2001 Legislative Session: 2nd Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 16, 2001
Volume 2, Number 20
|Introductions by Members||1400|
|Lobbyists Registration Act (Bill 20). Hon. G. Plant|
Introduction and first reading
|Health Authorities Amendment Act (No. 2), 2001 (Bill 9). Hon. C. Hansen|
Introduction and first reading
|Skills Development and Fair Wage Repeal Act (Bill 22). Hon. G. Bruce|
Introduction and first reading
Government action on U.S. decision on Canadian softwood lumber exports
Alaska Highway gas pipeline project
Government action on U.S. decision on Canadian softwood lumber exports
Nursing initiatives for B.C.
Health ministry and Ministry Responsible
for Seniors, annual performance report,
Proposed development permit applications
for drug service centres in Vancouver
Report regarding Nisga'a Highway
Energy and Mines ministry, performance report, 2000-01
|Skills Development and Labour
Statutes Amendment Act, 2001 (Bill 18).
Hon. G. Bruce
|Provincial Court Amendment Act (No. 2), 2001 (Bill 17)|
Hon. G. Plant
|Royal assent to bills||1750|
Taxation Statutes Amendment Act, 2001 (Bill 2)
Corporation Capital Tax Amendment Act, 2001 (Bill 3)
Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act (Bill 4)
Budget Transparency and Accountability Amendment Act, 2001 (Bill 5)
Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2001 (Bill 11)
Crown Corporations Governance Statutes Amendment Act, 2001 (Bill 14)
Skills Development and Labour Statutes Amendment Act, 2001 (Bill 18)
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THURSDAY, AUGUST 16, 2001
The House met at 2:03 p.m.
Introductions by Members
Hon. G. Campbell: Hon. Speaker, all of us in this chamber know how important it is that citizens involve themselves in public life and public issues. Many times, as I've talked to young people particularly, they'll say: "What difference does it make if I do something, if one individual does something?"
Well, today I'm very pleased to introduce one person who was a leader, one person who contributed an immeasurable amount to his community. His name is Michael Holland. Michael is a Comox lawyer who consistently fought the previous government's efforts to expropriate a community facility without compensation. Michael is a lawyer who single-handedly took on the goliath of government and fought day in and day out on a pro bono basis to make sure that his community of Comox and Parksville and Port Alberni was protected from the heavy hand of government.
Michael is joined today by his family: his wife, Carol, and his daughters Rosemary and Laura. I want to thank Michael Holland and Michael Holland's family, on behalf of all of us here and all of the people of British Columbia, for remembering that in a democracy what one person does counts. Today Michael Holland's journey is going to reach what I hope will be a successful conclusion. Welcome to the Legislature.
Hon. S. Hagen: It is an honour for me to welcome to the House and to introduce some friends from the Comox Valley who fought together with Michael Holland to save that facility. I'd like to introduce, first of all, Marty Tapp, who is the chair of the board of Glacier View Lodge. Next I'd like to introduce Lawrence Burns, who's on the board of directors; Barry Bowen from the board of directors; Michael Pontus, who's the CEO; Russ Hammond; and Nell Francis. Also, we have with us today Rose Knight, who is a member of the Women's Institute. In 1946 the Women's Institute took the proceeds that they had earned through sales of war bonds during the Second World War and started the first Glacier View home with that money. I'd also like to introduce Sandy Woiden and her husband, Ron. Sandy is the head nurse and administrator at Glacier View Lodge.
Last but not least, and I'd better not forget this one, we have a famous historian from the Comox Valley in our presence today. Her name is Judy Hagen. She's married to a really neat guy.
Hon. S. Hagen: I'd also like to introduce Dr. Douglas Begg from the Arrowsmith Lodge in Parksville. Would the House please make them welcome.
G. Trumper: It's my pleasure this afternoon to introduce to you two members of the Alberni-Clayoquot Continuing Care Society, which was also one of those facilities that the previous government tried to take over from a non-profit society. They hung in and were grateful for Glacier Lodge to take the leadership in it. I would like to introduce to you Gerry Koning, who is the Chair of the board, and Andrew Blake — both of whom have been longtime volunteers in the community.
Also, at this time I would like to recognize Dr. Douglas Begg, who is a close friend of our family and used to practise with my husband.
Hon. S. Bond: I am pleased today to introduce two constituents that are actually in my colleague's riding, Prince George–Omineca, but I'm going to introduce them because they're very special to me. I'm very excited today to introduce in the House my niece Brittney and her mom, Sandy. Please help make them welcome from Prince George today.
B. Locke: In the House today we have a special lady who is an entrepreneur in the city of Surrey and has a small business called Little Munchkin Preschool Day Care. She is with us today. Her name is Shelley Meyer, with her two children, Tessa and Spencer, and her mother, Anna Sykes. Would the House please make them welcome.
I. Chong: Joining us today are several community leaders from the greater Vancouver area. Over lunch we had an opportunity to discuss issues of concern to them. Now they're here to watch question period. I'm pleased to introduce three of these nine visitors. Firstly, I'd like to introduce Mr. Syrus Lee, the charter president of the Vancouver Chinatown BIA Society; secondly, Ms. Yvonne De Valone, representing the Strathcona BIA; and thirdly, Mr. Richard Lee, who is Chair of an organization, the Community Alliance, which is watching out for the interests of Gastown, Chinatown, Strathcona and Victory Square. I would ask the House to please make them very welcome.
B. Kerr: This has been a rather chaotic week in the Kerr household as two of our grandchildren have come, and they have brought their moms and dads with them to stay with us. I would like to introduce one of the moms and dads; that is, my daughter Deborah and her husband, Harry Jussinoja, who are somewhere in the gallery. I'd like the House to make them feel welcome.
Hon. J. Reid: It's my privilege today to introduce to the House a young man from my constituency who has a keen interest in politics. Travis Paterson is here today accompanied by his mother, Florence Paterson, and
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James Dunbar. I'd ask the House to make them very welcome.
Hon. G. Hogg: I would ask the House to join me in welcoming and thanking five persons who have worked for or contracted with the Ministry of Children and Family Development and who have given a great deal of their lives to making the lives of our children in this province better. Would the House please join me in welcoming Jack Duke, Stewart Smith, Anne Alexander, Mike White and Terry Townsend.
D. Chutter: It is my pleasure to introduce today my very capable CA from Merritt, Allan Sanders. Allan has a business administration and forestry background and has been working with his dad and four brothers and numerous employees in the heavy construction and forestry industry. Certainly, with his particular skills, his experience in the riding of Yale-Lillooet and his great enthusiasm for his new CA job, Allan is an excellent addition to our government team. Would the House please welcome Allan.
R. Lee: I would like to introduce three visitors in the House today. Mr. Sang Lee, a neighbour of my parents in Vancouver, is also Chairman of the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association. We also have Mr. Thomas Lam, assistant to Mrs. Lillian To, the executive director of SUCCESS. SUCCESS is a very successful community organization helping immigrants settle in this province. I would also like to introduce Mr. John Bal, director of the Chinese Benevolent Association of Canada. John is very talented with languages; he can speak Punjabi, Mandarin, Cantonese and of course English. Would the House please make them welcome.
T. Christensen: This is my first opportunity to welcome some guests from the sunny Okanagan. It's very difficult to pull people out of there in the summer. I'm pleased to introduce three guests who have come to Victoria for the week. Two of these guests, in particular, represent the future of this great province and are part of the reason I am very much looking forward to the new opportunity we are going to create in British Columbia. I'm very pleased to welcome my wife, Jennifer, my son Theodor and my daughter Grace, who is the first baby born during the thirty-seventh parliament to a member of that parliament.
B. Locke: I would like to welcome in the gallery Jesse Hangarten, a friend of my daughter. I hope he enjoys the afternoon. Will the House please make him welcome.
P. Wong: I have the pleasure of introducing several community leaders and volunteers from the Vancouver-Chinatown community: first, Mr. Charles Lee, vice-Chairman of the Vancouver-Chinatown Merchants Association; second, Dr. Kwok Chu Li, director of SUCCESS, the United Chinese Community Enrichment Service Society; third, Mr. Yung Quon Yu, Chairman of the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver. Would the House please make them welcome.
K. Krueger: It's my pleasure to introduce a young woman from Kamloops today, Shannon Terrant, one of those rare and very special people in British Columbia, a nursing student at the University College of the Cariboo. She's highly prized. I asked my legislative assistant to make sure she enjoyed Victoria, and she stayed for about three weeks. Would you please make her welcome.
Introduction of Bills
LOBBYISTS REGISTRATION ACT
Hon. G. Plant presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Lobbyists Registration Act.
Hon. G. Plant: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. G. Plant: I am pleased to introduce the Lobbyists Registration Act. This act will establish a registry for lobbyists in the office of the information and privacy commissioner. The act will require the registration of anyone who is paid to lobby the government to influence government legislation, regulations, programs, policies, the awarding of contracts or the awarding of financial benefit. Registrars will have the power to verify the information provided, and updates will be required. Lobbyists will pay a fee to register, and the register will be accessible to the public.
This bill, a throne speech promise of the government, opens lobbying to the scrutiny of the public and is evidence of this government's new-era commitment to open and accessible government. I move that the bill be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 20 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
AMENDMENT ACT (No. 2), 2001
Hon. C. Hansen presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Health Authorities Amendment Act (No. 2), 2001.
Hon. C. Hansen: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
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Hon. C. Hansen: This bill makes two small amendments to the province's statutes, small amendments that we believe will make a very big difference to British Columbia's non-profit societies and their relationship with the province's health care system.
Bill 9 will repeal section 16.1 of the Health Authorities Act. This section currently gives the Health minister the power to order the amalgamation of a non-profit society with a government-appointed health authority.
Bill 9 also repeals the related portion of the Expropriation Act, section 2(5), which prohibits such a society from claiming compensation under that act for property or other assets it's forced to give up as a result of a forced amalgamation with a health authority. Our government believes that there should be no cause for non-profit societies and the dedicated volunteers who support them to worry that their hard work will be swallowed up by government.
This is a new-era commitment that we are delivering on. It is part of our commitment to that new era of health services. We promised to support community volunteers and repeal this legislation that allowed government to expropriate community health facilities without compensation. This bill sends a strong signal that this government welcomes non-profit societies and volunteers to play an integral role in the delivery of health care. I am pleased to table this bill, which will repeal the pertinent sections of the two pieces of legislation.
I move that Bill 9 be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 9 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.
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT AND
FAIR WAGE REPEAL ACT
Hon. G. Bruce presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Skills Development and Fair Wage Repeal Act.
Hon. G. Bruce: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. G. Bruce: This bill fulfils yet another of our government's 90-day agenda commitments to repeal the fixed-wage legislation that restricted competition on public construction projects in British Columbia.
We are committed to open tendering and allowing the competitive marketplace to operate. The bill repeals the 1994 Skills Development and Fair Wage Act, which did not serve the interests of taxpayers, contracting companies or employees. Taxpayers failed to benefit from a fully competitive bidding system. Some contractors avoided bidding on public projects because they could not operate efficiently within the fixed-wage rates and other restrictive practices, and the fixed rates limited the free choice of employees to negotiate their own working conditions.
Repealing this act will restore competition and workers' rights, open new opportunities for companies and their employees, and reduce costs. This is a way to make sure that taxpayers of British Columbia get the most for their hard-earned tax dollars. We all benefit from the flexibility of the free market, and we want to encourage all qualified bidders to participate in public sector bidding. By getting better value for taxpayers' dollars, we will be able to fund a wider range of initiatives.
Mr. Speaker, I move that the bill be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 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.
GOVERNMENT ACTION ON U.S. DECISION ON
CANADIAN SOFTWOOD LUMBER EXPORTS
J. MacPhail: The Premier keeps saying that we need to take our case against the softwood lumber duty directly to the consumers in the United States. He's probably overlooking the fact that many consumer associations, homebuilders and home supply companies have already come out in support of the Canadian case and the B.C. case actively, and they continue to do so.
Of course, we all know that the best way to fight against the softwood lumber tariff is to actually help the companies and the workers that are affected by it now, particularly in the area of helping the small companies, help them post a bond against the tariff and allow them to survive over the coming weeks. Yesterday the Minister of Forests finally admitted that he was considering that option.
My question to the Minister of Forests is this. The clock is ticking. Every day hundreds of workers are laid off directly as a result of this action by the United States. When's the minister going to actually make a decision?
Hon. M. de Jong: Mr. Speaker, is there anything more disruptive for a family than to face the possibility of having their ability to earn a living put in jeopardy? It is particularly frustrating when that is caused by a foreign power punitively manipulating its own trade rules. I would like to think that all members of this House are acutely aware of and sympathetic to the plight of those families. I know the government is.
I am mindful of an address made in this House only a few months ago, in slightly different
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circumstances, when the Premier of the day said: "We will stand united with our fellow lumber-producing provinces and our country to present a common front on this issue critical to…ourselves." He said that it won't be easy to find a solution, that it will be difficult, and called on his colleagues across the way to join with him.
The Leader of the Opposition, now the Premier, said on that day: "Let me start by saying that the opposition unites with the government in taking the interests of British Columbia first. British Columbia," the Premier said then, "will speak with one voice firmly, unequivocally, on behalf of our forest industry and the thousands of people that work in it."
We are following through on that undertaking now in government. We are considering all of the options. We will work, we will stand, and we will speak with one united voice. The invitation to this member remains. She can work with us, or she can continue to lob accusations that do nothing but assist the Americans in their stated desire to divide and conquer an industry that is so important to British Columbia.
J. MacPhail: Unfortunately, the situation has changed so that the only solutions are now coming from the opposition. Thousands of workers are being laid off daily — hundreds of workers — directly because of the softwood lumber dispute. Each one of these layoffs could have been avoided — each one of them — if the government had simply acted, if the government had moved to post a bond to protect the industry. Those people want to work; the towns want to survive.
How can the minister do anything but assist and put them back to work? He can simply provide assistance by posting a bond now for companies that are forced to deal with the softwood lumber tariff. To the minister: how many workers have to be laid off each and every day before the minister decides to act?
Hon. M. de Jong: I just want to make sure I understand this. The member whose former government's negotiating expertise brought us the fast ferries, an empty Trade and Convention Centre parking lot and the loss of over $100 million at Nanoose Bay is now presuming to stand here and lecture this government on how to conduct negotiations and intergovernmental relations.
We have laid out the three-track approach that we intend to follow. The member is welcome to provide suggestions along the way. We are going to fight this in the courts. We are going to determine whether or not the Americans are serious about engaging in a meaningful discussion. We are going to proceed with an intensive, focused public campaign so that American consumers understand that their politicians have driven up the cost of housing in their country.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition with a further supplementary question.
J. MacPhail: Let's just try to figure out where that three-track approach takes us. The Premier said that he's going to take the case to the Americans and that he's going to argue that our forest industry is not subsidized. Yesterday the Minister of Forests said that we're going to move to a market-based system and that we're going to do that in order to appease the Americans, and he's going to argue that our forest industry is not subsidized.
Yesterday the Minister of Forests said that we are going to move to a market-based system, and we are going to do that in order to appease the Americans' concerns. Today the industry is saying it's getting no support whatsoever from this government. That's the three-track approach that this government is taking.
While the Premier and the minister try to get their story straight about what track it is on and where it's going, jobs are being lost each and every day. My question is to the Minister of Forests. In the interim, instead of shooting from the hip with one day floating one balloon and the next day floating another balloon, why doesn't he take action to protect B.C. jobs? Why doesn't he put forward a plan right now to post a bond, and why doesn't he throw the weight of the government behind a B.C. exclusion application?
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. M. de Jong: My comment about the member's negotiating acumen is revealed and unfolds right there. The Americans target British Columbia, and her approach is to go down there on bended knee and say: "Please exclude us." That will really work.
Let me use the opportunity to provide some meaningful information, Mr. Speaker. There is a mechanism by which companies can apply for an exemption.
Hon. M. de Jong: Listen up; you might learn something here. There are two grounds upon which to do that: a company-specific exemption or a product exemption. In both cases, it's the companies that have the standing to make that application.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. M. de Jong: This ministry processed over 50 of those applications on the long weekend to facilitate those companies making those applications.
There are deadlines coming on September 5 and September 28 for applications for exemptions by companies for the final determination, if we get that far. This government and this ministry will do everything we can to facilitate those applications.
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If this member found out tomorrow for the first time that this government wants to move towards a market-based stumpage system, is it any wonder there's only two of them left — because she didn't read our election platform very well.
ALASKA HIGHWAY GAS PIPELINE PROJECT
B. Lekstrom: My question is to the Minister of Energy and Mines. Dwindling energy supplies and power shortages across the country have prompted governments across North America to begin looking for new sources of energy. One option is building a pipeline along the Alaska Highway route, and it has the potential to trigger an economic boom in northern British Columbia, benefiting all the constituents of northeastern British Columbia as well as all British Columbians. Will the Minister of Energy and Mines tell us what his ministry is doing to ensure that our support for this project is there?
Hon. R. Neufeld: Well, south of the border they have some dwindling supplies, but I can tell the member that north of the border, specifically in northeastern B.C., we have all kinds of natural gas that we're developing and selling into the open market. In fact, I just can't get over talking about Ladyfern. It's just developed about 60 miles north of Fort St. John. What they put out there is larger than Sable Island, so there are huge opportunities there.
But the member is right: there has been a pipeline planned to bring Alaskan gas to southern markets along the Alaska Highway. It's about 3,200 kilometres in length, and about 700 kilometres of that would be in British Columbia. It's a $10 billion to $12 billion (U.S.) investment. Companies that would make that investment are looking at the economics of it right now. When they determine which route they want to use, the Alaska Highway or the Mackenzie Valley route, we will certainly facilitate and work with those companies to make sure we get all the benefits we can in British Columbia. We will remember to respect the environment in every way, but we will work with those companies to make sure we get jobs for British Columbians in British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Peace River South with a supplemental question.
B. Lekstrom: My question is again to the Minister of Energy and Mines. There are going to be a number of jurisdictions that will likely be involved in any construction of an Alaska pipeline. Different governments are going to attempt to position themselves to ensure that their citizens derive jobs and other economic benefits from this project. Can the Minister of Energy and Mines tell us what his government will do to ensure that British Columbians gain the maximum benefit from the construction of such a pipeline?
Hon. R. Neufeld: This government has already moved to make sure that we get all the investment we can in British Columbia. The Minister of Finance introduced two tax reductions, one a personal tax reduction so that we have a low income tax that's comparable to all jurisdictions in Canada. Secondly, we started to move down on our business tax, something that the previous government had upped and chased all kinds of investment out of British Columbia. We know that those lower taxes will bring investment into British Columbia and the resulting jobs. We will work with those companies as hard as we can to get all the development we can in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.
GOVERNMENT ACTION ON U.S. DECISION ON
CANADIAN SOFTWOOD LUMBER EXPORTS
J. MacPhail: Back to the real issue of the day, Mr. Speaker, the softwood lumber dispute. The Minister of Forests seems to indicate that the whole world should know about all the wonderful action he's taking to help the industry. Well, as recently as today the industry has no idea what help he's giving them — none whatsoever.
Let's try to figure out all of the confusion. Let's try to make our way through all of the confusion created by this minister with his balloons that he floats. Yesterday I asked the Minister of Forests if he stood by his stated position that our energy exports should be linked to the softwood lumber dispute. He waffled, and of course he didn't answer the question. So again, to the Minister of Forests, a specific question. It just requires a technical answer. What energy exports is the minister considering linking to the softwood lumber dispute?
Hon. M. de Jong: I think some of these questions from the member reveal her limitations in dealing with technical information of any sort as it relates to this file. The standing offer for a briefing remains.
This matter is going to continue to evolve. We are working with the federal government; we are working with all of the provinces. There's a novel concept: actually working cooperatively with other Canadian jurisdictions. That process is taking place. It is moving forward in the days ahead. I guess the difference between that member and her former government and this member and this Premier and this government is when we confront the Americans, we'll actually have some prospect of doing it as a united, confident country.
NURSING INITIATIVES FOR B.C.
P. Bell: Yesterday the Minister of Health Planning announced a $21 million program designed for international recruitment, retraining and retention programs. As my colleague from Prince George–Mount Robson knows, Prince George has been in a health care crisis for quite some time, going back seven or eight years. Would the minister please tell us exactly how
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this program might alleviate the problems that we're having in Prince George?
Hon. S. Hawkins: We were very delighted to announce some initiatives for nurses in this province. They were speaking out for the last ten years, and although there has been some criticism that they aren't new measures, I would say that they are new measures. The previous government had talked about it, but we actually delivered it yesterday.
We are investing $21.4 million in nurses, and we expect to have 470 nurses trained and into the system for this fiscal year. I would hope that some of them are for Prince George. We are going to go offshore and recruit specialty nurses, which I know the member's riding requires as well. On top of that, we have some specific initiatives for rural areas. One of those is a nursing grant that the health authorities can access to train either mentors or teaching buddies for their nurses on the wards or for other kinds of programs that are needed in the rural areas. We also, through the Minister of Advanced Education, have a program for forgivable loans. Those are targeted especially for areas like yours, member, for those hard-to-service or underserviced areas. And I'm very proud to say that the Minister of Health Services redirected funds for patient lifts and beds. That $15 million will all be for outside the Vancouver area, so your area will benefit as well.
[End of question period.]
Hon. C. Hansen: On behalf of the Ministry of Health Services and the Ministry of Health Planning, I have the honour to present the 2000-01 annual performance report of the former Ministry of Health and Ministry Responsible for Seniors.
P. Wong: I would like to table a petition on behalf of 326 residents and a large number of organizations in the Vancouver Chinatown area — namely, Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association; United Chinese Community Enrichment Service Society, SUCCESS; Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver; Chinese Cultural Centre of greater Vancouver; Vancouver Chinatown BIA Society; Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association; Wong's Benevolent Association; Chinese Entrepreneurs Society of Canada; Mon Keang School; Silk Road Task Force; Yue Shan Society — Property, Social Club, Cheung Han Tong and General Assembly; Sam Yup Benevolent Association.
Enclosed with the petition are two attachments. One was dated February 2001, with 6,019 signatures. The other was dated in September 2000, with an overwhelming number of 32,639 signatures. The petitioners are concerned about the overconcentration of drug activities in the area. There are already four proposed development permit applications for drug service centres, yet in the Vancouver Chinatown area there are two additional multilevel drug centres being proposed. These sites are to be purchased by the Vancouver-Richmond health board.
Hon. Speaker, your petitioners respectfully request that the hon. House order an immediate review of the above applications and property purchases as mentioned and impose forthwith a moratorium until the review is completed.
Hon. J. Reid: I have the honour to present the report of the Nisga'a Highway for the Ministry of Transportation, in accordance with requirements of section 14 of the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act.
Hon. R. Neufeld: I have the honour of presenting the performance report, year 2000-01, of the Ministry of Energy and Mines.
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Collins: I call continuing committee stage on Bill 18.
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT AND LABOUR
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2001
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 18; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 2:45 p.m.
On section 8.
J. MacPhail: Could the minister tell me about the regulatory impact statement that was done for section 8?
Hon. G. Bruce: I would just like to introduce another member of staff, Mr. Patrick Stanton, here for this section. He's the senior policy adviser, and I welcome him to the floor.
We did not undertake a regulatory impact statement.
J. MacPhail: Why not?
Hon. G. Bruce: We didn't think it was necessary.
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J. MacPhail: Well, perhaps the minister could explain the section that substantially changes the bargaining council, particularly on the employers side. What exactly was the intent here, if it wasn't to affect the economy? Regulatory impact statements were the law of the land and are supposed to provide advice to cabinet about the economic impacts of various legislative changes. Is the minister suggesting that somehow this clause is separate and apart from what he purports the rest of the bill to do, which is to affect the economy?
Hon. G. Bruce: Our view of this was quite clear; it was part of our New Era document. The consultation was done through the course of the 28-day campaign. It was well known to all the voters of British Columbia. Again, I come back to the very resounding mandate that was given us to go ahead and do those things that we thought needed to be done to improve the economy in the province. This was one of those items that was clearly enunciated, and we're following through and doing just that.
J. MacPhail: I fully appreciate that the minister was part of a government that won an election. I fully appreciate that, and the whole public understands that. What we're actually trying to do now, though, is discuss the specifics of legislation that's introduced into the chamber. That's what this chamber is about; it's a place for debate. No one else is participating in the debate except for me.
I understand that it may upset the minister that I was elected. I understand that it may upset the government that my colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and I were elected. But we were, and here we are just asking questions to try to get the information about the legislation: (1) what it will do for what they said they introduced it for, which was to improve the economy; and (2) what impact it will have on people that are affected by the legislation.
If the minister wants to actually continue down the path of saying, "We won; you lost," I expect that the people watching and the people reading and the people who will be contemplating the effects of this legislation six months down the road won't be happy with that kind of answer. I exist. Try to, please, have some sort of debate in the chamber. Or would it be better if I tried to get the assistance of some of the colleagues of the minister to actually put the questions forward? Would that help? They're straightforward, legitimate questions.
I asked the question. Let me put it in context for the minister, then. The elimination of part 4.1, which is what this section does, combined with the legislation that he introduced earlier today — the fair wage legislation that governs public construction, which he eliminates — is bound to have an effect on the wages and working conditions of both union and non-union construction. It's bound to have an effect. That's part of the economy.
That has a major contribution to the well-being of shopkeepers, of apartment owners, of housebuilders, of shoe shops, of fast-food outlets. That's part of the economy. The elimination of part 4.1 and his fair-wage bill elimination affect the economy. The reason why the last government introduced regulatory impact statements as being mandatory was so that cabinet would have the guidance of how their actions would affect the economy. That's why I asked the question.
I understand the outcome of the election. I expect that the Minister of Labour didn't have a debate during the election with union workers about how his legislation would affect their wages and working conditions. So let me be very specific in my questions, then. Does the minister have any research regarding the amount that construction workers' wage rates will be reduced by these changes?
Hon. G. Bruce: Let me be very clear that I'm pleased that you're in the House. Democracy took place. There were 77 B.C. Liberals elected and two NDP members elected. Such is the case, and this is your House just as it's my House.
I wasn't trying to be flippant. You were asking me about what the consultation process was. You can do consultation in a number of ways. This happened to be, as I've mentioned before, the ultimate of all consultation in the fact that the general public as a whole had an opportunity to vote on it and did so in a very resounding way. This isn't going to de-unionize any part of the process. The negotiation will take place.
Your reference to the impact statements…. Again, I don't offer this flippantly, because it impacted us tremendously. If you as a government in the past had undertaken those impact statements — and I don't know whether you did or you didn't — obviously you got completely poor information, or the information that you got you interpreted improperly, or philosophically you just don't believe or understand how a good economy and a free market operate.
The changes — let's be clear on this, and you're quite right to join them together — that we are talking about are those things that we think are necessary to undertake to again restore a healthy and efficient economy in British Columbia. To do that, there has to be change. We were very clear on that. This was not an election campaign where we said, "Hey, elect us, and we'll do all the same things that the government of the day had done," because it was absolutely disastrous. So these are changes. You're correct to join them together.
All the legislation that we're bringing through this House is a reflection of our campaign platform and of those things that we think need to be undertaken to restore the economy of the province, to make our trades more competitive, to put our citizens in a situation where there are jobs for them — to allow for that. There's no hidden agenda with any of this sort of stuff. It's very clear what we are doing, and you and I, as would be the case, are philosophically opposed on how we think that ought to be done. I make no apologies for that and for how I and my government
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feel, and I'm sure you won't make any apologies for how you and your members feel.
The fact of the matter is that we had ten years of a very, very difficult time in this province and an economy that was absolutely devastated. All of those things that were undertaken by the government of the day, the NDP, were those things that helped to contribute substantially to the crashing of our economy and the loss of jobs, the loss of competitive operations. That's fine. I can understand where you're coming from. You philosophically believe in a different way of doing things. I, as Minister of Labour, and the rest of my caucus colleagues think differently. Obviously — and I mean this in no way flippantly — the people of British Columbia felt that it was time to try another process, and that's in fact what we're following through with in spades here as we bring through our 90-day agenda. We're getting the job done, and we're doing those things that we said very clearly to all the people of the province needed to be done to restore our economy. This is part of that.
J. MacPhail: Nobody ever receives a mandate from the public to say that they can lurch blindly without substance to change things in the economy. No one does. The Minister of Labour didn't get that right, nor did we — ever.
One of the reasons why regulatory impact statements were put in place was that after major consultation with the business community, they said: "Why don't you put a business lens on things when you change things?" In fact, the business community helped design the regulatory impact statement. Did the previous government do regulatory impact statements? Yes. And the minister knows that.
Yesterday the Minister of State for Deregulation outlined a government regulatory strategy that I referred to earlier — you know, the two-for-one sale: we'll give you one regulation if you give back two. One of the government's promises was that there would be an analysis of the impact of regulatory and legislative changes. The reason why they made that promise was because the business community demanded it. The business community said: "Don't put in place changes that aren't good for the economy, and if you are going to put in place changes, then do an analysis." So?
The reason for that was so the public could make informed decisions about the costs and benefit of the regulation and the change. So the fact of the matter that absolutely no impact study or statement was done makes his changes ideological. I'm not standing up here from an ideological point of view. I'm taking at face value the minister's statement that this is good for the economy.
So that's why I'm asking for the research that leads, one, him to eliminate the fair wage legislation, which we will be…. Just in case the House Leader wants to run in here and say, "Oh no, we're not discussing the legislation," I'm saying it's the combination of both. The elimination of part 4.1 will have a direct impact on the economy, as will his fair wage legislation. So I assume that there has been no impact study done, or the minister doesn't have any research about how the workers in the industry will be affected in terms of wages and working conditions.
Let me ask this question, then: does the minister have an analysis of the impact on small businesses, about the effect that this legislation will have on the wages of construction workers?
Hon. G. Bruce: This just promotes the competition amongst business. It's been part of the cornerstone of how our economy has functioned or tried to function. It functions in most other parts of the country. Small, medium, large, unionized, non-unionized.... What they do, as projects are up, is take a look at those projects, decide whether or not they are projects they can undertake, set up a bid and tender it. They do it in a way they think is the most competitive way they can go about bringing through that tender. They lay it before the parties that they are attempting to do the work for, and a judgment call is made. That's what this allows for. It allows for that competitive bid process to flow.
J. MacPhail: What the elimination of 4.1 does is put bargaining in the construction industry back into chaos, I would suggest. That's what some people are suggesting. Did the minister consult with the Construction Labour Relations Association about the advisability of eliminating part 4.1?
Hon. G. Bruce: I had conversations with CLRA, and of course they would certainly have appreciated that it remain as it was, because it was a legislated body. But that's just not what we believe in, philosophically. This is a philosophical difference. We don't believe in the fact that there has to be legislation to force groups of people together. The bargaining unit for the CLRA will continue to exist. Let's be clear on what we're doing here. We're returning the situation to pre-1998. This is the way it was; it existed up until 1998. We're not doing anything irregular or different than what was there prior to 1998.
J. MacPhail: Things have been moving very quickly here. I've been trying to keep up, but I'm just trying to see whether the government has repealed the Regulatory Impact Statement Act. That's the one that requires regulatory…. Maybe staff could help.
Hon. G. Bruce: The act does not require regulatory impact assessments.
J. MacPhail: I'm sure the business community…. I'll be delighted to talk afterwards with the Business Council, who lobbied for this long and hard and helped write it and supported it. It'll be interesting to see how they view that this current government — the new era, the newly elected government — feels they don't have to live up to the spirit of this legislation.
Why am I pursuing this line? Because there are many people out there who feel that part 4.1 actually
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brought order to the economy — not, as the minister has admitted, that the deletion of this section is a philosophical issue, which is an interesting corollary to his statement that the legislation is good for the economy.
I'm taking an approach that's based on the economic well-being of the province, not about philosophy. I'm trying to find out how we can give assurances to those who are already troubled about the tension and instability that's been created in the last few weeks — how we can give assurances to the public that this is good for the economy. A philosophical answer won't work. There are those who think that getting rid of part 4.1 will actually increase the likelihood of strikes in construction. Has the minister done an analysis of how this will bring labour peace, as opposed to labour chaos, to the construction industry?
Hon. G. Bruce: You know, there doesn't have to be a fight all the time in respect to labour and management and companies. I mean, the whole idea here is that you want competitive bids. You want well-paid jobs. You want to get the best value for the taxpayer. We believe this process does just that. We're returning it to what it was prior to 1998. There are all sorts of ways for companies and unions to negotiate contracts. This isn't anything irregular. As I say, it really just returns us to pre-1998 and allows a party to negotiate a contract.
J. MacPhail: For the benefit of the record, so the public can judge whether the philosophical approach of the minister or my approach about what's good for the economy…. What proves to be the test? What was the logic behind part 4.1, which brought order to the construction industry? And let's be clear. Part 4.1 wasn't dropped into the collective agreement because of a philosophical matter.
Labour relations in the construction industry were reviewed by two eminent, neutral labour experts: Vince Ready, I think, and Stephen Kelleher. It could have been Vince Ready and Stephen Kelleher, or it could have been Stan Lanyon and Stephen Kelleher. I'm not sure. Stan Lanyon and Stephen Kelleher are two eminent, non-partisan, neutral labour relations experts. There was chaos in the construction industry, so the government appointed Stephen Kelleher and Stan Lanyon to review labour relations in the construction industry. They made recommendations on how to bring order to the construction industry. They didn't just talk to one group; they had wide-ranging consultations. They brought in recommendations by consensus that led to the incorporation of part 4.1 into the Labour Relations Code.
Here's why. The construction industry is short term. It's seasonal; it's cyclical. Without a standard contract, non-union construction workers were actually affected in the negative just as much as union construction workers were.
What happened in the construction industry was this. A new unit would organize, but the job would be seasonal, and employers would prolong negotiations to the end of the project so that no agreement was ever reached. So any concerns that construction workers had about their wages and working conditions never got addressed, and then they were laid off.
Certainly that government of the day didn't deny a worker's right to join a union and to negotiate freely. What was put in place by recommendation was that a standard industry agreement had to be negotiated. That made it a level playing field for everybody in the industry — fair competition.
Did that do away with competition? No. What happened then was that there were standard rates in the industry, and then competition took place on the basis of innovation and efficiency, two excellent indicators of productivity. Competition didn't take place on the basis of low wages; it took place on the basis of innovation and efficiency. And many, many employers did extremely well in those circumstances. They didn't have a leg up. It's just that they weren't allowed to use wages as a basis for spiralling downward in terms of the bid.
That was why it was good for the economy. That's why there was major consultation done before the changes happened. That's why the whole venue under which construction on the ICI sector…. This has never affected residential construction at all. Only the ICI sector was affected by this. That's why the industry flourished in that era, and that's why there were no strikes — none.
Let me ask this: now that the level playing field is gone and the stability of the industry will be gone, does the minister have an economic analysis of how many skilled construction workers are likely to leave the province as a result of the lower wages and benefits that will now form the basis of competition?
Hon. G. Bruce: Let's recap a couple of things here and see if we can get the historical perspective correct.
There was a bill, Bill 44, that the prior government of the hon. member opposite brought in. I believe it was tabled. I'm not sure how far it got, but it got absolutely blown out of the water because it didn't meet any of what was necessary in the construction field. I wasn't here, but I'm pretty sure what happened was that then, after whatever consultation and all of the impact assessments and so on that the hon. member opposite speaks about, they came along with Bill 26. So Bill 26, which is what we're talking about to an extent here, was in place in 1998, three years ago. The system that the member opposite talks about was working. Since 1998 the parties, even in this situation now, have yet to reach a collective agreement.
So first of all, we had Bill 44 blown out of the water. We brought in Bill 26, put Bill 26 in, and the two parties that were supposed to be together couldn't make it happen together. And you question why we're doing it and the impact on the economy? The impact on the economy as part of all that, and what you did or didn't do as a government in regards to assessing the impact
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on the economy…. Your impact on the economy was huge, quite frankly — negatively so.
Now we come to skilled workers and the prospect of jobs in British Columbia. Let me assure the hon. member that with the direction that this province is taking and the new feeling of optimism in the community, be it small business, medium business, large business; be it a forestry worker, a miner or a construction worker; be it an industrial construction worker or a housebuilder…. There is a whole new feeling out there since we had a change. That comes from the fact that they know now that we are going to undertake those things necessary to restore the economy and make this economy grow once again. And with that will come projects and jobs. You can see it starting to take effect right now.
So from the standpoint of the skilled trades, from that aspect of the impact, you bet there will be a significant impact. The other part I have to get busy on and get a handle on is making sure we have those programs available and working so that we have apprenticeships coming along, and we have opportunities in those fields and all aspects of our economy, because this economy is going to start to grow. So yes, there will be an impact. There will be a very positive impact.
J. MacPhail: Does the minister actually have any evidence that…? While there is not a collective agreement in place right now, the wages and working conditions are agreed upon. There are other technical aspects that have not led to a collective agreement, but the wages and working conditions are agreed upon. Does the minister have any view on or has he talked with anyone about, the removal of part 4.1 leading to greater labour peace in the construction industry or less labour peace?
Hon. G. Bruce: We get into this peace-and-war stuff and all this sort of thing. Prior to 1998, there wasn't any great disruption. To a certain extent things were working as best they could, given the circumstances they were faced with and the lack of economic activity. Maybe that's why; I don't know. But the fact of the matter is that post-1998 this legislation that was brought in was an abomination to begin with.
Let's understand how it all started. You basically were trying to find some way as a government to force more people into a unionized field. It wasn't really what was going to do anything for the economy — whether it was going to make this economy grow and provide more jobs. That wasn't the point of what your administration had been, hon. member, for the last ten years in this province. It had never really been looking at how to make the economy grow. It had never been looking at how we would make life in British Columbia better. It basically thrashed the place.
Now we are here, and we have to start changing things to rebuild the economy in the province of British Columbia. So, hon. member, these things that we are doing are doing just that. Will there be a positive impact? There will definitely be a very positive impact. You will see, in short order, the economy starting to turn. You will see jobs and people working. You can see that in the faces and expressions as you go through the communities of British Columbia today. They feel a whole pile better today than they did earlier on in this year before this last general election.
J. MacPhail: In the rhetorical flight, the minister might want to read the Globe and Mail today. There was a very succinct article about flights of fancy that this government is already taking about the economy. It's a very succinct article, not by that left-wing Daily Worker, but by the Globe and Mail. All of his rhetoric and all of his flights of fancy will be put to the test in the economy. In just the same way that his government is lurching to make changes in an extreme way in the area of a very important part of the economy, that will be put to the test too.
When things go awry and when things don't prove out the way the minister wishes it to be, he will have nothing to rely on. He won't be able to say: "Well, you know, we did consult with business and working people, and they recommended that we go this way." He won't have any neutral labour relations expert to rely on to say: "It may not have worked out, but we did receive the best possible advice before we made these changes." None of that will be in place. All he will have are the flights of rhetorical fancy that he stands up and offers the people sitting here. He will have nothing to turn to but his own rhetoric, and all I am trying to do is put on the record something that is a little more substantive than his own rhetoric.
Changes that were made to the Labour Relations Code throughout the 1990s were done on the basis of consultation. The minister is quite right: where they weren't done on the basis of consultation, they failed. The government of the day had to back off. He is absolutely right on that, but that was when consultation wasn't done. So perhaps that is an indication that doesn't bode very well for the minister of the day. I must say that this section will be proven out very quickly, about whether it works or not.
Section 8 approved on division.
On section 9.
J. MacPhail: Can the minister outline all of the parts of part 4.1 that he's repealing?
Hon. G. Bruce: Besides the bargaining councils, sections 55(11) to 55(17).
J. MacPhail: What takes the place of that — free market? Is that the philosophical imposition that we have?
Hon. G. Bruce: The Building Trades Council will bargain on a voluntary basis with the CLRA or with other companies that are not part of the CLRA.
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J. MacPhail: What does the minister expect in terms of the advisability of labour disruption?
Hon. G. Bruce: Thank you again for that question. Flights of fancy notwithstanding, the simple fact of the matter is that this economy is going to turn around. The construction sector, from one end of it to the other — big and small — will be very, very busy, and I don't anticipate disruption. I think that the members of the unions and the companies will be looking to help build a new and bright future for the province of British Columbia. Perhaps if we can get into the rhetoric of working together rather than the old rhetoric of class warfare, this province will again assume its rightful place as the leader in Canada.
Section 9 approved on division.
On section 10.
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, we'll be spending some time on section 10.
Could the minister explain section 10(a), please.
Hon. G. Bruce: What this does is add education as an essential service in the code.
J. MacPhail: Who does it cover?
Hon. G. Bruce: This, of course, covers the school districts in the province of British Columbia. The unions that are involved in this would be the British Columbia Teachers Federation, CUPE, International Union of Operating Engineers, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America — these are small locals in various districts throughout the province — International Brotherhood of Teamsters, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry, West Vancouver Municipal Employees Association, British Columbia Government Employees and Services Union, and the IWA. These are all different smaller locals that are found as bargaining units for different school districts.
J. MacPhail: Is home schooling impacted by this?
Hon. G. Bruce: No.
J. MacPhail: Is e-bus learning impacted by this?
Hon. G. Bruce: To be clear, it's K-to-12 in the public school system.
J. MacPhail: Well, I'm just wondering. I'm just trying to figure it out, because I have a series of questions, and I don't want to waste time on questions of areas that aren't covered. E-bus is distance learning for children through the Internet. Is that covered?
Hon. G. Bruce: No.
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, just to put the Chair on notice, I will be tabling an amendment to this section. Perhaps I'll provide it to the Table now. I'm not moving it right at this point, because it may not be necessary, based on a series of questions that I have to ask of the minister. But again, it may be necessary.
One of the most respected experts on labour law is Prof. Paul Weiler. He wrote the book Reconcilable Differences: New Directions in Canadian Labour Law. Professor Weiler wrote: "When a government starts out to make substantial changes in labour legislation, both the process it uses and the package it proposes have to be seen as decently responsive to the interests of both sides in labour-management relations." I think it's clear that this act amending the Labour Code simply doesn't meet that standard. In particular, teachers in the province don't in any way agree with the legislation that designates education as an essential service. Teachers made that very clear during the election — just so I can prevent another rising up by the minister saying: "We won; you lost. There was an election." During the election teachers made it very clear that they thought designation of education as an essential service was unnecessary.
Professor Weiler continues to explain why it's vital that both parties accept changes to the labour legislation: "While such an approach is actually in the long-term interests of each side, there's an even stronger public interest served by it." That's back to where it says that the package has to be seen as decently responsive to the interests of both sides in labour-management relations. He continues: "If the process of labour law reform is perceived to be one-sided and unfair, this will have a corrosive effect on the legitimacy of the law it produces and on the degree of voluntary acceptance of that law by those whom we are trying to control with it." Professor Weiler continues: "I cannot overemphasize the importance of this simple point."
So here in B.C. we've already seen the initial negative consequences of the Liberal government's introduction of legislation that's not accepted by both labour and management. We've had the strike action by both nurses and health science professionals. That was deemed illegal by the Labour Relations Board. We've had declarations of an ongoing campaign against the government by essential health care workers — in fact, the campaign is going on today — because they don't accept the legitimacy of the government's unfair denial of their right to strike and their right to collective bargaining.
Now we have the Liberal government going even further down the wrong path, this time with teachers. Once again, we've not even had the decency of a fair, open and transparent public process that would allow teachers to actually make their case. There was a minor meeting between the parties, and nothing else has happened since this Liberal government took office. I think that now it's probably safe to say that the Liberal government is setting the stage for more confrontation
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instead of cooperation with teachers. That's the same as it did with nurses and health science professionals.
So let's try to use this chamber as an opportunity to shed some light on what the government's actually trying to achieve here. I have a series of questions on that basis.
Section 10 is a rather extensive section that talks about adding the K-to-12 system as part of an essential services designation. But the section does something much different too. It changes the definition of essential services.
It says that whereas previous essential service legislation and designation was where the board would rule on what it "considers necessary or essential to prevent immediate and serious danger," this government has changed the bar and said that the Labour Relations Board will rule on what it "considers necessary or essential to prevent immediate and serious disruption to the provision of educational programs." The word "danger" is changed to "disruption."
So let me just start with a series of questions on that. What constitutes a disruption as contemplated by this amendment?
Hon. G. Bruce: That would be either a lockout or a potential strike action.
J. MacPhail: So is a disruption in the K-to-12 system — because you also have to read "disruption" in the context of "immediate and serious…?" Is a disruption, defined as a strike or a lockout, one that is a period of eight weeks' duration? There's already a disruption in our education system of eight weeks' duration.
Hon. G. Bruce: In respect to "disruption," disruption is either the prospect of a lockout or a strike due to a labour dispute. Then, of course, the board would have the responsibility of establishing those levels of essential service.
The other thing I just want to come back to here for half a minute on this…. You generalize quite a bit in respect to what teachers may think or may not think. In fact, you sort of tend to take the approach….
The Chair: Member, just to remind you to go through the Chair, please.
Hon. G. Bruce: Sorry. I'm happy to speak to the Chair. I just wanted to make sure that our communication was on the same wavelength.
There are a great number of teachers involved in the school system in British Columbia, and there is a distinction, to a degree, of what the BCTF…. I wasn't sure whether you were meaning all teachers or whether you were just meaning the B.C. Teachers Federation. I think there may be some distinction, and I wasn't sure what your comments were in that respect.
I think the B.C. Teachers Federation have indicated that they're not in favour of this legislation, but I've actually heard from a number of teachers who are. So I just wanted to draw that…. I believe there is a distinction, and I wasn't quite sure that the member opposite was meaning teachers in the broadest context or just the B.C. Teachers Federation.
J. MacPhail: Well, we'll get to that. I'm sure the minister will be able to describe for me the teachers who support his legislation, as I will be able to provide for him information of not only teachers but parents and trustees who disagree with the legislation. That's the ongoing debate that's occurred just today, as a matter of fact.
The Labour Relations Board will need to seek guidance from this debate in the Legislature, because the minister is substantially changing the law around essential services. On the one hand, he's saying, "Don't worry, public, we'll turn this over to the good graces, the goodwill and the good expertise of the Labour Relations Board," but on the other hand, he's changing the law so substantially that the Labour Relations Board will have nothing to guide itself by. That's why this debate is very important.
I don't think the minister can just stand up and say, "A disruption is a disruption due to a strike or a lockout," because that doesn't work. In the case of other situations around the designation of essential services — like, for instance, in the health system or the firefighting system — it was proposed where there was an immediate and present danger to the health and safety and welfare of the public. A danger was very easy to establish. In this case, the government said: "It's a disruption. If a disruption occurs, then the essential services legislation can be invoked." In the education system, I'm sure those who are parents will be troubled by that.
That's why I need to ask this series of questions. The reason why I ask whether a disruption in our education system that will be declared essential is a time period of eight weeks is because, of course, that's the time students take off for a summer holiday. Is a disruption a period of two weeks? That's how long students take off for Christmas holidays, unless, of course, their parents actually take them out for longer. I confess. Well, actually I didn't do that, but his father did that. And I know other MLAs here have taken their children out of school for an extended Christmas holiday. That's a disruption. So is a disruption defined as two weeks?
Hon. G. Bruce: To be clear, what we consider to be a disruption is that which is associated with job action — a potential of job action. I'll repeat that again. To be clear, what we consider disruption to be is that associated with job action, either lockouts or strikes. It's not holidays.
The other point, to be very clear, is that we as a government said…. Again, this is part of the campaign commitment. If we were looking at this for an interpretation for the board, we were very clear that the rights of students would come first, that their
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education must come first, that learning must continue and that the school year must not be impacted by those disputes — on any grade achieving the results.
We have said through all the campaign period and with this legislation we're bringing through that we believe that the students' right to an education must come first. That is the strength of what we're putting forward today in this legislation.
J. MacPhail: The government's breaking new ground in Canada in this area. No other jurisdiction has essential services designation for the education sector. So it's very important that we have a thorough debate in this area. It's very important that we have a specific debate about this, because the Labour Relations Board — or the public or parents or teachers — will have nothing to guide itself by but this debate.
The term "disruption" has to be read in the context of…. Let me just read it. This is the legislation.
"If the minister (a) after receiving a report of the chair respecting a dispute, or (b) on the minister's own initiative" — that's why it's very important to know what is in his mind — "considers that a dispute poses a threat to the provision of educational programs to students and eligible children under the School Act, the minister may direct the board" — the Labour Relations Board, that is — "to designate as essential services those facilities, productions and services that the board considers necessary or essential to prevent immediate and serious disruption to the provision of educational programs."
That's why we're having this discussion, because you have to read it all together. "Disruption to the provision of educational programs." We have to look at what kind of disruption to the provision of educational programs is of immediate and serious consequence. That's why we're doing this.
Again, as I say, in the health care system if a person needs heart surgery and is in crisis and the heart condition may lead to death or serious disability without the provision of that heart surgery, there are all sorts of rulings that decide that issue. It's very easy to determine the immediate danger, which is what the legislation says. In this case, the only precedents we have for disruptions to educational programs are how the system operates now. So let me carry on.
Again, you see, the reason why we have to know what's in the minister's mind is because the minister actually has the ability to decide this issue all on his own, according to (2.1)(b): "if the minister…on the minister's own initiative." So what's in his mind is extremely important. Is it a disruption of a period of time of several days spread over a day at a time, over a few months? That might be what would happen in a rotating strike.
Hon. G. Bruce: Again, what's in my mind — and I'll state this — is that students do not lose a school year. That's extremely important. We're putting students first. If the LRB and others that would review why it is and what it is we're doing…. I think they need to take not only the comments in this House…. I say this not flippantly; again, it's very important. This was a very widely canvassed and discussed aspect of the campaign. This really is an expression of the will of the people of British Columbia, who clearly said that they wanted the students of the province in school. They wanted their education protected. They wanted to make sure that their learning continues even in the face of lockouts or strikes. This isn't just some flippant, quick-thought type of thing that the general public have expressed by virtue of the general election and the government's delivering on that campaign commitment — the aspect of education being an essential service, of putting the children first, putting the students first.
When the LRB came to deliberate on what levels of essential service…. They're trying to get some measure of what we're talking about here. We're saying that their school year can't be impacted, that the students should be in the classroom, that the learning should continue even in the face of a potential lockout or strike. I think that's fairly clear and fairly strongly stated.
J. MacPhail: Yes. I can take the minister at his word that this was well thought out, and that's why I'm pursuing these questions. I did check the New Era document. The language that the minister is proposing was not contained in the New Era document. The only way that the public or teachers or trustees would have had the discussion would have been to refer to essential services in the Labour Relations Code. That's why we're having this discussion.
Of course, what it says in the Labour Relations Code, which is standard language across the country, is:
I didn't actually meet any teachers that thought this was necessary. It's absolutely true that disruptions in our children's time in school are very inconvenient and should be avoided, but they don't pose a danger. So perhaps the teachers or the public that he meant may have thought: "Well, indeed, if the minister's just going to include teachers under the essential services legislation that currently exists, then really it's probably just another philosophical thrust but won't have any practical application."
Well, that's all changed now that we see the real legislation, now that we see in the legislation that the minister has changed the test from being danger to disruption. That's why my questions are absolutely key to know what's in the minister's mind.
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I guess I've asked the question enough so that we…. Really, I'm not sure that the public has any great comfort in knowing what his definition of disruption is. His definition is a disruption due to a strike or a lockout. Does the LRB weigh that against other disruptions that occur in our school system? That's why I was asking the minister about that.
Anyway, let me try another approach to see whether we can clarify the debate around this, to give some comfort to the public. Before the last election the Liberal Party's Education critic — I think it was the member for Surrey–White Rock — said that strikes and picket lines would continue under the essential services legislation that a Liberal government would pass. "Answering the phone would not be considered essential. There would be some degree of reduced cleanliness. Several senior classes might be put together and taught by one teacher," said the MLA for Surrey–White Rock in an interview with a newspaper. Could the minister confirm that the former critic's views are correct, in the view of the government today?
Hon. G. Bruce: By this legislation, what we are doing is letting the Labour Relations Board determine, on a case-by-case basis, what is essential. It's very clear; it's not confusing. That's what we're doing.
J. MacPhail: I'm sorry, Mr. Chair, but that's not good enough. Every classroom in the province of British Columbia is disrupted. Every single classroom is disrupted. So that's not good enough.
Let me just carry on. I guess these questions will go on the record, and there will be a lack of answers to them. But it may help the minister to eventually support the amendment that I'm seeing more and more I may have to move. I haven't yet, though.
The MLA for Surrey–White Rock said that a Liberal Education minister would help give direction to the LRB on essential services level. The MLA for Surrey–White Rock was the Education critic. It was his words on which the public relied during the election. Can the minister tell the House exactly what directions to the LRB are being contemplated by the government?
Hon. G. Bruce: The directions are within the body of the legislation: the reflection of some of what we've talked about in this debate, of how important education is; the fact that we believe that students should be in the classroom and that the labour disputes that may evolve should not disrupt a student's school year. This is the type of direction we're giving. We're not pinpointing and telling the Labour Relations Board: "Thou shalt do bing, bing, bing, bing." We're saying that education will be an essential service, that students need to be in the classroom, that their rights come first — an expression by this party, by this House, by the province of British Columbia. It's pretty clear. The LRB will take that into consideration as they try to determine, depending on where the disputes are and the extent of them, what levels of essential service need to be kept in play so that the students are able to achieve their school year and achieve the continuous learning that we here today are saying needs to be there.
J. MacPhail: Then let me continue along that vein. If the minister is saying now, in contrast to what they said before and during the election, that they won't be telling the LRB what to do…. We have a hint. The former Education critic said that people could be combined in one classroom. That was envisaged, and that was what was debated during the election. What does the minister feel is an acceptable number of students in a classroom for this government during a labour disruption?
Hon. G. Bruce: We're very clear. We're going to allow the Labour Relations Board, through this legislation, to make the determination over time, as they had done in health. It was done area by area. Such would be the case in respect to education.
J. MacPhail: I have to continue, Mr. Chair, although I'm not getting any answers to my questions. Let me just ask one that, because of the debate that has occurred…. I mean, the debate isn't just occurring in this Legislature, although I'm trying to clarify the debate. It occurred earlier on, and the former Education critic said that people could be combined in one classroom. There are existing guarantees of classroom size that have been negotiated between teachers and employers, and those guarantees are incorporated into the collective agreement. I want to see the relationship between an essential services designation and the current conditions outlined in a collective agreement. What's the relationship? Another prominent Liberal MLA, before the election, also had a view on essential services.
Before I proceed there, does the minister see classroom size as one avenue of determining essential services — not overriding, in an essential services designation, the current conditions of a collective agreement?
Hon. G. Bruce: The board will hear from both the employer and the bargaining unit. Through their discussions they will determine what levels are necessary to sustain the education system to live to what we're discussing here today: the fact that students, in our view, should be in the classroom. What this legislation is doing is putting students first. The parties are going to discuss in front of the LRB. The LRB is going to look at each party, perhaps at others. They may look at what was said here today. With that, they are going to determine what that level is to be. This isn't new. This has been done in respect to the health care system, and this is being done here in education.
J. MacPhail: With the greatest of respect, this is new. The minister has changed the rules. In fact, prior to this amendment which the Liberal government has
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introduced, the LRB had all of the rights to do exactly what the minister just described and had done it. The Labour Relations Board has applied essential services rulings to the education system. They did that under the previous language. I believe the ruling was that a certain aspect of education…. Under the previous ruling, where it was an immediate danger, the board ruled that grade 12 students on the verge of finishing their year and going on to university were in immediate danger. Therefore, an essential services designation was made during a labour disruption.
For some reason, that isn't good enough, and the government has decided not only to introduce special legislation but to change the wording for teachers. That's what we have to explore here. There must have been something in mind for the government to bring in the change. So let me go to another Liberal MLA who discussed his views on essential services before the election.
The Minister of Labour says that all of this was thoroughly discussed during the election. Let's see what was discussed during the election. The member for Vancouver–Point Grey, the Premier, said that the essential services law would "protect workers' right to strike while ensuring students are able to safely access school and classroom services throughout the collective bargaining process." Now the rubber's hit the road. The government actually has to explain what that means, and that's what I'm trying to find out here. They actually have to say, in detail, what that means.
I'm trying to find out how long a teacher or a support worker gets to exercise the right to strike before a disruption becomes a problem. I'm trying to find out how long a trustee gets to lock out a group of workers before the disruption becomes a problem. What do you think the Premier meant when he said that workers have a right to strike but that students get to safely access school and classroom services? What does this legislation do differently that the previous legislation didn't achieve?
Hon. G. Bruce: What this legislation does is very clearly define in the minds of the Labour Relations Board the attitude of the public that it represents. The general public has clearly and overwhelmingly stated that they want the students in the classroom. Students are the highest priority; they're first. If there's a labour dispute of some sort, that labour dispute is not to interfere with putting the students' education first. That's a very strong commitment that was given by this government, and it was reaffirmed by the vote of May 16.
Now, the Labour Relations Board are the ones that will determine the levels of essential service. The member opposite is quite right in what happened under her former administration with respect to the grade 12 year. But we believe, as obviously does the general public, that it ought to go further than that, and we've taken it that step further. We're not just going to leave it now to the discretion…or to the debate of whether education is essential enough. We're saying it is essential. We said that to the board via this legislation. Then the board is going to determine what levels are required under the knowledge of what's been said here and our attitude that students ought to be placed first.
I think that's all pretty clear. I think it's a measured approach, an approach that the people of British Columbia clearly wanted to see. And I think you'll find that from the standpoint of education, the professionals who teach in the school system will feel that this is a good way to go.
J. MacPhail: Courts and independent tribunals don't get to make law. If somehow the minister thinks that it's okay for him to stand up and repeatedly say that the LRB will decide these issues, that's not the way it works. The LRB interprets the law, applies the law to circumstances.
Right now we have a very, very fuzzy discussion happening here. We have a discussion that isn't nearly as precise as the one that the Liberal members were offering prior to and during the election. Yet that's the premise on which this minister rests: that all this was discussed during the election.
Well, I've put questions to him about what various Liberal MLAs said during the election, and he can't respond to say: "Oh yes, those are essential services." He can't do it. I put to him what the Premier said about what essential services meant, and now he can't explain it in the context of his own legislation. So I'm just trying to find out what it was that the public voted for and what it means.
Let's go on to some other things. What defines an essential service in each school? Will that essential service designation be determined on the basis of each school, each classroom or each student?
Hon. G. Bruce: Excuse me; I apologize to the member. I had one ear that was taking in some information. Could you just restate that for me? Thank you.
J. MacPhail: I fully understand. I was asking how the essential service designation for disruption will be applied. Will that be applied on the basis of each school, each classroom or each student?
Hon. G. Bruce: That would depend on the actual dispute that's occurring. If it were a support workers' dispute taking place that was affecting one particular district, that would apply to that district. Obviously, these are bargaining units that work in and around our school system. Some of them are provincewide; some others localized. It'll be determined relative to the dispute itself as to which group is having difficulty in the negotiations in coming to this point. That's where the LRB will make that decision.
J. MacPhail: Maybe I could pursue this a little bit further. There are programs that are unique to a school in a district. There are district programs that may be
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unique to that district. There are students that are unique to a classroom that have…. There are some students in our education system that have one-on-one educating. There is a possibility that one student in the classroom could be affected by a labour disruption. There's a possibility that one program could be affected by a labour disruption. Does math, history, biology, chemistry or phys ed qualify?
Let me just go on with a couple of other examples. Somehow the minister thinks that this is all going to be left up to the LRB. Well, the LRB doesn't have the right to decide these issues out of context from what was in the minister's mind. If the LRB is going to decide, they'll go back to the record of what the Premier said in the election or what the Education critic said in the election. We need to know what's in the mind here.
In my riding we have this fabulous audiovisual program, absolutely fabulous. It's got a theatre. What if students are on the verge of entering some sort of technical training program that leads to an apprenticeship? If they don't enter it, the apprenticeship is gone. Is that essential services? And because there's one-on-one education in this province, will the legislation allow an individual student or his or her parent to make application to designate their courses at school as essential?
Hon. G. Bruce: I'm just going to reiterate that we've made it very clear that students' rights must be first. If the LRB is looking for some direction when they're making their determination as to the interpretation of essential service, they're going to see that this is now paramount. The student in the classroom is paramount. In the general sense, we're also saying that students will not lose a school year regardless of age, regardless of school year, K-to-12, and that learning continues even in the face of some sort of dispute that's taking place, whether it's provincewide, districtwide or school-specific. I think that's pretty clear, pretty succinct. Those definitions, in regards to the essential service relative to that, will be determined and can be by the Labour Relations Board if and when a dispute is put to them.
J. MacPhail: That matter has already been determined by the Labour Relations Board. The minister didn't need to bring in legislation. That matter about losing a school year has already been determined. The Labour Relations Board ruled that the only way a student could lose a year without making it up was if they lost provincial exams in grade 12. That's why it was considered to be an essential service designation under the former legislation. Students in grade 12 were having their year put at risk because there was a requirement to complete provincial exams in order to get the year. Does that exist in any other grade?
Hon. G. Bruce: Yes, that is clearly the distinction. We are not limiting it to the grade 12 year. We are saying the year for all students, K to 12 — kindergarten, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12, all of those. Their school year can't be lost by this. That's a clear distinction. It isn't just the interpretation of whether it's grade 12 and provincial exams. We're saying it's the school year. We're also saying — and don't lose sight of this; I know you won't — that continuous education ought to be taking place in the face of a dispute or a lockout.
There is direction that has been given for the interpretation of the Labour Relations Board as they come to deem the level of essential service for the educational system.
J. MacPhail: Well, again, because the minister is imposing the legislation on a particular sector that is well established and has its own laws and its own mandatory requirements, we need to be specific. As a parent, I want my child to have a continuous education without disruption, but….
Maybe it's time for me to just make a couple of comments about a philosophy of how our children are educated and what the purpose of education is. The minister is somehow saying that we can just rule that education will continue and that everybody will know what that means. I guess he assumes that everybody, then, has an understanding of what the purpose of education is. He's not offering an explanation, on the basis of these detailed questions, of what he means by education.
The government has said: "We won't interrupt education." You can't talk about education as an essential service without talking about the purpose of education as something different from what schools do. We know schools do many things. Schools take custody of our children for a specified period of time during the school year. They attend to the well-being of the children who are in their care, they bring children together in a common facility, they educate them, they administer funds, they prepare financial reports, and they purchase supplies, lease property, employ people, hold meetings. Many if not most of the things schools do are derived from the main purposes of schooling.
There's actually a statement of education policy. I hope the minister and the members have time to listen to this, because as I researched this, I found it of great interest. It helped me decide this. This is actually a statement of education policy from 1989. The minister was an MLA at the time. It became effective in 1989, and it's still in effect. It states: "The purpose of the British Columbia school system is to enable learners to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and sustainable economy." It turns out that that still makes sense today.
I think the vast majority of British Columbians think that that statement of education policy can best be achieved through a public education system. I'm sure there would only be a small minority of British Columbians who'd say we don't need a public education system to achieve that, that it could all be done through the marketplace. For the majority of the population, public education is essential to enabling
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learners to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge and skills and attitude needed to contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.
The policy statement on public schools contained in the statement of education policy order in 1989 makes clear that within the three goals of education — intellectual development, human and social development, career development — human and social development and career development are the shared responsibilities of the school, the family and the community as well. Intellectual development is considered the prime goal and is supported by, rather than shared with, the family and the community. So intellectual development is the primary goal of the schools.
Most of us agree that prolonged absence from school might jeopardize the development of the potential of learners and might interfere with the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitudes. So provision is made for the education of students who are confined to hospitals or are home-bound, because prolonged absence would interfere with that. There has been specific provision made for that. But short-term absence from school isn't seen as deleterious to the educational interests. Those absences are not encouraged, but they're not seen as deleterious, otherwise our children would be in school continuously.
That's why I was pursuing the initial line of questioning. If an interruption of a child's schooling would threaten her education, we'd make it illegal or a violation of the law for parents to remove their children during the school year. Of course we don't do that. There have been MLAs who are decent parents and want the best education for their children and who remove their children from school during the school year, during the school day.
We make allowances for parents who wish to have their children excused from school to take part in other activities, because we recognize that while essential to a child's development and to the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitudes, purposeful interruptions to their education of a short duration during the year, and for longer periods during holidays, don't adversely affect the education of most children. We don't encourage it, but it's not an adverse effect.
So the question now is — and that's what we're trying to get at here; that's what this debate is about: do the interruptions to the education of children that arise within the context of the process of collective bargaining constitute immediate and serious danger to the welfare, health and safety of the residents of British Columbia? The reason why I use the former definition is because that's the discussion that took place during the election. That's why I use the word "danger," because I am just relying on the minister's assertion that this was thoroughly discussed during the election.
It is, of course, absolutely the responsibility of the Legislature to be concerned about the negative and deleterious impact on the education of students that would result from prolonged management-labour conflict. That is something that the Legislature has to concern itself with. Does this legislation do it? Of course it doesn't, because it abdicates responsibility for determining how prolonged a disruption is. It says, "Oh, the LRB will decide," and gives us no guidance. That's why I'm trying to pursue the guidance.
We know that there is every avenue available for this Legislature to judge whether a prolonged absence as a result of a labour disruption is deleterious to the education of the students. The Legislature can reconvene and pass legislation to require the parties to return to work. God knows it's been done in the past, much to the chagrin of some members. So the government says: "Oh no, we don't want to actually assume our responsibility for balancing the interests of working people in the education system and the needs of our children for the best education possible. We don't want to do that on a case-by-case basis ourselves where we could recall the Legislature. We want to turn that over to the LRB with no guidance whatsoever."
I thought I might not have to use my research in that area because we would actually get to answer the question about what the minister sees as deleterious — what prolonged absences are deleterious to our children. But those questions aren't being answered, so I have to go to my specifics. There is certainly a situation that could arise where an individual student's attendance at school is affected on an individual basis due to a labour disruption. Is it possible for that student — I'm talking about a special needs student — to make application to have the disruption of her education declared essential?
Hon. G. Bruce: It would have to be either of the parties that were in dispute, or it would have to be the Minister of Labour to make that appeal.
J. MacPhail: Does the minister know whether the Labour Relations Board hears from individuals in the area of health care disputes when determining essential services?
Hon. G. Bruce: Predominantly, the board appoints a mediator, and the mediator speaks with the parties — obviously those parties are individuals — and then brings that back to the board.
J. MacPhail: It's actually not a trick question. I don't know the answer to it. I'm trying to seek information here, because it is key. So it's the minister's point that parties who are not party to the collective agreement process cannot make application for essential services designation.
Hon. G. Bruce: That's correct.
J. MacPhail: I want to move on, Mr. Chair. I'm wondering whether I should…. At this point in the
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debate I'm going to move my amendments, which, under section 72, changes the wording that's currently before us — section 72(a)(1)(i). I'm sorry. I can go through all this, or…. The minister has a copy of it.
The Chair: Yes.
J. MacPhail: Okay. Let me just explain this, then. This is to say that the definition of…. It still specifies that the definition of essential services covers students and eligible children under the School Act, covered by essential services specifically, but it uses the definition of essential services that was in existence during the election and that has a well-founded body of decisions at the LRB attached to it. This is exactly a return to what people voted on for the Liberal government during the election. This amendment is actually the real language that delivers on the promise of the Liberal government during the election.
I would so move.
On the amendment.
Hon. G. Bruce: Mr. Chairman, just a point of order. Is this amendment in order? On reading, it would seem that it changes the intent of what we're trying to do. It doesn't amend it; it virtually reverses it back to the way it was.
The Chair: It appears to be in order, unless the minister can clarify otherwise.
J. MacPhail: It's interesting to note the words the minister said. He said that this changes the words back to the way it was. Well, that's what people voted on during the election. The government didn't say during the election: "We have a different view of essential services." Actually, they did say a whole bunch of stuff about essential services, none of which I can get an answer to. They didn't say: "Oh, but guess what. The language that exists now, which is well defined on essential services, isn't what we really mean." That was what the debate was about.
All I'm doing here is tabling an amendment that puts…. It's like one of those lob questions that the backbenchers of the government caucus ask of the ministers of the day: "Did you really mean what you said during the election?" That's all this amendment does. This amendment asks that very question. If you vote against it, you're breaking your promise. That's exactly what you're doing. If you vote against this amendment, then you misled the public during the election, because this is what the discussion was about during the election.
Hon. G. Bruce: I won't belabour the amendment, but basically, as I read the amendment, it takes the whole issue back to one of safety and welfare and not to the provision of educational programs. I think there's a fairly significant difference obviously.
The general public are looking that we would put students first, that they would have the continuance of learning within the school system in the face of a labour dispute and that they wouldn't lose a school year. This amendment doesn't speak to that, so we'll be voting against the amendment.
J. MacPhail: This is for posterity. I am voting in favour of the amendment. I hope that the amendment won't be defeated, because it will have serious consequences for the Liberal government. But if the amendment is defeated, I will be noting my vote for the amendment by calling a division.
Amendment negatived on division.
J. MacPhail: That was an interesting discussion. Let's carry on with another aspect of essential services, then. The minister should know that the LRB already deals with an enormous number of essential service hearings. In 1998 the LRB held 557 essential services hearings. Those were 557 separate hearings. The LRB dealt with a total of 3,981 applications or complaints that year.
The minister refused earlier in the debate to recognize any sort of assistance for the LRB in terms of
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now having to do representation votes — refused to give relief for having to do those representation votes by reducing the number of unfair labour practices and shortening the time period for the vote. So there's been no relief given for the LRB. Their workload is increased today by having to have representation votes on every single certification application. I would expect that the essential services hearings will increase hugely at the LRB with not only the addition of education to the application of essential services but also by now changing the definition completely so that no one knows what it's about, so that there's no body of evidence or law to which the LRB can refer.
They certainly can't turn to this room, with the record of the MLAs in this chamber giving help to the LRB, about what it means — certainly nothing. So I imagine these hearings will be prolonged and costly, and I imagine these hearings will involve lawyers. We know that just in this last round of bargaining from health care, there has been a substantive body of evidence for health care designation as essential services. The government, the employers, spent $360,000. That doesn't even take into account the bargaining agents of the workers. That's $360,000 where it's tried-and-true practice of essential services and where the definition is consistent with other definitions across the country.
So now we have a brand-new definition and no body of law, no body of decisions to rely on, no new resources and no new staff, and the LRB is going to have to deal with a huge volume of hearings to make education an essential service. I'm not speculating on this. The potential for this is facing us in three weeks. As a parent I'm worried about what it means, come Labour Day plus one. I'm certainly worried about it for the children who are educated in my…. There's an opportunity for lockout as well. I'm worried about it.
Collective bargaining is taking place right now. The government has given absolutely no comfort that they have any money available for teacher bargaining. They've drained the coffers away to the large corporations. So I expect this issue will face us. I expect the LRB is probably watching today, saying: "My gosh, what are we going to do?" And I expect there are lawyers rubbing their hands in glee, saying: "Oh my gosh, what are we going to do now? Isn't this great?"
So let me ask a series of questions on the LRB and the practical application of this legislation. Can the minister make a commitment that if the LRB finds itself overwhelmed with essential service applications in three weeks, he will find additional resources to ensure that the LRB fulfils all of its obligations, all of its labour relations adjudication functions, in a timely manner?
Hon. G. Bruce: The hon. member presupposes that we're going to have an escalation of labour unrest in the province. I don't actually believe that's going to be the case. Granted, we've had to do some things in this session in regard to labour disputes that are not ones that I was particularly happy to undertake, nor was any other member in this House. But they were disputes left over by the hon. member's government, inadequately handled, poorly bargained. They hadn't looked after the health care resources as they should have. They couldn't figure out what to do with respect to the transit issues, and they had moved into a strike. So those issues were left for us, and we dealt with them.
Now there are negotiations that have been undertaken with respect to the British Columbia Teachers Federation. Although I understand that the leadership of the British Columbia Teachers Federation is concerned about all of this, if they concentrate on the negotiations with the parties that are present, I think we can reach a negotiated settlement. I would hope that to be the case. The Labour Relations Board will do what it has to do with regard to the duties on hand as a board, if and when it's faced with that.
J. MacPhail: Every time this minister has stood in the House and predicted that free collective bargaining would prevail and that a freely negotiated settlement would be reached, given the context of the heavy hand of their laws, he's been wrong. So while I appreciate that he's predicting once again that everything will go fine, his record of prediction is abysmal.
Again I go back to my opening statements about what Prof. Paul Weiler said. He said: "If the process of labour law reform is perceived to be one-sided and unfair, this will have a corrosive effect on the legitimacy of the law it produces and on the degree of voluntary acceptance of the law by those whom we are trying to control with it." That's Paul Weiler saying that.
Well, one side has already indicated that it's not happy with this. The other side, the public, who the minister says supports this, was voting on something that the minister has changed radically. And the government members just defeated an amendment that would have returned the law to what they promised during the election. I can hardly wait for one of them to stand up and say: "Minister, why did you vote against the amendment tabled by the opposition? Now you've broken a promise." I can hardly wait for that question to come up during question period.
I predict that the minister's record of forecasting that collective bargaining will prevail and that there won't be labour disruption is wrong. He's put everything in place to ensure that his prediction will be wrong.
Then we also have to look at the record of collective bargaining in this sector anyway, between teachers and school trustees. They've needed a great deal of help over the last two rounds of bargaining. In fact, they've needed a great deal of help to the point of intervention. So there's actually nothing, historically or currently, that supports the minister's premise that a negotiated settlement will prevail. Well, there is one thing, I predict — that is, if the government can actually find some money to pay teachers. But they've hamstrung themselves with that. They've tied both hands behind their back with their huge, massive tax cuts, and
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they've put forward an economic forecast that's absolutely ridiculous. They've given themselves no room whatsoever to resolve it on that basis.
Let me ask this, then, because this is something that the minister will be directly responsible for, in that his government funds school boards. Has he discussed with school boards how making essential services applications will affect their bottom line? The cost of legal fees alone could be enormous, and perhaps it's money that could be spent in the classroom. Could the minister indicate what research he and his staff have done to estimate the cost to school districts of essential service legislation?
Hon. G. Bruce: I, too, would like to have a whole pile more money and be in a position in this province so that we had coffers overflowing, as we should have. But I think the member opposite has pretty much hit the nail on the head. The spot we're at in the province today is because of a completely inept, inefficient…. There you go, by your leave, spending the money of the taxpayer. It's just gone, with no consideration for the taxpayer and their dollar — no consideration in that respect at all. You're quite right: there isn't money there.
We can get back into the old class warfare, but it just doesn't cut the mustard anymore. It's not relevant. People of the province of British Columbia want the economy rebuilt. But primarily, in this particular debate, what the people of the province want is to know that students will be first, that education will be first, that labour disputes will no longer hold up the education of students. That's what they want. They made that clear.
As the member has so openly said, there have been disputes in the last ten years. There have been disputes where the member's own government had to come back and legislate returns and so on. I mean, it was great. Just leave the system as it was; let's have the disruptions. It's no clear expression as to how important one considers education to be in the K-to-12 range. This government has made it very clear, and the general public have made it very clear.
I think we're at the point now where the member ought to accept that. That judgment was given. This legislation is there to allow the parties to determine those essential levels. It is not a question of us coming along and taking away their right to strike, putting in binding arbitration. We're saying: "No. We still believe in a negotiated settlement between the parties." We believe that the parties as a group are mature and professional and can reach those agreements. There are a number of parties involved in these, be they the teachers' organization or the support workers. What's clearly said here in this legislation.... What we are doing is demonstrating to the people of the province that we said, and they restated it — the voters, that is — that the rights of students will come first, that students will be in the classroom, that they will get a continuing education and that they will not lose a year to a labour dispute.
J. MacPhail: Could the minister actually answer the question that I just asked? He's the one that hasn't moved on. I'm asking practical questions as if the legislation is in place. I'm moving on. Perhaps the minister could as well.
Will the minister indicate what research he and his staff have done to estimate the costs to school districts of essential service legislation?
Hon. G. Bruce: The hon. member opposite, of course, was involved in a number of disputes in respect to education, and there are costs associated with that. There's no doubt about it. But she presupposes that we will have continuing labour disputes, that this will escalate and so on, and I don't believe that will be the case. I guess we could go back and add up the costs that the former government incurred through the handling or mishandling of these disputes in the past.
What we're saying is that education will be an essential service. We're saying that the students need to be in the classroom. We also believe, through saying that, that the parties involved in the disputes, the parties involved in negotiating contracts, will also understand that society as a whole has increased its measure, has said that education is truly…. It's not lip service anymore; it's not the old so-called common denominator. No, education is important to us.
What we're suggesting here is that those who work in the education system will treat this process of the negotiation in that light. It isn't just: "Hey, we can't get a settlement, so we're going out on strike, and we're going to close the schools down." No, that's not going to be the case. We've said that. In fact, as a government, the hon. member's actions in the past got involved in a number of educational disputes. We're just laying it on the line, and the general public are right there. The whole business of cost analysis, what does it cost and so on, I don't think is germane to this discussion. I think it's bigger than that. I think it's the fact that people want to know that we treat and respect education at a very high level in our society and that we want our students in the classroom. I think it's very clear.
J. MacPhail: I doubt that the public will accept that as an answer: that costs aren't germane. I doubt that the public, who want education dollars spent on the classroom and on their children, would be happy to hear that hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of dollars are spent on determining a piece of legislation that's unworkable. That's why I'm trying to pursue this.
Let me just make it clear, because the minister clearly doesn't understand how essential services legislation works. Essential services legislation doesn't work so that you apply it after the dispute has started. That would defeat the whole purpose of this. Somehow the minister thinks: "Oh God, let's not predict that there's going to be a strike and the legislation would be invoked, because that's being very, very uncharitable." Essential services designations occur before a dispute, a
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labour action, takes place. Whether indeed a labour withdrawal takes place or not, the legislation has to be invoked and the dollars have to be spent.
The essential services designation for health care takes place much before. All of the money is spent and the LRB hearings are done before job action is taken either by trustees or by teachers. This isn't a figment of imagination or a what-if. If this legislation is passed, I can guarantee you that the LRB will be taking action on this immediately. So these questions are germane.
What if a school board can't run a band program because they're spending money on legal fees at the LRB? What's the back bench going to say then? What if there are children who can't get special needs education because the money is being spent on lawyers' fees at the LRB? The minister doesn't even understand how the application of his own legislation works.
Well, let's talk about his supporters and what they think about this. Let's talk about it in the context of not a teacher but a trustee. This is a trustee, actually. My gosh, this is a trustee that's a member of the B.C. Public School Employers Association, the bargaining agent for the employer — a school trustee. It's a public letter. I know the government's kind of worried about leaks already, I've heard, but this is a public letter published in the Comox Valley newspaper. It's from Len Morrow of Comox. He's a veteran trustee who's a member of the B.C. Public School Employers Association. It's a letter published today. His letter begins:
The letter goes on:
This is a school trustee. The letter also raises the issue of how essential services will affect parents. That's why I was pursuing a line of questioning in that area. He asks:
Is that going to be part of the discussion perhaps — this is not from the letter — under the new Parental Responsibility Act?
That's from a school trustee who's a long-serving school trustee, and he actually sits on the bargaining committee for the employer. Well, actually, I don't know whether he sits on the bargaining committee. I'm sorry. He's a member of the B.C. Public School Employers Association, so he's a member of the employers association that establishes the bargaining committee. It's on that basis that I am asking the minister the question for school trustees such as this. What impact will having to attend the LRB have on school board budgets?
Hon. G. Bruce: Could you just tell me the name of the author of that letter again, please?
J. MacPhail: Len Morrow.
Hon. G. Bruce: Society goes through changes, and we go along in different directions. Things are accepted. Society says okay to a certain extent. Then we get to a crossroads. Clearly, like no other time in the province of British Columbia, we came to that crossroads on May 16. There was a very clear expression by the people of British Columbia, overwhelmingly, for a new direction. That new direction also applied to education. Whether the hon. member wants to refer it as life and death or not, for a society to grow and prosper, for us to have doctors and nurses, lawyers, construction workers — whatever the field may be — we need people to be able to get through a good public school education system.
As the member opposite speaks about the past, we saw time and again where there were disputes in the school system. What we are doing here is reflecting that change that society in British Columbia has determined. To them, yes, education is essential. They made it very clear. Education is essential to our collective well-being in the province and the individual well-being — the students that go through that school system.
I appreciate that there may be comments by people who write letters, whether they're school trustees or whether they're councillors or whether they're just a citizen that's not holding an elected office. Those opinions will be there. But the general public, in reviewing everything that took place during the election, clearly understood what we were talking about and gave us the mandate. Humbly, we need to go ahead and put that in place. That's what we're doing here.
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We can postulate, go on and have all the rhetoric in here — that's what this place is for, and that's great — but the fact of the matter is that it comes down to living up to the expression of the will of the people of British Columbia. It's not devious; it's not confusing. It was outright, forthright and very clear, and the result was very clear. This government has also made it very clear that it intends to uphold those commitments we made as people running on behalf of the B.C. Liberal Party that became the government of the province of British Columbia.
J. MacPhail: Perhaps the minister could then answer a series of very practical questions that are actually going to affect a child's education in terms of resources available. That's where we're at now. These questions are very practical. So let me raise a related matter on the practicality of a child's education and where education dollars are going to go.
A related matter is whether the government, at some future point, will actually introduce user fees at the LRB. The LRB, I predict, will be overwhelmed by these essential services applications and the representation votes as well. I asked the minister for a commitment that he would provide the resources. He didn't give that commitment. Let me take another approach then.
Introducing user fees at the Labour Relations Board has been contemplated and rejected in the past, on the basis that it would interfere with the functions of and with the parties' access to the Labour Relations Board and that it would be a regressive move to add further costs to all parties — both employers and workers — in their attempts to resolve labour relations matters. Can the minister give us — or even the school trustees — an assurance and through that assure parents that dollars meant for the classroom and education dollars won't go to the payment of user fees for the LRB; that the government will not introduce user fees at all at the LRB; or that for sure, with the introduction of this legislation, which is directly the creation of chaos by his government, applications for essential services will not require school districts or unions involved to pay user fees?
Hon. G. Bruce: I'd like to correct the record. This legislation does not bring about chaos. It brings about a system of order. It allows for our students to be in the classroom, as they are meant to be. It allows for those teachers — that professional body that, in the majority, loves and wishes to be in the classroom — to not have these labour disputes.
I take issue with you. I don't believe that this is development of chaos. In fact, it's a measured and clear response to what the general public wished for us to do. The Labour Relations Board is there to handle these particular issues if they are to arise. I'm confident that it won't be something that is overbearing on the Labour Relations Board. They're faced with the number as it is right now. They deal in all sorts of labour disputes that come to them from time to time throughout the province. Your questioning here is fine and fair enough. Certainly, you're allowed to do whatever you wish, but it's really kind of getting off the mark.
J. MacPhail: Getting off the mark? This is the place where you answer the practical questions that arise as a result of the government's legislation. If it's off the mark to ask how much trustees will have to spend on this legislation, what is on the mark then? If it's about what extra pressures are going to be put on teachers and/or parents as a result of this, how is that off the mark?
My gosh, I find it unbelievable that, first of all, I'm the only one standing up asking any questions. Where's the member that represents Comox Valley? Where's the member who's responsible for that school board? Where are any of the other members? I'm the only one asking questions, and somehow I'm off the mark. Well, I guess we'll see. It's lucky I'm asking the question for the students in the member's district, because he doesn't have the guts to get up and do it. How is it that this legislation will be applied in the middle of a round of collective bargaining that's already taking place?
Hon. G. Bruce: The current round of negotiations with the employer and the government of British Columbia through the employer and the B.C. Teachers Federation is ongoing and will continue to unfold. I'm hopeful they will be able to carry on and reach a negotiated settlement.
P. Bell: I just wanted to comment on something that the member for Vancouver-Hastings said earlier, suggesting why we would have voted against the amendment. I just wanted to state for the record that for me personally, as someone who went through in the field of secondary education and who has family in secondary education, I believe this legislation is far more important than simply providing for the health, safety and welfare of our youth. Education is our foundation for society, and we can no longer afford to lose the type of education base that we have, particularly through the last ten or 12 years.
I was not interested in pursuing my career in education specifically because of the lack of opportunity within the field to ensure that we were able to offer the services to our children. I know my reason for voting against the amendment. I'm just wondering if the minister would fill me in on his reason as well.
Hon. G. Bruce: It was very clear, as we had stated, that we were virtually coming back to health and welfare, and we're not coming back to the issue of what all this legislation was about — that is, making education an essential service. We believe that the students ought to be in the classroom, that the students' right to an education ought to be the priority, that a labour dispute would not disrupt their ability to receive a continuous education and that every year it
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wouldn't impact their year, regardless of whether they were in kindergarten, grade 4, grade 10 or grade 12. It is an expression of what the government was looking to achieve here. I think this legislation clearly sets the record straight in that respect.
J. MacPhail: All I can say to the member for Prince George North is that I hope it never snows in Prince George. I hope that the classroom is never disrupted due to snow, because that would have about the same effect on our education as a disruption for other reasons.
Mr. Chair, the amendment has actually been dealt with quite a while ago. I just want to say one thing. Somehow, with the minister standing up and refusing to address the very practical questions of this legislation…. Somehow that serves his purpose of explaining to the public how valuable the education of our kids is. Somehow he thinks that's justification to the public for what impact this legislation will have on education.
Well, I know how important education is. I represent the constituency where over half of the schools are inner-city schools; where, in some of my schools, the vast majority of children are aboriginal children who have been treated abysmally by the education system; where these children have suffered under conditions that no non-aboriginal child has ever been forced to be educated under. To make a difference in that aboriginal child's life, governments have to pour hundreds of thousands, tens of millions, of dollars into making up the difference to make sure that child has the best opportunity and the same opportunity — an equal opportunity — as non-aboriginal children. That's what's so wonderful about our education system. That's what makes education so valuable.
To disrupt the flow of extra need, extra support, to aboriginal children is an abuse. That's true. To stop the flow of money for children who come to school hungry is an abuse, is a disruption in that child's education. To stop the flow of resources to make sure that the school is a safe place, where bullying doesn't take place, is a disruption in the development of that child. Those are disruptions in our education system, and I fear those are exactly the disruptions that will occur when this government has to cut programs.
Today we saw an article in the Globe and Mail that says the budget of the B.C. government is just ridiculous. I can't even remember the title, but the headline said it all. That's what will affect the education of our children, and that's what will disrupt their well-being.
I value education as much as anyone in this room, as a parent and as an MLA and as one who knows that our economy grows in direct relation to the outcomes of our students as they complete their schooling.
Mr. Chair, I think the debate on this matter today concludes on the basis that almost every practical question about the application of this legislation remains unanswered and that there is no opportunity to debate the real effects of real disruption in our students' education.
Section 10 approved on the following division:
YEAS — 57
On section 11.
J. MacPhail: The section that the government is repealing has been in effect for a while. Could the minister provide information about how many times applications have been made under the former section?
Hon. G. Bruce: I'd just like to introduce another member of our staff, Sherry Miller, who's the superintendent of pensions.
There have been four plans that were registered in this manner, and only one person had their benefits reduced as a result of this.
Section 11 approved.
On section 12.
J. MacPhail: Could the minister explain in plain English language how the transitional multi-employer plan will work?
Hon. G. Bruce: The first step is that benefits must be re-established promptly, but there's not a lot. The superintendent will make sure that all of the other four plans have been brought back into compliance, and then once that's completed and everything's in order, the regulation will go into effect.
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Sections 12 and 13 approved.
Hon. G. Bruce: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendment, by leave.
The committee rose at 5:14 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Bill 18, Skills Development and Labour Statutes Amendment Act, 2001, reported complete with amendment.
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as reported?
Hon. G. Bruce: By leave now.
Bill 18, Skills Development and Labour Statutes Amendment Act, 2001, read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Bruce: Can I ask that the House stand at ease for a moment?
Mr. Speaker: The House will be in recess for a few moments.
The House recessed from 5:16 p.m. to 5:18 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
AMENDMENT ACT (No. 2), 2001
Hon. G. Plant: I move that Bill 17 be now read a second time.
The judges of the Provincial Court of British Columbia provide a valuable service to the people of British Columbia. The court consists of many talented, dedicated and hardworking men and women. This bill proposes to provide the Chief Judge with a tool to keep the valued knowledge and expertise of senior judges when those judges are contemplating retirement. This bill will amend the Provincial Court Act to establish a pilot program that will allow senior judges contemplating retirement to elect to serve on a part-time basis for up to five years before full retirement. The Chief Judge will place these part-time judges where they are needed most and will increase the flexibility of the scheduling of judges.
The program will not increase the total number of judges sitting on the bench of the Provincial Court. The Chief Judge will not request a replacement for a judge electing part-time service until two judges are serving part-time. Therefore, the complement of total judges will remain the same.
The election to serve part-time will be available only to judges who are 55 years of age or older and who have ten or more years on the bench. Once a judge elects to serve part-time, the judge will receive his or her pension and will sit on the bench part-time. The judge will sit up to a maximum of 50 percent of the time that a full-time judge sits but will receive only up to a maximum of 40 percent of the salary of a full-time judge.
The amount each judge will be paid is different based on his or her pension. No judge will receive more than the equivalent of a full-time judge's salary when his or her pension and part-time salary are added together. A part-time judge will receive vacation and health benefits but will neither contribute to nor receive credit toward further pension benefits.
The program is established as a pilot so that the Chief Judge and my ministry may evaluate it after March 31, 2005, to determine whether it should be made a permanent option to judges. That concludes my remarks in second reading.
Mr. Speaker: The question is second reading of Bill 17.
Bill 17, Provincial Court Amendment Act (No. 2), 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. Plant: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Mr. Speaker: I believe that the Lieutenant-Governor is on his way.
Hon. G. Plant: Oh, well then let's dare not adjourn; we'll recess. I'm in the Speaker's hands. If the Lieutenant-Governor is on his way, a recess would be in order, I'm sure.
Mr. Speaker: The House will recess until 5:45 p.m.
The House recessed from 5:21 p.m. to 5:51 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. members, I am informed that the Lieutenant-Governor is in the precincts and ask that members please remain seated.
His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor entered the chamber and took his place in the chair.
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Taxation Statutes Amendment Act, 2001
Corporation Capital Tax Amendment Act, 2001
Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act
Budget Transparency and Accountability Amendment Act, 2001
Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2001
Crown Corporations Governance Statutes Amendment Act, 2001
Skills Development and Labour Statutes Amendment Act, 2001
In Her Majesty's name, His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor doth assent to these acts.
His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor retired from the chamber.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. G. Collins: I want to wish everybody a safe and relaxing weekend, if you can fit it in. I move this House do now adjourn.
Hon. G. Collins moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:55 p.m.
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2001: British Columbia Hansard Services, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada