
media, where we've seen various columnists -- all male -- say that this is not
an issue. The speaker on the other side, because they refuse to debate anything
In my 12 years in elected office, I can honestly say that there has never been an issue like this one has garnered such widespread attention in my constituency. It's not a huge issue at the moment, because this government, since 1991, has made it very clear that every single member on this side of the House will protect women's right to make their own decisions about their own bodies and their own lives. The starting place for women's equality -- the starting place to start moving the majority into some semblance of equality, which doesn't exist now -- is for a woman to have the right to control her own body and therefore her own life.
But we've listened to man after man, whether it's in the opposition or in the media, say: "It's not an issue." Well, it is an issue; it is a very serious one. It can be a life-threatening issue for women. I've seen that when free-enterprisers took over the board of my hospital in Nanaimo a few years back to impose their views on all of the women in the mid-Island; it was a huge issue.
There's a number of ways that one can deal with this issue. One is that you can be gutsy. You can stand up and take a position, and you can defend your position. The other one is to hide under your desks or in your office and pretend it's not an issue. I guess what that says is that there is clarity on this side of the House. We believe absolutely in a woman's right to reproductive choice; the members opposite do not. That is very clear.
We have, for example, a member from Whistler who wrote a letter of fear a couple of years ago to his leader, his caucus colleagues, saying: "You know, one of our members has been promoting the pro-life agenda, and I'm worried about our drift to the right." He's initiated meetings. He's had meetings with John Hof, who's a very rabid known anti-choice person in British Columbia, and I respect his views. I just don't respect any right of his to impose upon me or anybody else. But that's happening in the Liberal caucus. There's a real push to move the agenda to the right, and some of the members over there are very worried about that. I'm sure the member from Richmond, who's a feminist in many ways, is very worried about that.
According to that letter, John Hof has identified 13 people in this caucus who are against choice for women -- 13. Hon. Speaker, you add to that people like Graham Bruce, who spoke up against the decriminalization of abortion and in
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favour of Bill Vander Zalm's actions to make it very difficult -- in some cases, impossible -- for women to have access to legal, safe abortions. Graham Bruce has changed his hat, I think, for the third time; I think he was a Reformer for a while there. But he's back, reincarnated as a B.C. Liberal for Gordon Campbell. And he took a strong a position in support of Vander Zalm and against decriminalizing abortion.
A little bit farther up-Island, Stan Hagen, who was a Socred -- who is now a Liberal -- did exactly the same thing. And Claude Richmond, the one that sold out one of my communities during the 1991 election, also takes the same stand. And I think there's another former member of the Socred caucus who's now running for the opposition. All of them -- every single one of them -- stood against women's right to choose.
So that's 13 identified today by a letter from a member from that opposition, through one of the people they meet with all the time and talk to, evidently. I know of four more that were elected and took action against women's right to choose. And there is a whole string of former Socred candidates who were unsuccessful. Heaven knows what their position is, but it seems to me the odds are about 50-50 on whether or not they would support women's right to reproductive choice.
South of the border we have a President who shares many of the same values as the members opposite: money first, private gain over public good first. Massive tax cuts which primarily benefit the most privileged and elite among us should be a priority. Pay equity is no good. Child care should not happen. Public education, etc. -- anything that we do collectively or for ourselves through government -- is somehow a terrible thing and therefore should be pushed back.
Well, we know that the members opposite are against child care; we know that they're against pay equity. We know that they're against many things that have helped to close the poverty gap and the wage gap for women and to make this a better place to live for huge numbers of people who otherwise had huge difficulties.
So we know that there's a same value shared south of the border by George Bush and the members opposite -- many of them, huge numbers of them. They won't tell us exactly how many; they refuse to do that. They keep hiding under their desks and in their offices, hoping that they can duck this like they duck every other issue, and trying to make placating comments to the public so they won't find out their real agenda.
But this is an issue. Women are losing the right to reproductive choice. There are some 20 percent fewer physicians who will do abortions now; therefore, even just to protect the status quo, you have to continue to move forward. The members opposite continue to say that they'll protect the status quo; yet you have the member for Matsqui standing up and saying that they're going to go back to hospital boards. Well, guess what. That makes it real easy for those free-enterprisers who believe the same way a whole number of the members opposite do to take over those hospital boards.
What about when they do massive tax cuts which will erode the tax base to support social programs such as health and education? Every single year they've voted against our increases in health and education. They admire Alberta and Ontario, where they've shut down hospitals and restricted access to education and cut programs for children. We know that's what they believe in. They think that a tax cut, where most of the benefit will go to a few at the top, is a priority.
But what happens if in fact they had the opportunity to do that? What happens? They're going to have to cut something. We all know that. Even their economists, like David Bond and the chartered accountants and the WEFA Group and a whole range of them, have said that all you ever get back from a tax cut through economic growth is around 35 to 40 percent. So that means that 60 cents on every dollar is lost permanently from the public purse and the public good.
So what happens? What are they going to cut? Well, I would be willing to bet that they'll just kind of find that they don't have enough money to fund abortion services. So I'll be watching very carefully to see what these members do or don't do on this bill. They have, for five years at least, ducked the issue; they've refused to tell British Columbians clearly where they stand. I think they owe it to the public to do that, whatever their position is. I think it's important that we move forward on these kinds of issues.
I want to just speak briefly about some of the reasons why I think this is very significant to the majority. We're not talking about a minority here, although they like to have referenda on minorities. Maybe we should have a referendum on this one. That would be great, because we're talking about majority rights, not minority rights. What we're talking about here is women's right to choose. This morning-after pill, as it has been called, is about expanding women's right to choose.
When the opposite member's party in its previous incarnation, Social Credit, was in power, they were happy to have in place a system where a women who made her own decision about reproductive choice was a criminal. They were happy to have in place a system where three physicians -- men, usually, just because of the demographics of this country -- got to decide whether or not it was an emergency, whether it was life-threatening. In some very, very restrictive circumstances, those three -- usually men, or predominately men -- could decide a woman's fate, quite frankly, and they were happy with that. They cut funding for abortion services. They turned a blind eye when hospital boards were being taken over by a handful of people who would deny abortion rights to women. It happened in my community, and there were almost absolutely tragic circumstances.
So they stood by. They turned a blind eye without taking any proactive steps to shut down abortion, other than cutting funding. Of course that's in the name of restraint or something, which the opposition is setting itself up for again. What happened was not proactive. They didn't have the guts to bring legislation into the House to say: "We on this side oppose abortion." No, the Social Credit didn't have the courage to do that. They didn't duck and weave quite as much as the opposition, the current incarnation of free-enterprisers, does. But what they did was turn their backs, and we had a situation where huge numbers of women were effectively denied the right of reproductive choice, and we're staring that in the face again.
This is about women making their own choices, not the three physicians -- which was the law that was struck down sometime ago against the will of the free-enterprisers of the day. It's about women not having to go through a physician or an abortion clinic or the harassment that women get when going to an abortion clinic to end a pregnancy. This is about
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expanding contraception. It's a woman's decision; it's a decision that is hers alone. By taking this step to allow pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill, at last women can walk in, and nobody will know whether they're buying aspirins or they're buying a morning-after pill. At the end of the day, that is, in my view, one of the most significant things about this piece of legislation. We are the first in Canada to take this step, I understand -- the first. It's an enlightened step that puts our money where our mouth is, which says that we do believe that women should have the right to choose, and we will take whatever steps available to us to make sure that happens. So this is about broadening the choice that women have to control their own bodies and their own lives.
Secondly, one of the ways the opposition is ducking and weaving and hiding
and squirming is to pretend that this is a federal issue, which is an absolute
red herring. It's about as honest as many of the other statements I've heard
coming from that side of the House. It is simply not true. Obviously, at the end
of the day, it is here in the provincial Legislature where this issue is
decided. Whether or not you'll have people who impose their views by neglect or
by conscious proactive effort doesn't matter -- it has the same effect. Or
whether you have people in this Legislature, the majority of whom will defend
women's right to choose
So it is a health issue in great measure as well as an issue of women's equality. Anybody who knows anything about this issue knows that unless we take these kinds of measures to make reproductive choice and abortion services readily available to women where needed, the consequences are horrific. There is an absolute parallel between restrictions on reproductive choice, access to birth control and abortion services, and women dying from backdoor abortions. Thank God that doesn't happen now that women have the right to make that choice and to have wider access to contraceptives and abortion services when they need it.
This is a health issue. It's about the health of women in the first place. It's about the health of families in the second place. Ultimately, it's about the health of communities when women have the right to control their bodies and their lives. There's a line in the song that we sing every year on March 8, which says that the rising of the women is the rising of the race, and that's absolutely true. So if we really want to promote women's health and community health, we need to make sure that women have access to this and to other means of controlling their own reproduction.
Thirdly, there's a cost factor here. There are a large number of abortions done every year. I don't think there's anybody who thinks that abortion is necessarily a positive thing. The issue is about who gets to make the decision about what happens to an individual woman -- whether it's that individual or whether it's places like this, which continue to be male-dominated, that will make those choices. There is a cost factor. And with this breakthrough -- and it truly is a breakthrough -- in British Columbia, where pharmacists can now provide the morning-after pill to women who decide they need that service, clearly it's an awful lot less expensive in every way imaginable to provide this emergency contraception. There's a huge cost saving to providing this emergency contraception as compared to all of the alternatives where pregnancy is unwanted. So this is a cost-effective measure, as well, and should be applauded for that.
The fourth reason I would say is that, sadly, we have seen in this province
that when government takes the appropriate stand to say, "The decision
about reproduction and the decision about abortion are decisions to be left to
the individual woman and whoever that individual woman chooses to deal with in
making that decision
For example, when we funded the freestanding abortion clinics, we have seen intolerable harassment of women and physicians and support workers to the point where we had to put a bubble zone around those clinics to protect the women, to protect the service providers, to protect the people who work there. The opposition voted against it. They evidently don't mind harassment of women and doctors. They certainly don't like the freestanding clinics; a number of their members have made that clear in comments through the media and various places.
But what we have here is that by having access to a morning-after pill, we are providing women with what I believe is their right to contraception to prevent a pregnancy without the kind of harassment and abuse, quite frankly, that has been happening since we protected women's right to choose. Similarly, this will obviously, as I say, be a cost savings to the system. But it also will protect physicians and other workers in hospitals and in clinics, in their offices and in their homes from the kind of harassment and abuse that we have seen too often from people who want to impose their views -- their own religious and moral views -- on others.
So I think that this is an excellent step forward; it is groundbreaking. I applaud my colleagues for taking this difficult step to make sure that women have the right to the morning-after pill for those reasons as well.
At the end of the day -- and maybe this is what some of the opposition to women controlling their own bodies is about -- this is about power. It's about empowering the citizens to make their own health decisions, and that is a trend generally. We've sent out a book to people that provides them with information and places they can call to make their own health decisions, which is a good thing. It's about empowerment of citizens, which is always a good thing. This fits with the trend that we've been following in British Columbia for some time now. I think it's a good thing.
Secondly, it's about the power of women. It's about the power of an individual woman in her own individual circumstances to make her own individual decision about something that will profoundly and permanently change her life. And that is a good thing. Women must have the power to make their own choices, and the freedom of reproductive choice for a woman is the building block on which everything else that we build towards women's equality rests. Without the right to control your own body and your own life and your own family, women's equality can't happen; it simply cannot happen. So this is about the power of individual women in their own individual circumstances to make their own individual decisions. That is a good thing, and it's a necessary thing.
But at the end of the day, this is about the power of women. If the 52 percent of the population that are women have the ability to control their own lives and bodies, then we can build towards women's equality. There are some who still think that there's a hierarchy and that women have a place defined in years past by churches -- and still in some. There
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are some that still think that they should define what women's role is and that it should be very narrowly restricted to the home. Some still think that women must put all of their own interests aside, and they should not be empowered to move beyond that traditional role and do whatever their talents and interests dictate they can and should do in terms of contributing to the larger society.
So at the end of the day, in the debate around abortion, or more correctly reproductive choice, who gets to decide is the issue. It's about power. It's about control of women or control by women. And this takes a step in the right direction to make sure that what we have is control by women, not control of women. So I'm extremely pleased on that basis, as well, that we're taking this important step forward.
I always find it interesting that the anti-choice agenda comes in an interesting package. On the one hand, those who take the anti-choice position are generally right wingers; they're generally free marketers; they're generally small governmenters. They say government shouldn't intervene in the marketplace, but on the other hand, it's okay for government to intervene in the most personal decision in women's lives. They are people who say that government is inherently bad and therefore we should cut taxes in a massive way, which undermines the tax base. Then we get an excuse to privatize health care, as we've seen in Alberta, or to cut services for children, as we've seen in Alberta, or to make education far more expensive, as we've seen in Alberta, or to drive the gap between the haves and the have-nots, as we've seen in Alberta. On the one hand, the people that are anti-choice tend to carry the economic agenda that says we should cut taxes, that government is bad, that we should get out of people's faces. But what they do by doing that is erode all of the social programs we all benefit from that help women and families to survive, quite frankly.
When we brought in the B.C. family bonus a few years back, within just over a year 22 percent of single parents were able to move off welfare. Of course, with single parents we're talking almost entirely about single mothers. Just by providing a cheque that they took with them, putting their children on an entitlement instead of welfare -- an entitlement that follows them into the workforce -- along with free dental, optical and medical for their kids, that allowed 22 percent of single moms to move into the workforce and to become independent. And it's also allowed about a third of the children living in poverty to move above the poverty line. But those kinds of things are the kind of so-called government intervention that the same ideology that says women shouldn't have the right to choose tends to strip away. It's that "money first, private gain over public good" attitude and ideology that we see from the other side.
It's not surprising, then, that we see the Liberal opposition ducking this issue, hiding in their offices, pretending it's a federal issue, and bobbing and weaving in every direction to avoid taking a position as a caucus, which they ought to and have an obligation to. They have an obligation to the people of British Columbia to do that. So it's not surprising that we see that kind of ducking and bobbing and weaving going on, because we know they object to child care, we know they object to pay equity, and we know they object to virtually everything this government has put in place that is closing the poverty gap, closing the gap for women, bringing people together, building community and civil society within which women can function.
It's always interesting to me that the same people that say, "We're going to tell women what decisions they have to make. We men -- predominantly -- here in the Legislature are going to decide," at the same time are the same people who take away all the supports for women so that they can in fact have children and live without living in poverty, which is far too frequently the case here and everywhere else.
It's all part of a package. We see it in Alberta. We see it amongst the Reform/Alliance party, which many of the members opposite are. They work for them federally. There are people who are high profile in the B.C. Liberals who were high profile in the Alliance campaign. And we see it south of the border with that same package of so-called free enterprise values. Part of it is a moral agenda that is usually imposed through either funding cuts or tricky little manoeuvres like restoring hospital boards, like the member for Matsqui on the other side said that they will seriously consider, so that individuals and communities can take them over and deny women their rights.
I think it's very important that we take this step, that we provide women with a means of controlling their own reproduction that is not invasive, not expensive, not public. It gets the debate out of this Legislature and puts it firmly in the hands of women. Protecting reproductive choice, in my view, is part of a progressive agenda that does fund child care and pay equity and the family bonus, and essentially puts the supports in the middle- and lower-income earners, not in the highest, as the members opposite would do and will do if they're given the chance.
I simply want to say that I am very pleased with this step. And for all of those men in the opposition and in the media who think it's not an issue, you're absolutely bloody wrong. It is an issue. For all of the 52 percent of women who gain power, gain control and gain health from this kind of a move -- and being one of them -- I know the vast majority will applaud this move and this government for taking this step.
I simply want to close by saying that I think it's a good thing that we're doing this. I'm proud of doing this. This is a critical and important issue in the lives of women. It's an issue that I came into politics on. In my riding it was the free-enterprisers of the day -- Socreds then, Liberals now, all of them -- who took over the hospital board and denied women their right to choose. We see them all coming back: Graham Bruce in my riding, Stan Hagen, Claude Richmond and many others, who are coming back and would by default or design deny women's right to choose.
So I am pleased we are taking this step forward. I applaud it. It's a progressive thing to do, and it's just one of many things that are needed in order to actually protect women's right to choose. And if the members opposite mean anything they say, they will stand and support this motion, because it protects the status quo.
Hon. C. Evans: I don't see any other speakers, so I rise to close the debate. Traditionally, the minister that introduces a bill sits and listens to the debate and takes note of speakers' questions or objections to respond to. It's kind of difficult, because there are a couple of things going on here. One is that only one person spoke. The second thing is that I take from the comments I've heard that the opposition is actually going to support the bill, is pro-choice and is going to take a progressive position maybe today and maybe forever.
[ Page 17607 ]
I want to deal first, though, with the one issue that the hon. critic raised. He rose right at the beginning of the debate and read from a letter by the Deputy Minister of Health to the College of Pharmacists. The deputy is saying: "Well, gee, we're not going to do this right now." And the hon. member is saying: "What's changed?"
Well, hon. member, I guess one thing that's changed is leadership. We're
being led by a Premier who wants to deal with the issue and wants to stand on a
question of choice. He's saying: "Okay, we're going to deal with it."
And deputy ministers
The antithesis of that is the government actually saying: "Okay, let's deal with it. Let's not have any more of those letters go out that say, 'Maybe we'll refer it or think about it,' or 'It's an inappropriate moment.' Maybe we'll just go do it, because" -- as in the case of this piece of legislation -- "it's the right thing to do." So the hon. member will be on his feet as soon as I stop, affirming that it's the right thing to do, and then this whole Legislature will be in agreement.
I just want to say one tiny thing about the ambience around here. There has been some insinuation that this bill had something to do with some kind of politics or attempt to create division rather than just good public policy. Hon. Speaker, in about five minutes or three minutes, or at a moment chosen by you, I think everybody in this room is going to stand up and support this bill. Well, I would say the majority are going to stand up, because the majority are actually pro-choice.
From my standpoint, getting that on the record is a wonderful event. Everybody that's up there should write down the day they were here, because something is actually going to happen where some of the people here are going to take a position. You're going to get to watch people down here decide something, go on the record and stand there forever and ever. I think that's so exciting that I move second reading.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
Second reading of Bill 8 approved on the following division:
|YEAS -- 71|
|NAYS -- 2|
Bill 8, Emergency Contraceptive Access Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
D. Miller: I seek leave to make an introduction.
D. Miller: In the members' gallery is an old friend of mine, Daphne Scott, who I had the pleasure of sitting on the Prince Rupert city council with many, many, many years ago. It's always nice to see Daphne, now a resident of Victoria. I'd ask the House to make her welcome.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I call second reading of Bill 21.
ABORTION SERVICES STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2001
Hon. J. MacPhail: Bill 21 provides important new safeguards to make the right of British Columbia women to reproductive choice stronger and more secure. It enshrines new protection in the statutes of British Columbia and ensures that personal information is protected, so that women and their doctors are free to choose without fear of harm or harassment. Under existing legislation, 33 hospitals throughout B.C. are required by regulation to provide abortion services. Bill 21 amends the Hospital Act to include this list of hospitals, not as a regulation but as an integral part of the act. In addition, one more hospital, Kelowna General Hospital, will be added to the list. The new provisions will allow more hospitals to be added to the list at any time, but none may be removed without full debate in the Legislature.
Bill 21 also ensures, through amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, that when a woman makes a personal choice about reproduction, her decision will remain personal. Bill 21 adds a separate section to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to specifically prohibit the disclosure of information related to abortion services to an applicant who makes a request under section 5 of the act.
Currently there is no presumption in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that information
[ Page 17608 ]
related to abortion services automatically qualifies for protection. This legislation will create an automatic provision that does not require a case-by-case assessment of harm in order to withhold the information.
At the same time, a woman will not be prevented from accessing her own information, that is her right. Her right to that information will be maintained. The public will still be able to request information about abortion policies or statistical information related to total numbers of abortions provincially or by health region.
I'm sure the members of the opposition will stand up and quote from a letter
that was sent to me as Deputy Premier from the information and privacy
commissioner. It's a thoughtful letter. It will be -- I'm sure, because they've
already released it to the media -- his objection to Bill 21. I fully respect
his opinion, hon. Speaker; however, it is one of the areas that we disagree with
the information and privacy commissioner -- we respectfully disagree. Over the
years the consultation that has taken place between the freedom-of-information
and protection-of-privacy office and us
His objection is forcefully stated in a letter to me, and he objects to the fact that now a specific nature of information rather than a class of information will be protected from release. And I would respectfully say this. While we have been the leaders in freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy legislation in this province and will continue to be, there is a fundamental difference in the information that we will be exempting from the FOIPPA. This information leads to the safety and security of health care providers and women who access those services. I cannot think of another time when, as a class of people, the health care providers providing this service have been collectively at risk. Their safety and security collectively has been threatened.
And even though there are those who would say that this has not been an issue
front and centre, that safety and security are not under threat, and why are we
stirring up this issue
So, yes, I do understand that the freedom of information commissioner himself objects to this, and I'm sure the Liberals will use that as a reason why our government is overstepping its bounds. But it's a fundamental disagreement, and we have decided to side with the protection, the health and safety of the abortion service providers.
It is a discussion that we've had at length, and we value greatly the wonderful legislation that we have brought in. But after much consultation with abortion service providers, we have chosen to ensure the protection of this information by its exemption from the FOIPPA.
Our government believes that this action will protect women and their doctors from potential harassment or harm -- future harassment or harm, because the harassment and harm has occurred already in this province.
This new legislation affirms that this government does and always will support women's right to choice in dealing with reproductive issues. It's not for us to debate and decide what choices a woman should make; rather, it's our responsibility to ensure that the right to choose is given the strongest possible protection and support. This government has always believed that women have the right to choose, and this bill reaffirms that commitment.
Hon. Speaker, I hereby move second reading of the Abortion Services Statutes Amendment Act, 2001.
C. Hansen: This bill that's before us is an attempt by this government to politicize a very personal issue. It is an attempt to scare the women of British Columbia. It is all about dividing British Columbians, not bringing them together.
Right at the outset I want to put my own personal views on the table. I am pro-choice, as are the overwhelming majority of British Columbians. The overwhelming majority of British Columbians want abortion services to be maintained in this province and do not want their government to stir up the divisiveness of this issue.
In the B.C. Liberal Party, our platform and our position clearly reflect the majority view. We are committed to maintaining abortion services. We will not change legislation as it affects access to abortion, and abortion services in this province will not be reduced. We believe this reflects the public view that this issue should not be inflamed in this province.
In the public there is a minority that opposes abortion, and our caucus is reflective of the different views that exist in our society. But we have said that after the election, there will be no change in legislation and no reduction in access to abortion services. Not only is our caucus 100 percent supportive of that position, but 100 percent of the candidates who are standing for the B.C. Liberal Party in the coming election are supportive of that position.
This government has chosen to do something that we have said we will not do after the election. Today this government has chosen to make legislative change regarding access to abortion. There is a difference between the B.C. Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party. While both parties support and promise continued access to abortion services, we in the B.C. Liberal Party seek to calm public fears rather than inflame them.
The majority of our caucus will support this legislation. But I also want to put on the record that a few of our members will exercise their right to vote against this legislation that is before us today. Just before I close, I want to mention a particular member who would oppose this legislation, but who has, unfortunately, been called back to his constituency on very short notice. The member for Abbotsford wants to stand in this House and vote against this legislation. This morning a tragic accident in Mission claimed the life of a very close friend of his, so he is leaving to go back to his constituency to be with his family and his friend's family. But were he here, he would stand to oppose this legislation.
In closing, I just want to say that we regret that this government has chosen to divide British Columbians. Our caucus will reflect some of those views. A majority will be 100 percent behind it, and there is a minority who will oppose this action by this government.
Hon. E. Gillespie: Last week in this House we debated a resolution that had many parts. The resolution on improving
[ Page 17609 ]
women's access to reproductive choice has 11 parts. Parts of that resolution will be determined by budget decisions, parts will be determined by policy, and parts will be brought into force by this legislation.
The Abortion Services Statutes Amendment Act has two parts. The first part addresses the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. I have heard directly from abortion service providers and from agencies that support a woman's right to choose about the effect of access to information about the provision of abortion services. There are groups that use this information in order to target specific facilities or specific individuals who provide service, therefore creating an extremely dangerous environment in which they work. It's very important that this freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy provision be brought forward into the light of day so that British Columbians understand the importance of information in this case.
The second part of this legislation refers to the Hospital Act, and it names hospitals that will provide this service. I heard the critic for Health speaking just a moment ago, who said that his party would maintain the status quo with respect to abortion services in this province. We spoke at length last week, when we debated the resolution, about how the status quo is simply not good enough. That is, provincial government must take a proactive stance in order to ensure that women have access to reproductive choice in this province. They must take a proactive stance by providing for the security of providers. They must take a proactive stance through ensuring that we are training health care professionals who can provide this service. The provincial government must take a proactive stance by ensuring that there are hospitals, which are named in the light of day in this Legislature. They must take a proactive stance to ensure that women have access to the emergency contraception pill.
This whole package, of which this legislation is a part, is extremely
important for women in this province and is being watched by women across this
country. This whole package takes the range from ensuring that there is access
to information, education, birth control choices and abortion services, where
the safety of providers and the safety of women seeking access to abortion
services are guaranteed
I stand before you as Minister of Women's Equality to support this legislation. My ministry has three top priorities in the struggle for women's equality in this province: stopping the violence against women, economic equality and health care. Under the priority of health care, we work to ensure that our health care system respects women's right to control their own bodies, including when they have children. It's not acceptable for anyone who claims to support women's equality and women's equal rights to pay lip service to the importance of women's varied roles in family and society, especially if they go on to ignore or downplay or dismiss women's reproductive health and reproductive rights. Our support for women and for their advancement must be demonstrated in real terms. Equality for women includes respecting and actively supporting their right to choose.
Once again I would say that it is important to address these issues in the light of day before the public, in order for the public to understand how important these issues are. Women must be empowered to choose when and how they have children, and no one has the right to impose reproductive decisions on them. This legislation will enhance prevention of unwanted pregnancies, improve access to both prevention and abortion services, and increase the safety of those providing abortions. Standing still on women's reproductive health is not an option. Every day we must continue to move ahead.
Reproductive rights involve far more than simply the right to reproduce. They involve support for women in activities other than reproduction, freeing them from a system of values which insists that reproduction is their only function. There was a time when a woman's value was determined by how many children she had. That is a trap from which women in this province and in this nation were freed some years ago. When I spoke in support of the resolution, I spoke a little bit about the experience of women who have fought for that right to choose over the years -- indeed, have fought for over 100 years to ensure that women have the right to choose. And having the right to choose means that there must be access to abortion services right across this province.
The freedom to choose improves women's health, education and economic opportunities. It helps secure and stabilize their families, and it's one of the keys to sustainable social and economic development in this province. Reproductive choice is one of the most fundamental and yet most vulnerable of women's rights. It deserves the strongest protection and support that government can provide.
We have heard in the debate on the resolution -- and we will hear in the debate on this legislation -- just how vulnerable that right is. The right without access is no right at all. This legislation will protect access to abortion services across British Columbia and ensure that when a woman makes a very personal decision, her decision will remain personal, that it will be supported and that she will be able to access the services she needs. Women must have the right to make those most intimate of all decisions free from discrimination, free from coercion, free from harassment, free from fear of violence. This legislation supports and protects this decision.
As you know, to enact change we must involve not only women but the community and the society in which they live. A woman's health is crucially dependent on the quality of services that she's offered and the choices that are available. We know this. We acknowledge it in all sorts of areas, so in this particular area of access to abortion services we must act on it.
The task before us now is not to have another emotional and divisive debate on a woman's right to choose. We've had this discussion, and the decision has been made, but this legislation adds protection. It is protection in the light of day, protection that is open to view by all British Columbians.
We know that this issue can escalate to one of violence. But privacy equals protection for health practitioners providing abortion services and for women seeking abortions -- protection from those who would wish to do them physical harm because of the services they provide or the services they seek. The concept of reproductive rights did not magically appear out of one group or one country. It's a universal concept, which reflects the experience of women all over the world. Women's reproductive choice must be protected from persecution, protected from violence, protected from coercion and, most of all, supported by access to appropriate services. Bill 21 carries out these tasks.
It's time to move this global, national, provincial consensus from discussion to legislation -- to bring it out into the
[ Page 17610 ]
light of day, to move it from paper into practice. We must dedicate ourselves now -- and I dedicate myself now, for the future -- to the task of transforming rights into realities for all women in British Columbia.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'd like to begin by clearly stating for the record how much respect I have for the individuals in the Liberal caucus who just stood up and voted against the previous legislation. Now, that might sound a little strange, because I fundamentally disagree with them, but it takes a great deal of courage to stand up and be counted when you're dealing not only with this particular difficult issue but with other difficult issues where you are in a minority. For the member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove and the member for Abbotsford, that is exactly what they did. It took a great deal of integrity, and I compliment them for that. What politics is about, in my view, is standing up and being counted. It's about clearly putting on the record what you stand for and allowing the electorate to judge you accordingly. So for the individuals that may indeed share the views of those two but did not have the courage to stand up, I feel a great deal of sadness.
Hon. Speaker, this is an issue that is of utmost importance to women and men in this province. It's of particular interest to women, but I am so pleased that there are significant numbers of men that stand with women, insisting on their right to choose and their ability to make decisions for themselves. When there are those amongst us who say that this is not an issue, that we needn't talk about it, that it is divisive to talk about it, what I hear ringing in my ears is, "Be quiet. Behave yourself" -- the kind of patriarchy that has ruled this province and this country for decades.
I was first elected in 1986 and had the privilege of representing Surrey-Whalley in opposition in those years. In preparation for this debate I went back and looked at the Hansards during that time, just to refresh my own memory. I have to tell you that I was startled by the language and by the issues that were being dealt with and, indeed, how they came about. I want to share that with the House, because I'm afraid that too many people have forgotten.
You know, I've heard speakers before me reference the history in the United States, how some of the decisions with respect to choice had been dealt with and resolved in the United States. With the election of President Bush we are seeing all of that ground taken away from women. It can happen here as well, although it won't happen in the same way.
The issues with respect to choice and the struggle that women have been
engaged in for so long have been dealt with in a myriad of different ways. When
you look at the history of the Social Credit in this province and you look in
particular at the Vander Zalm years, that's an example that I don't expect to be
replayed, because time and place
When we look at history, we can clearly see the impact that a provincial
government can have on this issue. That was one of the reasons we brought
forward the motion, and it's one of the reasons we're dealing with the
legislation today. But when I look back at what happened during the Social
Now, I have to confess: when I was first reading the Hansards, I was perplexed. The abortion committees -- I didn't quite remember that piece. But I think most of us in this province will recall that hospital by hospital by hospital throughout this province there were three-member committees -- more often than not there were three men on the committee -- that sat and looked at an individual's health records and decided yea or nay whether a procedure that was prescribed by a doctor could proceed in that hospital. It is hard to imagine how difficult it would be for most women to first have to come to that decision in seeking a medical abortion and then subject themselves to a committee of a hospital that would make a decision, often in the absence of that individual's being able to represent themselves.
So what the Health minister said was -- this particular piece that was deemed to be unconstitutional -- that the abortion committees would stand. When he was challenged, he said then that only those abortions approved by the committees would be funded. So this is the issue with respect to the Medical Services Plan and the funding of services.
At that time, Attorney General Brian Smith said the government would fight the Supreme Court decision. The then Health minister announced that doctors, not the committee, would determine funding for the abortions. So you can see that line of history doesn't even begin to focus people's attention on the impact of the decisions made in these buildings in the absence of representation from, as one of the speakers on the opposition side said, the majority view in this province.
Finally, the government cut off all funding for abortions. And the quote that
On March 2, Claude Richmond
It's interesting that during this period there were a number of opportunities where we in the opposition questioned the government members and tried to bring pressure and show the impact of these decisions. When we introduced the
[ Page 17611 ]
resolution, we heard the member from Peace River criticize the government for introducing the resolution and this topic. He was a very strong and dignified voice in this House who said that the government was introducing a very divisive issue and somehow implied that by doing that it was an indication of how desperate the government was. He recalled his days and implied that it was their motivation at that time. Well, it's interesting to look at the time, because the Socreds dealt with this issue in 1988. The election was not until 1991. There's no connection whatsoever.
The hon. member from Peace River also indicated that he was pro-choice and stood up strongly in support of women's right to choose and that he stood on the side of women. Well, I checked the Hansard, and you know, hon. Speaker, he never had the integrity, the strength and the backbone that these two individuals had in standing up and ensuring that their voices were heard. The only issue that he was raising at the time was the subject of ethanol gasoline -- he was a proponent for ethanol additive in gasoline, a good topic -- but certainly not this one.
There's also another member of the old Socred caucus that is running for the Liberals in the next election, and I'm wondering if, given his history, he is so readily willing to sacrifice his principles because of his lust for government. That would be Mr. Hagen on the Island here.
I want to quote from Mr. Hagen's response to the throne speech. This was a
throne speech that was brought in, in 1987. He says: "I believe that we
must strengthen the moral traditions that have patterned Canadian life. My
Christian commitment helps me to have the compassion to understand the problems
of others." He goes on to quote the Bible. He says: "
What this bill does is put into law that reproductive services, abortion services, must be provided in hospitals. Some might say: "Why is that important? Why do we need to do that here in British Columbia? Surely we are past that time in our history." Well, not very long ago we saw a doctor who provides these services attacked and his very life threatened.
We heard from the member representing Matsqui that he thought it was
important that we go back to the bad old days of elected hospital boards. My
very first recollection of this issue was in my own home community of Surrey,
where hospital services were
What that battle was about was abortion services. It wasn't until after that
We don't need to go back to those bad old days. But you can imagine, if we ended up in this province with an individual in a position of responsibility who really believed in attacking or diminishing the right of choice, that all it would take would be an initiative wrapped in the guise of democracy and Closer to Home to put us right back into those kinds of horrific spectacles in each and every one of our communities.
I want to speak to the other part of this bill, and this is with respect to freedom of information. I know that there was a considerable amount of work done by a standing committee of the House on the issue of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. I also know that there were submissions made on this issue. But the submissions that were made were made in confidence, because the people that made the submissions were afraid -- afraid, hon. Speaker -- that their submission would be made public and that through that they would themselves be vulnerable.
In this province today, when you call together a meeting of service providers and advocates, they hold those meetings in secure rooms with security guards. They don't circulate the list of attendees, because they understand their vulnerability. I have to tell you that that makes me angry. And I want that side to be angry too. Nowhere in this country, in this province, should any citizen be afraid to participate in the business of government, in the business of making decisions about either the provision of service or the seeking of service, and feel personally vulnerable -- with good cause.
To say "status quo" and to suggest that everything is fine
But I'm digressing a little bit. I want to talk about the submission that was made to the freedom-of-information committee. In that submission they talked about some of the history of how some of the most radical anti-choice activists have used access to information to increase the vulnerability of service providers. They gave examples of information that was obtained through freedom of information that ended up on web sites down in the United States.
A particular web site is known to a lot of pro-choice activists. It's a web site out of Denton, Texas, called Life Dynamics Inc. The web site that they service, lists information of service providers by including the area where they are providing those services, making information readily available to people that may not be very stable. Information about pro-choice activists that was accessed through freedom of information in this province was placed on that web site. I have to tell you that scared a lot of people.
Activists in this province have advocated for and have publicly stated that they support capital punishment for abortion providers. They have gone on to let it be known publicly that they have sought out firearm acquisition certificates. You wouldn't think that that would happen in a province like British Columbia, but it's part of the public record. When members on the other side say that they support the status quo, they are saying that they will not deal with these issues.
These are issues that are relevant today and that are important to women, to service providers and to those that are
[ Page 17612 ]
responsible for the administration of justice in this province. We have to continue to learn and understand. The worst thing that could happen is if we were quiet and knew our place and didn't say difficult things. We are not here to be quiet, to know our place and not say difficult things.
I am happy that we have the opportunity to look at the successes of the last ten years. I had the opportunity to be at a tenth anniversary of one of the freestanding clinics here in B.C. a few months ago. At the anniversary, they went through and recalled what it was like with the demonstrations outside of the clinics. They recalled what it was like to struggle to provide this service. They recalled the relief that they felt when the province, with the new NDP government, came forward with core funding, which provided stability and security for the clinic. What a relief it was for them to get on with the business of providing a high-quality service for women, rather than having to deal with protesters and with issues of private fundraising to ensure the service would be available to women. How happy they were to work with the government and with the University of British Columbia to develop training modules for other practitioners so that they could learn from their experiences, ensuring that other women had the access to the high-quality service and expertise that they had developed.
When I thought about that, and of the role that we, as a government, were able to provide in support of women, I was truly proud of those years. I look back, and much has changed. But we have a lot more work to do. Here in British Columbia teen pregnancies are still far too high. We heard the Minister of Health talk about the fact that the numbers of teen pregnancies are coming down, and they are. But when we as adults understand the impact of an unwanted pregnancy -- a child having a child -- and what that means to that child's life, whether it's the mother or the infant, I think most of us understand all too well the difficult life that they face.
So for us as legislators to come forward with a package to bring it into the
public eye, to stop the denial, to say to parents and to women in this province,
"We are firmly standing with you to deal with this issue," that we
intend to deal with a comprehensive program, from sex education in the school
all the way through to dealing with terrorists
And hon. Speaker, I believe those people are terrorists for the intimidation and threats that they perpetrate against service providers and individuals seeking a legal medical procedure. I not only say to you that it is the right thing to do, but I say shame on those that want to make politics out of it by saying that we shouldn't be talking about it. Shame on those who do not have the moral fortitude to stand up and be counted if they disagree with what the government is bringing in. If they're not prepared to stand up and be counted on this important issue, then, hon. Speaker, what else is for sale?
P. Priddy: I want to say to the House that I'm pleased to stand and support this legislation -- the two pieces to this legislation. Many of the very good points, I think, made by the previous speaker, the Minister of Labour, I will leave to her good words.
I just want to speak about a few, a couple, of the other pieces. I want to talk about the divisiveness that people talk about in this legislation or in other pieces of legislation. I hear people saying -- I hear the opposition saying -- that we're trying to drive an agenda that is divisive. I fail, quite honestly, to understand how anything in this legislation could possibly be divisive.
I don't understand in any way how it could be divisive to protect service providers. I don't think that anybody -- and I'm sure that nobody on either side of this House -- would see a service provider at risk. This speaks to, partly, the security of service providers. How can that possibly be divisive, hon. Speaker?
I'm puzzled about how it could be divisive to name, in legislation, the 33 hospitals, which are already named in order-in-council and have been for some time; that's been there for a number of years now. How is it divisive to move that into legislation? How is it divisive to guarantee, through the naming of these hospitals, that there will be local access? Well, not perhaps as local as we would like it to be, but there will be access throughout the province -- guaranteed. Why is that divisive, that we would guarantee to women that in at least 33 places throughout the province a legal Canadian health care service will be available to them? I don't understand how that can be divisive.
I'm not sure, also, how it can be divisive to stand up and vote on an issue. Surely your views are more than well known to your constituents, to the public, to your family, to your party. So why is it divisive to put on the legislative record those views which people already know that we hold, although those views may be different? And I respect our right to hold a different view.
I think sometimes people who are watching and who are perhaps younger, at least, than me, who am heading for 58, may wonder at the passion or at the depth of emotion that we bring to this particular issue. I think that for people who are a generation or two younger than me, it's important to note that the depth of emotion comes for us because we remember when this was not a legal health care service in this country.
There are many physicians -- older physicians, actually -- who are providing abortion services because they remember. They remember treating women who were in hospital as a result of either a self-induced abortion or an abortion that was done illegally by someone who was untrained. They remember. Many older women support this and feel that depth of emotion that some of us bring to this, because they remember. They remember their mothers and their sisters and their friends and perhaps even themselves being forced into untenable positions and impossible choices. And many of the rest of us, some of us in the health care field, remember, as I do, holding the hand of someone who was hemorrhaging to death from a self-induced abortion with a knitting needle.
Now, am I suggesting that this happens today? Of course not. But we bring that depth of emotion, because we remember the faces of those women who did not have the safe, quality health care service of abortion available to them. So I think that perhaps for some people it's important to explain that depth of emotion that we bring to this.
We know, I think, that the information around the freedom of information
[ Page 17613 ]
where that has happened. So the idea of being able to protect that
information while respecting the principles of freedom of information
Another point around moving the 33 hospitals from order-in-council into
The choice that we've talked about over several days, over several different pieces of legislation -- for women to make choices about their own bodies and their own health care -- is one, I think, that we all hold very close to our hearts. This legislation -- which I don't see, as I said, is in any way divisive -- is protecting service providers, protecting the information of a patient and naming, in legislation, hospitals which are already named in order-in-council. So I don't see those to be divisive, and I welcome the opportunity to speak to this legislation.
Hon. T. Stevenson: Well, you might ask why a gay man might wish to speak on this question. You might ask why a United Church minister might wish to speak on this question of choice. First, I think it's the responsibility of men to make their views known, whether one is gay or one is straight. Men for generations have been the ones who have held power over women and women's bodies and have made the choices for them. So I think it's imperative that women know not only where men stand but also why they take a certain position.
I believe in a woman's right to choice over her own body. I have been through many discussions within the United Church of Canada, which struggled mightily over this issue because of the religious implications. But also, I've had many, many discussions within my own home. Although I'm a gay man, the House will know that I have three daughters, now 20, 22 and 24, and these wonderful young women are women who celebrate their own sexuality and therefore have to think ahead about these kinds of questions. I have stood with them, and I have stood with other women who believe that the right is theirs and theirs alone and that we men who have been part of a system that has not allowed women choice, or has put barriers on it, need to be part now of the solution of continuing to change that and not just simply accept the status quo as it is but move forward.
I don't want to get into a long discussion about it myself, most of which has obviously been said, and said very well, by a number of people before me. I just wanted to be sure to go on record on this, because basically I'm thinking of my daughters, and I know that my daughters would want me to do that.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I move second reading of the bill.
Second reading of Bill 21 approved on the following division:
|YEAS -- 67|
|NAYS -- 4|
Bill 21, Abortion Services Statutes Amendment Act, 2001, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Janssen: I call second reading of Bill 7.
ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2001
Hon. I. Waddell: I move that the bill now be read a second time.
The legislation will establish the commissioner for environment and sustainability in law. This is the debate in the Legislature on the general principles of the bill.
The bill fulfils a personal pledge by the Premier and reflects two important priorities of our government. The first is our fundamental commitment to protecting B.C.'s environment. It's almost becoming a mantra, but I'll say it again. We are committed to clean air, clean water and the best park system in the world, and we're doing it.
I was very pleased to have been at an announcement this weekend where we managed to actually extract $48 million out of the federal government and to add our money and local money in terms of creating parks. I know the hon. member from the Gulf Islands will be very proud that we've created a
[ Page 17614 ]
national park in his area, and I'm very proud of that. So the first principle, the first priority, is a fundamental commitment to protecting B.C.'s environment, and there are many ways of making that happen. The second is making government more transparent and accountable to taxpayers.
British Columbians cherish their environment as a fundamental part of their identity as a province. I truly believe that we are a green province. That's why debates around logging, watersheds and air quality are sometimes intense and emotional. Some of the members opposite were with me in Abbotsford when something like 5,000 people came out to demonstrate for clean air, and it was really encouraging. Of course, members have seen the tumultuous decade of demonstrations over watersheds, which have largely been solved through land use planning. About 80 percent of the province is in land use plan, which provides protection for the environment and certainty for business and for workers in dealing with that environment and developing the rest of the province.
British Columbians cherish their environment, as I said, as a fundamental part of their identity as a province. When you have thousands of people in the Fraser Valley marching in the streets about a plant in the United States, you know that we're very serious about this.
Today's legislation is a bit different. It builds on our strong record of protecting 12 percent of our land base and developing the strategic land use plan through the province, which I've spoken about. These plans come up from the community. They're called LRMPs, and they're done at the community level with all the stakeholders, like tourism, guide-outfitters, environmental people, loggers, forest companies and so on. They sit down and try to plan the area, and they come to some compromises. But it works; it's the way to do it. I want to pay my personal tribute to my old friend, former Premier Mike Harcourt. In many ways this is his legacy, and I want to acknowledge that.
Just recently we declared a three-year moratorium on grizzly bear hunting to allow for a full and accurate inventory of bears in the province. I know my friends would lift it if they get into government, and they've said that. In my view, this will ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to experience the wonder of these majestic animals.
These are government commitments that we made and we'll keep. British Columbians deserve to know what environmental goals the government has set and how it is doing to meet these goals. So you set goals. It's easy to set goals, but it's hard sometimes to meet the goals or be accountable for the goals. That's what today's bill is about, hon. Speaker.
The legislation will amend the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act to require ministries, Crown corporations and agencies to set sustainability objectives as part of their regular performance planning and to enshrine sustainability as a strategic priority for government.
So what's sustainability? Well, as the United Nations Brundtland commission defined it, it is really -- in effect, if you could look at it in simple language -- taking what we have today and using our resources so that we ensure that there will be resources available for future generations. In other words, the world's environment will be sustainable for the future people in the world or in the province or in the local area. That's what sustainability is in plain English.
[D. Streifel in the chair.]
As I said, this legislation will amend the acts I talked about to set up an
environmental commissioner. The commissioner will report every year on their
progress -- that is, the progress of the different ministries in the government
-- towards these sustainability objectives. This is quite new in British
Columbia. It's done on a federal level, and it's done in other places. But it's
new for British Columbia. In addition, the commissioner will report every two
years on the state of British Columbia's ecological health. And you know,
sometimes it's not going to be easy for governments. It's sort of a
It's the same with the environmental commissioner. It will allow us to debate the major environmental issues of the day based on the facts and not on emotional rhetoric. We will never get 100 percent agreement from British Columbians on controversial issues, but at least we'll be starting from the same set of facts. That's where the environmental commissioner will really help. As taxpayers will know, their government is accountable to them, to the commitments it makes. Citizens will be able to file complaints with the commissioner on issues of environmental concern. They'll have someone in the government whom they can go to. The commissioner will be able to refer the complaint to the appropriate ministry or agency and can launch an investigation if he or she feels it's appropriate to do so.
It's important to remember that the commissioner is completely independent from government. Let me repeat that: the commissioner is independent from government. The successful candidate -- and we're looking for a commissioner now -- will report directly to the Legislative Assembly through a select standing committee, not to the Premier or to the Environment minister of the day. The commissioner will report through a legislative committee of this House. As such, the position will serve as an impartial monitoring agency, not an advocate. Provincial environmental policies will continue to be set by the elected representatives, the government of the day of the people of British Columbia, who are sitting in this chamber.
This government is making it clear with this legislation that sustainability is part of the core business of government. Just as ministries, Crowns and agencies must achieve financial objectives as part of their business plans, they will now be required to set sustainability objectives within their business plans as well.
The hon. member opposite from Penticton likes to talk about business plans and having the business plans there. Well, here are in fact ministries having business plans that will take into account environmental matters. This is a first for British Columbia. This can include anything from reducing greenhouse gas emissions in government operations to moving towards greater use of green energy to promoting eco-certification in our forestry, agricultural and fisheries sectors.
On Friday I went to the auto show in Vancouver at B.C. Place.
An Hon. Member: Buy a new car?
[ Page 17615 ]
Hon. I. Waddell: The hon. member asked if I bought a new car. No, I
actually took my car, which is a Toyota Prius
So these commitments which are made by government need to be carried on, and the commissioner will look and see how we're doing with these commitments. We will be hiring additional staff to help ministries integrate sustainability into their planning functions. These requirements will be phased in over time, to allow ministries to adjust to these new responsibilities.
Change is never easy, hon. Speaker, and change takes time. Experiences in other jurisdictions, such as the federal government, that have implemented an environmental commissioner tell us that these changes are more effective -- most effective -- when they are implemented gradually. So we see this coming gradually to the government. We see the government being greened, if you like, gradually. In fact, we all know that sustainability is a journey, not a destination. This bill is another step on the long journey towards a more sustainable future for British Columbia. We believe it's the right thing to do for the environment, our economy and future generations.
It gives me great pleasure, then, to move second reading.
M. Coell: Maybe I'll just give you the "Coell's Notes" version of the bill. It creates a new commissioner for environment and sustainability. This new position will be a senior officer with the auditor general's office, with a mandate and role defined by this legislation. The auditor general will appoint the commissioner, based on a list prepared by a selection committee, for a six-year period. The commissioner is to be paid at a deputy minister level and is responsible to the auditor general.
Mr. Speaker, the opposition will be supporting, in principle, this bill. But I want to outline for the minister a number of areas that we see a problem with and that I would like to debate further in committee stage. This is a unique piece of legislation, and I think it raises some questions that need further debate.
The first one I would recommend for the minister to look at between now and when we debate in committee stage of the bill is that provisions in the bill appear to bring into question a member's privilege when dealing with an appointment process. The bill does not address how the selection committee is to operate in developing its list of candidates. Is it to be by consensus or a vote? What occurs if there are conflicting opinions? This selection committee is unique and unprecedented, in that non-elected officials will not only have a say in the selection process, but they may also be in the majority -- hence the question of members' privilege. The appropriateness of this for an officer of the Legislature is worth, I think, discussing further.
Furthermore, there are no terms of reference for the qualifications of the
individual envisioned in this position. I think that's important to draw,
because right now
I would say, too, that there is a discrepancy between what the auditor general has on his web site as to how he perceives this position and some of the provisions in this legislation. Under section 21.7 there are no time limitations on how quickly the commissioner needs to respond to referrals or referrals from cabinet. I think that's another thing that is worthy of looking at. The public submission provisions in section 21.8 are very vague and are potentially very broad in scope.
The provision to allow the commissioner to make recommendations to ministries
and government organizations when forwarding public submissions is erroneous in
scope and unprecedented. The commissioner has carte blanche to make any form of
recommendations to the appropriate ministry or government organization. These
are potentially sweeping powers and are
Overall, it is important to note that after spending ten years not having an environmental commissioner, this comes forward in the last few weeks before an election. I will leave that for the public to discuss and won't bring that up further.
As I said, we'll be supporting the bill in principle. I think everyone in this House supports the necessity for environmental auditing for sustainability. In committee stage I'm going to bring up some key concerns over the appointment process, the reports and role of public accounts, the time framing for referrals and the public submission provisions. And I may have some amendments that I wish to put forward. I'll make sure that the minister gets them in plenty of time, so that they can be considered. I think they will be positive.
With that, I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to this, and I look forward to debating further in committee stage.
J. Sawicki: I am very excited to take my place in this debate this afternoon.
An Hon. Member: Hold her back.
J. Sawicki: On this issue that's a little tough, hon. member, because this is landmark legislation. We on this side of the House are tremendously proud of our environmental progress over the last decade. And we could list them for quite some time. But this legislation is different. This legislation recognizes that no matter how many environmental initiatives you take, it is still a rearguard action unless you make the structural change to address the very activities that all of us have as humans, whether in the way we live our personal lives or in industries, in businesses, in the way we provide our consumer goods or harvest our natural resources or whatever -- unless you also make them accountable for their environmental impact.
While I am pleased that the members opposite have indicated that they will support this legislation, I hope that
[ Page 17616 ]
British Columbians will read carefully the very limp few comments they have
made on it. To consider the depth of this legislation, to have the opposition
critic mention some mundane administrative questions that could be addressed at
committee stage and suggest that after all, we're only bringing this in, in the
last few weeks of a mandate
I want to assure those hon. members that we have been working on this for a great deal of time, and I can tell the hon. members that I personally have been working on it for a great deal of time. The Premier made the commitment as he was running for the leadership. Today he is delivering on that commitment.
The fact that this legislation is called an environment and sustainability commissioner is, I think, extremely significant, because it takes us beyond just wanting to take leadership on the environment. It recognizes that sustainability is everything. Environmental sustainability is the foundation, but in order to have economic sustainability, economies that work through time and social sustainability in terms of societies that are equitable in this generation and next, we have to look beyond what any minister of environment or any ministry of environment can do.
And we didn't invent this. We are going back, if you want to call it, to the Brundtland report, which I hope at least some people on that side of the House have read. It has been out for 25 years or so, or 30 years. Brundtland herself, as well as giving the world the word "sustainability," also gave us the 12 percent target for parks and protected areas. We on this side of the House are tremendously proud, having made that commitment in 1991 that we would double our parks and protected areas -- to ensure that sensitive ecosystems are protected, to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to experience nature, to ensure that ecosystems can function -- that we have met that 12 percent target.
But Brundtland also gave us something else. And this is key, because she basically said that while the ecosystem exists as an integrated whole, the structures, the institutions, that we've set up to manage them operate as single disciplines.
Our government is not alone in that. All over North America, and certainly in
parts of Europe as well
As the minister has said, our legislation here is modelled after the federal model. The federal commissioner has worked very well. But there were certain areas where even his advice and those who have worked with him suggested that we needed to go further. The federal commissioner gets somewhat frustrated through time, in that the federal commissioner position, while it is also under the auditor general -- and in that we have mirrored that model -- has no ways of ensuring that the federal ministries of government actually pay attention to sustainability objectives. I believe that is where our act will be a landmark, certainly across Canada, if not in parts of North America.
One only has to look at the preamble. I know that preambles aren't really parts of the legislation and therefore they will not be debated at committee stage, but I think the preamble makes clear this government's commitment to sustainability. We have demonstrated that commitment time and time again over the decade. The Minister of Finance made that commitment in this year's budget. This preamble and this bill make it clear that we want to lead British Columbia on that transition toward sustainability.
This will not happen overnight, and that is why this legislation also provides for a very small staff that will work with the ministries and the Crown corporations to help them evolve their sustainability objectives, their measures and their targets. This auditor can only measure progress on the commitments that government makes. I will be very candid here. I understand it's going to take some ministries some time to be able to rethink their policies and their business plans and their performance plans. And that's okay. Sustainability is a journey; it's not a destination. And we've allowed for that.
But if there is any doubt across the way, sustainability is where all of the leading corporations and all of the leading governments are going. You only have to look at major corporations like Interface Carpets, like Ikea, like Home Depot, which have adopted the Natural Step. As a corporation they have recognized that if they want to be competitive, if they want to be profitable and they don't want to hit that wall of ecological collapse in the work that they do, then they must do it differently. They have adopted the Natural Step, and they are not doing it for any great deep-seated environmental passion. They are doing it because it makes sense. It makes economic sense, and it certainly makes social sense.
Just yesterday, hon. Speaker, I was giving a presentation in Vancouver at the second international tax-shifting conference. People were there from Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Malaysia, the United States and parts of Canada, talking about tax shifting as the fiscal tool that can help ensure that the marketplace and the message that the marketplace sends out really do reflect the environmental values we have and the environmental costs of our activities.
It was fascinating, because people outside the boundaries of British Columbia recognize the leadership that we have taken on environmental issues, on things like tax shifting and certainly on sustainability. When I talked about what we were doing with this bill and about some of our pilot projects on tax shifting, I have to say it was very exciting to have those exchanges with others who are following in our path.
There is another choice, of course, other than the path that we have chosen on this side of the House. I hope the other side of the House will forgive me if I call it "dinosaur economics," but that is in fact what I have heard out of the mouths of the members opposite in the time that I've been in this House. It reminds me of driving a car at 100 kilometres per hour and seeing a brick wall ahead, but insisting that they've always driven that car that way, and they're just going to keep ramming it through until they hit the wall.
What this piece of legislation tries to do -- because, after all, people have to get some ownership and internalize it in all of our bureaucracies and institutions -- is to say: "We know the wall is there. We know there are ecological limits. We understand climate change and the threat of extinction of species. We understand that we are living beyond our ecological means. So why don't we start putting the brakes on now and redirecting the vehicle towards a more sustainable path?" That's what this legislation does.
[ Page 17617 ]
I don't know if any members on the other side of the House are fans of Ishmael -- I'm talking here about the book. He's a gorilla, in case any of you have not read it. He divides human culture into "Takers" and "Leavers." The distinguishing feature of the "Taker" culture -- and that's most of us, by the way -- is that we think somehow that our species alone can ignore the cyclical laws of nature and the limits of nature. And then he proceeds in this fascinating dialogue to expose that fallacy.
But Ishmael has another really important lesson, and I think that we need to hear it. In searching to achieve some synergy, some harmony, between the needs of our society and our economy and the needs of the environment to sustain us, we're not searching for something new. We are searching to find our way back to some ancient wisdom that we once had. Population explosion, resource exploitation and technological advance aside, there is no denying the fact that either we learn to live within the ecological limits, or prosperity will not be ours.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
Given the comment of the member opposite, I too would have preferred that we were debating this piece of legislation earlier to ensure that it was in place. We could then begin the structural change within our ministries and the Crown corporations to establish sustainability objectives. I truly hope that the fact that the opposition has not been quick to respond to the auditor general's invitation to send a member to the steering committee is not an indication that they will vote for this piece of legislation today but will not commit to endorsing it, implementing it, internalizing it, living with it and promoting it, if by chance they happen to sit on this side of the House.
Finally, because so many people have worked so hard on this issue, I want to make a special effort to thank the staff, especially the staff of the green economy secretariat, who have worked tremendously hard for many months, and also my colleagues that sat on the green economy working group, and the rest of the caucus. I also want to end by personally thanking the Premier. This Premier made the commitment as sustainability commissioner, and he has delivered on it. It is the right thing to do for the environment, the economy and our society. It's landmark legislation, and I am very, very proud to stand up here and vote for it. Thank you.
J. Cashore: I want to congratulate the Premier and the minister for bringing in this legislation. The establishment of the office of the commissioner is about sustainability. And I can't think of any concept that has come forward in the last 30 years that has a more unifying factor to it. It cuts across political ideologies. It cuts across every aspect of the cultural diversity of the planet. And indeed, it transcends any definitions that have to do with environment or economy or society.
The definition of sustainability that is very concisely stated within the act, I think, is the core of the act. Sustainability is "the integration of environmental, social and economic considerations to ensure that the use, development and protection of the environment enables people to meet current needs, while ensuring that future generations can also meet their needs." Hon. Speaker, that is a goal that I think we must be united on, on both sides of the House.
I had the privilege of attending the Rio conference on the environment in 1992. That was the largest gathering of world leaders in the history of the planet. At that conference it became very clear how important it was that standards be set, measurable standards that ensured that we did not continue on this course of soiling our own nest. It was interesting, when you consider that the Rio conference truly did look to the economic as well as the environmental in all of its considerations. In fact, the Canadian forestry delegation at Rio was the strongest advocate there for stringent forestry standards globally. Part of the reason for that was that when those standards were not defined and in place, the generally superior standards in North America were often judged in a way that was not consistent with comparisons with other standards.
It's often been mentioned that sustainability, a sustainable concept, encompasses the idea of the three-legged stool: the ecology, the economy and society. Indeed, when we look at the roots of the words "ecology" and "economy," those terms are one and the same. It's just that we have balance in terms of the kinds of measures that are taken when we are carrying out activities on Earth.
Anyone looking at the GDP in Alaska in the year 1990 would come away from that and say they must have done something right there that year, because that's the year in which their economy did better than any other year. And what did they do that year? They had an oil spill. Clearly, hon. Speaker, a measure such as GDP has to be balanced by a very thorough measure with regard to how we are doing in ensuring that the state of the planet is also being measured and noticed.
That is what this is about: so that we can see clearly, in the context of that kind of balance, that which will enable us to ensure that the world continues to be a good place not only for this generation but also for future generations.
M. Sihota: Hon. Speaker, I'll just be minutes speaking with regards to this legislation. I don't think it's a matter of surprise that I'm standing up and speaking to the bill.
I want, however, to start with taking a look at the comments that were made by my good friend from Saanich North, opposite, who happens to be the critic for the environment for the Liberal Party. It's interesting to hear the opposition indicate that they are in support of this bill in principle -- well, of course. It would seem to me that just about every member of this House would be in support of this bill in principle. And then I listened with great care to what the member and the party opposite had to say about the different elements of the bill that they intend to raise during the course of debate at committee stage. They made reference to a full range of technical or administrative considerations and scope considerations in terms of how far the individual who occupies this office can go, the powers that they possess and the degree of influence that they can have.
I don't think the opposition really would say this, but I suspect the objective of the opposition would be to try to narrow the scope of effectiveness of someone who occupied this position. In fact, I would suggest that the opposition may say that they're in favour of it, but I actually believe that they're afraid to say that they're against this bill. In reality, in my view, they are against this bill, because they worry about the implications of an individual who may come out and speak to this bill in a way that may impact on government.
[ Page 17618 ]
However, if we are to take the opposition at face value and accept the fact that they are in favour of this bill -- and we'll go through the debate at committee stage -- let me articulate what I think the test of their favouritism ought to be. Let me define how I think they could prove very quickly that I'm wrong in terms of them being actually essentially against the bill. It's very simple.
I see the Opposition House Leader sitting in the chamber, and specifically, I
want to issue this challenge to him. If you're really in favour of this bill
If you really believe in this legislation, then you will not stall the process of implementation. If you really support this bill, I say to the opposition, then you will breathe life into this legislation by giving substance to the committee, giving a mandate for it to go ahead, and saying to the minister in second reading stage -- when we get to the component of the bill that deals with the composition of the committee -- that you will support the establishment of this broad-based committee that goes beyond simply members of this Legislature. If you support this legislation, I would invite the members opposite to put forward on the floor of this Legislature some thoughts as to who should be appointed to this committee, some names that they would recommend from the different constituent groups that are laid out in the bill.
If they do that, hon. Speaker, we might just meet them. We just might say to
them: "Okay, some of these names are very thoughtful." I know the
Environment critic will actually have a fond spot for
M. Sihota: I'm sure it is, hon. members, and I'm tempted. And I think the members opposite would love it if there were someone of my ilk occupying that job and the province had the misfortune of finding them to be in office. I think it would be a wonderful outcome on their part.
An Hon. Member: No microphones involved
M. Sihota: No, I realize that. That may cause me to reconsider my thoughts on this matter.
But I don't want the members opposite to reconsider their support in principle. So a challenge is very simple. If you actually believe that this should happen, if you actually support this legislation, then stand up and say that you will allow that committee to convene immediately, so they can begin the process of selecting the individual who will occupy the chair of the auditor. If the members opposite are not prepared to do that, then it seems to me that it will resonate with the electorate, with the people of British Columbia, that in reality the members opposite do not support this legislation, that they like to come into this chamber and say that they are in favour of it, when in actuality they're against it. I believe, hon. members, you're against it.
G. Farrell-Collins: So pass the bill first.
M. Sihota: The Opposition House Leader says we have to pass the bill first. But just judging from his comments in the past, I would suspect that there should be no hesitation on the part of the opposition to pass the bill forthwith. In fact, given the hour, I'd have no difficulty going through all stages tonight, just to get the bill done. It should just take a few minutes. I'm sure that the depth of concern that was expressed by the member for Saanich North and the Islands, with regard to these tiny, administrative, technical concerns, are simply surface concerns. We could address them in a few minutes, and off we could go.
We could pass the bill today. We could have third reading today. We could bring in the Lieutenant-Governor tomorrow, and we could begin the process by Thursday to have the committee up and running and make this bill a reality. I want the members of the opposition to put their money where their mouths are, not only to stand up and say that they support this legislation but -- as evidence of that support, as testimony to their depth of commitment to the environment and in order to exemplify that they're full of green bones in their bodies -- stand up forthwith and proceed to the establishment of a committee.
Let me say this and let me say it publicly, in full view of the members opposite: if they stand up and allow this bill to pass and establish the committee and create it right away, I will not apply for the job. I promise I won't apply for the job if I get their commitment verbally in this House to give life to this committee, to appoint it right away. Then I will commit not to apply for it.
Let me take it to its logical conclusion. If you don't appoint the committee forthwith -- if you don't do it right away and there's an intervening election -- I will apply. And if I get the job and, God forbid, the members opposite are in power, amongst the worst things that could happen to them would be someone like myself occupying the chair of the auditor. I would suspect that they would want to remove all probability of that risk. I would think that they would want the bill passed forthwith. I think they would want my assurance that I would not apply.
So I just want to say to the opposition: if you're serious, if you truly believe in principle that this bill should pass, if you are really committed to the implementation of these environmental values, vote for the bill. Vote for it through committee stage, pass the bill immediately, and immediately thereafter, within 24 hours, agree to a committee that can start the process of hiring the individual involved, so that we've wrapped up this wonderful gift for a new administration.
The Speaker: I recognize the minister to close debate.
[ Page 17619 ]
Hon. I. Waddell: That's a hard act to follow. I can once again reiterate the fact that this is unique for British Columbia. We're building on the fact that we've put 12 percent of our land in parks and protected areas. We're building on our work with the Forest Practices Code. We're building on our land use planning process. Now we want to put a commissioner in place who will audit it, who will look at it.
I'm prepared to listen to amendments that the hon. members may have, and I'd ask some advance notice on them. If I can include them, I will. But I will follow up on what the member for Esquimalt-Metchosin said in his speech: I would urge the hon. members, if they really are in favour of the bill, to move it along so that we can get a sustainability commissioner in place soon.
Having said that, then, I move second reading of the bill.
Bill 7, Environment and Sustainability Statutes Amendment Act, 2001, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
D. Symons: I ask leave to make an introduction.
D. Symons: I wish the House to make welcome Darren Praznik, who's here from the fine province of Manitoba to see how things are done in British Columbia. Please make him welcome.
Hon. G. Janssen moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:57 p.m.
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