2004 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, MARCH 8, 2004
Volume 21, Number 9
|Introductions by Members||9169|
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||9170|
|Status of women in B.C. and government policies|
|French immersion in B.C.|
|International Women's Day|
|B.C. Rail privatization process and police investigation|
|Hon. K. Falcon|
|Funding for B.C. women's centres|
|Hon. I. Chong|
|Sumas Energy 2 project|
|Hon. G. Campbell|
|Closing of Crystal Garden Conservation Centre|
|Hon. M. Coell|
|VictimLink crisis line|
|Hon. R. Coleman|
|Committee of Supply||9174|
|Estimates: Ministry of Health Services (continued)|
|Hon. C. Hansen|
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
|Committee of Supply||9213|
|Estimates: Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services (continued)|
|Hon. M. Coell|
|Hon. I. Chong|
[ Page 9169 ]
MONDAY, MARCH 8, 2004
The House met at 2:04 p.m.
Introductions by Members
J. Nuraney: We have in the gallery today some very distinguished people. One of them really is my mentor: Allan Emmott, freeman of Burnaby, former mayor of Burnaby, former chair of the GVRD and a flight lieutenant of the Royal Canadian Air Force. He is accompanied by his wife, Vivian. We also have Norman Emmott, his brother, who is a retired squadron leader of the RCAF. With them is a very distinguished gentleman, Harry Hardy. Harry Hardy is an inventor who has invented various things for people who are disabled. He is also a member of the Aviculture Hall of Fame and a retired commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
All three distinguished gentlemen are the recipients of the Flying Cross, a very distinguished honour. May the House please join me in welcoming them.
Hon. G. Campbell: I'd like to welcome the COFI members who are joining us in the House today. They are chaired by Dennis Rounsville, and their president, John Allan, is with us, with a number of members in the gallery. I hope the House will make welcome this group of leaders in the province's number one industry — forestry.
R. Sultan: I would like to acknowledge a guest in the House this afternoon who's a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants; who was a partner of the distinguished accounting and consulting firm Deloitte and Touche; who was chief financial officer of ICBC in its formative years; who was chief financial officer of the first SkyTrain — the one that actually finished under budget and on time; the fellow who organized the successful campaign against no-fault promulgated by the previous regime — which, of course, we would never do; and, as a capstone to a distinguished career, who became the chief financial officer of my riding association. Would you please acknowledge Gordon Adair.
R. Lee: Today in the gallery we have 27 grade 7 students from Westridge Elementary School in my riding. They are accompanied by their teachers, Ms. Janet Pritchard and Mr. Victor Austin, and six parents: Mrs. Crivici, Mrs. Brljacic, Mrs. Dean, Mrs. O'Halloran, Mr. Li and Ms. Jacobsen. Would the House please join me in making them welcome.
Hon. I. Chong: Mr. Speaker, as you know, today is International Women's Day. This is an important day, celebrated around the world to recognize the many accomplishments of women in all areas. Our government is committed to promoting and profiling women and their successes and creating an environment where they can pursue their goals. We are creating opportunities for women by building a strong economy and safe, healthy communities where women can make choices for themselves and their families' future.
Our government is committed to employability programs for women that teach life skills and job training to help women enter the workforce and become independent. To feel safe and secure, women must know that there are also safe places for them to turn to in times of crisis, and that's why we commit over $33 million a year to transition houses, safe houses, second-stage housing and counselling programs to help women who have faced violence to rebuild their lives.
Our province is improving health care choices for women. We are a leader in cancer screening and survival rates for women. Government supports training for health professionals that focuses on patient-centred care for women, and government is working with the trades industry to increase girls' and women's awareness of careers in those areas.
These are just some of the accomplishments that we can celebrate today. I had the pleasure of attending various events over the weekend to recognize International Women's Day, and earlier today I was joined by six exceptional women to celebrate and mark this day here at the Legislature.
Today we recognize the contribution of women as mentors and learn from their protégés how valuable it is to share and celebrate women's successes. We are privileged to have four of these women here in the House this afternoon. Would you please join me in welcoming Dr. Rebecca Grant and her protégé, Shona Sinclair; Ms. Padi Mills and her protégé, Francesca Dappen. Would the House please make them very welcome.
V. Anderson: I ask the House to join me in welcoming Angelle Desrochers-Rosner from my riding, a very active parent in educational circles who's very much involved in concerns for literacy, particularly among young children, and here in Victoria today, privileged on her part to attend the innovation conference on education, which she has found very exciting and interesting.
J. Kwan: I have wonderful information from the news. As the member for Vancouver-Hastings I'm sure can attest to, she can advise the House that life after 50 is no different from life after 20. She celebrated her birthday this weekend, and as we will know and we will see today in question period, it will not slow her down one iota. She will engage in practising her best traditional parliamentary practice in question period today, I'm sure. Will the House please belatedly wish the member for Vancouver-Hastings a very happy birthday.
Hon. P. Bell: I see we are joined today in the House by three dedicated school trustees from school district 57 in Prince George. I would ask the House to please make Patricia Wick Thibault, John Rustad and Bill Christie very welcome.
[ Page 9170 ]
Hon. G. Campbell: Pending question period, when I'm sure we'll see what someone who's 50-plus can do, I wanted to say that there's someone who is not nearly 50-plus, who has just been born. The Minister of Education's new son, Fraser James, has been brought into the world, and I hope we'll all wish the Christensens all the best.
L. Mayencourt: I have in the gallery today three wonderful guests. They are members of my family. I got the nomination for the Liberal riding of Vancouver-Burrard on March 20, 2000, and that little girl up there was born on that day. Her name is Olivia. She's just a beautiful little princess, and I want to welcome her to the castle. She's joined here by her father, Todd, and her mother, Tricia. Please make them welcome.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. members, today is Commonwealth Day. It is a day set aside for special recognition in Commonwealth countries throughout the world.
It is a parliamentary tradition for Her Majesty the Queen's Commonwealth Day message to be read into the record in those jurisdictions where the Legislature is in session on this special day. It is my honour to read Her Majesty's message.
"Building a Commonwealth of freedom.
"The lives of many of my generation were profoundly changed by a world war fought in the name of freedom. I have often reflected with pride on the huge contribution made by the peoples of the Commonwealth to that cause of liberty, in which millions perished. In the years following the war, a succession of countries emerging into independence chose to join the Commonwealth as free and equal members. As a result, the Commonwealth became rooted in all parts of the world and developed into the modern organization we know today.
"Democracy, national self-determination, individual liberty and human rights — all these are fundamental to that which binds the Commonwealth together. The importance of these principles was clearly in the minds of Commonwealth leaders during their discussions at last December's summit in Abuja, Nigeria. Living up to principles is never easy. It can involve difficult and painful decisions, but the affirmation of those values provides common ground for the Commonwealth as a whole to grow stronger.
"The Abuja meeting also made the crucial link between democracy and development. Democracy is important to sustain development, and underdevelopment can be democracy's greatest threat. Nowhere is freedom perfectly realized, and its enemies are not only those who terrorize and torture. They are also hunger, poverty, disease and ignorance. That is why it is important for the Commonwealth to do all it can to tackle these challenges directly, whether in alleviating poverty or in promoting education and health.
"It is also essential to strengthen the rule of law, protect democratic freedoms and build strong civil societies. I firmly believe that if the Commonwealth is to increase its role as a force for good in the world, strengthening democratic freedoms must remain at the heart of its purpose.
(Standing Order 25b)
STATUS OF WOMEN IN B.C.
AND GOVERNMENT POLICIES
J. Kwan: Today is International Women's Day. International Women's Day gives us all the opportunity to celebrate women in our lives — women who have fought for hard-won rights and freedoms and who have had a positive impact on the lives of many. At the same time, International Women's Day should give us pause to reflect on what steps need to be taken in order to achieve our ultimate goal of true equality.
While today we may want to celebrate International Women's Day, there is little to celebrate here in B.C. This spring, just one month before the government announced it would no longer retain the zero tolerance policy on domestic violence, it cut counselling funding for those convicted of domestic violence. On March 31, 2004, this government will cut funding — 100 percent of funding — to B.C.'s 37 women's centres.
This government seems to believe that gender disparities no longer exist within this province. The Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services has stated that women are better off as a result of this government's policies. However, the government of B.C. has been singled out for criticism by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. This UN committee stated its concerns about this government's disproportionately negative impact on women and children in areas such as social assistance, legal aid, and support for those experiencing sexual and domestic violence.
This government claims that this is a new era for women in B.C. However, this new era is characterized by increasing cuts and closures to services that are predominantly used by women. These cuts and closures exacerbate the systemic gender inequality that exists within our society, a problem often compounded by other forms of discrimination. Rather than enabling women in our province to, as the government claims, turn the corner into a new era of hope and prosperity, this government has taken enormous steps backwards. Its cuts to social services and to women's centres are a sobering reminder of the fight women still must wage in this province.
FRENCH IMMERSION IN B.C.
R. Visser: Monsieur le President, I rise today to mark French Immersion Week here in British Columbia. For the past century we as Canadians have been building a nation based on two official languages. Here on the west coast, quietly and steadily, we have been
[ Page 9171 ]
embracing that notion not through grand gestures or laws but through quiet action and deed.
For the past 25 years, school districts have been providing the opportunity for our children to be educated through French immersion programs. It started in Coquitlam, and it's grown steadily across the province to 47 communities — from small rural places like Quesnel, Smithers and Terrace to big cities like Vancouver, Victoria and Surrey. British Columbians should be proud of the fact that we lead the country in French immersion participation. There are 33,400 students registered in the K-to-12 system — up 1,400 from last year — and we have bucked the national trend for the past four years.
At this point, Mr. Speaker, you may be asking yourself why I chose to highlight French Immersion Week. There are two reasons. One is that of those 47 communities, Campbell River leads the province in per-capita participation, having just over 700 kids enrolled in their K-to-12 system. This leads me to the second and most important reason. My daughter Charlotte is one of the 90 kindergarten kids who have begun receiving the gift of a second language this year.
Studies show that the process of learning this second language can help children to develop better concentration skills and better abilities to do separate tasks and to discover that just as there are two ways of saying something, there are at least two ways to solve a problem. As they advance through school, they learn to be independent, because many of their parents — and I'm one of them — are not able to really help them with their homework.
Some of this is bound to rub off on the parents and all British Columbians who have kids in this system. I know, for me, that on the long drives up north, my fellow drivers can see me practising along with the French tapes in the car on the drive.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
B. Locke: It is my privilege as a woman, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife and an MLA to rise in this House in celebration of International Women's Day. This past weekend I had the privilege of celebrating with women from every walk of life, both at my local women's centre as well as at a very large multicultural gathering of women from every corner of the globe. Both stressed the importance of volunteers, and both recognized the importance of services to protect vulnerable women and children in a way that is void of any political agenda.
I'm a mom who drives her kids to hockey and ringette. I care about my aging mom, and I have a wonderful husband that I've been married to for 28 years. I am a woman just like many other women throughout my community and throughout my province. I work long hours, juggle family responsibilities, see friends and relations when I can and participate in my community.
Lots of things are important to me. Working to help make the lives of people in B.C. better is important to me. Coming home and finding out that one of my kids has had their heart broken at school and just wants to talk with mom — that's important to me too.
At the end of the day when I talk on the phone with my husband and my kids, I hope I can say to them that I made a little difference in someone's life today, and usually that person is really close to me. I think that's what we as modern women can relate to — our friends and our family.
The person who influenced me the most was my own mom. Today, as it is International Women's Day, I want to recognize the hard work of the role models that are in homes across the province — the single moms, the career women, the girls who are learning how to grow up and be strong women, the family moms who are struggling to make ends meet and the grandmas that are lovingly caring for grandchildren.
Women understand that it is not the source of adversity but our response to it that makes a difference, and we are women who respond gracefully, applying our strengths to better ourselves, our children and our province.
Mr. Speaker: That concludes members' statements.
B.C. RAIL PRIVATIZATION PROCESS
AND POLICE INVESTIGATION
J. MacPhail: On a day dominated by news of internal strife and turmoil in the government caucus, I want to focus again on one of the reasons for that turmoil — the ongoing scandal related to the police raids on the Finance minister's office and the tainted deal to sell B.C. Rail.
Last week British Columbians discovered that the deal to sell B.C. Rail to CN is caught up in an influence-peddling and breach-of-trust scandal that reaches right into the Finance minister's office. Now the government admits that it released confidential information to CN while it was negotiating to buy B.C. Rail, in direct contravention of the bid rules. Last week the so-called fairness adviser admitted in the media that there were actually three leaks when his report only identified two.
Can the Premier explain why he insists that the deal to sell B.C. Rail was fair when the police are investigating and when now even the Minister of Transportation admits that CN got confidential information and a leg up?
Hon. K. Falcon: You know, even though it's that member's birthday, I just have to say: is there ever a point where she cannot stop being negative about a deal that brings such positive benefits to British Columbians? I just have to ask that member: is it the expanded runway at Prince George she's against? Is it the $17.2 million in containerization we're going to see at
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the Prince Rupert port? Is it the additional $8 million in taxes that will be seen in communities up and down the line? Could it perhaps be the Chicago express that will see goods get to important U.S. markets two days faster than they do today? I don't know what it is, but this member constantly — every day, day in and day out — tries to drive negativism on a deal that is going to be positive for British Columbians all across this great province.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplementary question.
J. MacPhail: Well, I guess that minister has had a visit to the Premier's office again, because his story has changed once again. The whole deal stinks to high heaven, and the Premier knows it. The mayors of the cities along the line are worried about it. There's an asterisk in the budget that puts the deal at risk, and of course now the confidence of investing in this province is eroded as well.
Criminal investigations, leaks of confidential information, angry bidders pulling out in protest — for a party that promised to run government like a business, this looks more like an episode of The Sopranos. Charles River Associates, the good folks who got paid $300,000 to rubber-stamp the B.C. Rail deal, identified two leaks. Now Charles River has said: "Oops, there were three leaks, not two, but don't worry. The deal is still aboveboard." That report is a joke.
When will the Premier just admit that this deal to sell B.C. Rail stinks and should be stopped before any more damage is done to his government's reputation, if that's possible?
Hon. K. Falcon: This member is unbelievable in the kind of accusations and allegations that she'll make without even reading the report. In fact, if she took the time to read the Charles River report, it actually acknowledged what I acknowledged on the weekend. That was acknowledged back in December.
This member continually tries to spread aspersions that are not based on fact. The fact of the matter is that there was an evaluation team of the highest integrity that worked on this project. The moment that inadvertent faxing of information became available, it was made known to CN; it was made known to the fairness adviser. All of that has been dealt with openly and forthrightly, and this member just can't help but keep trying to deny the benefits this deal will provide for British Columbians right across this province.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplementary.
J. MacPhail: Well, it was this past week that Charles River Associates had admitted that there were three leaks, despite their report. Despite their report, CP Rail still pulled out of the bid, calling it unfair. Last week the Minister of Transportation became the first member of his government to tell it like it is to the media — the first one — and got shot down almost immediately by the Premier's chief of staff, by his army of spin doctors. He then retreated to blaming the media. Shocking, Mr. Speaker — absolutely shocking. They probably think it's a good strategy.
Given the minister's new penchant for speaking only the party line, British Columbians have no reason to believe a word this minister says when it's clear now that the deal smells worse than just the broken promise in the first place. When will this Minister of Transportation — because clearly the Premier ain't answering for anything — cut his losses, halt the deal and wait for the police to finish their investigation before he digs his government deeper into trouble?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'll say to this member again: I hope this member's actually going to go up and speak to some of the northern communities and tell them exactly why she's against the benefits this deal is going to provide. I'd like you to travel to Prince Rupert and tell them why you don't want to see a $17 million investment in containerization. I'd sure like you to go to Prince George and tell those folks why they ought not to have an expanded railway. It's day in and day out of this member constantly being negative over a deal that provides enormous benefits for British Columbians.
FUNDING FOR B.C. WOMEN'S CENTRES
J. Kwan: Today is International Women's Day, and to celebrate, this government is forcing women's centres across British Columbia to shut their doors. These centres cost the government approximately $1.7 million, less than half of what this government blew harassing British Columbians living with disabilities.
British Columbians are pleading with this government to keep women's centres open. The UBCM passed a resolution demanding the government restore the core funding. Can the minister of state for women explain to British Columbians why her government is abandoning thousands of women in need by forcing women's centres — and I repeat the words, women's centres — to close their doors?
Hon. I. Chong: Across the province this government is spending over $33 million annually for direct essential services to women. That means…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. I. Chong: …$33 million across the province for transition houses, for safe homes, for second-stage housing, for counselling programs — group and individual counselling programs for women who have experienced abuse and for children who have witnessed abuse. Our government is committed to providing funding that focuses provincial dollars that will maintain these direct essential services to women.
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Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a supplementary question.
J. Kwan: This government eliminated the Ministry of Women's Equality, and they cut its funding by close to 50 percent. The budget used to be $52 million, and it has been cut to some $30 million by this government. From parenting support to clothing exchanges to job re-entry programs to crisis counselling, thousands of women in B.C. — many of whom are poor or trying to escape abusive relationships — depended on women's centres.
The government provided each women's centre with about $48,000 in core funding. For the price of the consultant's report into the privatization of B.C. Rail that missed the alleged activity by top Liberal staffers, six women's centres could have been funded. Not only are the B.C. Liberals eliminating women's centres, they are cutting funding to specialized counselling programs dealing with people convicted of domestic violence. They have rolled back the zero tolerance policy for domestic abuse, and they have cut legal aid, and they have been cited by the UN for violating two international conventions on human rights. On Friday the minister is meeting….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please, hon. member. It's time for the question now, please.
J. Kwan: Here's the question. On Friday the minister is meeting with the B.C. Coalition of Women's Centres. Will she use that opportunity to restore every dime she's cut to women's centres in British Columbia?
Hon. I. Chong: Just so that the members opposite can hear this once again, we are providing funding of over $33 million annually for direct essential services to women. That will continue, and that will be maintained.
I just want the members to know that I have heard from women, and what is important to them are jobs — jobs for their children, jobs so that their children can return back to this province. We said what we would do when we were elected. We would revitalize our economy. We would get our fiscal house in order. We would protect health care and education budgets. We've done that so families and women can succeed.
SUMAS ENERGY 2 PROJECT
B. Penner: It's been about five years since the member for Abbotsford–Mount Lehman first got up in this House and asked a question about a proposal by SE2 to build a project that would seriously jeopardize the air quality in the Fraser Valley. What a long five years it's been.
Last Thursday the National Energy Board ruled unanimously against the application by SE2 to build power lines into the Fraser Valley in order to facilitate their power plant. Can the Premier tell us how much the province has spent on this project to date and what the next actions are that we can anticipate?
Hon. G. Campbell: Let me first start by congratulating the people of the Fraser Valley communities who stood up and fought this from the word go. Let me say it was because of the leadership of their local representatives, of their MLAs, that we were able to move forward on this.
The government committed to help and intervene and try to stop SE2. Almost a million dollars has been spent on that already. We have intervened with the National Energy Board, with Washington State. We also intervened — as you know, Mr. Speaker — with the USEPA.
What's important to know is that this is not done until it's done. I will be sending a letter to the Prime Minister encouraging him to continue to reinforce the decision of the National Energy Board. I can tell you that in terms of British Columbia, we are going to continue to work to maintain and improve the quality of air in the Fraser Valley.
CLOSING OF CRYSTAL GARDEN
J. Bray: Recently the Provincial Capital Commission, a Crown corporation, announced that it was ceasing operations at the Crystal Garden here in downtown Victoria. Since that announcement I've heard from many constituents concerned both with the attraction that was happening in the Crystal Garden and with the building itself, which is a longtime heritage building in the capital region that has become synonymous with Victoria.
My question is to the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services — if he could let me know what the plans are for this building and its protection in the future.
Hon. M. Coell: As a former member of the PCC, I understand how important the Crystal Garden is to the greater Victoria area. Indeed, it's important to the entire province.
With a new mandate and community members from around the province, the PCC is looking to expand the role of the Crystal Garden in the capital region and the province. They're going out to an RFP to see what people from around the province think could be done with the building. The building will not close. It will have an expanded use within the province, and I look forward to working with them in their RFP.
VICTIMLINK CRISIS LINE
K. Krueger: My question is to the Solicitor General. Last year this government introduced a new program called VictimLink for victims of family and sexual violence. There was some consternation in the city of Kamloops where there was an excellent volunteer crisis line, although they were encouraged to bid on the opportunity to provide the provincewide service. But also, there was hope in the heartland communities that I represent, where people are very often far from that
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kind of professional help when they need it and there are great distances involved.
I wonder if the Solicitor General could report to the House on the progress of VictimLink and the effect it's having in the heartlands.
Hon. R. Coleman: For the member's information, from April 1 of last year through to the end of February, there were 9,600 calls taken at VictimLink with regard to a whole variety of issues. I want to give you an example of the month of December, because if I give you a month, it will give you a snapshot.
VictimLink received 769 calls in December of 2003 from over 90 B.C. communities. A number of them were actually callers from isolated and rural communities that before had no access whatsoever to any type of victim services or emergency services with regard to this. Thirty percent of those callers were victims of family and sexual violence. What happened? VictimLink staff have made 867 referrals with regard to that one month of the system to 48 different types of service providers in the province. As you remember, we expanded the police-based victims programs and we expanded the community-based victims programs so that we'd be there for small communities when they needed it.
Actually, the referrals went to police- and community-based service victims programs, the crime victim assistance program, counselling agencies, transition houses, and various justice, legal and community resources. We are now expanding some of our literature to take in more languages. Mr. Speaker, I am very proud of the fact that VictimLink is providing services and contact for victims all over the province of British Columbia.
[End of question period.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Plant: I call Committee of Supply in this chamber. For the benefit of members, we'll be debating the estimates of the Ministry of Health Services.
In Committee A, I believe that the debates of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services are underway.
Committee of Supply
The House in Committee of Supply B; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 2:43 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
On vote 25: ministry operations, $10,404,260,000 (continued).
J. MacPhail: When my colleague the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant left off with her questions around Mount St. Joseph Hospital and its future, the minister was going to provide some information. I wonder if he's had a chance to get that information.
Hon. C. Hansen: There were several pieces of information that I endeavoured to get back to the member with. I will try to go through those.
First of all, with regard to utilization rates at Mount St. Joseph, this is the number of gynecological services provided at Mount St. Joseph Hospital on an in-patient and day care surgery basis over the past three years. In 2000-01 there were 391 in-patients and 790 day surgery patients for a total of 1,181. In 2001-02 there were 371 in-patients and 811 day surgery patients for a total of 1,182. In 2002-03 there were 428 in-patients and 827 day surgery patients for a total of 1,255.
The other question that was asked of me was with regard to a…. Actually, maybe the easiest thing is if I read this into the record for the member's benefit.
"In April of 2002, Providence Health Care gave Children's and Women's Health Centre one year's notice to end the existing lease of space at Mount St. Joseph Hospital. The space and operating-room time were required by Mount St. Joseph to implement their future redevelopment to fulfil their new role within the Vancouver coastal health authority.
"Transitional plans were developed, including strategies for C and W to determine the best way to continue to meet the needs of affected patients and staff from the closure of Mount St. Joseph children's centre. About 65 percent of the patients seen at the children's centre were from Vancouver, and the remainder from the rest of the lower mainland. Most required secondary-level pediatric care in that they were not too sick to be managed from home. The majority, 90 to 95 percent of these patients, were admitted to the children's centre from C and W emergency room.
"In-patient services — ten to 16 beds — have been accommodated in existing space on the third floor of the B.C. Children's Hospital. For the immediate future the day care surgeries previously done at Mount St. Joseph children's centre are taking place at B.C. Children's Hospital. However, B.C. Children's Hospital and Vancouver coastal health authority are looking at the overall need for pediatric services within the Vancouver coastal health authority. This includes services most appropriately provided at B.C. Children's Hospital and services that might best be provided and located at other hospitals — specifically Richmond and Lions Gate.
"Since the closure on April 15, 2003, B.C. Children's Hospital has partnered with the Vancouver coastal health authority to re-establish the weekly newcomer pediatric clinic at Vancouver coastal health authority's Raven Song Community Health Centre, serving the same neighbourhoods as Mount St. Joseph Hospital. The asthma education service has also been re-established at B.C. Children's under the auspices of the emergency department and appropriate pediatric clinics."
The third one I have with me at this point is with regard to diabetes programs.
"The changes at Mount St. Joseph Hospital are being undertaken with the context of a larger consolidation of
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acute care services within the Vancouver coastal health authority. Mount St. Joseph is receiving a number of new programs and services as mentioned last week, including an ambulatory program, consolidated ophthalmology program, more geriatric, psychiatric and geriatric medicine services and more ER doctors and operating rooms.
"The diabetes education centre at Mount St. Joseph provides support and services to the Punjabi and Chinese communities. The centre has not closed, and there is no plan to reduce this service. The diabetes education centre will be aligned and integrated with the new multiple ambulatory program at Mount St. Joseph. This integration will strengthen the menu of services available to patients."
J. MacPhail: The opposition was informed this morning that the court date for the dispute between the Mount St. Joseph Hospital Foundation and the Providence health authority or — I'm sorry; if the minister can tell me how to say that properly when he stands up next — the Providence governance body is postponed until March 24. I'm wondering whether the minister has thought about how he can…. I know he made a commitment to my colleague that if it remains unresolved, he will assist toward resolution. Given the fact that the court case has now been delayed or postponed for about two weeks, what opportunity is there, if any, for the deputy minister or the executive of the Health ministry to intervene and assist toward resolution?
Hon. C. Hansen: I think, as we discussed on Thursday, this is an issue that is between two not-for-profit organizations. The Mount St. Joseph Hospital Foundation is totally arm's length from government. I had indicated at one point that I would inquire to see, given that it was before the courts, what role I could potentially play or what the limitations may be on my role as a result. We will certainly explore that.
My understanding initially, as I mentioned on Thursday, was that the issue had been resolved short of going to court, and then it was actually the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant who advised me on Thursday that in fact it was going to court. I had not been keeping track of it because, as I say, it is arm's length from government. I will certainly explore with the deputy minister if there is in fact a role that I or my ministry can play.
J. MacPhail: There's opportunity now because of the postponement of the court. The postponement had nothing to do with either of the parties; it was a court postponement. The issues still remain very, very current and very troubling, at least to the foundation side. We urge the government and we urge the Minister of Health to now get involved and try to stop this very, very troubling dispute.
I want to start by discussing an area that I had a bit of a discussion with the Minister of Finance on, and that was the Abbotsford Hospital and Cancer Centre. It was in his estimates, the Ministry of Finance estimates, under discussion around the role that the B.C. partnerships organization plays. It took a bit of questioning. It took quite a bit of prodding for him to…. Well, where the minister first started…. I'm not going to try to spin this at all. The minister first started by saying no, the health authority or the province owns the assets — both the building and the equipment. Then upon further prodding, it became clear that the assets would be owned at the end of, I think, about a 30-year period.
Could the minister tell me: what are the financial arrangements that the health authority has made to pay the mortgage on this 30-year…? What I understand is that the successful bidder, after they have designed and built and bought the equipment and operate the hospital, will have a 30-year contract with the health authority, at which time the health authority pays them not only for the services provided but the equivalent of what I like to call a mortgage payment for the building and for the about $60 million worth of equipment. How does that get budgeted?
Hon. C. Hansen: The annual tariff, which is what includes all of the items the member referred to, is in the bid documents at a rate of $39.7 million a year. That amount will be part of the operating budgets of the two health authorities involved.
J. MacPhail: I'm correct, I believe, about it being a 30-year contract under the bid document? The minister is nodding yes.
We have a situation where…. Forty times 30 is about $1.2 billion, I think, if I've got my zeros right. It's $1.2 billion in current dollars. The hospital itself, I understand, is…. The bid now is for $300 million. The Minister of Finance sent me…. I asked what analysis has been done to compare this to if it were a completely public sector deal, both financing and operating, and he said there was a sort of test one can do — public sector versus private sector — and that's part of any bid process. I actually went and looked for that in terms of what it would mean for us to do our analysis, and of course it's not available. It's just simply not available.
I wonder whether the minister could tell us: what is his assessment? What studies has he done — or the health authorities — to show that this model, which I'm going to explore even further, is a better model than straight public financing, public delivery?
Hon. C. Hansen: Certainly, officials from my ministry have been involved with the work that's been done by Partnerships B.C. to make sure that we as the client…. In fact, the health authorities are the client to Partnerships B.C. with regard to this particular file, but obviously that accountability is through the Ministry of Health Services. We have worked closely with them. Partnerships B.C. has in fact been leading that evaluation.
I'm sure the information the Finance minister provided the member during Finance estimates is probably more enlightening around that process than I can
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be, but I will share with the member how we evaluate the public versus the private sector — as best we can try to compare apples and apples. I will read you this particular section.
"The evaluation will be focusing on the following: evaluation of the proposal against the RFP to determine how well they have met the specific requirements and to ensure nothing has been missed; assessment of value for money against the public sector comparator; full multicriteria analysis that examines clinical operations, efficiency and design; facilities management services and human resources; construction, partnering and team integration; risk transfer; and commercial considerations."
All of the above are set out in greater detail within the RFP document, which is appendix 2 of that document. That is, in fact, a public document that is up on our website.
I think if you look at this annual tariff of just under $40 million that I referred to, it is broken down into both…. There is a capital component to it, but there's also a facilities management component to it. What that $40 million covers, first of all, is the amortization of the construction costs that the private sector partner will have to incur, but also the ongoing facilities management of the building to supply all of the support services into that building. The clinical operations will be directly provided by the health authorities with staff engaged by the health authorities. In essence, the clinical spaces will be run directly by the health authority within this larger facility that will be owned — or will be managed — by the partner during that 30-year term.
J. MacPhail: Well, in effect, the minister didn't misspeak. It will also be owned by the partner as well, until the 30-year payment is made, just the same way the bank owns the houses of people who have a mortgage. It will be owned by the partner until the contract is concluded.
Now, Partnerships B.C. said there was only one bidder left, and I think the bid will be accepted or rejected next month, as I recall him saying. If one has only one bid left and that bid doesn't meet the test for the government, it seems to me that the government has two options: to start negotiating with the one proponent left, or to start over again and either issue a new request for proposal or decide to build the hospital in the public sector. What is the backup plan if this one bidder who is left doesn't meet the test?
Hon. C. Hansen This has been a process that started out with four proponents that Partnerships B.C. was working with. The intention at the start was to go from four proponents to two and then work with those two proponents to determine a final company. The two proponents, as part of the process, had to put up a $250,000 non-refundable bond. It had to be determined that they could, in fact, meet the hurdles that were there. We're now down to one company, and they have certainly not given us any reason to believe they will not be able to meet the hurdles that are set out in the process. We're optimistic that we will be able to arrive at a successful process and a successful partnership at the end. We are proceeding on that basis. If something were to come up, we would cross that bridge when we come to it, but we certainly have no reason to believe we will not be able to arrive at a successful contract.
J. MacPhail: There are all sorts of ways one can achieve success. My understanding — and I think this is what the Minister of Finance told me — is that two bidders dropped out, and then the third one…. It is not like the ministry had control over saying: "Oh well. We've got four bids, and now we select these two." Two bidders dropped out, and the third couldn't meet or chose not to — I'm sorry; I don't mean to besmirch their reputation — file the quarter-million-dollar bond.
This hasn't been a process that's been nice and orderly, that's been going along according to what the ministry wants. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. They had four bidders. Now they've only got one left, through no great work of the health authority or the ministry. Yes, I'm sure there will be a successful contract if the government enters into negotiations and has no choice but to negotiate with the one proponent, the one bidder, left.
At that point I would say that there are two ways to operate. One can say: "No, we're not going to accept what the bidder wants." Or you're so desperate and you have no other options, so then you have to accept what the bidder wants to negotiate. The bidder seems to me to have the upper hand on that point, unless there is a plan B the government has in mind that doesn't make them beholden to the bidder. That's what I'm asking.
Look. I understand that this is a situation where there are commercial interests here, where there are negotiations going on — and they're delicate — but I don't think it is against the public interest for the minister to at least say that there is a plan B. I mean, that gives strength to the negotiations with the bidder as well.
Hon. C. Hansen: This is not a case of us going out and buying a bunch of supplies and saying, you know, that whichever company can give us the lowest price is the one we're going to go with, and then suddenly we're down to only one company providing a bid. That's not the case at all.
This is a case where we have gone out with a very, very detailed request for proposal. It is on our website. It is a substantive document that sets out all of the attributes of this new facility that must be provided by the private sector partner. We also, in that, state the price we're prepared to pay for that.
The member is right. We went through a process, starting with four. We actually thought we would come to a point where we would have to eliminate two of the proponents. In fact, they eliminated themselves, because they felt they couldn't meet what was set out. We then went into a process where two companies put up the bond, the moneys. Again, one of those compa-
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nies has now determined they cannot provide everything that needs to be provided at the price we're prepared to pay for it.
The fact of the matter is that one of the proponents has indicated to us that they're going to be able to meet all of these provisions for this first-class hospital, state-of-the-art facility — considerably expanded scope from where we started on this process three years ago. They have certainly not expressed to us any concerns with regard to the tariff we're prepared to pay for them to provide these services. We are proceeding with the full expectation that this is going to be a successful process and that the residents of eastern Fraser Valley are going to wind up with a first-class hospital around the end of 2007.
J. MacPhail: Well, that's more information than the Finance minister was able to give. Perhaps the minister could tell me how he knows things are going along smoothly. What's happening inside the one bid that's left? What's happening between the management of this on the government side and the bidder?
Hon. C. Hansen: The project team that has been engaged to oversee this process is working with the proponent. Essentially, they're sorting out the details, and that will eventually lead to the contractual arrangements.
J. MacPhail: That's my point, though — sorting out the details. This is more than $1.2 billion of tax money in today's dollars — $1.2 billion — so sorting out the details is pretty important. How does one sort out the details when one has only one bidder? What does the government have in its pocket for negotiations? That's what I'm asking.
Hon. C. Hansen: What we've got is an RFP that's been put out. It's about 1,600 pages. It's a public document. The bidder has to be able to respond to the details in there. We've left lots of room for the private sector partner to bring innovation to the table, to determine the ways that they're going to avoid the kind of cost overruns we saw over the last decade in typical hospital construction.
There are big savings to the taxpayer by taking this particular approach. I'm quite confident that we're going to wind up with a very successful process. I think we're well on the way now. We have set out what we need, and we have set out how much we're prepared to pay for it. The private sector partner is responding to that.
J. MacPhail: The minister himself brought up cost overruns. Let's look at cost overruns. The one cost overrun I'm familiar with in the last decade was at the Royal Jubilee, where it increased substantially in the scope. The scope increased much more substantially than did the cost overrun.
Let's look at this project. This project is going to increase by about 15 percent from the original bid. Here's what the costs have gone up to. The project cost estimate has gone up 94 percent to $1.4 billion. Yes, this is from the two auditors that did the work on this project for the Hospital Employees Union. Yes, they are a special interest. However, the government hasn't refuted any of these figures. When I asked the Minister of Finance, he didn't refute any of these figures, although he did say that the scope of the project has increased by about 15 percent.
Total project cost has risen by 94 percent to $1.4 billion from $720 million over the 33 years of the contract. Construction figures have increased from $210 million to $286 million. Annual lease payments to the private consortium have increased from $20 million a year to $39.7 million a year for 30 years. These are the figures from the original proposal put forward by this government. No, this is all within their own little realm — no going back and blaming anyone else.
Then there's a payout of $393 million to the private consortium. That's over and above the $1 billion in expenses and debt servicing that goes to the private consortium. That's all on the basis of a 15 percent increase in scope. What happened between year 1 and year 3 of this RFP process?
Hon. C. Hansen: I've got the Hansard from the Finance estimates. When the member says this project has increased in scope by only 15 percent, she may be referring only to the amount of square footage. In terms of overall space, that's the increase that amounts to 15 percent.
The overall scope of the project is actually quite a bit more considerable than just looking at the square footage. For example, there is a 25 percent larger emergency area to accommodate larger room sizes and more waiting space. There are more stringent infection control measures. I think one of the lessons we learned from last year's SARS outbreak was the need to incorporate a lot more in terms of infection control. There are more than 100 rooms in the hospital that will be set up as negative pressure isolation rooms. That was not part of the original design.
The cardiac care unit and intensive care unit, originally planned to be a combined unit, are now going to be two separate units. A child rehabilitation space has been added. There is more advanced technology that will be brought in, including teleconference and video conferencing facilities, to allow more telehealth opportunities there. There are plans now for a second CT scan procedure room to be added and a PET suite for future use. There is a whole series — I could read these all out; it goes on for a couple of pages here — in terms of the expanded scope being added to this particular project.
It's not just a case of a 15 percent increase. It actually is a significant change over what had been originally envisioned for this particular facility.
I think what's important is that what is being provided for is still within the $39.7 million fixed tariff. We have set clearly how much we are prepared to pay for
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this facility in terms of both the amortization and the annual operating of this facility for the next 30 years.
J. MacPhail: No, the tariff itself has doubled as well, almost. This project morphed into this project, and then the tariff was set as $39.7 million. That wasn't the original tariff. Let's be clear.
I think we need some straight facts around this Abbotsford hospital. It's the only one in Canada that's being done this way. The Minister of Finance referred to two hospitals being done in a similar fashion in Ontario, but those two projects have changed substantially since the election of that Liberal government from the previous Tory government. This is a stand-alone model.
The Minister of Finance referred me to examples in Australia. The Australian examples that I went on line to find out about…. In fact, one of the lobbyists working for this consortium actually did research on the Australian models. Those hospitals have gone bankrupt. They've actually gone bankrupt. This is a huge project — huge. All we're trying to do is find out some details.
All right. If I'm wrong on the 15 percent expansion of scope, what is the scope expansion since the original proposal?
Hon. C. Hansen: If she'd like, I can read you through all three pages. The square footage of the building has expanded by 15 percent. That's where she gets that number from, because the Finance minister used that in his estimates. As I've indicated from the examples I've read out, when we talk about what's going into that building in terms of equipment and technology, there is a significant expansion.
The $39.7 million tariff that we discussed has not changed from before this expansion of scope. The $39.7 million was what it was projected to cost prior to this. What they realized is that they could actually do more for the tariff that had been set out. That is what is reflected in this expansion of scope, which we announced in September of last year.
J. MacPhail: Is the minister saying the tariff has been $39.7 million since day one of this P3 project?
Hon. C. Hansen: It is my understanding there was some change in the tariff to reflect additional facilities management services that were being asked of the proponent. The actual change in the scope that I talked about…. Those did not result in an increase in the annual tariff.
J. MacPhail: What's the ministry's projection of the profit, or excess money over costs, that the proponent will have over the course of the 30 years?
Hon. C. Hansen: That's basically up to the private sector proponent. The private sector proponent has to supply the services we have outlined, and they have to do it within the tariff that we are providing. Obviously, they have to run their affairs in a way that can bring in the innovations and efficiencies. It is out of that that they will be able to determine what their profit level would be. We certainly aren't guaranteeing them any kind of a fixed profit.
J. MacPhail: Well, whoa. I'm a little bit troubled by that. I can go and buy a set of dishes at a store, knowing that the set of dishes meets my needs, provides the service, but I may be paying a horribly high price for them in terms of quality, durability and warranty against breakage. Surely this government didn't say: "Oh, we've got $39.7 million per year that we want to give away to operate this hospital." Surely they must have some idea of what the profit is.
Is the minister suggesting that he doesn't have a clue what the profit margin is, based on the RFP and the payments he is going to make to this hospital? What if the profit margin is 20 percent? Wouldn't taxpayers be horrified?
Hon. C. Hansen: In the RFP documents that we've set out, in these 1,600-plus pages, are the deliverables. That quality assurance is there, so we will have a first-class hospital, a first-class provision of publicly funded health care services in that facility. It is the private sector partner who, through their innovations, has to be able to deliver on that first-class service and meet the quality requirements that are there. Only then will they be able to realize some of the profits that they obviously wish to.
I think the fact that we have gone through a process with four proponents and the fact that some of them have taken themselves out of the process probably indicates that they felt there was not an adequate profit margin in there for them. Now we have a proponent who is working within the RFP. They have certainly led us to believe they can deliver not only on the number of services that are requested but also on the quality of services set out in those agreements. We are confident we can conclude a contract with this organization.
J. MacPhail: Based on this, I'm sure the bidder is thrilled that this government has no idea what kind of profit is available with the payment — an annual payment of $39.7 million. They're probably rubbing their hands with glee now, being the only bidder and knowing that the province is willing to pay $39.7 million regardless and has no idea how much of our tax dollars will go into the hands or into the pockets of the proponent or not.
What does the RFP mean when it asks the bidders to search for opportunities "to enhance the value of the project through entrepreneurial development strategies"? What does that mean? Those are the government's words. That's the government's words.
Hon. C. Hansen: Just to give some examples, that may be some retail functions that may be off the lobby.
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It may be in the way that they can run their parking lot facility. It may be in terms of even, say, a coffee franchise that may be interested in having an outlet in this particular site.
I also want to come back to something the member said earlier about the comparisons to the Ontario models. The big change that happened in Ontario in the last couple of months in their projects was to go from a facility that would be owned by the private sector partners and only revert to public ownership at the end of the term of the contract. What the Ontario government did is changed it so that in fact the province would own the facility from the time it is being constructed, and that is exactly the model that we have here in British Columbia. When we start looking at it, what Ontario has done is change the nature of its project to bring it in line with the direction we were already heading with Abbotsford.
J. MacPhail: Let's just test that model, because that's what the Finance minister said, too, in terms of…. Here we are. We have a company, a profit-oriented company — only one left, a big consortium. All these people who are part of that consortium are big profit-makers. They're going to build the hospital. They're going to design it, build it, operate it, and the government owns it? Are they donating it to the government? The government is paying $39.7 million per year, a portion of which, I assume, pays down the debt servicing and capital costs. But the government doesn't own that hospital until the contract is completed. Or am I wrong? Is this consortium doing charitable work and donating to the taxpayers?
Hon. C. Hansen: The health authorities will own this project. They will own the facility for which there is debt that is carried on the books of the health authorities right from day one. The annual tariff to the private sector partner will basically pay down that debt and provide for the operations of the facility in terms of the support services to the facility throughout that 30-year contract. It is only at the end of the 30 years that basically the debt has been paid off through this annual tariff. At that point the health authorities will have the opportunity either to renegotiate a new operating agreement for that facility or, in fact, to operate it themselves directly, but they will own the facility right from day one.
J. MacPhail: I find that hard to believe. I find that real hard to believe. How does it get booked under generally accepted accounting principles?
Hon. C. Hansen: I know the member was there for the Finance estimates, but I'll just read one of the comments made by the Finance minister. He says: "It appears as an asset and a liability on our books because of the consolidation of the entity." It is a capital asset. It appears as our long-term debt.
I know there are some people who've said that the reason we were going the P3 route in Abbotsford was in order to keep this debt off our books. That's not the case. The debt will become part of the consolidated financial statements of the province.
J. MacPhail: If the health authorities miss a payment, what happens?
Hon. C. Hansen: The health authorities will have an obligation to pay those, so there is not really an opportunity for the health authorities to miss a payment, as the member says. We fund the health authorities from this budget that we are debating today, and there is really no opportunity for them to avoid their financial responsibilities.
J. MacPhail: I'm just trying to figure out: if from day one the health authorities own this, as the government likes to make out, what's the obligation for them to make their payments? The government is really misleading on this. If they're trying to say that this is exactly the same as the public sector model where the government borrows the money and therefore gets to book it as a government-owned asset from day one, and the only liability is the operating cost…. That's not what this model is at all. There is an obligation…. Let me ask this: is there no relationship between ownership and the tariff payment?
[K. Stewart in the chair.]
Hon. C. Hansen: The obligation is a result of the contract that will be signed. If the health authority were to renege on their obligations under that contract, that would have huge ramifications in terms of financial markets and implications for that health authority and indeed for government.
I think the member earlier on in this debate made reference to the fact that for some reason this was like a mortgage on our house, and if we have a mortgage on our house, we don't really own our house. It's the bank that owns it, because they're holding the mortgage. If you want to look at your own home ownership from that perspective, then maybe there are parallels with this one. The private sector partnership is in fact financing this project. They will amortize their debt, but just as I have a mortgage on my home in Dunbar and the bank owns a pretty big chunk of it because of the mortgage, I still consider myself to own that…. It's actually my wife who owns the home, but I certainly consider her to own that property, and so does city hall.
J. MacPhail: Let me tell the minister what the difference is between that kind of analysis — which I agree with, by the way — and what happens when the public coffers build a hospital. The minister is exactly correct that this is a mortgage to a private operator, and the taxpayers do not own this hospital until that mortgage is paid off. They simply cannot possibly have title or deed until that mortgage is paid off. Otherwise
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it is charity for some profitable organizations, and I don't think Ledcor is providing charity to our government. I think I remember Ledcor as being part of this consortium.
Just the same way that those who have mortgages…. They do not own their house until they've paid the bank off. The bank owns it. Yes, the bank owns whatever the mortgage is in the house. That's why when people default, they lose their houses. Maybe it doesn't happen that often on the west side. But that's the principle. You got a mortgage, you don't pay your mortgage for long enough, the bank repossesses the house, and you don't own it. That's what this is. What's the difference about the public sector, about taxpayers building hospitals?
Up until this government's tenure here, taxpayers would fund the debt of the hospital — taxpayers' money. The government would borrow money on the public credit, so the government was the owner, and the people who serviced the debt are the taxpayers. They never had to worry if a hospital couldn't make its payment. They didn't have to worry about being at default and losing the hospital, because the public was the owner of it in the first place. That is not the case in this hospital. The public does not own it from day one. If indeed the minister is trying to say that there is no difference, then what the heck are we doing this for in the first place and giving what others have predicted as a $300 million profit to the builders?
Hon. C. Hansen: First of all, the member is wrong. We will have title to this building from the day that the foundations are first laid. It is the public sector that will own this facility. I also think the member is wrong in the way she characterizes a house mortgage. You may have a mortgage on your house….
The Chair: Members, through the Chair, please.
Hon. C. Hansen: If you buy a piece of real estate, you will have title to that property. Then, if you default on your mortgage, there are ramifications in terms of foreclosure. But I would suggest to the member that she check with her bank manager with regard to who actually owns title to a private residence.
What this arrangement does is…. The benefit it brings to the taxpayer is around innovation. It is in the best interests of the private sector consortium to bring the kinds of innovation to this project that will in turn drive costs down. The risk, instead of being incurred by the public sector, is in fact incurred by the private sector because at the end of the day they have to deliver this building, and they have to deliver all of the support services provided in this building within that fixed envelope of the tariff we discussed earlier.
J. MacPhail: Well, wow. I can't believe there are not more consortia running to bid on this project. It's such a good deal — not. Not for a moment do I accept the characterization of this government in terms of who owns it. If indeed the government gets title from day one, then Ledcor and that consortium sure are silly. They're not very good business people. Why the heck would there be any obligation whatsoever for the government to maintain its side of the contract? Where are the risks, then? Who assumes the risk? What happens if the consortium goes bankrupt?
Hon. C. Hansen: I do want to clarify for the member who the corporate partners are in this. It's referred to as Access Health Abbotsford, and it is a joint venture of Brookfield LePage Johnson Controls, PCL Construction Group Inc. and ABN AMRO Bank N.V. Canada branch. They are the partners to the consortium. If the private sector partner, the consortium, defaults on their obligation, then the project defaults to government. Certainly, in the contract that is put in place, and already set out in the RFP, are the protections for the taxpayer should the private sector partner at any stage during the 30 years not be able to deliver on their side of their obligations.
J. MacPhail: Thank you to the minister for clarifying the partners. I'm sorry. My apologies to Ledcor. It's PCL. Thank you for that clarification.
There have been examples. I know of two substantial examples. One is in Britain where privatized energy companies went bankrupt. They were publicly owned energy companies, and then they went bankrupt. That energy company actually owned privatized energy operations in Ontario. I think it was a nuclear plant that they owned. All of a sudden when that consortium went bankrupt, the future of the assets run by that company in Ontario was at risk — one for operation or one for quick sale, so that the British-owned company could pay off its debt and get out of bankruptcy.
The other example I know of is one we raised in estimates with the Minister of Education, where the school board in Philadelphia…. The services, the schools and the books are owned by a private operator. That private operator was at huge financial risk with the collapse of the stock market at some point and had to sell off its assets in that school, including books and computers, etc., in order to get itself out of financial trouble. What is in the RFP to prevent the consortium from using its asset — what I predict will be its asset — to manage financial risks occurring elsewhere?
Hon. C. Hansen: The bottom line is because we have the title, that gives us that protection. What the company will have as their asset is in fact a contract that provides for an annual tariff that would be paid to the company. If they default on any aspect of their contractual obligations, then basically the terms of the contract will dictate the protection that's there for the taxpayer.
One of the things we're putting first and foremost, as we go through the negotiating process and put these
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business arrangements in place, is to make sure that the interests of patients get put number one. We are looking at all eventualities in terms of what could happen and what happens if the company were not to remain financially viable. Throughout that, we are making sure the interests of the patients get put as the paramount interests in this province, and that will be written into the contracts.
I think what the member is talking about actually underscores the value of public-private partnerships, because it is the private sector consortium bearing the risks involved here instead of the taxpayer. Let's transfer that future risk from the taxpayer to the private sector consortium. I guess in any kind of an arrangement around the world there is a possibility of financial viability becoming an issue. Well, let's make sure it is the private sector that bears that in this case, not the taxpayers of the province. Those protections are being built into the agreements.
J. MacPhail: Okay, then. Let's just concede that the public owns the building. The equipment inside — the public owns the $60 million worth of equipment inside too?
Hon. C. Hansen: As I understand it, all of the medical equipment will in fact be owned by the health authorities and will be part of their debt. I think the example that the Finance minister may have used in estimates…. I wasn't there; the member was, so she may recall this. He said perhaps the floor polishers, for example, may be owned by the consortium, not by the health authority. That was one example I think he gave.
J. MacPhail: Then I assume the health authority can move that equipment outside of that hospital whenever they wish, if they own it?
Hon. C. Hansen: As I mentioned earlier, the clinical operations — the direct provision of health care — will still be done by the health authority, and equipment will be owned by the health authority. Unless there was some other provision written into the contract, I think around…. There may be things like HVAC systems, or whatever, that are part and parcel of the building that would have some obligations to stay at a particular site. Certainly, when it comes to the medical equipment being used in direct delivery of patient care, that's owned by the health authority, and they would have the right to move that to another facility.
J. MacPhail: I'm sorry. During the term of the contract they will have that right?
Hon. C. Hansen: Yes.
J. MacPhail: Let me ask, then: if indeed the financier, the project co, the consortium is providing all of the risk and owns nothing, what do they get out of it?
Hon. C. Hansen: What the private sector partner gets is the $39.7 million tariff per year. On top of that they would get what other revenue sources they could get from the site. We talked earlier about retail operations, for example, or coffee outlets in the main lobby of the facility. Those would also be revenue opportunities for the private sector partner.
J. MacPhail: Well, if project co, the consortium, doesn't own the building, owns no assets and has to absorb all of the risk, do they not get any financing guarantees whatsoever? Like, they're just subject? I'm getting a little shaky. I'm concerned about this hospital being able to operate under the consortium now. If they don't own anything and the government's not providing any financial risk security for them whatsoever, how are they actually going to be able to operate the hospital? How are we going to know it's going to be there, if it's such a good deal for the public sector and there's nothing being given in the way of profit or a security against financial risk to the consortium? How is it that they'll be able to even make a go of this?
Hon. C. Hansen: The member said: why would they do this if they don't have some financial guarantees? Well, they do have financial guarantees. They have a 30-year contract to provide them $39.7 million a year. Within that, that's the cash flow they will be able to count on from a government agency that has an extremely high credit rating. That's what brings the private sector consortium to the table.
J. MacPhail: The minister can't possibly tell me whether that $39.7 million is a break-even proposition, whether there's a profit margin. Or he refuses to tell me. With that lack of information about whether there's a profit margin built into it or whether there's a financing risk built into it, I can't see any good news for the proponent here whatsoever. Or does the minister have that information that he can now share with me?
Hon. C. Hansen: Just as the member went out and got a mortgage from the bank or the credit union at a certain rate, I'm sure she didn't find out exactly what the profit margin was that the bank was going to get off that particular mortgage. We have gone out with an RFP that sets out the range of services that we expect to have delivered, which will be delivered, under the terms of this project. We have said we will provide a tariff of $39.7 million a year in exchange for that.
Obviously, there are three companies that took a look at this and that figured, well, maybe they couldn't make a profit out of that $39.7 million a year, and they have decided not to pursue their opportunities. One consortium has indicated that they believe this is financially viable, that they can make a profit as a result of the innovations they can bring to the table and still deliver on the quality service that is set out in the RFP.
I believe that is a win-win for patients. It's a win-win for taxpayers and hopefully is a win-win for the private sector partner as well.
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J. MacPhail: Well, sorry, Mr. Chair. I hate the fact that the minister keeps bringing up mortgages and that kind of stuff. Yeah, most people who do have a mortgage know exactly what the profit margin is built into the bank. That's why they shop around. That's why they get different terms, different rates. They know exactly when a good deal is a good deal, and they know what they can afford based on what the interest charges are and how that's going to change. At least, most families do that. This minister can't even tell me whether the $39.7 million is a good price to pay. He can't tell me. He just says: "Well, that's the price we established, and I'm not going to tell you what's behind that whatsoever."
The minister is 100 percent behind this model — is he? — and he has the fullest of confidence that it's going to go ahead according to the RFP — no changes.
Hon. C. Hansen: Yes, but I can also come back to the member's point. When she used this example of shopping around for a mortgage, you don't shop around to find out which credit union or which bank is going to take the lowest profit. You shop around for the bank or the credit union that's going to give you the best price. I think maybe the member is confusing those two aspects of it.
Yes, I am very confident that we will have a private sector partner who will deliver the quality services as set out in 1,600 pages of public RFP.
J. MacPhail: I wish the minister all the best — all the best. I also predict he won't be able to deliver the way that he said. I predict that the consortium will negotiate, that the consortium will come back, that there will be changes requested by the consortium to the RFP and that that will mean changes for the taxpayer.
Who's leading the negotiations for the province?
Hon. C. Hansen: Partnerships B.C.
J. MacPhail: What role does the health authority play in all of this, in the negotiations that I predict will occur?
Hon. C. Hansen: Partnerships B.C. is leading this process, and their client would be the two health authorities that are involved.
J. MacPhail: Yes, I understand that. When the consortium comes back and asks for changes or asks to negotiate the deal, who gets to sign off? Is it Partnerships B.C. who says those changes are acceptable? Who at the health authority or in the Health ministry is making those decisions?
Hon. C. Hansen: I have signed off on the RFP that went forward with all of the requirements in it. If there were to be any changes necessitated, I would have to sign off on them. I am quite confident at this point that the private sector partner is going to be able to deliver on the RFP as it was developed. As they go through negotiations, it is the role of the health authorities and their representatives that are part of the process to provide oversight and make sure they're in fact going to get the clinical services and patient care services set out in the RFP.
J. MacPhail: What's to negotiate? There is one consortium, one RFP. If it is a slam dunk, what's to negotiate?
Hon. C. Hansen: What the RFP sets out is what the outcomes are, what the deliverables are that this private sector partner has to deliver in terms of the physical space and all of the requirements that go with that. In terms of how they get there, they can bring innovation to the table.
These are companies that have worldwide experience. I think the member earlier talked about some RFP projects around the world that may have been less than successful. There are many more RFP projects around the world that are successful, and we are learning from that. What these international players can bring are innovations, looking at how health care can and will be delivered in the year 2010 or 2012 — or 2020, for that matter — and bringing that innovative approach. As they bring an approach as to how they're going to deliver on the requirements, the health authorities then have to be confident that in fact that is going to meet the needs and produce the desired patient care results at the end of the day.
J. MacPhail: Could the minister name the exact hospitals — models — elsewhere upon which they're basing their optimism? Just name the exact hospital and the country.
Hon. C. Hansen: I don't have a list of specific facilities, but we certainly have been working with some consultants who have looked at this from a worldwide perspective. They have brought examples that help and that we can learn from. We can also learn from the examples that had problems to make sure that we don't duplicate those problems. The experience around the world is one where there have been some problems, and we've learned from those. But there are certainly a lot more projects that would be considered successful, and we're going to learn from those experiences as well.
J. MacPhail: This is my second go and the second set of estimates where I have asked for examples of success and have had zero names from either the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Health. Yet they keep standing up and saying: "Don't worry. There are successful models just like this, and that's who we're modeling our project after." Then when you actually ask them: "Oh, sorry, we don't have any names." It's because there aren't any, I would suggest, except private
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hospitals in the United States that operate strictly for profit and do not have universal access.
Now, the minister had to eat his words — and I thought it was very good that he did eat his words — around freedom of information and access and what that means with their privatization operation of MSP services. It was to his credit that he said he would investigate that, even though on day one he said that no bloody way would the Americans have access to any information because of the privatization of MSP services.
What aspects of freedom-of-information law apply to this Abbotsford hospital project?
Hon. C. Hansen: As I understand it, it is set out in the RFP documents that our freedom-of-information law will apply to this private sector partner.
J. MacPhail: There is an aspect of the freedom-of-information law — a commercial exemption — that if this hospital were being built in the public sector, that commercial exemption wouldn't apply. Under freedom of information, government clients can exempt certain information because of the competition of a private sector bidder. That would not occur if this hospital were being built in the public sector. Does that exemption, in allowing information to be deleted because the proponent is private sector and commercial — not private sector and public, but private sector and commercial…? Will that information be exempted from freedom-of-information laws?
Hon. C. Hansen: This particular contract is going to be a contract between a supplier — this private sector consortium that's going to supply the construction of a building and the facility operations…. We have all kinds of contracts in place between the health sector and the private sector today. Yes, if there is a contract in place for the supply of goods and services — let's say between Vancouver Hospital and a private sector supplier — that information is also available through freedom of information, and there is the provision to hold back information that may be of a commercially sensitive nature. This would be the same in that regard. Ultimately, as is set out in the act, there's an opportunity to appeal any decisions to the freedom-of-information commissioner in this province, and those will all be considered under the existing framework of the act.
J. MacPhail: Yes, but if the government is saying that this is a private operator with commercially sensitive information, the freedom-of-information commissioner has to rule according to the law, and there are different exemptions for that kind of information than for publicly offered services.
Let me ask the minister this, just as an example. It's a little bit off topic, but I'm concluding my questions around Abbotsford hospital before I move on to lab reform, if the minister needs an indication of what I want to discuss next. Has the minister's staff, the ministry or the health authorities received freedom-of-information requests from newly contracted-out services that the ministry must treat in a different manner than before the services were contracted out?
Hon. C. Hansen: Certainly, the same law would apply previously as applies now. In that respect, the act has not changed in its applicability. The act will set out what information needs to be provided. From the ministry's perspective, we make sure we abide by the law.
J. MacPhail: Okay, let me try to clarify my question. The freedom-of-information law treats commercially sensitive information differently than information solely within the public domain. If — and I just use this as a hypothetical — laundry services at VGH are totally within the public domain, a person has the right to apply under the freedom-of-information law and get all the information about that laundry service, and there's no exemption for it.
I'm asking the minister, and I don't know whether…. If there's a contracted laundry service, a privatized laundry service, that is now providing a service that used to be in the public domain, do freedom-of-information requests about any nature of that operation get treated any differently? Is it subject to exemptions based on commercially sensitive information? That's my question.
Hon. C. Hansen: We don't have a specific answer to the member's question. It's a good question. I know that the branch within the ministry that handles all the freedom-of-information requests that come in follows the act very closely and makes sure it's abided by. The fact that one involves a commercial partner and the other example may be two public sector partners…. Certainly, it will be handled in the same way. Whether there is more information that may be blocked in a commercial contract…. That may be the case, but I don't have that information at my fingertips.
J. MacPhail: Well, I'm sure that over the course of the next couple of days we can discuss that further, and the minister can get an answer for me. Thank you very much.
My last question around the Abbotsford hospital is this: what if there is a change in demand at the Abbotsford hospital? What if there are closures of beds required because of the per-population funding formula? What happens to the contract?
Hon. C. Hansen: First of all, there has been quite a lot of very good work done to try to anticipate the demographic pressures. We know it's one of the fastest-growing parts of the province, and we have tried to anticipate what those demands will be not just for ten years but, indeed, over the 30-year span of the project. Also written into the contract is the ability to change the operational levels over a period of time. It's not
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something that sort of results in quick decisions or quick announcements. It's something between the health authority and the private sector partner. There is a provision that gets written into the agreement to allow for expansion or contraction of services over time.
J. MacPhail: Who bears the risk on that?
Hon. C. Hansen: Within the scope that is set out in the RFP, the risk is borne by the private sector partner. If we decide to vary from that scope, then we would have to negotiate that with the partner, but we are pretty confident that there's been some good research and analysis done to determine the scope and to anticipate the needs over the term of the contract.
J. MacPhail: I'm switching to lab reform now. Can the minister update me on lab reform, please?
Hon. C. Hansen: This an initiative that we embarked on — I guess it would be about two years ago now — where we made it quite clear to those who are involved with lab services in the province that we were looking at a process of lab reform. If you look at all the provinces west of Quebec, I think we're the last one to engage in this process of lab reform. There were a series of round-table discussions with various stakeholder groups, including union representation, private lab representation, some of the pathologists and health authorities. They were all involved in those discussions over almost a one-and-a-half-year period.
That resulted in a report we released last summer. Along with the release of that report, we announced that we were going to embark on a process to lead to a new arrangement in providing lab services in the province. We felt that we were paying considerably more than we should be paying for the services we were getting, especially when you compare it to other provinces, where our total cost of lab services is much higher than any other province in Canada.
We initially indicated that we were going to reduce the fee-for-service around lab fees. We had every indication that we could do that by order-in-council; at least, that was the advice we received. When that was challenged in court, the courts, on a technicality, indicated that we didn't have the necessary legislative authority for that. We have now, first of all, filed an appeal, but we are also looking at other options to ensure that the change can in fact be implemented.
We are now proceeding on a process of lab reform to try to realize annual savings of about $60 million a year in the short and medium term, and $25 million of that would get reinvested into the lab system in terms of training, information technologies and other services within the lab sector itself. The other $35 million we are allocating to patient-care cost pressures in other aspects.
We are now working toward trying to, first of all, put in place some standardized clinical approaches. We've established what's referred to as the provincial lab coordinating office. Dr. David Pi, who is the director of clinical services there, is working with all of the various players to try to make sure that our clinical approach is standardized. We are also proceeding on an approach to a new business model, which would allow for a competitive process to determine which services should be provided through a private sector provider and which should be provided through our public sector labs.
At the end of the day, we want to make sure that the public get first-class lab services in the province. We want to make sure that quality is enhanced and certainly not compromised. We actually believe it can be enhanced through a standardization of approach across the province. At the end of the day, we want not only that quality of service, but we want to get utilization down so we avoid unnecessary duplication of tests. We want to get all of that and get the most cost-effective price for those services, whether it be in the public sector or the private sector.
J. MacPhail: That was part of the announcement I think the government made almost a year ago, August of '03 — okay?— so about eight months ago. What's new? Dr. David Pi was heading up a committee eight months ago. What's been happening? Who is on the committee? Who are they meeting with? Has the 20 percent cut been implemented? How is that going?
Hon. C. Hansen: If the member goes back to look at the announcement we made last August, what we indicated was that we were targeting to have this process completed by October of 2005. It is an extremely complex process. Dr. Pi has set up a whole series of committees to work with him. They've got a great website that the provincial lab coordinating office has established. On that website he lists all of the various committee members looking at various elements of this. The last time I looked, I think there were certainly about 12 different committees — I forget off the top of my head — with each having about 12 members from all sectors participating in some of the clinical work that Dr. Pi is doing.
As far as the 20 percent, what we had indicated initially was that as of September of last year, we were going to reduce the fee structure by 8 percent. That was, in turn, what was challenged before the courts. The court decision indicated we did not have the legislative authority for the order-in-council that implemented that. As a result of the court's decision, we have not been entitled to take that 8 percent, pending our appeal, unless we actually follow through with the appeal. If that's the route we choose to go and if successful on appeal, then obviously that would be in place. But we are certainly now looking at what other options are there.
It is our intention to realize a 20 percent saving in this short and medium term, because it is that 20 percent that's going to fund some of this transitioning and the new education programs for pathologists and the information technologies we want to put in place so
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that physicians can get better access to lab results in a more timely fashion.
J. MacPhail: I've looked at the website, but what I'm told is that the committees aren't meeting. They're there, but…. Could I have a list of the kind of committee meetings that are occurring and when they last met?
Hon. C. Hansen: Just to give the member some examples of the committees that are there…. I may not have an exhaustive list here, but there's a committee set up for each of the disciplines within lab services — a committee on chemistry, for example; microbiology; immunology; transfusion medicine; anatomic pathology; cytogenetics. There is also a committee on evolving technologies; there's a committee of the operating VPs of the various health authorities; there's a committee on information technology. These have been meeting on a regular basis. They may not meet as often as…. I certainly have not heard complaints from any of those who sit on these committees that they aren't meeting often enough. My understanding is that the work of these committees is proceeding, and they're meeting as necessary.
J. MacPhail: As of January, I'd heard they hadn't met at all, or they had ground to a…. There was a two-week flurry of activity after the initial announcement. Then as of January, they kind of had ground to a halt and they weren't meeting, so I assume the minister is saying they've started meeting again.
The $60 million of saving — in what year is that booked?
Hon. C. Hansen: It is booked starting '04-05.
J. MacPhail: So that's starting in April '04-05. I'm just wondering: $60 million — that's, what, $5 million a month? You'd have to be getting going pretty soon, I'd assume. Are we still on that game plan to save $60 million?
Hon. C. Hansen: Yes.
J. MacPhail: I appreciate, as always, the minister's firmness in reply, because it does have a way of ending debate on the matter. It also does set the bar pretty high, but I am always encouraged by the courage of the minister in his bravery in setting those bars so high.
What's happening to the utilization rate of lab charges?
Hon. C. Hansen: We expect there will be utilization savings as a result of this initiative, but they will come from the information technologies. Part of the information technology that we'll be putting in place is to give decision support to the ordering physicians; also to make sure that physicians can access the results of other tests that were done, hopefully reducing the amount of needless duplication. I think most of us who have family who have had any experience with the health care system will sometimes comment on how many different blood tests or how many times blood tests are done. We know many of those tests are not, in fact, necessary because they get duplicated by different physicians who can't access the results of tests that were ordered by other physicians.
As a result of the funding we will save, that will be directed into information technologies. That will in turn be able to lead to the kind of utilization measures that will perhaps not help bring costs down but at least help to manage rising pressures over time.
J. MacPhail: I was actually curious: from a historical perspective, what has happened in '02-03, '03-04 — the utilization rates…? I mean, this has been on the government's agenda for a substantial period of time. I just wondered: what's the trend?
Hon. C. Hansen: This is an area where lab costs have been rising faster than the rest of health care. B.C. lab expenditures per capita have risen at a faster rate than anywhere else in Canada — 34 percent over five years. This actually is from….
This would be prior to the latest increase that was implemented as a result of the latest round of increases with physician services in the province. Even prior to that, it went up 34 percent over the previous five years. Compare that with Saskatchewan, with the next-highest rate. They had an increase of 15 percent over the same five-year period.
J. MacPhail: I want to outline a scenario for the minister on this. Of course, our government was interested in lab reform, too, in the 1990s — well, actually, right up until 2001. It had some controversial twists and turns to it, but it also…. In fact, it ground to a halt because of concern by several vested interests — not only the workers but the doctors.
I actually think there is a solution to lab reform, and I want to run this by the minister. I'm building on my experience as Health minister and now my time in opposition, where people approach me with different information than they did when I was in government. I don't in any way suggest that one is more valuable than the other, but let me run this by. This is going to take a few moments.
This comes at it from a physician perspective — no other perspective than physicians. I admit this right upfront. It also starts from a perspective that there is a place for both private and public labs. I think that in our government, what we got bogged down in — although I may be too harsh in this — is that people were trying to say there was no place for private labs. Then people did back off on that.
I think there is a place for both private and public labs. The private labs in this province tend to be mostly urban, and they do, I think, all out-patient work. There may be some arrangements where hospitals have ar-
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rangements with labs, but most of it is out-patient work with very little in-patient work sent outside. Public labs do cover both the urban and the rural, and they also provide the in-patient. There are labs that provide the in-patient services inside hospitals for acute care facilities. The public labs do both out-patient and in-patient work.
As I understand it — I remember this from my day — there is a medical services fee for every diagnostic test that's not in-patient. You could have a public lab that does out-patient work and gets this fee as well — except for blood. That's funded by MSP separately as I recall. You have a fee that's broken down into two components. One is the technical component that covers all of the operations, like the needles and the lab space, even the technicians, the laundry, the machines. That's 85 percent. Then there's a professional component of 15 percent as part of the fee. In fact, the 15 percent has never been…. It's not part of the BCMA fee plan as I understand it, but it is accepted. It's a given — the 15 percent — although you won't be able to find it. There's tacit agreement as I understand it.
This breakdown of 85 to 15 applies to out-patients in both hospitals and in the private labs. In other words, hospitals get the bill for out-patient, but for in-patient it's part of their overall global budget. I also understand, and a physician was quite forceful in this, that there are all sorts of qualitative and quantitative measures that get reviewed in public labs about whether there's overutilization by physicians doing tests — the quality of the tests is studied; there's peer review on that — and there are on-the-spot tests, etc. But that kind of accountability doesn't spill over into the private labs.
One of the physicians I talked to said: "Please, VGH is the exception to every rule here." Just because of its size and all of that, part of this analysis doesn't include VGH — not from a negative point of view or a positive point of view; it just doesn't include it.
The Medical Services Commission does audit physicians, and they audit the building. They can intervene in the case of overbilling and fraud, but they only audit in the public labs. Here's what happens in the one example of the private lab. I must confess that I didn't check this information out with the private lab, but I'm going to list them anyway, and feel free for them to fight back.
The MDS billings that were not audited for '03 were $110 million that they charged to MSP. That includes both the technical fee and the professional fee. All of their billings have the 85-15 approach to it. The professional fee would be about $16.5 million, which they would have got. The average pathologist rate is about $300,000 per year, all in, so that $16.5 million at a professional rate of $300,000 would have been 55 pathologists. They only have seven, maybe ten pathologists at the most across their operations. If indeed they get a professional fee equivalent to about $16 million and they only have about ten pathologists, maybe that's an area where there's a problem in terms of expenditure. I know that private labs are supposed to be able to handle their professional component. Maybe the seven to ten pathologists work 24-7, but it does seem to me a bit high that they get about 16 million bucks for ten pathologists.
One of the reasons why I investigated this was because it was reported at our Public Accounts meeting. Maybe the deputy minister wasn't there, but it was an astounding statement by a Liberal member from the Fraser Valley, when he said the government caucus had been approached by MDS labs — this is all on the public record — and MDS labs said: "We'll take the 20 percent cut; just don't take our work away from us." I thought it was unfortunate that the Liberal member described this on the record, because then it was open to challenge by me, but he confirmed it again. I wasn't invited to that meeting. The opposition caucus wasn't lobbied by MDS labs on that basis, but it was on the record. MDS labs said: "Let us keep our contracts, and we'll take a 20 percent cut."
I kind of figured: well, how could they afford to do that? And I started investigating. It may be on the basis of this professional fee that they get at the same rate as the public hospitals; yet they don't provide that professional service, or it certainly seems suspect. I wonder if the minister has had a chance to look into this.
Hon. C. Hansen: Certainly, I think what the member underscores is how the process and the arrangement we have in place right now is just so totally out of whack with what the cost realities were if you go back historically, when every lab test was done by a pathologist standing at the bench doing whatever pathologists do. Now when we see these very high-volume tests done, from the moment the vial — the sample — is collected, human hands don't touch it after that. It's all done by robotics. I've been through both MDS's plant and B.C. Bio's plant, and they are incredible organizations and good corporate citizens in B.C. I think they provide an excellent service, but they're highly automated. To try to compare that kind of highly automated service today to, historically, the work pathologists may have done for a routine test is really a different world.
Now, it's true that a lot of pathologists still do the bench work, and there is still a lot of very detailed work that must be done. It still is, in some cases, very hands-on work. That is exactly why we're going through this process of lab reform. We do not believe that lab services belong in the old fee-for-service model that was there reflecting the hands-on work of the individual physician. We want to go to a competitive process that allows us — whether it's a private sector provider or a public sector lab — firstly, to make sure they guarantee us a quality service; secondly, to make sure that they can provide appropriate access for British Columbians. I think right now British Columbians enjoy very good service, particularly in urban communities, to access the blood tests that their physician may prescribe for them. We want to make sure that at the
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end of the day, we still have a system that has very good access for the patients.
We want to do that in a way that gets the best value for the taxpayer. I think we want to look at this whole array of lab services that is provided and figure out: if we want to get that quality service that meets the needs of the individual patients, are we best to do that in the public sector? Or is it best done in the highly automated environments of our private sector labs? How do we maintain the quality at a level of excellence? How do we maintain the excellent access that I think patients expect? The question boils down to: which sector can provide the most cost-effective care? I think that's why we're going into this competitive process. Instead of worrying about whether it's 15 percent to the pathologist or 85 percent to cover the overhead, let's just look at the price we need to pay to get the taxpayers the best price for the highest quality and appropriate access for patients.
That is exactly why we are moving to an openly competitive process to arrive at that. Now, in the interim, in the medium and short term, what we are doing is putting in place the 20 percent reduction in the fee structure in order to fund these other cost pressures that we have and to fund this transition to a new model.
J. MacPhail: Well, okay. Just a couple of things. One, even though the tests are highly automated, they still have to be examined and diagnosed by a pathologist. It doesn't matter whether you have 90 million vials going down the line. Those 90 million vials have to be seen by a pathologist, whether it be public or private. I appreciate the minister saying that they're highly automated, but at the end of the day a pathologist is a pathologist and is able to work only at a certain speed. I certainly don't for a moment believe that the minister is in any way saying that public lab pathologists work less hard than private lab pathologists. I know he's not saying that.
The 15 percent professional fee component is relevant at this stage and may be a short-term solution to the minister's problem around money saving — the huge difference in what bodies are attached to the professional fees claimed by private sector labs versus what a pathologist gets paid in the public sector. I mean, that might be an easy solution to the problem.
Again, I was a bit taken aback by the information from the Liberal caucus that MDS was willing to take a 20 percent cut as long as they were guaranteed their work. I thought about that, and of course they would be able to absorb that because there's a growing population and an aging population, and therefore volume would expand to take care of that 20 percent cut.
If indeed there is a competitive process going on, how would that work when one of the largest consortiums, B.C. Bio, is completely private? Again, this is what I'm so curious about when you inject a private sector, for-profit model into health care. How can I say this? The minister will rightly stand up and say these labs have been in existence for a long, long time. If you inject a competitive process that allows for a private sector company to build in a profit and that private sector company doesn't have to demonstrate the profit margin, how do you really get the best bang for your buck? I'm thinking particularly of B.C. Bio, which is one of the largest consortia. They're completely private.
Hon. C. Hansen: Just to give the member a perspective of how those rates have been set up till now…. Basically, they are set within the B.C. Medical Association. If you look back on this last increase that was provided to the B.C. Medical Association — an increase in the physician budget of $392 million per year over the course of this last working agreement we're currently in — within the allocation, I believe, $185 million of that, if my memory serves me right, was allocated to fee-for-service. The BCMA itself gets to sort out how those fee structures are increased, and then they bring those recommendations to the Medical Services Commission, which endorses them basically.
In the last go-round, what they determined was that the fee-for-service for lab services was going to go up by about 10 percent across the board. It's not based on anything to do with cost. It has nothing to do with any kind of competitive pressures. It was basically just an increase that was applied across the board. The way we get the best value for the taxpayers with the level of service that we demand is to go out to a competitive process. What we will say to the private sector providers and the public sector labs is that we want them to determine what they can provide the service for.
Obviously, in the case of the private sector providers, they will build in a profit margin. That's up to them. They can structure that in whatever way they think appropriate, but at the end of the day, if they build in a profit margin that's too big, somebody else may outbid them. In fact, the public sector lab sector may outbid them in terms of the prices they can offer that quality service for.
One of the challenges we have is to make sure that we are comparing apples to apples. I think, as the member can appreciate, comparing a cost structure between the public sector and the private sector is very challenging. It's one of the things we're working on and trying to bring some good rigour to so that at the end of the day, we can assure all involved that there is a fair process that is there.
I think if you look at the way these private sector labs around North America have made their profit, it's by bringing innovation and technology and making sure that they can drive their cost structure down and still provide a quality service within a cost — to government, in this case — that is competitive. If they can't be competitive, then at the end of the day they won't get the business. That's why we're heading in this direction.
J. MacPhail: Well, if it's a competitive model, how is the government levelling the playing field? For instance, will private labs be subject to audit the same
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way that public labs are? How does one level the playing field in terms of quality control and making sure the labs are responsible across the board for complexity of testing?
Hon. C. Hansen: In the contractual arrangements that will be put in place, there will be provisions for quality control. That's part of the work that David Pi is working on now. It's to make sure that we can, in fact, standardize some of the quality assurance measures and the clinical side so that a top-quality lab service can be provided in this province by what we fully anticipate will continue to be a mix of public and private sector players. So we will build into the contracts the ability to audit for quality assurance and to make sure the terms of timeliness and quality and access will all be part of the contractual arrangements that will be established.
J. MacPhail: What about the Medical Services Commission's ability to audit physicians? I was quite taken aback that the MSC doesn't audit pathologists working at MDS or B.C. Bio in terms of volume and quality control.
Hon. C. Hansen: There is — I'm trying to remember the exact title of it — the Special Committee for Audit, I believe it is, that is established and that has the ability to go in to audit all of the billings a physician may make to the Medical Services Commission. To the best of my knowledge, that doesn't matter whether it's a private sector organization or otherwise.
I did want to come back to the member's comments about the Public Accounts Committee. I wasn't at that meeting, so I wasn't there to hear what the member from the Fraser Valley actually said, but I'm advised that he didn't mention any specific company's name. I know that the member for Vancouver-Hastings was using a specific company's name. I do not believe that was part of the transcripts.
J. MacPhail: Okay, I do stand corrected, but it was a company who said that they would be more than happy to take the 20 percent cut if they got the contract. My apologies if I named a company — but the wrong company. The premise stands, though, so thanks for that. I guess it would have to be B.C. Bio if it wasn't MDS, because those are the only two in the Fraser Valley.
The minister says the private labs are audited the same way as the public labs. My understanding of that is that's not the case, but if the minister is correcting me, then great. If it isn't the case, then to do it would be very useful as well. If one is taking this out of the BCMA fee-for-service, where does that stand in terms of negotiations with the BCMA?
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
Hon. C. Hansen: I think the first point that the member made with regard to the audits…. We do not go in and audit the company. What we do is…. We have the ability to audit the physician billings. All of the physician billings that would come into the Medical Services Commission are reviewable. There is an audit process for that, regardless of whether those billings actually come from a corporate entity or whether they come from a physician as a private individual. They are physician-driven billings that we have the right to audit.
With regard to discussions with the BCMA, there have been some discussions generally around lab reform. I think, as I mentioned to the member, a year or two-plus years ago when we started this process, the BCMA was one of the stakeholders that was involved in the round-table discussions. They continue to provide input into this process, as do other stakeholders. I and officials from the ministry have had meetings with them on an ongoing basis. I shouldn't say "an ongoing basis." "From time to time" is probably a better way to put it.
J. MacPhail: When the minister says that these labs, the private labs particularly, are highly automated, so are a lot of the public labs. The private labs have a narrower range of services they generally provide. It seems to me that the current practice…. If it is true that the Medical Services Commission is auditing these pathologists at these private labs, then it must be that there is an acceptance of principle that the benefit of automation goes to the owner of the lab rather than the taxpayer. If it's easier to process these tests and still have quality control and auditing ability of the pathologists, then it means somewhere along the line there's accepted principle that the rapid pace and the accuracy of the automation doesn't come back to the public sector.
I know this is the problem the minister is trying to resolve. However, I'll be very curious to see how the minister finds out what the benefit is of investment in automation versus benefit to the taxpayer — how he's going to work that out in the competitive process, I mean, and deal with the BCMA at the same time.
BCMA probably should be looking at its cataract surgery. I understand the fee for cataract surgery hasn't changed in ages. Yet it used to be a five-day time in the hospital, and now it's a 20-minute time in the hospital. Yet that fee remains relative or, as the minister is indicating, higher. Clearly, the benefit of automation and technology has gone to the ophthalmologist in that case as opposed to the patient.
Can the minister just explain a little bit more in terms of the competitive process about how this is going to factor in automation to the benefit of the patient and not the private lab — or the public lab? Well, private lab, let's just say.
Hon. C. Hansen: Clearly, when you've got a company that can provide a service to the public sector, and if they can bring technology to that that produces higher productivity and reduces their costs, then there
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should be a benefit to the organization, the company that brings that technology. At the same time we have a responsibility, I think, to the public that we get the best value for money.
Through the competitive process, it is incumbent upon those providers — whether it be a public sector lab or a private sector lab — to look at the technology that may be available to them today, new technology that may be emerging that may be available to them over the life of this contract, and to bid their proposal in a way that allows them to take advantage of that technology. I think the way we make sure that the benefit comes back to the patient, as the member asked, is through the competitive process, and that will ensure that everybody sharpens their pencil at the end of the day. But they will still have to make sure they deliver on the quality and on the access that we will set out in the contractual arrangements.
J. MacPhail: Yes, and I can correct the record on my discussion with the member for Maple Ridge–Mission, because I've got the Hansard here. The minister is exactly right, and I do apologize to MDS labs.
Here's the quote from the member for Maple Ridge–Mission: "…pathologists are saying that they believe we're paying perhaps as much as 30 to 40 percent too much. When the president of B.C. Bio tells a group of MLAs that he would happily take a 20 percent reduction in the fees that he's charging, as long as we don't tender out and look for a call for proposals from private labs…. He would be very happy to see the 20 percent peel-back. To me, that sounds like we're paying an awful lot too much."
The member for Vancouver-Hastings: "Who said that and when?"
The member for Maple Ridge–Mission: "Dr. Cooney, the president of B.C. Bio, made that offer to a group of MLAs that had a meeting with him two months ago."
This is from Monday, February 9, 2004. "You can take that from where it is, but I would suggest to you that when…." The member for Vancouver-Hastings, never wishing to miss an opportunity, said: "Well, it's on the record. I'll certainly be making people know that."
Anyway, thank you for the correction.
Back to the concluding questions around this, if there are $60 million of savings anticipated from lab fees — lab charges — and that's '04-05, is the minister assuming that there will be a front-end load of savings when this is initiated? In other words, clearly it's not going to be in effect come April 1 — I would assume. What's the anticipated rate of savings when the system is actually implemented to meet the $60 million annual savings?
Hon. C. Hansen: First of all, it would not be safe for the member to assume that this saving will not click in as of April 1. As we have signalled, the member talks about the $60 million in savings, and that's actually what we are saying that we will realize in this coming fiscal year. That is almost a short-term…. In fact, the words I used earlier were short to medium term. Those are the savings we will take from the system while we are implementing this competitive process. As I indicated earlier, our time line is to have that in place by October 2005.
When that competitive process is completed, we will have to see what can be realized. Perhaps the savings are greater than $60 million. We will only know that once we get through the process. I think we also have to recognize that there are a couple of other pressures at play here. On the other hand, when we get information technologies in place, we believe we can at least keep some of the demographic pressures down through better utilization of lab tests and better utilization of the information that comes from lab tests. As we go forward, with our aging population, our growing population, there's clearly going to be upward pressure on our total lab budget. Countering that, hopefully, will be some downward pressure in terms of better utilization management.
The short answer to the member's question is that we expect to realize a $60 million saving in the coming fiscal year. We do not yet know what the annual savings will be that will flow from the competitive process.
J. MacPhail: I just assumed the April 1 deadline wasn't possible because the minister said he can't collect the fees because of the court decision. He can't reduce the fees as a result of the court decision, and that certainly isn't going to be resolved in court by April 1. Maybe in negotiations it will be resolved — fair enough. Again, another bar set by the minister for which he is extremely courageous — extremely.
Are there any additional licences to be granted for laboratory services?
Hon. C. Hansen: With regard to the actual labs where the analysis is done, the licensing for that is done by the diagnostic accreditation program, which is run by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. We don't directly control that. We're not aware of any particular licensing initiatives, but that is run by the college, not by us.
The actual collection stations around the province are, in fact, accredited by the Medical Services Commission, and those are currently frozen while this lab reform process is underway.
J. MacPhail: The reason why I brought that up is because I was wondering whether there's an issue of granting licences that would level the playing field. Let me approach it from this aspect. Public labs tend to be inside hospitals. Are there any publicly operated and owned labs that operate outside of a hospital?
Hon. C. Hansen: The only one we're aware of would be at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. To the
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best of our knowledge, all of the rest would be in hospitals.
J. MacPhail: Let's say one starts from a premise that there's a role for both public sector and private sector in the dispensing of lab services. Will there ever be a change in how public sector labs can operate — like outside the hospital in a community health centre, for instance?
Hon. C. Hansen: I guess part of the whole lab reform initiative is to look at what the right model is, and I think that's one of the reasons why there is such a long lead time on this — because of the complexity of it. We've still got a year and a half to go before we expect this process to be completed. Right now, when it talks about what lab services we have in the province, there are 108 licensed hospital labs, 64 licensed private labs, 29 hospital-based specimen collection stations and 126 private specimen collection stations.
The model in the future may be different, so we're certainly looking at those options. At the end of the day, I think we expect that there will continue to be a healthy mix of public and private sector involvement in the lab sector. It's worked well for British Columbians up until now, and we expect it will continue to work well. We just want to make sure that we get a cost structure in place that still delivers a quality service with the best value for the taxpayer.
J. MacPhail: Okay. Now, I just want to check one other thing in terms of how this competitive process is going to work, because we do have information that the various private labs are lobbying government.
I think MDS met with…. Or Dr. Don Rix, I should say. He's a man for whom — I know for some of my colleagues this may drive them crazy — I have a great deal of respect. He is a hugely generous man in the community, but nevertheless he is a business person/doctor, and I believe he sits on the BCMA as well — or did around lab fees, etc. He's also a big Liberal donor — all of which is completely legitimate. We do know that he did get a meeting with the deputy minister to the Premier, that some BCMA representatives were there at the meeting as well and that it was to talk about lab reform.
So, just how will this competitive process unfold? Is it an RFP?
Hon. C. Hansen: I think this is probably the most complex side of the whole process that we're going through, because we want to design a process — what is termed a "strategic sourcing process." It's not simply a case of going out with an RFP and saying: "Who can come in with the cheapest price?" Clearly, issues around quality, timeliness, access, convenience for patients have to be put paramount in this process.
The work that Ken Dobell has been doing has been very valuable. I think, as the member knows, Mr. Dobell has years and years of experience in public sector procurement and is very knowledgable about some of the different models and options that are there, which ensure that we have a competitive process but at the same time lead to a desirable outcome in terms of quality, access and timeliness.
It is work that's been done by the ministry, with the able assistance of the deputy minister to the Premier. We are looking at a range of options around procurement models that will allow for the competitive process but at the same time will bring the best model to play. For example, some of the initiatives that are looked at are: how do you get a model that gets the best out of the public sector and the best out of the private sector in the interests of patients? We are trying now to design a model that will allow us to achieve those objectives.
J. MacPhail: I'm still not clear. Maybe I'm just thick. The reason I'm asking this is because Dr. Tom Cooney, again, is very open in his commitment to reducing his fees by 20 percent. I mean, it was in the Chilliwack Progress, January 30, when he was asking for help from his MLA, the Chilliwack MLA, the new Minister of Small Business and Economic Development.
Dr. Cooney says that the B.C. Health minister is "barrelling ahead with the plan to put lab testing in the province out to tender for competitive bids to reduce costs, despite B.C. Biomedical's offer to take a 20 percent cut in fees." Dr. Cooney is being very open about this. He also then goes on to say that the only way a bidder can achieve the ministry's goals is by cutting the number of lab sites around the province and by reducing quality. "'We don't think that's safe for patients,' he says. The Health minister is 'hung up on ideology' of tendering lab work, he says, which will create 'six monopolies' in each of the province's six health authorities." How does he know that?
Hon. C. Hansen: He doesn't. What the member just read out is not based on fact. We are not going to a model that is going to wind up with a fractured system around the province. It's also not fair for anyone to say there's going to be a reduction in the number of collection stations around the province. There may in fact be an increase, because I think what we want to be able to develop is a model that meets the needs of patients around the province and delivers on those various elements that I mentioned earlier. There's still a lot of work to be done. I think there are a few people that have been trying to jump to conclusions as to what this model will look like at the end of the day, but we have a lot of work to do before we get to the point where we can clearly define what that model will look like. That's exactly why we have given ourselves a time line leading up to October 2005.
J. MacPhail: Well, thanks. Then let's now move into doctors negotiations, which flows nicely from this. Perhaps the minister could outline for us exactly how doctors negotiations are being conducted. The reason why I ask this is because I want to know what role the
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various health authorities are playing. Well, let me just start.
I'll list my questions. What role are the health authorities playing? What's the difference between alternate payment negotiations, as in emergency room physician negotiations, and BCMA master agreement negotiations, and the Health Employers Association of B.C. role in negotiations in any of those topics?
Hon. C. Hansen: First of all, just the broad picture of the approach to negotiations. We started negotiations the first week of December, I believe. There were several days where BCMA tabled their various demands with regard to the different sectors, including the rural sector and all of the different subsector agreements that flow from the working agreement.
The member's other question was about the master agreement. The master agreement is the framework for the relationship between government and the B.C. Medical Association. That master agreement was signed in February 2001, and it runs through until 2007. I believe it's March 31, 2007. Within the master agreement is the provision for the working agreements that are there, which actually set out the various remuneration structures.
Actually, I'm corrected here. Negotiations started on October 16, so it was a little earlier than that.
These were proposals with regard to the establishment of a new working agreement. The working agreement that is now in place expires on March 31, 2004. The work that is being done is towards a new working agreement. Included in the working agreement would be the fee-for-service, and it also would include alternate payments. The alternate payments include the payment for emergency room doctors who choose to be remunerated under alternative payments. Those are provided for within the makeup of the working agreement.
In terms of the health authorities' role, they are members of the Health Employers Association of B.C. — the HEABC. Through the HEABC, which is a professional negotiating body on behalf of the health sector, they've got the analytical capacity that's necessary, I think, to bring some rigour to those negotiations. In addition to the direct membership by the health authorities on the HEABC, we also have senior officials from the health authorities who are part of our negotiating team. They work in an advisory capacity to our negotiators.
I'm not sure if I've covered all the points the member raised. I think I have.
J. MacPhail: Who sits on the…? Just describe for…. This is going to heat up — right? I mean, this is getting kind of tense — or intense. Sorry, Mr. Chair. Intense, not tense. I'm expecting a wonderful outcome on this. I was told a few weeks ago — it's not current — that there were going to be reduced activity days scheduled for March by physicians, and that has an effect on scheduling of appointments, etc. I mean, that could all be not occurring now, so it is going to be rather intense.
How often are people negotiating? Who's at the table for the government? Where's mediation at?
Hon. C. Hansen: One other correction to something I said. I said the master agreement expired in 2007; I should have said 2006.
There technically aren't negotiations going on right now, because we are in mediation. The way the agreement is structured, either party can request for a mediator to be appointed. If the mediator can't be mutually agreed to, then there's a provision for the Chief Justice to appoint a mediator, who will eventually become a conciliator if the mediation fails.
We were able to mutually agree with the BCMA on a mediator. John Hunter is the mediator. He is currently in a mediation phase at this point. To date there have been two days of mediation with just us; there have been two days of mediation, as we understand it, with just the BCMA; and there has been one day of mediation with both parties. Our chief negotiator is Gary Moser, and he has a team working with him, including representatives from the health authority, representatives from HEABC and ministry officials.
J. MacPhail: I wondered about the HEABC. I mean, they used to do the negotiations, along with…. I think there used to be help from what was then PSERC, which is now Public Service Agency. Gary Moser, of course, used to be the head of HEABC and is extremely well respected, and I said some very nice things to him upon his retirement. Now he's back doing the negotiations. How does that work for money?
Hon. C. Hansen: First of all, this is the first time that HEABC has been involved in physician negotiations. That was always done through a different process. Certainly, HEABC has managed negotiations with regard to the rest of the health sector, leading up until now.
It's being pointed out to me that they did provide some support to physician negotiations in 2002. Gary Moser is, as the member mentioned, retired from HEABC, but he is now engaged in a contract with them for this particular service around this set of negotiations. I don't have the exact details of the contractual arrangement.
J. MacPhail: It is interesting. HEABC is fully funded by taxpayer dollars. It's 100 percent taxpayer dollars. They've got a big staff and a great head there — a former NDP Health minister for whom I have the greatest respect, Louise Simard. She is the head of HEABC now. They have a multimillion-dollar budget. I was just curious as to why we had to contract out to the fellow who just retired to do the negotiations.
Anyway, we're at mediation that may turn into conciliation. On March 31, 2004, the contract expires. Doctors were anticipating some sort of job-type activity in the form of reduced activity days; at least I was told that by a couple of doctors. How does this get re-
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solved? We no longer have arbitration. Is that correct? The Medical Services Commission plays no role anymore in arbitrating the dispute. Am I correct on that?
Hon. C. Hansen: First of all, I guess when the member talks about reduced activity days, there is provision in the agreements that physicians cannot engage in withdrawal of services that would be condoned in any way by the BCMA, unless there are certain provisions down the road. It certainly wouldn't happen as quickly as, say, April of this year.
What would happen under the current arrangement is that the mediator has to go through a process of mediation. If he fails to arrive at a mediated solution, a mediated new working agreement, he then becomes a conciliator. He then produces a conciliator's report that is presented to both parties. It's actually written right in the agreement with the BCMA that government has the ability to reject the conciliator's report within ten days if it feels it could not afford or if it's not willing to accept the conciliator's report.
Right now we are in the middle of mediation. I was certainly encouraged to receive the letter last week on Friday from Dr. John Turner. It was a copy of a letter going to the mediator with regard to what their expectations were. Quite clearly, there are still a lot of details to be sorted out with regard to what that arrangement might look like, but I am hopeful we will be able to get there in a way that is mutual and can be signed off by all parties.
J. MacPhail: Yes, but what if not? What if not? That's what I'm asking. The minister is skating over…. He's giving the most optimistic scenario. We all hope for peaceful resolution that's patient-focused, but this government did rip up a contract, according to the doctors.
I'll just read what they said at that time. I think it's the current BCMA president who said this. When the government didn't like the arbitrated decision of a former judge and his supposedly binding award, the BCMA president at the time said: "We have not forgotten. You never forget the scars where you have been flogged." That was in the fall of this year.
What if conciliation doesn't work? Is it a one-sided affair? Does the government, in the same way they've been doing with Crown prosecutors, get to say aye or nay to the final report, and that's it?
Hon. C. Hansen: Well, I guess that was a pretty expensive flogging. That cost $392 million. What I said at the time — and I stand by it today — was that the conciliator at the time, Allan McEachern, had four elements to his instructions which actually flowed from the wording in the master agreement. We do not believe he delivered on those four obligations that he had as a conciliator, so we put in place an additional $392 million. I don't hear very many physicians in the province complaining about the amount of additional money we put into that budget, because it was an increase of 20.6 percent over what had been there previously.
The member says: "Does the government have the power to set a conciliator's report aside?" The answer is yes, we do, within ten days after the conciliation report comes down. But it is my hope that we will be able to sort out the details of a new working agreement without having to get to that stage. I think the progress made last week was encouraging, and we now want to see if the mediator will be able to build on that towards a new working agreement that can be mutually agreed to. I'm approaching it from the optimistic perspective that we are going to be able to achieve that without some of the tensions we've seen in the past.
J. MacPhail: Well, it is interesting to note that all of a sudden the Minister of Health is optimistic about doctor negotiations only when the doctors made a move. It was a good-faith move by the doctors, I assume, and now this minister is optimistic. Up until that point, he was at war in his words with doctors — along with the Minister of Finance — every day. Negotiations take two. I'm not looking at the past. Every government has to deal with a continuing set of negotiations or collective agreements expiring and being renewed, so it's a new round of negotiations and just that.
The minister's optimism is great. It's based on a substantial move by the physicians, but this government has still said zero, zero and zero. Is the minister saying that if the doctors don't agree to what the government wishes them to agree to, then the agreement is imposed? How — by legislation or by OIC?
Hon. C. Hansen: As I said to the member, it's my hope that we will conclude this as a result of the work of John Hunter in his capacity as a mediator, not in his capacity as a conciliator. Should that not be possible, then obviously we'd have to cross those bridges when we come to them. As it stands right now, it is my hope that we will be able to conclude this through a mediation process.
J. MacPhail: Yes. Could the minister just tell me what the government's tool is to conclude this if mediation fails? Is it legislation, or is it by order-in-council? What tool does the government have to impose an agreement, failing mediation?
Hon. C. Hansen: First of all, there is not an OIC option. There is not a legislative authority that would provide for an OIC that would be an option in that case.
I'll read from the master agreement. Oh, this is from the memorandum of agreement that was….
Hon. C. Hansen: We're getting this right here. This is the working agreement. This refers to a report by a conciliator. It says: "If the government refuses to accept
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the recommendations under (e) above" — which is the report of the conciliator — "the government and the BCMA will resume negotiations on the areas in dispute." In terms of the actual agreement, that's the only provision that's set out, and that is that the parties would return to negotiations.
J. MacPhail: Okay, okay, okay. So there is no tool available to the government to conclude a collective agreement.
When the government ripped up the agreement with the doctors and the arbitration award, and they…. I mean, we had this discussion two years ago or whenever it was. What's the ability to conclude an agreement? Is there no tool?
Hon. C. Hansen: Now, today, there is no legislative framework for government to impose a new working agreement. We would either have to achieve that through mutual consent, through a conciliator's report that the government would choose, or there would have to be additional legislative powers that would have to be enacted by this House. As I say, at this point it's purely hypothetical, because my hope is that the mediation process will be successful.
J. MacPhail: Okay. The dispute with the Nanaimo doctors that was about an alternate payment system and staffing levels…. That was done outside BCMA negotiations and certainly was done out of the minister's office, it seemed to me. Those negotiations were not being done by the Vancouver Island health authority until the second agreement occurred. How are matters such as that actually negotiated and resolved? The Nanaimo situation of alternate payments wasn't unique. Those kinds of arrangements have been concluded around the province.
Hon. C. Hansen: First of all, just to give a little bit of background. I think the member may know this, but the emergency room doctors in Nanaimo were paid under a fee-for-service model in the past. Part of what we were moving to was an alternative payment structure for those physicians out of the alternative payments budget instead of out of the fee-for-service budget, so the member is not correct when she says that those negotiations were directed out of my office or even, indeed, out of the ministry.
What we put in place was a framework for remuneration for emergency room physicians around the province. That is the policy the various health authorities are obliged to reflect in their negotiations with individual groups of physicians that fall within their particular health authority. In the case of Nanaimo, it was the Vancouver Island health authority that was engaged in the negotiations, but they were guided by the policy framework that had been established by the ministry. In terms of the rates that were set, those are rates set as a result of negotiations with the B.C. Medical Association.
J. MacPhail: Sorry. The rates are set for the number of physicians that are in the Nanaimo emergency room, or the rates that the physicians get paid are set by…? The minister is nodding, saying the rates that…. I guess it's the full-time-equivalent rate for an emergency room doctor that is set by the BCMA.
I'm told, though, that during the negotiations between the Vancouver Island health authority and the physicians at Nanaimo, the VIHA negotiator said: "We can't do anything without calling the Ministry of Health first." Was there not sign-off by the Ministry of Health? That was what I was told — those were people right at the table — that the Vancouver Island health authority negotiators would not make a move without contacting the Ministry of Health.
Hon. C. Hansen: I think this comes back to what I said earlier about the framework for the negotiations. That framework is in place throughout the whole province to give some consistency to how emergency room physicians are compensated, as well as the workload. When we talk about full-time-equivalency, it's based on a 36-hour workweek for the emergency room doctors. Also, the policy framework determines the appropriate staffing levels. How many FTEs, based on acuity levels and patient visits in any emergency room, should be consistent throughout the province and based on this framework.
As long as the negotiators for the Vancouver Island health authority were staying within the policy framework of the ministry, they had full latitude to negotiate whatever they wished, but if the doctors were asking them to step outside of the policy framework, then, yes, they would have had to come back to the ministry because they would not have had the latitude to do that unilaterally.
J. MacPhail: How many full-time-equivalent emergency room doctors are at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital in total across all agreements now?
Hon. C. Hansen: Just to go back to what was in place prior to this switchover from the fee-for-service, what the emergency room doctors billed in 2002-03 under the old fee-for-service model was about $2 million in emergency billings plus $660,000, which was from the $50-an-hour top-up that was in place, plus some benefits that get attached to that as well. The total value, the total cost of the services provided in Nanaimo under the old model, was about $2.66 million a year.
The offer that had been made to the Nanaimo emergency room doctors in January of 2004 was for 14.3 FTEs. Under the old model, which was a fee-for-service, the actual FTEs became not quite as relevant as they do under the new model. Under the old model, because it was based on a fee-for-service, if the patients didn't present, then the physicians did not have a basis upon which to bill, but the extra hours…. The $50-an-hour top-up was based on what the approved FTEs had been in the past, not based on how many hours
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cumulatively the fee-for-service physicians chose to be at the emergency room.
What we offered was 14.3 FTEs. That was based, for the ER specialists, on a rate of $215,000 per year, which is the top of the range for a 36-hour workweek, allowing for six weeks vacation plus benefits. The total value of the contract that we offered as of January was $3.3 million, an increase from the $2.66 million that had been in place before.
Now, the final offer, which was after a review around some of the patients that were coming through and the various acuity levels that were there, was to agree to…. What the ministry had signed off on was an increase to 15.4 FTEs in the first year and 16.67 after that. As an interim basis, the total value of that was in fact $3.29 million for the first year and $3.154 million for future years.
The reason for that slight change was a review of billing data that told us important information about what was in fact happening in Nanaimo at the emergency room. This was combined with analysis of population growth, demographics, hospital complexity and patient volumes. What we found was that population growth from 2002 to 2003 was only 1 percent, and yet there was a 2.3 percent growth in the services provided. Within this service growth there was a 15 percent reduction in high-complexity billings but a 12 percent growth in low-complexity billing. This growth in low-complexity billings was counter to the experience in the rest of the province, which has seen, in fact, a 10 percent reduction in the number of low-complexity billings.
This raised questions about after-hours access to appropriate community care for people in Nanaimo. As an interim measure, the ministry signed off on an arrangement where there would be an additional 5 percent flexibility allowed in the model, thereby providing an additional 0.73 FTEs for coverage until such time as more appropriate primary care options could be put in place.
J. MacPhail: Yeah, so all that boils down to is that by this coming year, there'll be 16.7 FTEs in the emergency room. And it ain't temporary. That contract goes till 2006. I know the minister likes to say "temporary," but 2006 doesn't sound that temporary to me, and it's when the master agreement runs out.
Mr. Chair, as they say in Washington, I am going to yield the floor to the member for Vancouver-Langara.
V. Anderson: There are three areas I'd like to inquire about, and they're somewhat related to each other. In the plan of the ministry and their core business and the objectives, they talk about home community care. From the point of view of the community, there's some confusion I'm hoping he could clear up.
Let me give a little history of where I'm coming from. Over the past number of years, as the minister will be very much aware, a lot of care was given to people in their homes, and a lot of care was tied to seniors centres and programs, which also got health grants. Seniors would go out and get in a socialize program and get meals out in the community centre and the seniors centre. A lot of seniors were looking after their health care by home care that they were getting in their home and out care that they were getting in the community — putting those together. Over the last number of years, prior to this government even coming into place, the home care service was cut down. It was called housekeeping service and therefore, they said, it wasn't applicable.
The distinction between care in your home that is applicable as medical or non-medical has created a great deal of confusion in the community. When nurses come out and make the assessment, the basis on which they make that assessment of whether you're eligible or not eligible had been very hard for people to understand, because many people have been cut off services that they had been receiving for some time.
I'm wondering if the transition in putting an emphasis, as I understand it, on medical care and limiting to more specific areas of medical health…. Has there been any discussion with, say, other ministries of government to pick up on the home care which is not being provided? Without the home care, the medical care becomes much more readily needed. People are not able to live by themselves as long, and therefore they become much more serious over a short period of time. So that distinction between home care and medical care within the home….
I notice that in this whole core process, they're stressing a little later on in the care that people with high-risk need will be cared for at home, where at the present time people aren't even able to get care for low-risk need. There's a confusion in that transition. If the minister could respond.
Hon. C. Hansen: I think the member is correct. This is a policy shift that goes back to, I believe, about 1996 or 1997, which redirected some of the home and community care dollars and hours to individuals with much higher needs. There is still a provision from health authorities that they can provide support for housekeeping services or personal care services if it is fundamental in keeping an individual out of an institutionalized setting. I think what's important to underscore is that we know that individuals, even with some of the most complex health care needs, can be maintained in their own family home if they're given the proper kind of health care support.
We're looking at a range of models now that gives seniors more options around where they can live and still access the necessary supports. In some cases that may be in complex care facilities, or in other cases it may be in other types of housing — whether it's the family home, an independent living environment, an assisted-living environment. It all depends on making sure that they get the appropriate support.
Yes, we have been working with other ministries — particularly with B.C. Housing, for example — around
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the development of assisted-living models where we can house individuals, even those with very complex needs. The health component of it, the health delivery, would be delivered in those particular environments. As I say, there has not been a change in policy from the one that was implemented in 1996 or 1997, and we are trying to build more options for seniors in that regard.
V. Anderson: The perspective out there at the moment is that because of the focus on supportive living and independent living situations for those who have more medical needs, the funds have been taken away from the home care area and from the seniors centres which are providing programs. Those people who live in the community are caught between those two pressures. There's no place to go out of the home to get support, and there's no support in the home as they were used to having it before. This is particularly for persons who have been used to having these two kinds of support. They understand, in part, that you're trying to get at the more medical needs. Is there a program coming along that will begin to pick up those earlier preventive needs that are referred to here, or do we need to look for some other place in the ministry and the government for those kinds of supports?
Hon. C. Hansen: First of all, the number of direct care clients has increased steadily over the last four years. If you look back to 1999-2000, there were 52,874 clients. It goes up. I can give the member every year, if he would like, but it actually goes up each year. In 2002-03, which is the last year that I have here, it was up to 54,311. You'll see there has been a steady increase over that period of time, but to say it's the same 50,000-plus people would not be correct, because some of the individuals who have lower needs for home care have seen their home care hours either reduced or perhaps eliminated so that we can provide that care to those who have higher needs. That is the policy. I said '96-97. In fact, that policy goes back to 1994, so it has been in place now for ten years in that regard.
The other thing is that we need to free up resources in the health sector to build and enhance our home and community care sector, which I think everybody recognizes is a necessity. You will hear a lot about the alternate level care beds, for example, in our hospitals, where you've got acute care beds — very expensive beds — that are being tied up by patients who should be somewhere else and in, overwhelmingly, most cases should be in some form of home and community care.
In order to fund the expansion of home and community care, we need to be able to transfer resources that are now going in to fund those ALC bed-days in our hospitals. Just to give you an example, in the Vancouver coastal health authority, where the member is from, they have actually budgeted for a fairly significant shift in this budget for the budget year coming up and the subsequent years. That's on their website. It shows a shift from funding those ALC bed-days into funding expanded home and community care.
I think we are making some progress in that regard. Clearly, there's always a lot more we could do. When you start seeing some of the savings we're making in other areas of support services and administration costs in the health sector, those are all dollars that can be redirected to meet this growing need as we go forward.
V. Anderson: Traditionally, a lot of the grants came from Health for many community agencies, seniors centres and others who provided the in-community support to people who are living independently. Now a lot of those grants have been cut back, and the reorganizations have taken place. Is there a plan, as funds become available, to replace those funds or to help create a system in the community that does make that provision available? That's two sides of the coin. You can't do one without the other, and people are there.
The other thing on the increased number of people who are being served is that it still means there are many people being left out, because actually we have more people to be served. So at the same time more people are being given beds, more people are being left without them, because the total population has increased. I don't think the bed care has increased as far as the population increase of seniors.
Hon. C. Hansen: When the member talks about community organizations — and, you know, we have just some excellent not-for-profit organizations that are providing services to the health sector…. It's ultimately up to the health authorities to determine who they want to contract with to provide for certain services. I know of some examples where the health authorities have looked at what actual services they are getting for the dollars they're transferring to some organizations, and — I think rightfully — the health authorities have questioned whether or not they get good value for those dollars in some cases.
There have been some organizations where the health authorities have pulled back on their funding, and in some cases there has been additional funding provided to different organizations. I think there has to be a dynamic there and an ongoing process of contracting, but also holding those organizations accountable for delivering quality services in the most cost-effective way. It's not a case of saying that as new funds become available, we're going to again fund organizations that have perhaps lost their funding over these last number of years. The ones that can provide quality service are certainly, I'm sure, the ones the health authorities would work with.
When the member talks about the increase in the number of beds…. In fact, with an aging population, the demand is growing greater than that. It's true if you look at the big aggregate numbers of our aging population, but you also have to look back on the model that was there before, which was really the choice between the family home and the nursing home. As soon as a senior got to a certain level of disability or a certain
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point where they could no longer maintain an independent family home, their only choice was to go into the nursing home, which was a total loss of independence. If you look at individuals who may have been placed into a nursing home environment when they still had some ability for independent living, what you see is that those individuals go downhill very quickly. They actually become dependent. They fit into the model that they're put, but they fit in there prematurely.
The model that we're moving towards is to increase the options for independent living for seniors to maximize the independence they can enjoy. If you start looking at just the complex care beds…. We may not need as many complex care beds as we've had in the past, but what we will definitely need more of is the kind of assisted-living beds that maximize the independence but, in addition to that, provide the health care supports to those individuals so that they can enjoy a very high quality of life in an environment that gives them as much independence as they're able to manage at that stage in their life.
V. Anderson: My last comment on that is that perhaps what is needed to help the population to understand and to fit into the major shift that's taking place is more cooperation between our seniors' ministry and our Health ministry so that people can see these as a continuum that works together. At the moment the perception is that unless seniors are desperately sick, nobody cares about them. That's not the reality, but that's the perception.
We've seen the care working down — from acute care down — but we haven't seen the care working the other way up to meet it. If the programs could get together, I think this should be very helpful. So thank you for your reply, and I'll give it to the other member over there.
Hon. C. Hansen: If I can just comment on what the member has said — and I think it's so vitally important. When we talk about the supports that seniors need in our society, it's not just about health care. The Ministry of Health Services obviously has a very important role when it comes to providing the health care services to our seniors in whatever housing environment they're in — whether it's in the family home, new assisted living or the complex care facilities in the province. Our role is to make sure that the health care supports are there for them.
Previously, with the Minister of State for Intermediate, Long Term and Home Care…. In her role as the minister of state, she very much worked across ministries, working with B.C. Housing and with Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services. That was not something that was seen as being particular to Health Services. Likewise, with the new responsibilities that our colleague has as the Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services. She has come, and we've had some really good discussions around how the role of the Ministry of Health Services fits into that broader provision of government services and supports to seniors. So I think the member's point is very valid and very relevant.
R. Hawes: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
R. Hawes: In the gallery today we have two supporters — I like to call them supporters, although I'll have to pay a price later for saying that — from my area: Lloyd McKimmon and his wife, Doreen. Lloyd likes to call himself the mayor of Deroche. He has served at the regional district there for, well, many, many years. Could the House please make them welcome.
B. Lekstrom: I have a number of questions for the minister on a number of different issues. I'd like to start by talking about something that has come out on the side for northern rural and remote parts of British Columbia. That's the travel assistance program that has been put forward by the ministry and our government. My question to the minister is: do we know how that travel assistance program will be applied across the province? Do we have any details as far as what it will fund? Will it fund assistance through airline tickets or accommodation?
Equal access to health care has not been alive and well in our province since the day it began, so I always find it interesting when people say that it is. We don't complain, but on the other side of that, when families do have to access health care such as the Children's Hospital — an incredible facility — the last thing we need, along with the worry of the health care need, is a financial burden put on them. So to the minister: has that been worked out yet?
Hon. C. Hansen: We made a commitment to those in northern and rural communities that we would be putting in place a travel assistance program. What has been earmarked is an annualized budget of $5 million a year. We are still working out the details, so I do not have the details that the member may be looking for today.
We are looking at other models. There are at least two other provinces that have travel assistance programs. They're not necessarily models that we would copy holus-bolus, but we would certainly learn from their experiences.
I'll tell the member one of the biggest challenges we have in this. On one hand, we want to provide support to families who need help to access necessary medical care in other parts of the province. I think the example the member used of Children's Hospital is a very excellent example, because Children's Hospital is a
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provincewide resource. It is there to serve the entire province. It is there as much to serve the residents of the member's constituency as it is to serve Vancouver, but it's getting there that is the big challenge, particularly for a lot of low-income families. On the other hand, we also want to make sure we don't build in incentives for patients to be sent out of the regions in which they live, because our first goal is to make sure we maximize the amount of care that can be provided right in your regions. That's what a lot of our consolidation or redesign initiatives are about: how do you make sure more patients can get care that they need right in the regions where they live, rather than having to travel?
We want to build in the right incentives that are there to support families when they need them but not create an additional reason for patients to be moved out of the region when perhaps locating funding right in that region would be the better way to go. That's our challenge. I don't have the details. We are actively working on that. Certainly, the commitment to have this in place by the end of the '04-05 fiscal year — that commitment stands.
B. Lekstrom: I guess just following through…. I thank the minister for that answer, although the last comment you made somewhat intrigued me — by the end of '04-05. It was my understanding that the commitment is there for this year's budget, unless I've misinterpreted something. That $5 million should be utilized — at least in my view, unless I've misread it — for the coming year starting March 1.
If we're going to do that, I know I'm more than happy to work with the minister. I know your commitment has been there in our discussions on how we best utilize this funding. I agree wholeheartedly that the issue of keeping people at home to receive that care is key. I think most British Columbians would agree with that, although we don't have open-heart surgery, for instance, and we don't expect it. That's no slight against my constituents. There's a reality in what can be delivered in hospitals around this province, and we recognize that.
If we're going to put this forward, I know it has been a key issue for my constituents. I know that the Premier, during the campaign prior to the election, announced it in Fort St. John at a meeting I was at, and it was very well received. I know that people are very excited in my region, as I'm sure they are around the province.
I want to move on to a different question. I look into the estimates book, and I want to refer to the special account under "Health" on page 99. It's the health special account, and it shows $147.250 million coming from the gaming revenue that is dedicated to health care. Just a question to the minister: when I look at the history of that account and the growth in gaming revenue, is this account indexed at all to the growth in gaming revenue, or is it a set amount? I'm curious about that.
Hon. C. Hansen: This health special account actually flows from two references in legislation. One is the Gaming Control Act. It actually provides for 50 percent of the revenues from lotteries. It's not all of the gaming revenues of government; it's 50 percent of the revenues from lotteries. In fact, lottery revenues have been fairly stable over this period of time.
This particular health special account…. If you look at all the money that comes into the health budget — we determine what our needs are, and this year it's the $10.4 billion for health services alone — what happens is that the allocation for the health special account is provided. Money from the lotteries goes into consolidated revenue and from there into the health special account and from there flows into the Health ministry. The balance of what is needed for the Health ministry flows from the consolidated revenue. It's a bit of an accounting entry. It doesn't result in any more money or any less money going into the health budget. It just indicates the accounting flow of those dollars. As I say, if lottery revenues are going up very slightly, it makes a slight difference to this account, but it clearly doesn't help as the big solution to our health care funding challenges.
B. Lekstrom: So that I'm clear on that, it is 50 percent of the revenues from the lotteries that would fall under this account. Had there been a 10 percent increase in lotteries revenue, we would see a 10 percent increase in the health special account — just so I'm clear. The minister nodded yes.
Noting the time, Mr. Chair, I would note that we recess until 6:35.
The Chair: The House stands recessed until 6:35.
The committee recessed from 5:59 p.m. to 6:40 p.m.
[R. Stewart in the chair.]
On vote 25 (continued).
B. Lekstrom: Just to continue on with my line of questioning as I had before we broke for dinner, a question to the minister. When we look at what's taking place in our health authorities and our reduction in the number right across this province, I've had many questions that have arisen from my constituents. I'm sure British Columbians would talk out there about the CEOs and the work they do. I think it's a huge, huge commitment they give of their time and effort and knowledge, but the other issue that comes forward is their rate of pay and the pay scales that people talk about. Can the minister tell me: is there a bonus tied to our CEOs from each health authority if they meet budget requirements or so on? I'd like the information on that.
Hon. C. Hansen: The pay scales for CEOs in the health authorities are set according to PSEC guidelines. There are some CEOs that do have, within that frame-
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work, performance bonuses that can be paid. I know there has been some media commentary about how CEOs are paid bonuses if they meet their budgets. It's much broader than budgets. It includes a whole…. Well, it depends on how that particular agreement between the health authority and the CEO has been structured. If they meet certain targets within the health authority, then some of them have some bonus provisions in there. Even at the end, even with the maximum bonus provisions, they all fall within the PSEC guidelines.
B. Lekstrom: My final question, I believe, this evening for the minister. When I look at seniors care, it's been an issue across the province, and I think we all agree that it's our job as government to make sure we have a quality of life for all British Columbians that's second to none. Many of the concerns I get that are raised by health care workers in my region, doctors and nurses that are working in our hospitals, are about the number of long-term care patients that take up beds. I mean, I've heard them referred to as bed-blockers, for instance, that should be in assisted living, complex care. We have advanced our technologies an incredible amount over the years so that surgery…. Somebody who may have been in a hospital bed for five days before may be there no more than a day today.
What plans or what tracking procedures do we utilize within our system to find out whether our transition for people that are in acute care beds to long-term or complex care or assisted-living beds is done in an orderly manner? Do we have a tracking system that's applied across the province?
Hon. C. Hansen: Yes, we do measure the number of beds. Actually, the term I think the member is looking for is alternate level care. We talk about the number of ALC bed-days — right? We do track the number of ALC bed-days by health authority in the province, and we have set targets for the health authorities in terms of bringing those particular rates down. It's one of the measures of capacity in the home and community care sector. It's not just about moving the patient from an acute care bed into long-term care. The question is moving the patient from acute care into appropriate care. In some cases it's back to the family home with appropriate home supports. Sometimes it's other types of care that may be required.
The number of ALC bed-days has come down in every single health authority. I think it's a real tribute to the health authorities that they've made some progress in this regard, but clearly we have a ways to go. It's not simply something that can happen overnight. We have to build capacity in the home and community care sector in order to bring the number of ALC bed-days down, and we also have to be able to resource the home and community care sector. Sometimes it's transferring dollars from the acute care budget that goes to fund ALC bed-days over to the home and community care, which is the more appropriate setting for those particular individuals.
B. Lekstrom: This will be my final question. I know I said that last time, but I just want to go back to something I initially questioned the minister on. That was the issue of our travel assistance program — something I forgot to touch on.
Coming from Peace River South, where we're moments from the Alberta border, much of our care is delivered…. We go to Vancouver, for instance, but many times we will go to Edmonton for care. Would this travel assistance program be applied when residents, whether it be of Peace River South, Peace River North or anywhere in the province…? If they had to travel outside the province, would that travel assistance fund be applied equally to that as well?
Hon. C. Hansen: This does sort of bridge us back to before the dinner break when the member asked about the program. I did want to reassure the member: yes, there are dollars in this budget for the coming year to make sure that the travel assistance program is up and running in this new fiscal year starting April 1. The money is in the budget. I know that was a question just before we broke.
As I mentioned earlier, we are still in the process of trying to design this particular program. One of the principles that we want to follow is that this needs to be fair to all residents of northern and remote communities in the province. Certainly, the fact that many residents of the Peace River who rely on access to care in, say, Edmonton because it is closer to a tertiary hospital…. In that case, we do want to make sure that fairness is reflected. I don't know exactly how it's going to manifest itself at this point, but I certainly take the member's interest, and we will follow through on that.
B. Lekstrom: Holding true to my word, I have no further questions. I just want to thank the minister for the answers that he put forward on behalf of the constituents of Peace River South, who actually come to me day in and day out with different questions regarding different issues, and it's my job to bring those forward. I thank you for your answers.
J. MacPhail: I first seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, sitting in the gallery tonight joining us is a young woman named Pegah Ahani-Masooleh. She is joining us next week for her work experience, grade 12. She attends Vic High here in the South Island, and she will be with us all next week and will be sitting there tonight watching estimates. Would the House please make her welcome.
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J. MacPhail: I know the Minister of Labour is concerned about my birthday, but that was 48 hours ago. So, correct. That's correct.
I actually want to talk about compensation for executives as well. There was an interesting comment, a viewpoint by Valerie Wilson, a reporter at the Nanaimo Daily News. It was February 4 of this year, which would have been at the height of the doctors' dispute. She lists some compensation fees for the Vancouver Island health authority. I'm just going to read those into the record, but what I want to do is examine compensation for executives in the context of the Health minister's claim. It was then the Health Planning minister's claim that there would be about $30 million annually in savings with the new regionalization model.
Here is what's reported in the Nanaimo Daily News: "The Vancouver Island health authority's top eight administrators earn a combined total income of $1,544,198 annually. Salaries range from $269,451 for Rick Roger, Vancouver Island health authority CEO, to $216,000 each for Glen Lowther, chief medical officer, and Marilyn Rook, chief operating officer, to $170,000 annually for Chuck Rowe, Vancouver Island health authority's executive director for Nanaimo and Central Island."
That's in excess of $1.5 million, I would assume, just for the executive of Vancouver Island health authority. Could the minister put in context: what are the total administrative charges for all six health authorities on an annual basis?
Hon. C. Hansen: I think just to talk about the Vancouver Island health authority in that context, we're talking about a $1 billion organization. If you start comparing that to a private sector model, for example, that is a huge responsibility for this executive team.
I don't have a breakout specifically for executive costs. In terms of the administrative and support expenditures…. As one of the performance measures for the health authorities, we said that they should achieve administrative and support savings of a minimum of 7 percent by '04-05. That would be going from a total of…. I should define what that includes. The administrative and support sector would include human resources, communications, materiels management, housekeeping, laundry, food services, plant administration, security, plant maintenance, health records and finance. I know this is probably broader than the member is looking for, but it's the one breakdown I have — what we call administrative and support services. The target was to go from $1.387 billion in '01-02 to $1.290 billion in '04-05. That would be a reduction of 7 percent or a total targeted reduction of $97 million. That is the one number I have at my fingertips right now.
J. MacPhail: Yes, and I want to know how you're progressing on that.
Also, it is interesting that the government who says they were going to save $30 million on administration then lumps in housekeeping, laundry, security. That's not administration. Those services are required in order to provide patient care.
Why does the minister not have a breakout of just straight administration costs? I remember when the then Minister of Health Planning announced the regional model, she said that there was going to be $30 million in savings annually as a result of reduced administration costs. That doesn't include all of those ancillary services that are not direct patient care but are there to ensure proper patient care. When will we be able to find out if that $30 million has been achieved in administration costs?
Hon. C. Hansen: I take the member's point with regard to direct patient care and services that are there to support patient care, but let's not discredit those that work in administration. They are there to support patient care. In the performance measures, the reason that we have set this target for reductions in terms of administration and support services…. That's what is set out in the performance agreements with the health authorities. It is not just about saving 7 percent on the administrative costs. The target is to save 7 percent on administrative and support services so that those dollars can be redirected into the direct patient care that the member talks about.
When the former Minister of Health Planning was talking about the savings in administration, that's around the reduction from 52 health authorities in the province to six. In the past, when we had 52 health authorities, each of them had a CEO and an executive team that was there to support those administrative functions. The consolidation of those 52 health authorities into six health authorities is where we were able to realize the $30 million in savings.
J. MacPhail: I'm asking for proof of that. That's what I'm saying. If you use the model of Vancouver Island health authority, there has been no reduction in administration. If you go where the former community health councils were, there are now subgroups reporting to the overall Vancouver Island health authority. The minister may say there has been a reduction from 52 to six in terms of actual authorities, but is that represented in terms of administration? Certainly, on Vancouver Island the answer to that is no. Every single administrative job represented under the previous government's community health councils and regional health boards, of which there were two on Vancouver Island, is replicated in the current system.
I would like to know, if I could…. Let me ask this question: in terms of executive and corporate services, what was the budget prior to these regional health authorities being put in place, and what is now being spent on executive and corporate services? For instance, I don't think communications can be identified as a patient-support line item. I don't think the fact that this government made one regional health board for all of Vancouver Island and yet has sub-executives re-
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sponsible for the mid-Island and the North Island, where there were previously a regional health board and a community health council, is a reduction in corporate and executive services. How does the government explain, if indeed it has achieved, its $30 million reduction in administrative costs? Show me where the money isn't.
Hon. C. Hansen: I do not have that number, and I am told it's a number we would have to assemble from information we would have to get from the health authorities. If the member is interested in that, I can certainly undertake to do that. I can't give her a specific time as to when I would be able to provide that, but if she wants that, we can certainly try to assemble that specific information and get it to her as quickly as we can.
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, how can he possibly know whether he's saving $30 million annually on administrative costs if he doesn't have that information? Let's go through it health authority by health authority, then. I just quoted the numbers for, I would say, probably the executive team of the Vancouver Island health authority. What are the executive costs for the Vancouver coastal health authority for person and salary, including bonus? All compensation, please.
Hon. C. Hansen: I do not have that level of detail with me, but if the member's interested, we can try to solicit that from the health authorities and provide it to her in due course.
J. MacPhail: I'm just curious. Let me ask the minister this: was he not aware that these questions were going to be asked? I mean, under the generally accepted accounting principles now, all of this is included in the budget. There have been court cases on who has to answer questions about health authorities. Of course, this is very significant.
At the same time that the government is advertising like crazy about health ads — I just saw one before I came up here — and compensation and negotiations with doctors, why isn't this information available on a health authority basis? How long would it take? If we are — which we will be — back in estimates tomorrow, will the minister have it available at that time?
Hon. C. Hansen: Certainly, I don't mind answering any and every level of detail that the member would like. As we discussed last week with her colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, if I brought every single piece of information into the chamber regarding health authorities, there wouldn't be any room left to sit because of the amount of paper we would bring in.
I would certainly undertake to get that information for her. Because we would have to get it from each of the six health authorities, I may not be able to provide it for her as quickly as she might like it, but I'll certainly get it to her as quickly as we possibly can.
J. MacPhail: Let me ask this question, then: as a result of contracting out housekeeping, security, laundry and food services, how much of the 7 percent in savings is as a result of contracting out those services?
Hon. C. Hansen: The number I have as of January of this year is the most recent number, and the estimated annual saving is currently at $40 million.
J. MacPhail: Saving as compared to…. What was the bill beforehand?
Hon. C. Hansen: As I mentioned earlier, if we look at the total cost of administrative and support services in the health authorities, what we had in 2001-02 was a total cost of $1.387 billion, and the target for '04-05 is $1.29 billion. The $40 million saving becomes part of getting to the new target of the 7 percent reduction.
J. MacPhail: As a result, as of January '04, of contracting out services, we have now an administrative and support service budget of $1.347 billion as opposed to $1.387 billion. There's another — what? — about $90 million to go, is what I see. Wasn't it $1.29 billion that we were going to go down to? I'm sorry — so yeah, about another $50 million or $55 million. What is the figure left remaining?
Hon. C. Hansen: The 7 percent target would mean a reduction in the administrative and support costs of $97 million in total to reach that particular target. As I mentioned, so far to date on the service delivery activities of the health authorities, the contracting-out, we've achieved $40 million of that reduction as of January of this year.
J. MacPhail: Why is it that the minister knows how much he's saved on those services and not on administration or executive and corporate services?
Hon. C. Hansen: As I say, we bring many binders of material into the chamber to try to answer as many questions as possible that we can anticipate, and we obviously can't anticipate all of them. I will endeavour to get that information for the member.
J. MacPhail: All right. When he gets the executive compensation information, could he please get a breakdown between base salary, bonuses and expenses for the executive? That would be all non-union staff that I'm asking for — not just in the corner offices, but all non-union staff.
Which health authorities will be in a deficit at the end of March of this year?
Hon. C. Hansen: What we said to the health authorities is that over the two-year period of '02-03 and '03-04, they had to have a balanced budget. If they ran a surplus in the first of those fiscal years, they would be able to run a comparable deficit this year. What the
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health authorities did is budgeted for a deficit basically to offset the surplus they had last year. In fact, all of the health authorities budgeted for a deficit this year to balance off what their surplus was from the previous year, and that's what we anticipate will be the result.
J. MacPhail: Will any of the health authorities be in a deficit position at the end of the two-year period?
Hon. C. Hansen: I should actually correct what I said before. The Vancouver coastal health authority and the Vancouver Island health authority in fact budgeted for a balance at the end of this year. So far we anticipate that on their basic operations, all of the health authorities will not be in a deficit over the two-year period. There are some liabilities that may have to be incorporated for accounting reasons around the health benefits trust. It's not driven from their operational statements but rather from the accounting treatment of the health benefits trust. There may in fact be a notional deficit that may show up as a result of that accounting treatment.
J. MacPhail: I don't know what a notional deficit is. Under generally accepted accounting principles, a deficit is a deficit is a deficit. Let me just be very specific then. Could the minister go through each health authority and tell me what the bottom line is, including everything — all of their obligations — at the end of March 31, '04?
Hon. C. Hansen: I cannot give the member that information, because we're not yet at March 31. But in terms of what was budgeted for this fiscal year that we're currently in, Fraser health authority had budgeted for a deficit of $10 million; interior health authority, $45.8 million; northern health authority, $3.8 million. Vancouver coastal and Vancouver Island, as I'd indicated earlier, had budgeted for a balanced budget. Provincial health services authority had budgeted for a $10.3 million deficit.
J. MacPhail: I'm sorry. Four of the six are in a deficit position?
Hon. C. Hansen: Four of the six budgeted for a deficit position within this fiscal year, and that is offset by their surpluses that they would have had, because we said to the health authorities, given where we were at in the transition to generally accepted accounting principles, they could actually carry forward any surplus — or deficit, for that matter — from the first year into the second year. As it turned out, all of the health authorities in fact had surpluses from that first year. Instead of trying to spend it all in that one year, they were able to spread it out over the two years in order to get the best value for patients.
J. MacPhail: Okay, let me try a different angle here. Has any health authority come to the Ministry of Health and said: "We anticipate being in a deficit position at the end of '03-04, across the two years"?
Hon. C. Hansen: We won't be able to finalize that until we get to the end of the fiscal year. So, yes, we have some projections. I think most of the health authorities are actually expecting to be in either a balanced or a very small surplus position. I guess when you get that fine a line on billion-dollar budgets…. I think when all the numbers are in, there's certainly the potential it could go one way or the other. They're certainly not budgeting for big surpluses, because we want to make sure that those dollars get spent meeting the needs of patients. They are budgeting very close to what they anticipate will be their balance or very small surpluses.
J. MacPhail: What happens to health authorities who are in deficit at the end of this fiscal year, a deficit over the two previous years? What happens to them?
I don't think it comes as any surprise to the minister that the Vancouver Island health authority announced this weekend that it may have a $14 million deficit at the end of this fiscal year, after the two-year period. What happens to them?
Hon. C. Hansen: We're certainly trying to work with all the health authorities to make sure they do come in on budget. If by chance one of the health authorities doesn't meet that goal, there are not consequences that wind up in the residents of that particular health authority being punished in some way. When we see a health authority that is potentially running a deficit, we want to work with that health authority. There may be a bit more involvement between the ministry and that health authority to try to get that expenditure rate down so that it is sustainable. It's really a case of where we do…. If there are challenges, we will work more closely with them to try to get the expenditure level down so that we do bring future budgets in on budget.
J. MacPhail: Well, Mr. Chair, the reason why I'm asking it is because this minister and the Premier went out and announced $20 million for reducing wait-lists for surgery. That money goes right to regional health authorities, I assume — or does it go into the doctors' pockets? But where did that money come from?
We'll be getting into way more detail on that. At the same time that the government announced 20 million bucks for reducing wait times and wait-lists for surgery, which is good news, the Vancouver Island health authority is speculating on a $14 million deficit. Where did that money come from? Was it part of the '03-04 "found" money? How is it new money is what I want to know.
Hon. C. Hansen: To put it in context, that $20 million that we were able to save through a variety of measures to allocate to these year-end initiatives amounts to about 1/500 of the overall budget for this ministry. What we had done, which we do every year,
[ Page 9202 ]
is the prudent thing: put moneys aside for contingency challenges that the ministry may be faced with. As we get closer to the end of the year and we realize that the money can be freed up for specific purposes, then we obviously want it to go into direct patient care.
The other thing is that across the ministry, we've tried to drive our administrative costs down. Again, every penny saved is money that could be spent on direct patient services, so as we start getting closer to the end of the fiscal year, we realize we can actually afford to allocate that as the possibility of unforeseen challenges diminishes. This is money that we have been able to allocate, and our goal is to make sure that in the balance of the fiscal year, every dollar saved is a dollar that gets to go towards direct patient care.
J. MacPhail: So is the $20 million out of the '03-04 budget?
Hon. C. Hansen: That's correct. I know the member is probably looking at her calendar, realizing that today is March 8 and that there are only three weeks left in the fiscal year. We did start working with the health authorities several weeks ago in anticipation of this, so they've been able to design some service delivery that will actually make a meaningful difference to individual patients.
J. MacPhail: Well, thank you for that information. What I'm curious about is that the minister can't tell me what the administrative savings are for the health authorities, because the fiscal year hasn't ended. He can't tell me whether the health authorities are going to be in deficit, because the fiscal year hasn't ended. Yet he happened to come up with 20 million bucks for surgeries on the same day that the BCMA was doing a big ad blitz.
I have no idea where this money is coming from; nor does the taxpayer. They have no idea. The minister starts off by saying: "I can't give you any information about executive compensation, how it's been reduced, because the books haven't been closed off. I can't give you any information about administrative costs, because the books haven't been closed off. I can't tell you what will happen if health authorities are in deficit, because the books haven't been closed off. But by the way, we found $20 million for surgeries at the same time that the BCMA was mounting a campaign about wait times and wait-lists for surgical procedures."
What line in the blue book does this come out of — the $20 million?
Hon. C. Hansen: The rollout of this $20 million is something that's been in the works for many weeks now, as we've been able to determine where some of these savings would be materializing. I know the member thinks it was somehow related to the BCMA ad. That is not the case. This is actually an initiative that was designed long before last Thursday or Friday, when the first BCMA ad appeared.
To answer her specific question, this would actually fall in the line item that is known as the regional health sector, and it flows from the contingency funds that were put aside and were not utilized. In fact, if you go back to the budget documents and the budget speech, this particular allocation was noted then. If you go into the budget report — I believe it was page 118 — you will find the specific breakdown of the surplus moneys, which is set out in the budget documents that were tabled on February 17.
J. MacPhail: Well, what I did know was that the third quarter report…. It showed the Ministry of Health budget exactly on budget — exactly. So perhaps the minister could read into the record page 118 of the budget documents.
Hon. C. Hansen: I did read this for the colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant last week, but I'd be pleased to read it again.
What it says is under Ministry of Health, and these are the surplus dollars being allocated in the current fiscal year. It says there is actually a total of $31 million that is being allocated. There is a grant to LegaciesNow — Action Schools — of $1 million. The reimbursement of SARS costs to the health authorities totals $2 million. The next is the key one: additional funding to health authorities to address wait-lists and other priorities, $20 million. The Michael Smith Foundation grant to promote and enhance research is $8 million. That appears on page 118 of the document titled Budget and Fiscal Plan 2004/05-2006/07 that was tabled and is on the Ministry of Finance website as of February 18.
J. MacPhail: Well, how is it that the Finance minister, then, could allocate that money before the budgets are closed? How is it that Vancouver Island health authority is talking about a $14 million deficit when there are these extra moneys to be spent?
Hon. C. Hansen: Again, as I think we went through with the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, there are allocations based on the regional health budget. That is a line item in the budget. A portion of that is allocated to all of the health authorities based on our population needs–based funding formula. All of the health authorities get their fair share of that allocation based on that formula, and they are expected to manage their affairs within that budget allocation.
We have also put aside a very small amount of money for contingencies, to deal with the unforeseen. Yes, if you go to the third quarter, that money is still deemed to be allocated because it is part of a contingency line. As you get closer to the end of the fiscal year — in fact, when you get to the end of the fiscal year — you realize that the contingencies budget may not have to be used for the unforeseen and therefore can be allocated for these specific purposes. That's exactly what's happened in this case.
J. MacPhail: If the Vancouver Island health authority's prediction of a $14 million deficit is true, and they
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got $3.419 million out of this allocation of money for wait-lists, then that means they'll still have a deficit of about $10 million. Now, they're predicting that. It's not me predicting that, Mr. Chair; it's the Vancouver Island health authority predicting that. The minister has allocated this money, and yet there's still a potential for a deficit. So really, isn't it a zero-sum game?
Hon. C. Hansen: As we were discussing the response, I must confess that I forgot to write down the member's exact question, so I apologize if I'm not responding to her specific question. Hopefully, I am.
In terms of these new allocations to the health authorities, we do expect them to deliver on direct patient care. Now, in some of the health authorities, part of the pressure that they may have is the fact that there is increased demand for particular services, which this allocation may help provide for. Generally speaking, this new allocation has to go directly into patient care, but if it's actually that delivery of patient care that is funding their year-end projections — whether it's plus or minus — then, in fact, some of this allocation may go to providing that additional care that's required. We do have accountabilities with each of the health authorities to make sure their share of this $20 million actually does provide real care.
J. MacPhail: Well, I predict this notional allocation of $20 million from a contingency fund out of '03-04 will, at best, alleviate part of the deficits that the regional health authorities — at least one, perhaps three — will be experiencing.
I asked the minister what line item this goes to, and he said the regional health authorities. That doesn't cover MSP. How does MSP funding for performing these surgeries get covered?
Hon. C. Hansen: The actual billing that the physician would have in providing those services gets billed into the MSP budget, and that's where it will show up. The increased number of surgeries that get done between when this started with the health authorities and the end of the fiscal year…. The physician billings that would result from that will, in fact, flow from the MSP budget.
J. MacPhail: The government was very specific in listing the surgeries, so how much extra will be billed to the MSP budget?
Hon. C. Hansen: Our main intention was to try to get this money rolled out with some certainty for the health authorities so that they could get on with that job of notifying patients who are perhaps on wait-lists that their surgery times may get bumped up. A lot of work was done with the health authorities around the costing side of that. Obviously, these additional costs for physician services will flow into the MSP budget. We are in the process now of determining exactly what the dollar value of that will be, but that will in fact manifest itself as part of the MSP expenditures for the year.
J. MacPhail: The announcement was very specific. I know that the minister said last week he doesn't like to micromanage, but it was very specific. It said: "The one-time funding for more surgeries and procedures includes funding for an additional 80 open-heart surgeries, more than 400 hip and knee surgeries, more than 3,600 diagnostic procedures, more than 500 cataract procedures, 20 deep-brain stimulation procedures." I assume those are all additional surgeries for the $20 million. It's only the heart surgeries that are listed as additional, but I suppose that's just language and that they're all extra surgeries. Wouldn't the minister, through proper funding — budget funding, knowing that this is extra money — know how much the MSP will be billed for that? Where is the MSP budget at? Has it got a surplus in it now, too, that allows them to pay for these surgeries?
Hon. C. Hansen: Prior to this announcement we were projecting a very small surplus in the MSP budget, and clearly this adds some additional costs. Finance officials at the ministry are now determining exactly the impact this will have on the MSP budget, but we are confident that it will be managed within the budget allocation for the direct ministry operations.
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, if there's money in the MSP budget — which I'm not sure that's exactly what the minister said — and there's money in the health authority budgets for this, why is it only coming out now? Why was this not part of the '03-04 plan to not allow wait-lists and wait times to balloon by 25 percent? I don't understand it — making patients wait to have their surgeries when they've had to wait 20 to 25 percent longer for the surgery. Why is the timing of this so suspicious, when the minister is saying this was available all along?
Hon. C. Hansen: I think in past years, when there was really no financial management within the health sector, you wound up every year with the Health ministry coming back to government for special warrants. That's no way to run a health care system. We have tried to make sure we bring some financial rigour so that we can actually drive costs down in various elements, trying to get administrative and support costs down so that dollars can be freed up for direct patient care. Now that we've brought that kind of financial rigour into the health sector, we start to see the benefits of it, and this is right before you.
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
The increase in the number of surgeries that the member described. The fact of the matter is that we have increased the number of procedures that are done. We've increased the number of hip replacements
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done. We've increased the number of knee replacements. We've increased the number of cardiac surgeries that are done in the province, and even then we recognize there are still people on wait-lists, because the demands continue to grow.
Here it is towards the end of the fiscal year. Because of the financial discipline, because of the money that we have saved in support and administration costs and other financial discipline, we now can identify another $20 million that we can put into that. So rather than having that eclipse at the end of the year, we would like to make sure that it goes to patient care. Could we have said at the start of the fiscal year that, well, we don't need this contingency?
You know, if you start looking at some of the challenges we've had for the contingency budget, in terms of SARS, BSE, drinking water challenges, vaccination…. All of those things could have been much greater. If we'd had the same challenges in B.C. as Toronto had with regard to SARS, clearly our contingency budgets would have been blown long ago. But the fact of the matter is that we were able to manage the unforeseen. We were prudent and put some money aside just in case those unforeseen challenges were greater. The fact of the matter is that we still have some money left in the contingency budget, and we're allocating it. We want it to go to make sure that patients get the care they need, and it's good news.
J. MacPhail: Oh, that all sounds so wonderful. Here's the problem with it, though. Wait-lists and wait times have ballooned by 25 percent under this government — 25 percent — and the government likes to say: "Oh, but isn't our fiscal management so wonderful."
Well, what previous governments did was that they actually didn't give away money in the form of tax breaks. When health care dollars were needed to reduce wait-lists, they actually invested it in wait-lists as opposed to tax breaks for the rich. They still balanced the budget. They still balanced the budget, unlike this government. I don't think there's any opportunity for this government to stand up, under their current circumstances, and say what good fiscal managers they are.
Here's what this government did. They kept money from people who needed surgery; they kept money from the health authorities; they forced health authorities to cut their budgets — like the Vancouver Island health authority had to cut their budget by 42 million bucks. When they're in political hot water by expanding, growing wait-lists and when the Minister of Health is saying something different than the Premier, then they come up with $20 million. But it isn't a new 20 million bucks, Mr. Chair. It's coming from other sources.
I predict — and I can hardly wait for the minister to set a new bar for himself — that the health authorities will have deficits which are of a cumulative total greater than $20 million. So this $20 million will mean nothing — absolutely nothing — in the zero-sum game, because this government doesn't see health care as a priority.
They stand up, and they talk about all the money they put in. They're not putting money in at a rate any faster than any other jurisdiction in a publicly funded health care system across the country. They're way behind Alberta in the amount of money they're putting into the health care system at an expanding rate. They're behind Manitoba. They're behind Ontario. They're behind Quebec in the increase in funding that they're putting into the publicly funded health care system. Why is that? Because the pressures are greater, and people want good health care.
Nice little announcement. It was completely timed for political reasons around the BCMA negotiations.
How much, if the government knows…? It's funny how they now know what their extra money will be. They can't tell me in any other area what the extra money will be. If this is all extra money, what will the MSP budget be after these surgeries are performed in relation to the blue book estimate for '03-04?
Hon. C. Hansen: To give the short answer to the member's specific question, we anticipate that the MSP budget will be balanced according to the amount that was included in the blue books from last year.
I do want to go back to some of the comments the member made earlier. I remember very much a discussion that I had with the deputy minister of the day shortly after I became Minister of Health Services in 2001. They were looking at the cost projections within the ministry. The member will know that that was in June of 2001, so we were barely two months into the fiscal year, and already the ministry…. The week that I was sworn in with this responsibility, the ministry was already projecting a $580 million cost overrun in that ministry. I was also told that of the 52 health authorities in the province, many of them would not be able to provide financial statements that were nine months out of date.
You know, that's simply not acceptable in terms of running a health care system. How can you manage down your administrative and support costs and make sure dollars get focused in on patient care? The member talks about their track record as government. Well, their track record as government in the health sector saw the cost of support services go to record highs. We saw increases in wage rates alone — never mind the benefits side of it — in the support sector that put what we were paying in B.C. 30 percent higher than the Canadian average. We were paying wages for support workers in the health sector that were 20 percent higher than the next-closest province.
Now, every one of those dollars is a dollar that was not going in to provide patient care. We have brought some rigour to that. We have actually brought some financial discipline to the health sector that allows us to drive down the cost of support services in the health sector so that we can get the best value for quality service. The quality is underscored and built into new
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contracts. Every one of those dollars that we save is a dollar that gets focused in on direct patient care.
I talked earlier about the contracting-out initiatives. Already, as of January of this year, we're saving $40 million a year. As the member knows, there are other initiatives that have taken place since January. That $40 million a year is money that gets spent on patient care.
The result of that? Last year we increased the number of surgeries in this province by 38,000 over the number of surgeries that had been done before. Last year we performed 14 percent more hip replacements in this province compared to the year before. We increased the number of knee replacements by 11.2 percent. We increased the number of heart surgeries that were done in this province.
We are doing more because we're able to focus more dollars. When we can free up dollars in the administrative side…. Whether it's the health authorities themselves or whether it's the administrative side of the direct ministry operations, those are dollars that can go into patient care. That's how we've been able to identify this $20 million that is being allocated to the health authorities, and they're going to be able to translate that into even more delivery of direct services to patients so that we can make sure people get care that they're waiting for.
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, these are all old arguments, and that just proves how this government hasn't moved confidence in the health care system along at all. In fact, this government's approval rating is at an all-time low for health care services in this province, an all-time low amongst British Columbians. "What do you think of the management of the health care system?" — all-time-high disapproval rating under the B.C. Liberal government.
Maybe that's because they're managing it like a corporation, paying big bucks to the highest, the executives, the doctors in management positions, their friends on the boards — big bucks — and their savings are all coming out of the health care aides, the laundry workers, the housekeeping workers, who earn between $30,000 and $60,000. Yeah, that's who they attack.
That's true. I concede it. They have saved $40 million in taking money out of the wage package of the lowest-paid workers in the health care system, the very people who this year are paying more in taxes than they paid last year. The groups earning from $30,000 to $60,000 this year are paying more taxes as a result of this provincial government than they did last year, and they're earning less wages.
Oh, I fully concede that when I visited my friend in the hospital and those housekeeping services were contracted out, and the woman was making $9 an hour as opposed to the $16 an hour — not her, because they wouldn't rehire her — her counterpart, the previous worker in that job was making…. Yeah, I totally concede that this government has made those savings amongst those lowest-paid workers. I bet you they feel great about it.
The workers are making less, and this government is taking more taxes out of that group as well. Isn't that great? That's a really good economic-driver kind of policy, isn't it? I bet you those shoe stores in Prince Rupert or Nelson feel great that there are more workers paying more taxes and earning less money. I bet you the Subway shop in Surrey feels great about that. But my gosh, this government has saved $40 million out of the pay packets of the lowest-paid. They say that's not direct patient service. Really. This minister said that the savings had nothing to do with direct patient services; they're putting it into direct patient care.
Then let me ask another question. To do all these surgeries, how many extra nursing hours are required, and where are they coming from?
Hon. C. Hansen: For anybody that's following the debate, I do want to point out a correction or at least another perspective on what the member said about taxes.
What those workers should be doing is looking at what the taxes are they're paying today versus the taxes they were paying when she was the Finance minister in this province. If they go back to the budget report from 2001 when she brought in her budget, and if they then look at what they would be paying as taxes under her budget in 2001 and compare that to what they'd be paying under this latest budget, they will be seeing that they're actually doing a lot better than they were in 2001 when she was the Finance minister in this province.
To answer her specific question about nursing staff, the allocation to the health authorities out of the $20 million would include the coverage for the nursing staff.
J. MacPhail: Okay, tell me: where are you getting it from? The nurses aren't there. Is it overtime? Are they hiring new nurses, Mr. Chair? I find it hilarious — this government that says time was frozen in 2001 and nothing would have changed under any previous government, but this government has done a good job because they've moved minusculely from the way things were in 2001.
No wonder the polls are so bad for this government — that the best they can claim is that they stood still. By the way, a family earning $30,000 to $60,000 is way worse off under this government than the previous government. Just ask someone who has to send their child to college or university. Just ask them that. I'm being inundated with family members now who can't afford to send their grade 12 child to college and university because this government has said: "If you want to send your child to college or university, it's all got to come out of your own pocket or increase debt." They don't feel like they're much better off, Mr. Chair.
The nurses, as I understand it…. Let's just see what the latest reports are on nurses. As of January 2004 there were about 150 fewer nurse FTEs in the province. How is the minister suggesting somehow that there
[ Page 9206 ]
were going to be nurses to do this? Sorry, the total net loss of nurses is 54 — total loss. Where are the nurses going to come from?
Hon. C. Hansen: If you look at the stats in terms of the number of practising nurses in the province and compare December of 2001 to December of 2003, there is a net increase of 634.
J. MacPhail: How many FTEs?
Hon. C. Hansen: The other day, with her colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, I know that we had a lot of the nursing stats here. We don't have that specific information here at this time, but if the member would like that breakdown, I can endeavour to get it to her.
J. MacPhail: Given the fact that about half of nurses work casual in this province, it's important. Saying the number of bodies is irrelevant to the number of full-time positions, absolutely irrelevant. It looks like — oh, I'm sorry — only 40 percent of registered nurses have regular full-time jobs. That would be an FTE, meaning one body equals one FTE — only about 40 percent. These 671 more nurses could be absolutely meaningless. Is the minister saying that with this extra $20 million, there's operating room time available, operating nurse time available, post-operative care nurse time available right now?
Hon. C. Hansen: What I do have before me is some data from 2002, which shows that 51.8 percent of registered nurses worked in full-time positions, 32.1 percent worked in part-time positions and 16.1 percent were working in casual positions. This compares to 2001 data, as follows: full-time, 50.7 percent; part-time, 32.2 percent; and casual, 18.1 percent. Between those two years, the percentage of casuals dropped, and the percentage of full-timers increased. The percentage of part-time permanent positions went up very, very slightly during that period of time.
In terms of this $20 million of additional money that's going to the health authorities for wait-lists, we have certainly worked with the health authorities in terms of what the capacity is to make sure that was manageable. Part of that capacity is anticipating the need for nursing staff to provide nursing support for those surgeries.
J. MacPhail: Why is it that the minister has all of those stats to counteract mine when I come up with my own stats, but he can't tell me what the 671 additional people practising nursing converts to in terms of full-time-equivalents? How is it that he has this very specific availability of statistics except for the questions that I want answered?
Hon. C. Hansen: As I mentioned earlier, we bring in binders of material to try to anticipate the member's questions. If the member would like to provide me with a list of all her questions she's going to ask tomorrow, we will endeavour to have the material for her. But when we come into the chamber and have no idea, and the whole array of $10.7 billion worth of health spending, of which $10.4 billion is in this ministry…. We actually come pretty well prepared to try to answer as many questions as possible. I can only apologize to the member if I'm not a mind reader before we come in here.
J. MacPhail: Sorry — not acceptable. The fact that he can list the number of statistics to say who works full-time, who is regular part-time and who is casual means that he can only glean those statistics from knowing how many full-time-equivalents there are. There's no other way of gleaning those statistics. He stands up and tries to challenge the number of full-time versus part-time versus casual, and the only way they can be calculated is on a statistic of full-time-equivalents. That's balderdash about not being prepared and not being able to mind-read.
Hon. C. Hansen: The member may well be right that the source of these statistics is from data that would also show the same thing or show FTE equivalents. I don't have that in the chamber at this time. I offered to get that information for the member, if she would like to have it. I just don't have it at my fingertips. Sure, we've got all kinds of data, and I'd be willing to provide answers to any of the member's specific questions.
G. Hogg: I've had a number of contacts in my constituency office with respect to the issues as they apply to Peace Arch District Hospital. Because of the demographics of the Surrey–White Rock riding, there are long wait-lists with respect to joint replacement surgery in particular. I know the ministry has been working at and developing strategies in terms of trying to deal with the number of procedures and ways of reducing the overall impact that is having, yet we continue to get a number of phone calls in our constituency office with respect to that.
I wonder if the minister could talk about the strategies around joint replacement particularly and, if he can, be specific enough to make reference to how that is being applied within the Fraser region and Peace Arch Hospital.
Hon. C. Hansen: First of all, as I think I noted earlier, we have significantly increased the number of hip and knee replacements being done provincewide, so there is increased capacity in the system. Actually, it's part of the whole rollout of redesign. How do you make sure that surgeries get provided in the most appropriate location so that you can get the efficiencies that allow you to provide for the maximum number of procedures? We have seen an increase, as I mentioned earlier.
Right now the various health authorities are undergoing surgical reviews, and certainly Fraser health au-
[ Page 9207 ]
thority, on what the member asked about, is not an exception to that. We are trying to find new ways of setting priorities of access for individuals who may be on a wait-list for an elective joint replacement. I think one of our challenges there is that there are no standard protocols around when a patient should be added to wait-lists.
One orthopedic surgeon may put a patient on a wait-list in anticipation of a future need. In fact, if that surgical operating room time were to come available the next week, that particular surgeon may not use it for that patient, because the patient isn't at a position yet where replacement would be required. We are trying to bring some better definitions and some better protocols to that.
We are also working with organizations such as the Arthritis Society. We're working with them now on trying to find better ways of managing wait-lists for joint replacement. We also have been doing a lot of work around fall prevention, because it is often a fall and a fractured hip that can lead to the necessity of a joint replacement. There's a very excellent report that the provincial health officer recently put out around how to ensure that we have better fall-prevention programs around the province. I think that gives the member a few ideas of some of the initiatives we're undertaking to try to manage this increasing demand for joint replacement.
G. Hogg: If I understand the minister correctly and the history as I understand it, there are a number of orthopedic surgeons who work in various areas of the province. I think there are three in the Peace Arch Hospital, to be specific. They get a number of surgical days to do the number of procedures they have. As we work through the course of the year, the amount of funding allocated to those procedures gets eaten up, but the allocation is based on some type of demographic analysis that's looking at need. I was trying to interpret from what the minister was saying with respect to that.
If I could get some sense of how that allocation takes place…. I'm assuming that in an area where there is a predominance of seniors, there would be higher need than there would be in some other parts of the province. The minister made reference to the strategies being developed, so if I could get some sense of how those strategies are evolving…. What are the criteria and/or principles utilized in making a decision with respect to how much money would be allocated to which jurisdiction or to which hospital with respect to those — the criteria, in fact, used to get to that?
If you take the global budget, how is that dispersed to a region? Then how does the region make some decisions with respect to how they allocate it to a specific hospital and, from there, to specific orthopedic surgeons?
Hon. C. Hansen: First of all, generally speaking, the allocations to the health authorities are not as specific as to say that we're going to fund so many hip replacements. What we do, based on our population needs–based funding formula, is allocate the global budget to the health authorities. That is the population needs–based funding formula that does reflect demographics. A health authority that has an older population would, in fact, get more under that funding formula than another health authority with a much younger population, so it is sensitive to the age demographics.
We don't then say to the health authorities that they must do a specific number of procedures in any particular area. They have to determine what the needs of their population are and allocate their budget in a way that ensures that those needs get met. Health authorities have been looking at new ways of getting the best value for the dollars, to get as many procedures as possible with available financial resources. We've seen some of the consolidations take place around certain hospitals that are obviously very controversial in some communities, but the end result is that you do get an environment where the surgeons can get better throughput of patients with available resources.
Also, you find that some particular hospitals are trying to free up operating room time by shifting some procedures that can be done in an environment other than an operating room — for example, a breast biopsy that can be done in a procedure room or a clinical setting rather than in an operating room. If those services can be shifted to free up operating room time, then that's a good initiative. As I understand it, Peace Arch Hospital has actually been one of the leaders in that regard. That, generally speaking, is how those determinations are made.
The latest example we saw of this $20 million allocation is a bit of an exception to that, where we do have a specific amount of money and we want to target specific procedures. Even then, we have done that in cooperation with the health authorities and what their capacity would be to deliver on those specific procedures in the balance of this year.
G. Hogg: That sort of gives me a sense from a global to a more specific perspective with respect to that.
There have been some people who have come into my office in particular, and there have been responses from some of the physicians in the area. Their simplistic take on it is that there are open operating theatres at the Peace Arch Hospital, that there isn't money to use them and that they have free time. They would like to be able to use them, so they're suggesting that there isn't the funding within the global amount which the minister has referred to in order to do that.
If I try to interpret what the minister is saying with respect to this, I'm assuming that yes, there may be some vacancies in operating rooms and there may be some orthopedic surgeons — some who have long lists, some who have shorter lists — who want to be able to do that. But because of the envelope of funding allocated, they are not able to do those procedures until there is the funding matched to allow those procedures
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to come together. If there is a vacant operating venue and there is an orthopedic surgeon wanting to do that, but there isn't funding within the scope of the allocation, then those procedures do not take place until they move down the waiting list for the orthopedic surgeon. Am I interpreting that correctly?
Hon. C. Hansen: It really is a question of balance that the health authorities have to look for — that there is absolutely no shortage of areas in any health authority where money can be spent. They clearly try to get the best value. They try to stretch those dollars as far as they can. Just because there is an operating room that is not being used at any particular time doesn't mean you've got the operating dollars to keep that particular operating room functioning during that time.
The challenge for the health authorities is how to allocate that global budget in a way that's going to best meet the needs of their populations. They have to look at the priorities of primary care renewal. They've got to look at the priorities of the urgent and emergency needs of patients. I think we do a very good job in this province of being able to meet those urgent and emergency needs.
When it comes to elective surgeries, clearly that is a bigger challenge. I think that through the initiatives we've taken to redesign health care, we in fact are being able to direct more dollars into meeting those needs around elective surgeries, but as is obvious, I think we still have a way to go.
G. Hogg: Again, then, if I understand it correctly, the demographics we talked about, the principles upon which those decisions are made…. There's a global budget that's allocated to the region. Then the regional health authority has a responsibility for allocating that, breaking it out in terms of the number of needs that exist and then allocating to the hospitals or the operating venues and the surgeons the amount of money — whatever formula they apply to it. They allocate it to, in this instance, Peace Arch Hospital to carry out the number of procedures, trying to balance that around how we best address the health care needs of the catchment for Peace Arch Hospital.
Is that a fair interpretation? We take it from the global sense of where we go. We give the global budget to the region. The region does this allocation and makes an allocation from within that to each of the areas, and that's based on this formula and set of principles that they apply around need.
Hon. C. Hansen: Generally speaking, yes.
G. Hogg: I had the good fortune of meeting with — running into; I'm sure it wasn't a meeting — the chair of the Fraser health authority on Friday. He said he was going to be meeting with the minister at some time subsequent to that. He mentioned that he had very good news with respect to the budget planning process for the Fraser health authority and that they were actually going to be able to guarantee — I think he said "guarantee," but that may be too strong a word — that they had their budget plan fully in place, that they were going to have a balanced budget and that that balanced budget meant good things for the Fraser health authority and good things for the province generally.
It also meant that as we go into the future, there are going to be more options available because of being able to manage. Instead of a crisis model of management, the planning model they had in place was very proactive, was very positive and was going to allow us to look at new ways and new procedures for the planning that the minister is reflecting.
Could the minister please talk to me generally about what that means in terms of the great confidence and joy with which the chair spoke of that and what that means for the Fraser health authority and indeed for the province generally?
Hon. C. Hansen: I think it is obviously good news for residents of the Fraser Valley that they're starting to see that kind of stability coming into delivery of health services in that region. There were certainly some big challenges there. You wound up with some very rapidly growing communities. The three health authorities that were in place before — South Fraser, Fraser Valley and the Simon Fraser health authorities — when they were amalgamated into what is now the Fraser health authority, brought with them those challenges. I think the population needs–based funding formula has been very good news for the Fraser health authority, because it has allowed their global funding to reflect their population growth so that they've been able to meet some of those challenges in a better way.
I think all of the health authorities have gone through this transitioning — the whole redesign initiative that has allowed them to better structure what facilities various health services should be providing. That has been able to put in place a system that can be better managed and can bring the financial discipline that makes sure dollars get focused on patient care.
The encouraging words from the chair, I think, are good news for the residents of the Fraser health authority.
G. Hogg: I have a letter from a constituent that I think is pretty typical of a number of letters. This one in particular comes from a group that live in a strata building in the White Rock area. This is a gentleman by the name of Ron MacDonald, who is 71 years of age and on a fixed income. He's talking about his plans for his retirement and saying that the B.C. medical insurance for him was $744 a year, and it went up to $1,152 — a 55 percent increase. His Pharmacare went from $315 a year to $950 a year — a 301 percent increase. He and a number of the seniors that live in his strata building have seen the same type of impact on their fixed income.
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I know that as a government we've been trying to develop stability and talking about how we're going to get into longevity and long-term stability and sustainability of the health care system. These individuals are not seeing that within the context of their daily experience. All of us start to interpret the world based on our personal experiences. Clearly, Mr. Macdonald, his wife and a number who live in that strata building are not seeing it in the same way.
Can the minister please provide — if we take that from the micro to the macro and look at the impact of those changes and how they look — some sense of sustainability? How do we give someone like Mr. Macdonald some sense of hope with respect to the changes that have taken place and what that means for the future of health care in our province as these types of changes take place?
Hon. C. Hansen: I think as we rolled out some of these changes, we tried to be particularly sensitive to low-income individuals generally but low-income seniors specifically. If you look at the MSP changes, while the rates did go up as a result of the decision from whenever that was — I guess it's two-plus years ago now — we also increased premium assistance. In fact, there were about 120,000 British Columbians who saw their MSP rates come down because of the increased assistance that was there.
In the case of Pharmacare, 82 percent of seniors saw their Pharmacare financial assistance stay the same or in fact increase under the new model. Yes, in terms of higher-income seniors, they may have seen some increase in what their Pharmacare deductibles would be, but that would only apply to seniors who were well above the average median income of seniors in the province.
G. Hogg: Taking that to the next iteration then, what is the expected impact or long-term effect of these policy changes? How can we explain to our constituents what the long-term impact of these policies are? What do they mean for them in the long term? What does it mean for the people of the province, more broadly, in the long term?
Hon. C. Hansen: I think the changes we made to the Pharmacare program to bring in Fair Pharmacare was saying that we're going to provide greater financial assistance to low- and middle-income families and greater financial assistance to low- and middle-income seniors as a result of the changes. If you go through the various different income bands within those systems, you will see that those that will experience an increase in their costs as a result of the changes are in the higher-income groups only.
I'm certainly very pleased with the rollout of that system. I know there are some seniors that may still be on fixed incomes, but if they are higher-income seniors, they may see a slight increase, because our goal was to protect and provide greater assistance to those with low and middle incomes.
G. Hogg: In order to give some context to Mr. Macdonald, can you just outline how those fees he is now paying compare with other provinces in Canada so that we can put this within a more broad-based context to be able to reflect that for him and his fellow seniors?
Hon. C. Hansen: I think there are a couple of ways of looking at that. First of all, Pharmacare programs are not covered under the Canada Health Act, so there is no federal funding that comes into our Pharmacare plan. It's 100 percent funded by provincial revenue sources. As a result, every province has taken a very different approach to how they provide support to their populations around the need for pharmaceutical products.
I can tell you that in B.C. about 50 cents of every dollar that is spent for medications is funded through Pharmacare. That is, I believe still today, the highest percentage of any province in Canada that is funded. In that respect B.C. is the most generous if you look at the global amount.
Also, if you start looking at the specific seniors plans, I believe that Ontario may be slightly more beneficial to seniors, but that may be the only province that has a plan that may give higher benefits to seniors. When we developed our income-based Pharmacare program, we did that based on a Manitoba model, but the model that we've put in place is actually more generous than the Manitoba model is. So I'm very proud of the program that we have in this province. It is, I believe, the best in Canada.
G. Hogg: I had the privilege of meeting with some of the medical advisory committee people from Peace Arch Hospital — some of the physicians. This was a couple of weeks ago, and they were not terribly happy with the perception they saw from the provincial government. Given that negotiations on a number of things were going on around a number of areas, I don't think that's unexpected.
However, I've heard the minister on many occasions talk about the importance of physicians to the delivery of health care within our province and the relationship that we want to have with them despite some of the conflicts we've had with them. I just wonder if the minister could outline some of the strategies and processes we have in place for meeting with and developing relationships with the physicians, given that the context or environment we're in today means some discussions with respect to negotiations.
I know there are a number of advisory committees and a number of ways that we do relate to and talk with the B.C. Medical Association. As well, there are in each of the health authorities ways that we relate to the physicians in the hospitals. It would be helpful to have a broad context of that type of environment and the type of relationships that take place — the places where those meetings take place and the opportunities that they have. They seem too often to feel that the only relationship they had was coming through the media, and sometimes that was seen as being negative and
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impacting them in ways they didn't feel were respectful of them and their profession in the ways that they wanted to relate to the ministry and to the people of this province.
I know there are a number of other venues and avenues available to them and ways the ministry reaches out to have contact with them. I would appreciate having some sense of that relationship and the things that the ministry is doing in an effort to maintain and develop better relationships with that fraternity.
Hon. C. Hansen: You know, when you start looking at the tensions that have been around the issues of how much doctors should be paid, those are tensions that surface as we come into negotiations. Certainly, we saw it two years ago, and we saw it in these last couple of months as negotiations around pay structures have unfolded. But as much as there has been a focus around that tension, I think there's a lot of very good, excellent work that continues to involve doctors and specifically BCMA representatives.
On one hand, yes, we have our tensions around how much money should go into the budget to pay doctors. On the other hand, when there is consultation…. I'll give you some examples. We've got the Medical Services Commission liaison committee. There's a whole bunch of initiatives around chronic disease management where BCMA representatives and other physicians have been very much involved in that process, and it's producing some great results. There's been great physician involvement in the plans for the medical school expansion at Prince George and at the University of Victoria and the expansion of the medical school at UBC itself.
The whole rollout of the primary health care initiatives has been another area. There's a very good report prepared by the BCMA that has become a very good set of recommendations that the ministry is certainly including in its deliberations. There's been good physician involvement around B.C. Ambulance Service, a Pharmacare review that's underway and also the surgical review that the provincial health services authority is leading.
At the health authority level there's certainly a lot of physician involvement in the senior managed executive committees and the medical administration within the health authorities. There's physician participation in the administration of programs and, as I mentioned, the medical school regional expansions but also with regard to medical advisory committees themselves that the member mentioned.
I think I've said on many occasions that I believe that the role of the medical advisory committees needs to be strengthened. That should be the vehicle whereby individual physicians can interact with the administration at the hospital and the health authority level. I think we've started to see some of that over the last year with some new focus being put on the medical advisory committees and the relationship those committees should have with the administrative structures in the health authority.
There's been a lot of good work. I certainly have had, over the last year, some very good, excellent meetings with representatives of the B.C. Medical Association. I think the sooner we can get past the compensation issues and get back to providing 100 percent of our efforts around these joint efforts to meet the needs of patients in the province, we'll all be better off.
J. MacPhail: There are two areas I want to explore, hopefully. We may not get to both of them before the clock runs out tonight. One is primary care. That will be the second area that I will explore. I must confess to having read the service plan, and I cannot find any reference to primary care, but that could be just that I'm not looking properly.
The first area I want to talk about is sort of the performance results. The government announced early on in its mandate that they would have performance measures for access to health care. They had targets of minutes of distance from acute care or emergency care. Can the minister update me on what those performance targets were and then the success with reaching those?
Hon. C. Hansen: I think the member is referring to access standards that drove the redesign process. The performance measures are different, so we just want to be careful, in terms of terminology, that we don't confuse them. These are up on the website. I'm going a bit from memory on this, but it is 60 minutes for access to emergency stabilization and two hours for access to specialist care, and that is to be achieved for 97 percent of the population in any health authority.
J. MacPhail: Was there not a rural standard and an urban standard for access?
Hon. C. Hansen: No, it's the same standard regardless of where in the province one is. I guess the other thing to factor into that…. There's a maximum distance in terms of the number of kilometres to access emergency stabilization, and that also factors in things like ferry, for example, because we have to look at it…. You know, there are a lot of communities in this province that are ferry-dependent as well.
J. MacPhail: Yes. I thought there was an urban standard of kilometres for access that was much less than the rural access. The minister is doing this from memory? I actually wanted to go through them and see what the achievements have been in those accesses for care.
Hon. C. Hansen: We are going to try to get those specific numbers sent into the chamber, but there is not a difference between urban standards and rural standards. There is one access standard that applies throughout the province. But I'd certainly try to answer
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whatever questions the member may have, if she has specifics.
J. MacPhail: I'll await the statistics. I want to go through health authority by health authority on what their achievement is on meeting those access standards. Nobody's talked about them for about two years, so I just wanted an update on them about how things are going.
Well then, shall we go to primary care? The federal government has given how much in direct funding to the province for primary care over the last three years?
Hon. C. Hansen: The allocation from the federal government that is specific to primary care is the primary health care transition fund, and that was a total amount between 2002 and 2006. B.C. is receiving $74 million from Health Canada for that purpose. As of December 2003, 30 percent of the $74 million has been expended.
J. MacPhail: Maybe I'm just missing it. Where in the service plan that was just published do we talk about primary care? That will help me focus my questions.
Hon. C. Hansen: There is not a separate, distinct section in the service plan that pertains to primary care, because it is woven in throughout the service plan in a bunch of different areas. If you start looking at chronic disease management, for example, it is a great story in which other provinces have actually started to come and look at the model we're developing here. If you start looking at some of the mental health initiatives, they have a huge primary care initiative to them — things like the GP special services fund to support full-service family practice by GPs.
If you look specifically at the service plan, there are a couple of performance indicators and priority strategies that speak specifically to that. One, for example, is around the management of chronic diseases. Another is with regard to the home-based palliative care program. Those are examples of primary care initiatives that are woven into the service plan itself.
To give the member a reference here, page 25 in the service plan is where the two examples are that I just gave. Another one is if you look at page 20, look at the decrease in hospital admissions through increased community care options. Again, we set very specific targets to reduce the number of admissions to hospitals of individuals who could be properly managed in a primary care environment.
J. MacPhail: Is primary care reform part of the BCMA negotiations?
Hon. C. Hansen: Not if you are talking about the initiative toward the new working agreement. You have to look at the remuneration issues around the working agreement. If you look generally in terms of our discussions and our ongoing dialogue and ongoing consultation with the B.C. Medical Association, then yes, certainly primary care does get discussed, but it is not part of a formal negotiation or mediation process that is underway.
J. MacPhail: I always think this is necessary to do for those who are watching us on TV or reading the debate.
The primary care is really the first level of care that one receives from their physician or corollary services. It is the primary focus of health care. Pretty much every jurisdiction now, whether it be a publicly delivered health care system or a privately delivered health care system, believes that primary care health reform is where the system is going to be made sustainable.
It is an extremely important area. That's why the federal government has given $74 million of funding over five years. Of course the Romanow report — in fact, every report; Kirby, Romanow, Mazankowski — had a major focus on primary health care reform.
Could the minister describe what…? There has been about $22 million spent so far on primary health care initiatives funded by the federal government. I would like the minister to start by saying whether that money is provincially matched. Or is it just federal dollars flowing through for primary health care reform?
Hon. C. Hansen: These dollars have been allocated to health authorities based on our population needs–based formula to ensure there is a fair allocation across the various health authorities. Then they have a variety of projects that are underway in that regard. They include chronic disease management, shared care, multidisciplinary team-based care, 24-7 NurseLine advice, primary health care organizations — to give some examples.
I've got a chart that looks at each of the health authorities and the various initiatives they have underway. Virtually all of them are involved in networks, which are arrangements between physicians to share patient records and on-call coverage to improve 24-7 access to health care information. Shared care is underway in three of the six health authorities.
Community health centre models. There are five of the health authorities that have those initiatives. The nurse-first-call initiatives are underway in three of the health authorities. Quality improvement collaboratives are underway in five of the six. Education programs are in every one of the health authorities. Professional and organizational development, again, is underway in every single one of the health authorities. It covers a lot of bases, but all the health authorities are certainly starting to show some success in those initiatives.
J. MacPhail: How does the minister know that they're showing success? Are there health outcome studies being done or…? How is he determining success?
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Hon. C. Hansen: I understand there is a comprehensive evaluation being done of all of the initiatives underway. This is all part of the accountability back to the federal government to show exactly how the $74 million was allocated.
J. MacPhail: Well, let me just ask some questions about what the patients see as the challenge in terms of primary health care. One is access. There are, I think, tens of thousands of people in British Columbia now who don't have a family doctor. They're orphans. One is ensuring that there is proper utilization of primary care. Another is ensuring that emergency room services or urgent care services are not utilized before access to the family physician. Those are three that I remember from both my days as Health minister and my current practice as a consumer — with a child and myself.
How is the minister evaluating success in those three areas, for instance?
Hon. C. Hansen: To give a few examples of some of the initiatives underway, this is from the interior health authority:
"The primary health care plan is an integral part of its health service delivery model. Primary health care organizations are being developed in rural communities where acute services have been reduced or eliminated. All sites will develop a consistent integrated service framework to support implementation. Each site will then develop site-specific service models and provide opportunities for active participation by health care professionals and their communities."
If you start looking at the various…. To look specifically at some of the things she talked about, we're putting in place 24-7 networks of care where different physicians can get access to patient information on a 24-7 basis so they can provide coverage for each other rather than having to rely on the emergency rooms. We mentioned earlier, when we were talking about the Nanaimo emergency room situation, that provincewide we have seen a 10 percent reduction in the number of low-level acuity patients coming into emergency rooms across the province — patients that do not need to be cared for in an emergency room setting. That is actually down 10 percent because of the strengthening of those community care services.
You look at initiatives such as the NurseLine, for example, where just by the absolute measurement of calls coming in, the NurseLine is going up every single year. As a result, patients are getting access on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis from anywhere in the province to the kind of care they need.
Aside from the performance measures that I indicated were specifically in the service plan, we can also measure results based on things such as calls to the NurseLine and reduction in low-level acuity patients in emergency rooms.
J. MacPhail: I'm trying to get some sort of idea whether the minister thinks this project is going apace, whether it is a good investment, what difference it is making. Are we better off because of this investment in primary health care reform? I assume it is reform. I assume the projects the federal government is funding to the tune of $74 million are not just to expand the status quo but are about reform, as I recall. For instance, what is happening to people in rural areas in terms of access to a family physician? Are we better off or worse off?
Hon. C. Hansen: If you look over the last number of years, British Columbia is the province that has had the largest in-migration of physicians from other parts of the country compared to every other province in Canada. This data comes from the society of family practitioners, where they actually look at the ratio between the number of family physicians to population. B.C. is actually, in rural parts of the province, the province that has the lowest number of residents for each family physician. We have the best ratio of population to doctors in rural parts of British Columbia compared to every single other province. If you look at the standards that have come out nationally from national physician organizations about what an appropriate level or ratio is, B.C. actually exceeds those numbers.
In fact, this is from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, and what it will show is that Canada-wide, the ratio of urban population per GP is 939. The rural ratio is 1,201 residents per rural GP. If you look at B.C., we exceed those numbers significantly. In the case of urban British Columbia, we have 849 residents per GP, and we have 843 residents in rural parts of the province for every GP. We are the only province, in fact, where the rural population-to-GP ratio is actually even better than the urban. That's not from our own internal ministry data. This is from the Society of Rural Physicians based on 2002 data.
J. MacPhail: Okay —2002. Well, that's great. I hope it is getting even better under this government.
How many residents of British Columbia…? Let me put it this way, in the positive: are the vast majority of British Columbians covered by a family physician?
Hon. C. Hansen: If you look at the number of physicians per 100,000 population — this is based on data from the Canadian Medical Association of January 2003 — B.C. has 204 physicians per 100,000 population. We are significantly higher than Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, which is the data that I have presented for me here. I think it is safe to say that with the other provinces, we would definitely exceed that ratio as well.
We do have the best number of physicians per 100,000 population of any province, but the challenge we have is the number of physicians that are providing the full-service family practice that is needed. It's a common problem across Canada that the walk-in clinic environment has become attractive for doctors to practise in.
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It was certainly one of our goals out of the last round of negotiations to provide increased financial incentives for full-service family practice, and I think we need to align the compensation and the rewards around where the needs are. I think the best model is where you have a walk-in clinic that is an integral part of a family practice. Yes, the patients can get access to care they need without having to book the appointment four or five days ahead of time. The walk-in component is clearly desirable, but that in turn should lead into a full-service family practice where they can get the continuity of care and continuity of records in that setting.
It is, again, one of our hopes out of this current round of the work towards a new working agreement that we will be able to address some of those incentives in a way that really does put more emphasis on full-service family practice. We did put some additional moneys in. We do have what I referred to earlier, the GP special services committee, which is looking at how to allocate some of those rewards. We have tried to put more money into rewarding full-service family doctors that provide obstetrics services for their patients. We are making some initiatives in some areas, but clearly we would like to align the incentives to make sure that full-service family practice is encouraged.
J. MacPhail: How many physicians, GPs, are there practising in the province, and how many of those are full-service as opposed to part-time?
Hon. C. Hansen: I'm told we have 4,500 GPs in the province. What we do not have is a breakdown as to how many of them are working in a full-service family practice environment. I can get that number. We just don't have it with us in the chamber.
J. MacPhail: I am going to move that we rise, but I want to put the minister on notice that I will be exploring nurse clinicians and full-service sort of medicine, in terms of a primary care model in the future.
Noting the hour, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 8:51 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Committee of Supply B, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. G. Bruce: We look forward to tomorrow. I move we do now adjourn.
Hon. G. Bruce moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: The House is adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 8:52 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
The House in Committee of Supply A; H. Long in the chair.
The committee met at 2:43 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
AND WOMEN'S SERVICES
On vote 17: ministry operations, $486,921,000 (continued).
Hon. M. Coell: Mr. Chair, if I could introduce my assistant deputy minister, Lori Wanamaker, who will be with me this afternoon.
J. Nuraney: This budget, I believe, has a line item of aboriginal, multicultural and immigration services. That, from what I read here, has been reduced by approximately $4 million over the next year. Could the minister please tell me which programs this will impact? If there are any jobs that he may also see as being redundant, could he also tell me which departments they would be referring to?
Hon. M. Coell: There are no jobs lost. The dollars the member asked about that are affected are mostly from one-time, limited initiatives that are finishing up this year, so they just won't be carried on. They are mostly in the aboriginal areas and in immigration.
J. Nuraney: There is also a capital line under "Capital Expenditures" that shows that $355 million item — the same again as from the previous year. Could the minister please tell me what that refers to and if there has been any capital expenditure at all?
Hon. M. Coell: I wonder if the member could clarify whereabouts in the budget he got that number from and whether it was millions or thousands he was talking about.
J. Nuraney: I beg your pardon. It is $355,000.
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Hon. M. Coell: The answer is that it's a computer system, but it revolves around the settlement and multicultural components. Hopefully, it will improve our contract management and also improve our performance management within the ministry.
J. Kwan: I'd like to just ask the minister about the order of things in terms of questions. I know that prior to the start of the estimates debate in this House, my office had advised him that we would be asking questions around women's and seniors' services and then would be moving on to local government and the Community Charter; then to heritage museums; then to the Vancouver agreement; then to the Olympics; then to aboriginal, multiculturalism and immigration; then to housing; and then to safety standards. That's the order of things we were going to ask questions.
I see that the Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services is not — how can I say it? — available for questions at the moment. Can I get a clarification from the minister about when that will be happening? Of course, in the meantime I'd be happy to defer the floor to the government members for questions, but just so that I know the timing of things.
Hon. M. Coell: That order would be fine for us. The Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services will be joining us shortly. There were a number of members who had asked to ask a variety of questions on topics, probably for the next half-hour or so if that would be all right with the member.
J. Kwan: In the meantime, until the Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services is available for questions, I will defer the floor to other members in this House. Then I will try to listen to the squawk box to see what's going on here in the meantime. If I haven't quite made it, if you could just recess for a few moments, then I'll endeavour to make sure that I'm here to ask the questions of the minister. Thanks.
Hon. M. Coell: Just to confirm that, that's fine with me, and I look forward to the questions.
J. Nuraney: My next question is concerning the skills shortage. As you know, we have, over time, experienced some skills shortages in various areas of different professions. One of the sad things that's happened for new immigrants who've come to this country, who are qualified in their own country of origin in terms of different degrees and different qualifications…. Professionals like doctors, engineers and architects have difficulty when they come to this country to get their recertification so we can gainfully employ them. Apart from just gainfully employing them, I think it is important to note that we have this latent resource and asset which is absolutely unused.
Is any program afoot at the ministry to ensure with the federal government that there is a process where we can fast-track these people who are qualified to join our workforce?
Hon. M. Coell: I thank the member for his question. There are a number of initiatives underway. We have a very active program on foreign credentials. We spent about $500,000, or will do this year, on credentials recognition — actually one of the leading programs in the country. We did have a pilot with the engineering profession over the last three years. It is now complete. We're building on that and working with other professions in the next few years. It's obviously an issue that will become more and more important to Canadians as well as to British Columbians in the next years.
J. Nuraney: My last question. As we know, Canada enjoys this very unique position of being a country of diversity and being a country of pluralism. I think that pluralism and the question of diversity and the integration of immigrant societies into the mainstream have been very much because of the inculcation of that understanding and the acceptance of our new Canadian identity, so to speak, among the public sector.
Has the ministry got any particular initiatives or plans to ensure that this permeates right through the systems and the public service sector as well?
Hon. M. Coell: I think the member probably realizes that in B.C. we have the Multiculturalism Act, which requires each minister to report on multicultural activities. The minister tables that report on government activities annually.
We're also — an exciting time ahead — dealing with the federal government with the new immigration agreement that will bring additional powers to B.C. and also some additional money for better integration of people coming to Canada. In working with the federal government in the next few months, we should have a new agreement on immigration.
R. Hawes: My question to the minister is surrounding the next round of development of the Community Charter, which I think includes regional districts. My question surrounds bylaw enforcement. I know I've raised this question before. I'm asking it, though, on behalf of my former colleagues at the municipal level, the mayors of the communities I represent. Many of my former colleagues and friends within the UBCM have also expressed a great interest in having an expanded bylaw enforcement collection procedure.
Today, under the new Community Charter, the only instance in which property tax rolls can be used to collect fines is for burglar alarms in houses. I know many of the cities…. I'm sure the minister is aware of the difficulties and the friction that exist in communities where bylaw enforcement is very, very difficult — with things like barking dogs and noisy parties and the things that disrupt communities, destroy relationships in communities, cause huge headaches for municipali-
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ties and tie up our court system. If there was the potential for municipalities to put unpaid tickets against the tax roll rather than resorting to the courts and collection agencies, it would force landlords to be more responsible for the tenants. I'm sure it would cause a great deal more respect for bylaws, and it would make life in administering a city and life in communities much easier. I personally believe it's the right way to go.
What I would like to ask the minister is: in that next round of discussions with the UBCM, is this something that can be included? Has the minister thought about this? If not, is there a way that this could be brought to the forefront by the UBCM? How would they do that?
Hon. M. Coell: As a former mayor, I also know the frustrations local governments have with regard to this issue. The answer is yes, it is being reviewed as part of future legislative proposals, and the UBCM will be consulted on that.
In the meantime, the Attorney General actually is moving forward on a bylaw court pilot project on the North Shore in Vancouver, dealing with municipalities and bylaws. After that pilot project is through, we may have some more answers that would be useful for future legislation.
M. Hunter: My question — or maybe a couple of questions — to the minister is about the support to the communities in terms of referenda, surveys and that kind of thing. I know that the ministry does provide a fund for referenda on such things as municipal status and studies to support that kind of thing. Can the minister explain to me how that system works and how applications for grants for those kinds of municipal or community purposes are ranked?
Hon. M. Coell: There are two issues here. When a new municipality is to be created, usually it's done through a regional district. We have groups of citizens who are put together to study and make recommendations to the government on that.
For boundary extensions it's the municipality that needs to come forward. A good example of that would be when a city wants to have more influence over district lands outside of it. They would apply to the ministry, and they would go through a public process before those boundaries were expanded as well.
M. Hunter: In the case not of a boundary expansion or the creation of a municipality but where a community, part of a regional district, wanted to perhaps do something like establish a water authority, would that be an exercise for which the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services could provide funds under the appropriations that are in these estimates?
Hon. M. Coell: The answer is yes. Sometimes you get a municipal planning grant, usually up to about $10,000, for consideration and planning for those sorts of projects.
M. Hunter: Are there guidelines within which community groups can operate? Are they published on the ministry's website?
Hon. M. Coell: The grant has to go to a local government. There are some guidelines, and I'll make sure I get a copy of that to your office.
J. Bray: I've got several questions that will follow through the service plan. First off, as I do every year at this time…. Having worked in the bureaucracy myself, I know that a lot of work goes into things like service plans. I know that a lot of people worked very hard to put this together, so I certainly want to commend the staff in the ministry for working on this.
For the minister's staff following along, the first place I'm starting with is on page 25. It's talking about the heritage aspect of the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services. I note that in the service plan one of the measures for outputs is agreements with third parties to manage devolved heritage properties. I know that here in my riding one of our most vital pieces of heritage, and a major tourist attraction, is Emily Carr House.
I'm wondering if the minister can provide me with an update. That management contract has been in place for many months now. Can he provide an update as to how that's going from the ministry's perspective and whether or not we're seeing some additional activities at Emily Carr House as a result of them being able to manage it as more of an independent and entrepreneurial enterprise without having quite so much ministry control over it?
Hon. M. Coell: As the member knows, we have a number of heritage sites in Victoria: Craigflower Schoolhouse, Point Ellice House, Helmcken House, Emily Carr House — all in different stages of change. I don't have any reports from Emily Carr House at this point, but I will endeavour to get that for the member.
J. Bray: I also see that in the service plan one of the outcomes is: "Communities recognize the value of British Columbia's heritage, as shown by the number of communities with approved heritage strategies and plans." The baseline for this year is six, and then the target is for four new plans to be approved in the each of the out years. I'm wondering if the minister can let me know whether or not the city of Victoria has an approved plan yet.
Hon. M. Coell: Last year was the first year of this initiative. Kelowna and Nanaimo moved forward last year, and we're expecting a number of municipalities to come forward this year. As soon as that is made known to us, I can get that to the member as well.
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J. Bray: The last area in this section that I'll canvass — and then I'll defer to some other colleagues — is around the Provincial Capital Commission, which is a Crown entity that oversees about $67 million worth of assets in the capital region. It is there as a sort of heritage preservation entity, but I understand that the new board has a new mandate and is looking at really refocusing its vision for the province and the Capital Commission. I'm wondering if the minister can let me know what new vision the Provincial Capital Commission is working under and taking forward and how it differs, perhaps, from what has happened in the past.
Hon. M. Coell: I think there are some exciting initiatives with the Provincial Capital Commission. I sat on the commission when I was on Saanich council many years ago. The commission itself has gone through many phases and done some remarkable work in the capital region. It was our hope that we would expand that work at this point, that we would sort of retool the vision of the commission to expand it provincially.
I think many of the heritage sites the member has mentioned in the past are of provincial interest. They're not just of interest to the capital region. The government has made some new appointments to the board that are from outside the capital region. They're bringing expertise with them to the commission as well as keeping the local elected officials on the commission.
The idea would be over a period of time to see the focus move towards the Capital Commission, drawing British Columbians to the capital, drawing young people and in some cases tourists here, to understand how important the capital is to the province and how important the province actually is to the capital. If I were to look across the country, the National Capital Commission is a model that we're looking at. It makes an effort at saying to Canadians: "This is your capital; this is what we do. These are the historical benefits to the capital."
I think that over a period of years you'll see an expanded role for the Capital Commission that includes more of British Columbia and celebrates British Columbia here in the capital. I think many of the sites — and I know the member talked about the Crystal Garden earlier in the day — that we might have seen in this area, as you and I are both elected from this area, are now seen more in a provincial interest and from more of a provincial mandate. I think that when I look back at some of the roles the Capital Commission has had in the past, from its very beginnings to where it is now, this expanded role should be very positive not only for the capital but also the province.
J. Bray: Certainly, that is something that I find very exciting — the concept of actually making Victoria and the capital more attractive and more connected to British Columbians.
The minister talked especially about youth. I know from reading the annual reports of the Provincial Capital Commission that they do manage a fairly substantial portfolio with respect to the amount of properties they manage and the cash assets they currently have. There is quite a bit of leverage that they have. Is it possible in the future that some of those assets might be leveraged to in fact find ways to bring, say, grade 7 students from different parts of the province down to the capital so they can spend a few days to actually learn about the history and the culture of British Columbia and take that back? Is that something that might be in the future — where the PCC can play more of a role to not only make it attractive for young children to come down here but to actually use their assets to try and increase those opportunities? Is that something that might be contemplated in the future?
Hon. M. Coell: Yes. I can see that as a part of their new mandate and role. I think the member probably knows that every day we have school children through the Legislature on tours. We want to make sure that is expanded, that the Capital Commission, with partners throughout the community, can expand so when people come to the capital, they take advantage of all the heritage and cultural aspects that we have in this area. There is, I think, lots of opportunity for them to partner with other organizations — be it tourist organizations or school organizations — to increase what is already happening.
J. Bray: My final question on this area, and then I'll defer.
The Chair: The member for Victoria–Beacon Hill has the floor.
J. Bray: Thank you to my colleague.
I did canvass the minister earlier in question period on the Crystal Garden, which is one of the assets managed by the Provincial Capital Commission. The minister did talk about the preserving of the building. Certainly, I've heard from many constituents who have been concerned about both the conservation attraction that is run in the Crystal Garden as well as the gardens themselves — the actual building, which is a heritage building. From the exchange we had in question period it's clear that the building will remain intact as a heritage piece. In fact, it will be expanded. There are lots of questions that I get from my constituents, asking why the decision was made in the first place not to run the Crystal Garden Conservation Centre and some questions about why there was not more public consultations around that.
I'm wondering if the minister can answer these final two questions. The first is his understanding of why the Provincial Capital Commission made the decision not to continue to operate. Also, my understanding is that there are several elected municipal representatives who sit on the Provincial Capital Commission, and part of their role is to actually serve as that liaison
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to the community. If you can confirm that that is in fact the case and is part of the public outreach.
Hon. M. Coell: The makeup of the PCC has in the past been community representatives and then elected representatives. What we have done as government in changing the mandate and focusing the mandate is to have some community members from outside the capital region and from different parts of the province to bring in that provincial prospective. There will still be the same number of locally elected people on the PCC. I think that's been valuable over the years.
The other thing I wanted to…. If I could just digress for a minute, one of the members asked about the heritage plan for Victoria. Actually, Victoria does have a heritage plan, and they are one of the active members in the national registry of historic sites and places. They've shown some great leadership in this area as well.
R. Stewart: For many years there has been criticism that the provincial government in British Columbia focuses most of its housing attention on the delivery of not so much housing affordability but of what is called affordable housing. That, generally speaking, is the term used to refer to housing that is subsidized in some way and is built outside the housing market. I want to ask the minister what plans the ministry has to begin to embrace the concept of housing affordability within the housing market — a little bit more than has been done in decades past.
I remember having a debate at one point with the then Minister of Social Services and Housing — a man who is currently the Speaker of our House; I believe it was about 15 years ago — on the issue of housing affordability and the role the ministry responsible for housing played in the housing market. He might have been Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The debate essentially ended on the note that the ministry was responsible for social housing but not so much for market housing.
I wonder if the minister can tell us what role his ministry has in coordinating efforts to address housing affordability within the housing market.
Hon. M. Coell: The member is quite right. About 95 percent of all housing is provided by the market. What we've been doing, and will continue to do, is looking at taxation and deregulation. We've been working with the different ministries on regulations that affect housing. I think what we need to do is focus our social housing programs on those who are most in need, most vulnerable, in British Columbia.
I can say to the member — I sat on the Capital Region Housing Corporation in the mid-eighties as a councillor in Saanich — that when you look at social housing since the fifties in Canada, it's gone through a variety of changes to meet the needs. It's generally been to meet the needs of people who are the most vulnerable, the most in need, in our society — British Columbia or Canada. I think there is really a two-pronged approach that any government needs to take to make sure that market housing is able to thrive in every community in the province and at the same time to provide social housing in ways that work for that generation for that specific time in a province's history.
R. Stewart: I'm sure that in your experience on council in Saanich and with the Capital Region Housing Corporation you've undoubtedly experienced…. One of the big challenges government has to face is trying to narrow its focus a little bit to the point where it can actually address a problem. In fact, if we don't tackle affordability in the marketplace, if we don't have market affordability, as exists in a great many communities around the country, then the role of the social housing portfolio becomes enormous and impossible to deal with.
It's one of the issues…. When I was on the Minister's Advisory Council on Affordable Housing during the previous government, including during the time when the MLA for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant was minister, we had long discussions about how to focus a little bit more government attention on the market so as to narrow the need for core housing — the social housing need in our province.
It wasn't met. That challenge wasn't met, I don't think. Today we still, in many ways, aren't doing as much as we ought to be able to do in tackling the needs of the housing market and trying to improve affordability in the wide range of housing in the marketplace. I wonder how we might be able to develop a more coordinated approach — cross-ministerial as well as with UBCM, the municipalities and the federal government, for that matter — in addressing the wide range of issues and barriers that exist for market housing as it tries to meet demand at a time in British Columbia when housing demand is becoming acute.
Hon. M. Coell: I agree with much of what the member has said. I think one of the challenges for provincial government and local government in the coming decades is housing for seniors — whether that is able to be provided by the market or whether that's able to be provided in our social housing policies and programs. One of the areas I'm going to attempt to work very closely with this year is the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, to look at what issues they think we could be working on with them to address housing for seniors and changes in, basically, the makeup of the age groups in British Columbia.
It's a challenge. I think that working with local government is probably the sensible and only way we should be working. As well, we don't want to leave out the federal government. They have the Sustainable Cities Initiative that they're advancing with local government and the province, and we'll work with them on those issues as well.
R. Stewart: One of the issues that is becoming of heightened importance in Coquitlam is concerns
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around development cost charges and the impact such charges can have on affordability both of market housing and non-market housing. In the northeast sector of Coquitlam, for example, a differential development cost charge has been put forward by the municipality as being one way of addressing the costs of providing — essentially servicing — new development in a community.
The differential development cost charge would permit Coquitlam, for example, to charge in excess of $23,000 per single-family lot in development cost charges in one corner of the community and a much lower development cost charge in another corner of the community. I'm not necessarily addressing the potential inequity of that situation. I raise the issue of the $23,000 development cost charge which, added to parks charges and other levies, becomes in excess of $30,000 per single-family lot and in excess, I believe, of $17,000 per multifamily unit — and the enormous impact that kind of charge can have on housing affordability.
I wonder if the ministry has taken a look at ways in which municipalities might be given the tools to find alternative forms of financing the costs of development and the costs of infrastructure development so that housing affordability isn't so enormously impacted by the enormity of development cost charges as they continue to rise.
Hon. M. Coell: Just to acknowledge that it is a significant and real problem. My understanding is that Coquitlam didn't pass that bylaw, but I'll check into that.
The ministry uses the development finance review committee, which has industry and the UBCM on it and the ministry staff. We're actually going through a process right now of looking at some of those issues, with the potential of bringing some things forward for discussion in the Legislature.
R. Stewart: I appreciate that. I was only citing it as an example of some of the challenges we have at the local level as municipalities come to grips with their issues associated with infrastructure development and as developers of housing — both profit and non-profit, including B.C. Housing — examine the kinds of costs these charges impose on new home buyers by raising, essentially inflating, the value and cost of housing.
As we deal with that, we also have to reconcile that with the enormity of the challenge of rental housing. A ministry that tries to meet the needs of people whose needs cannot be met by the rental housing market…. That ministry's challenge is made much larger by the fact that we have no rental housing being built. In Coquitlam, I think, we haven't had purpose-built rental housing built in the last decade. That challenge is one that I've chatted about with several members of my community, particular the Tri-Cities Housing Coalition.
I wonder if the minister can tell us what role he has played and can play in working with other provinces, perhaps, and in working with other jurisdictions in attempting to effect the provision and development of rental housing to meet the needs of British Columbians who aren't in the market to buy.
Hon. M. Coell: The former minister had some conversations and discussions with the federal government on changing some tax structures around rental housing. As you know, I've been in this ministry for a couple of months, so I haven't had any discussions with the federal government at this point, but I will follow through on the discussions the former minister had. I think that in some respects there are a number of federal issues that need to be addressed. We need to work with the provinces. When you look across Canada, rental housing or the lack of building of rental housing is affecting every province, not just British Columbia. There needs to be some action at the federal level.
I think probably in some instances the new cities initiative at the federal level may bear some fruit in that area as well. I think that when you look at every city, no matter whether it's the size of Vancouver or Smithers, they're experiencing the same problem: lack of affordable rental housing. It's a national issue for us.
R. Stewart: I certainly concur with the minister. However, we must recognize that the per-unit land component for rental housing — or for housing, period — in urban British Columbia is one of the barriers that has to be overcome. It's one that exacerbates the other challenges that every other community in Canada faces, such that we know that Calgary and Ottawa have rental housing being built, whereas purpose-built rental apartments just don't seem to find their way into the Vancouver market or various parts of the province.
In the absence of being able to solve that…. I recognize that for most of those challenges, we have to look to the federal government for changes in tax law and for changes in GST regulations. In the absence of that, what can the province do to try to facilitate increases in the rental housing market or ways in which people who would otherwise be renters might be able to be encouraged to be in the market for ownership?
Hon. M. Coell: The member makes a very good point. I think that although there are a whole bunch of levers the federal government has that could help the situation, working with local government on densification, issues that would bring greater site coverage for multifamily dwellings and those sorts of things would help.
I think that many of the discussions we're going to have this year with the UBCM on some of the seniors' housing issues will be helpful. You know, it's one of those things where you've got the federal, provincial and municipal governments all having to put their heads together to solve local problems, but they're local problems that really affect every community in Canada.
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R. Stewart: The member for Burnaby-Willingdon raised an issue of the transferability of credentials for professionals educated in other jurisdictions — immigrant professionals. I raise the issue only now because of how that affects the shortage of skilled labour in the housing industry and in the construction sector, generally speaking. We battled with governments for many years when I was president of the Home Builders Association provincially — and wearing various other hats — as to how we could improve the way in which skilled labour that was trained in other jurisdictions could come to British Columbia and assist us in areas of our labour market that are in short supply.
I wonder if the minister can advise us what kinds of initiatives we can undertake cross-ministerially to improve the ability of the housing market to grab onto that labour and make use of it when it's here.
Hon. M. Coell: We have been having discussions with some of the major construction association members to identify the shortages they're having, and we will be assisting them in filling from outside of Canada through the B.C. provincial nominee program.
R. Stewart: We also find that the training of labour in British Columbia has traditionally not met all of the needs in as fast a way as the housing market has needed. Quite often we see the housing market fluctuating quite strongly. Right now we're in a bit of a boom where, because of consumer confidence particularly, we see construction, housing starts, jumping up and the need for skilled labour, therefore, increasing very rapidly. In that context, we try to find ways in which we can train our workers as quickly and effectively as possible to make certain that as many people as possible can take advantage of a growing labour market with the skill set they need to go out and succeed in producing housing for other folks.
I wonder if the minister can advise us how the provincial government has responded to this need for skilled labour. What kinds of changes have we made and can we make in ensuring that any labour shortages are short-lived and met as quickly as possible with appropriately trained individuals?
Hon. M. Coell: There have been some significant changes in the industry training approach. Modularizing and…. Probably the better ministry to canvass those questions would be Advanced Ed. I think they would have many more answers.
I will give you my personal feeling. You're seeing, for the first time in a number of years, people actually coming back to B.C. I think what happens is that once your economy starts to move, a lot of those construction people who left the province and went to other provinces or down into the States to work now see opportunities and are starting to come back. I think that will help as well. With the age of the labour force…. The member is quite correct: the labour force is aging, and we need to have those training programs in place.
There are a number of issues that we undertook in this ministry and also in the Ministry of Human Resources — programs like Bladerunners, the HardHats program — to get people who might have been unemployed interested in trades and onto the worksite. There's a whole range of things I think government can do. As I mentioned, I think probably the Ministry of Advanced Ed would be a good place to canvass those questions.
R. Stewart: In fact, the minister may take some pleasure in hearing the story of a constituent of mine that came in and said he had been on social assistance so long that he was really incredibly discouraged. He was now in a job-training program. He was going to be a skilled first-aid attendant with WHMIS and various other levels of certification and with a 90 percent likelihood of getting placed very quickly in a developing construction industry. He was very pleased that the process and the training programs were there to ensure that he was able to take advantage of the housing market as it was moving forward.
About ten years ago I had the opportunity of sitting down with the then Premier and the minister then responsible for women's issues in a meeting in Surrey. We were trying to encourage government to find ways in which women might be able to participate more fully in the construction industry, an industry that has admittedly been largely dominated by males, in both labour and in management of construction projects.
The discussions didn't go very far, and I wonder if there have been some discussions now about the possibility that government can step forward with increased attention paid to the issue of skills training as it applies to women in the construction industry and in other industries where they haven't traditionally played a large role.
Hon. M. Coell: It's an excellent idea, and I can give you an example. I was at Camosun College not too long ago, at the graduation class of HardHats, which was a program initiated to bring people into the construction industry. A number of people who hadn't worked in the construction industry — who were in their late forties and just happened to be women — had taken this course and were now working in construction.
I think we have to leave those doors wide open and encourage both young men and young women to get into the construction industry. It's a great industry in British Columbia and one that will give you good-paying jobs for a lifetime.
[G. Trumper in the chair.]
D. Hayer: First of all, I want to take this opportunity to thank the minister and the staff for providing us with all the help, regularly. Many of our constituents ask a lot of questions. We go to your office and talk to your staff, and they're always very helpful in providing answers to satisfy our constituents. I just wanted to thank you very much.
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My question is about social housing and social housing credit. Social housing initially provided a social safety net for those who found themselves in need of public assistance. My esteemed colleague from Victoria–Beacon Hill mentioned the option of allowing a social housing credit that would be transferable, allowing people to move, should it be in their best interests, without losing their access to social housing. Can the minister please tell me if he is considering such a program? And where is it?
Hon. M. Coell: I would just draw the member's attention to program called SAFER, which is Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters. It's a program which provides direct cash assistance to senior citizens aged 60 or over who have a low to moderate income and pay more than 30 percent of their gross income on rent.
SAFER is actually the largest transferable rental assistance program in which the assistance is provided directly to the recipient — which is, I think, what the member is saying. In the SAFER program in B.C. we have approximately 12,000 seniors each month on that program. The broader concept which the member raises is part of a continuing review of housing policy in the ministry.
D. Hayer: By allowing this initiative on a broader basis, it will provide a better quality of choices and probably a more effective system. I appreciate that you are working on the program.
J. Bray: I just want to go back to one issue. We were talking earlier about the Crystal Garden. I've got two outstanding questions left on that one.
As I mentioned earlier, my constituents have been asking about the genesis for the Provincial Capital Commission making that decision to cease operating a tourist attraction in the Crystal Garden. My first question is whether or not the minister can provide me what the rationale was for the Provincial Capital Commission to determine that it wasn't going to operate that tourist attraction any longer.
Hon. M. Coell: I apologize to the member. I think he actually asked me that question earlier, and I probably didn't give him a full answer. I believe the answer to that is twofold. One is that the new mandate would be to have a broader provincial interest in that building — something along the lines that would keep the heritage structure in place but would allow the heritage cultural values of greater Victoria, if not Vancouver Island, to be part of that concept. It would still be open to the public but in a different light. The other reason, I believe, was that the present use, which has been there for a decade plus, is losing money. They wanted to at least see something that was a break-even prospect or that would allow them some income to use for other programs that could be seen to be bringing people to the capital region and to the capital city of the province.
J. Bray: One of the issues raised in my constituency office has been: "Well, there was no public consultation." Nobody sort of knew about this, although my understanding is that the PCC meetings are open to the public. We canvassed this a bit. My understanding is that there are several municipal representatives who actually sit on the Provincial Capital Commission, in part as elected officials, to represent their various communities. I guess my question is…. I wonder if the minister can comment. Presumably if those municipal councillors were attending those meetings where this issue would have been discussed for the last several months and if they had issues on behalf of their constituents, they could have raised them both at the meeting and back in their communities. If municipal councillors aren't attending those meetings, that might be an issue. My understanding is that the meetings are open to the public and the municipal participation is supposed to represent those constituents.
I'm wondering if the minister might be able to comment on that, because that is one of the criticisms. My understanding is that there are lots of those opportunities there.
Hon. M. Coell: The PCC, to my knowledge, has always had a mix of elected representatives and appointed representatives. That's changed over the years. I think they're all there to do the best job they can with the mandate they're given. Generally, it's been a volunteer position for councillors and mayors. It's been a volunteer position for members of the board.
I think that should continue — to see that representation. I'm quite pleased to see that the representation now is much broader for the community representatives throughout the province. I think that really lets the people of the province know they're a part of this Capital Commission. Over the years to come we'll see how the new mandate they've been given unfolds. As I said earlier, I think it's very positive. All those people who are on that commission bring with them their own expertise, their own historical knowledge of greater Victoria and also the province. I look forward to working with them. It's a good group of people. As I say, they have a very positive mandate in front of them.
J. Bray: I thank the minister for that. I share his enthusiasm for what I think is really a revitalization of the Provincial Capital Commission, and it's going to be very exciting for my part of British Columbia. I see it as actually leveraging more activity and getting more British Columbians to be tourists within their own province, and I'm quite excited by it.
On to the service plan now. I'm moving over to page 27, where we're talking about housing issues. I know that my colleague from Coquitlam-Maillardville canvassed areas around housing policy with respect to market housing. I'm having a look at what to me is a very exciting target, which is the number of subsidized housing units through Independent Living B.C. I'm seeing that there's already a baseline of over 41,000
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subsidized units, and I'm seeing an increase of over 1,000 next year and 1,000 additional new ones in '05-06. That, to me, is a very exciting target, because I know that those are families and individuals in need who are going to get subsidized housing.
I'm wondering if it's possible for the minister to tell me — I don't think it probably can be broken down by constituency but perhaps by city — how many of the 41,000 subsidized units exist in Victoria and what percentage increase based on these targets Victoria is going to see in each of the next two years.
Hon. M. Coell: Since 2001 we've committed to fund more than 400 units of subsidized housing in the greater Victoria area. They include projects like the Cool Aid project on Johnson, which is 20 units for people with mental illness; the St. Andrew's project, which is 20 units for seniors; and some ILBC projects that are going to be announced over the coming months as the workplan for B.C. Housing unfolds.
J. Bray: I'm just wondering. The member for Surrey-Tynehead raised it very quickly. In the House earlier this session, I did raise the concept of portable rent supplements. I'm just wanting to explore this a little bit further to make sure I understood the minister's answer to my colleague's question. The concept I had in place was that where we currently subsidize units, individuals or families who qualify actually receive the benefit if they're able to move into the unit. It's sort of the concept that one must build it, and they will come. In other words, it requires a physical structure to be there.
The minister, in his answer to portable rent supplements, referred to SAFER, which is actually a brilliant comparison because SAFER doesn't restrict where the individual senior lives. What it does is that eligible seniors will apply for assistance with their rent up to a certain level, based on the market rent of where they're living — in conjunction, for that matter, with any other subsidy.
My question is perhaps somewhat repetitive, but my concept would be for families. They in essence would be able to apply for a program that looks at the supplement being for the eligible family as opposed to eligible units. That would allow them to choose their own apartment and, for that matter, the community they're going to live in and to receive the subsidy if they're eligible.
I'm wondering whether or not that concept is something the minister had suggested earlier is part of the housing policy review they're taking a look at — to see ways you could facilitate that.
Hon. M. Coell: It's a good idea. I think a mixed approach is always the best way of dealing with housing. Historically, many of the social housing projects across Canada and in the province have typically subsidized units, and with that you have ongoing mortgages and agreements. In British Columbia we have agreements with literally hundreds of non-profits and mortgages for periods of time that also need to be reflected in any changes you make to programs. You're basically looking at new programs, new ways of providing people with the housing they need.
J. Bray: Along that same line, I know that some years ago government was looking at trying to leverage some of the economic activity it currently does every year. One of the areas was the several hundred million dollars a year that government disburses as shelter allowances for people on income assistance. In other words, it goes out to individuals, but it encompasses several hundred million dollars a year of money government was going to disburse.
I know they were looking at partnerships with the credit union sector to see whether or not there was a way to take those monthly expenditures and leverage that economic activity. I don't know whether it was the creation of foundations or trusts — arrangements where you could use the proceeds from investments of that pool of capital to fund other housing activities.
I'm wondering whether or not anything like that is currently being looked at, where those funds are being pooled in advance of disbursements and the proceeds used to look at funding direct subsidies.
Hon. M. Coell: That's an interesting suggestion. It's not one I've given any thought to, so I will give it some thought.
J. Bray: Certainly, since I raised this issue a few weeks ago in the House, I offer up my services in any way I can to the minister to help explore creative ways of leveraging funds for direct subsidies to families. I've always tried to figure out how the capital that's raised to build the buildings…. If we could find a way to raise the same amount of money and put it into a trust so that we disburse it as direct subsidies, I think we'd help a lot of families. I'm pleased to offer my assistance to the minister on that.
I'm now moving to page 44 of the ministry's service plan, to the area of child care. I'm looking at the performance measure and the output number of subsidies for children of eligible parents. Again, much like the subsidized housing, I'm seeing a very positive trend with respect to the targets the ministry has set for increasing the number of subsidies for children of eligible parents. For instance, I see a 10 percent…. It looks like 2,600 additional spaces this year over last year.
I'm wondering if the minister can advise me as to what the ministry is doing to achieve these increases and how we are doing in achieving these targets.
Hon. M. Coell: One of the things we've been trying to do is make sure more and more people know about the program. The money is there for the takeup, for the 2,600, as the member mentioned. We are putting our application on line. There are a number of different ways we feel we can reach out and have people who
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may not know about the program find out about the program and apply for it.
J. Bray: I know last year we canvassed this quite extensively too, but my understanding is that last year, in terms of spaces that were being subsidized by government, the number of groups that were eligible expanded significantly. Primarily, if my understanding and recollection are correct, licensed group care was the only type of child care spaces that could receive subsidy from government. Parents could get subsidy, but the spaces that actually got subsidy….
My understanding is now licensed family care is also eligible for subsidy, which is a type of licensed care but usually in a family home. It's limited in its numbers. It generally has only one or two staff people. I want to confirm if that in fact is correct, that licensed family care is now eligible for subsidy.
Hon. M. Coell: That is correct.
J. Bray: As a parent who actually utilizes licensed family care and finds it an exceptional form of child care for our child, can the minister let me know whether or not the takeup from licensed family practitioners has been anticipated and whether there's more or less — how that's going? That is really exceptional news for communities and parents who are looking for choice in child care and different settings — be they the larger group, which is great, or as in our family's decision, which was more in a family setting in a home.
Hon. M. Coell: I'm looking for a number for the member. I believe it's 1,948 family facilities. We believe we can add to that. That would be in the province.
J. Bray: In fact, that sounds like an even higher number than what was originally anticipated, which means that the program has obviously been rolled out very successfully. I congratulate the ministry on that change, because I think families and parents are looking for choice in quality child care. Certainly, the one-size-fits-all solution is not something that works in child care. That we are expanding the subsidy and subsidized programs is excellent.
My final area I would like to canvass with the minister — and I'm on page 46 and 47 of the strategic plan — is the area I always focus on at the end with ministries, again having been a civil servant. That is the area that actually looks after staff. There are a couple of areas I want to focus on. First, in terms of objective No. 2, "Organizational change is successfully managed…." I want to focus first, actually, on the second strategy, which is: "Ensure all staff prepare employee performance and development plans." What I notice is the baseline we are starting at is 20 percent. Then we move up in '04-05 to 50 percent. We then hit 100 percent in the out years.
I'm wondering if the minister can provide me with any guidance as to why we're starting so low, at 20 percent. That seems like a very low number for staff to have had annual appraisals and performance reviews. Is this a larger issue within government, that we're just catching up with what was always the expectation?
Hon. M. Coell: A couple of issues. This ministry was created in 2001, and it came from many, many diverse areas of government. We're rolling it out. We hope to do better than the 20 percent, but we think that's a realistic target for us.
J. Bray: That's what I suspected. Part of the service plan talked about that. I do see that by '05-06 the target is to have 100 percent of those done and then obviously done annually afterwards. I'm encouraged by that. I know that in terms of managing a large organization those actually are critical tools.
When I go to strategy No. 1, "Implement human resource renewal strategy," I'm wondering if the minister can provide some detail as to actually what the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services human resource renewal strategy is and how it interfaces with some of the things being done by the Public Service Agency, including the establishment of the Leadership Centre.
Hon. M. Coell: There are three things I'd like to focus on. We have training plans in place. We have an employee-driven leadership plan as well, and we have performance management as a tool for staff development and performance appraisals.
R. Stewart: The Coquitlam Minor Hockey Association is holding the Atom Spirit of 2010 hockey tournament on March 13, this weekend, at the Coquitlam Sport Centre. This tournament, hosting 360 young players, is one of 100 such tournaments across the province involving more than 30,000 players. Hockey is a tremendous sport, and I know these players are excited about the competition and the sportsmanship that goes along with amateur sport.
Would the minister responsible for amateur sport join with me in congratulating all the 30,000 players across the province who will strive for excellence in the Atom Spirit of 2010 hockey tournament.
Hon. M. Coell: As Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services, I certainly join you in congratulating them.
J. Kwan: Let me first congratulate the new minister of state on her appointment to cabinet. However, I'm afraid this new minister of state is being asked to implement a very negative agenda for both women and seniors in British Columbia. The title "seniors' services" has been added to this already very broad Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services.
This ministry has always been known in the community as a grab bag, if you will, of areas that the government doesn't care very much about, hence the name the ministry of lost causes. I'm sure that the minister
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has heard about that before. Here we are, and we have added seniors to this grab bag. However, we don't see the ministry budget increasing, even though the ministry has increased. We will deal with some of these seniors issues when we get to that.
The budget line, of course, of Women's and Seniors' Services indicates that program funding is down by approximately $14.3 million, and this is despite the fact that the area of seniors services, as I mentioned, has been added to the ministry for the first time. It's also an issue we will want to pursue in the estimates in terms of the dollars in the funding.
In the area of women's services, which is the area I would first like to canvass, this government's track record is, of course, in my own view and I think of many of the committee members, appalling. The government has been censured by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women for policies and budget cuts it has imposed that have specifically hurt women.
Just last week the retired Supreme Court judge Claire L'Heureux-Dubé called this government's cutbacks a tragedy for women. I attended the LEAF breakfast on the morning she made her comments, and she also added the comment, by the way, that on the issue around violence around women, with these kinds of cutbacks it actually sets British Columbia back many, many years.
In this year's budget the cutbacks and harmful policy decisions continue. At the end of this month the government is cutting all of the funding for women's centres. The funding for child care services is down by $11.3 million, despite the injection of federal moneys for child care, and the government continues to bury the Iyer report on pay equity. We'll be spending some time on issues related to women's issues, and then we'll move on to seniors issues.
Let me first ask the question about what the status is with the government's pay equity policy. By way of background, in August 2001 the government scrapped the pay equity legislation and commissioned a report by Nitya Iyer. In February 2002 the Iyer report was presented to the government, and the government tabled the Iyer report on March 7, 2002. That's two years ago now.
Fourteen months later, in last year's estimates in March 2003, the former Minister of State for Women's Equality said the government was still working on a response to the Iyer report. The minister also said the government would be "making announcements over the next little while." Could the minister of state please advise what the status is of the government's pay equity policy?
Hon. I. Chong: I would like to acknowledge the comments made by the member. I appreciate the fact that she would like to canvass a number of those areas and her giving us the outline of what she would like to look at.
First of all, I would like to say that pay equity for women is covered under section 12 of the British Columbia Human Rights Code. That protects women against discrimination in relation to employment, including recruitment and job assignment. However, the pay equity task force report and matters pertaining to that fall under the responsibility of my colleague, the Attorney General.
J. Kwan: Yes, with the exception of this. This is the minister who has been explicitly made by this government…. In her new role as the Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services, one would assume that she would have some comments to make with respect to the government's policy on pay equity, which impacts women directly. The Human Rights Code the minister references is, in fact, in the constitution. There should not be discrimination on the issue around gender, which we all accept, and issues around pay equity are included in that. However, there was explicit legislation that the former government brought in place to address the notion of pay equity, and that is now gone.
The government has said that they have commissioned a report to address the issue around pay equity, so I would assume, if the minister's title is the Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services, that there would be some comments from this minister and that she should be actually keeping her eye on what's happening with respect to pay equity.
Can the minister please advise this House what the status is of the minister's policy around pay equity?
Hon. I. Chong: As I stated earlier, this falls under the purview and the responsibility of the Attorney General. I will certainly be speaking with him and working with him on this, but he is the lead minister on this.
J. Kwan: The former Minister of State for Women's Equality, while she was not the lead on pay equity issues, responded to questions in estimates. She actually said the government was reviewing the report, and in fact the government would be making announcements over the next little while. The minister also said they're working on a response with respect to that. The minister responded. That was the former minister responsible for women's issues.
I hope we're not setting a trend here, Madam Chair, where we have a new minister — Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services — who will not take up her responsibility on issues pertaining to her portfolio. We're talking specifically here about women's pay equity issues. Legislation was in place that has been scrapped under this government, and then the government says they will bring forward a response on the commission they had put in place.
It's now been two years since that report, and we have not had any announcements from the government with respect to it. One would hope that the minister who has women's issues as her main area of responsibility, instead of passing the buck to the Attorney General, would have something to say about this
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situation. The former of minister of state did; I would expect that this minister of state would as well.
Let me backtrack, then. Let me ask her this question: has she even spoken with the Attorney General on this issue?
Hon. I. Chong: If the member wishes to raise questions on this, I do suggest she speak to the Attorney General in his estimates.
J. Kwan: I asked the minister an explicit question. Did she speak with the Attorney General on issues around pay equity or not since her appointment? It's a simple question. What's the answer?
Hon. I. Chong: I speak to all my colleagues on a variety of issues, and I continue to do that. I would suggest that if this member has questions pertaining specifically to this, she speak to the Attorney General during his estimates.
J. Kwan: Has the minister specifically spoken with the Attorney General on the issue around the government's pay equity policy since her appointment to this portfolio, as the minister responsible for women's issues?
Hon. I. Chong: I've answered the question.
J. Kwan: No, she hasn't, and I may advise, Madam Chair, that this is a bad footing for this minister to start off — by evading questions where there is a direct responsibility for her as the minister responsible for women's issues. I would hope we have a stronger advocate than that. I would hope that we have a minister who will own up and step into those responsibilities and take them up.
I would hope we had a minister who will just answer a simple question on whether or not she has spoken directly with the Attorney General on the issues of pay equity — not give some vague answer that she's talked to all her colleagues about anything and everything underneath the sun. I'm not asking whether or not the sky is blue and whether or not the minister had a question with the Attorney General on that.
If she's making her pay and keeping her pay as the minister responsible, then answer the questions. I would advise the minister to ensure that she's held accountable to British Columbians for her responsibilities as the minister of women's equality, that she takes these questions seriously. The community has the right to know what she is doing to earn her pay as the Minister for Women's Services.
Let me start with this question again, Madam Chair — and for the minister to answer the question very explicitly. Has the minister spoken with the Attorney General around pay equity policies for this government?
Hon. I. Chong: As the member has stated, she wanted to canvass this area. I've indicated to her that the minister responsible for this is, in fact, the Attorney General. I speak with all my colleagues on areas where we have cross-ministerial responsibilities, and I will continue to do that over the course of the next few months.
J. Kwan: Let me just set the record straight here. Last year when estimates came up on women's issues with the former Minister of State for Women's Equality, these questions relating to the Iyer report and the situation around pay equity were put to the then minister, and she answered them. She answered them, albeit not with a fulsome answer. All she could say was that government was working on a response. I'll grant the former minister that, because the report was out fairly recently, and maybe the government hadn't had time yet to put forward a response. Then she did say on record that the government was coming out with announcements with respect to that. It's now been two years, and nothing has happened.
This Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services, I would expect, would be doing a little bit more to earn her pay than to say: "It's not my responsibility; it's somebody else's. Don't ask me." Quite frankly, if those are the answers this minister is going to give during this estimates debate, they're not good enough. She is not holding herself accountable, and she's not allowing the opposition to hold her accountable in her new role. If she is going to stand up and accept her pay and the title that goes with it as the Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services, then I would urge her to answer the questions in a forthright manner.
The minister says she talks with her colleagues across ministries on issues of concern. I would assume, then, and correct me if I'm wrong, Madam Chair, that the minister has in fact spoken with the minister, the Attorney General, around pay equity issues. Is that correct?
Hon. I. Chong: The member can make whatever assumptions she would like. She has asked about this issue, as she has indicated, in the last year, and she is aware that the Attorney General is obviously the minister responsible for this. Again, I would ask her to refer her questions to the Attorney General's estimates.
J. Kwan: No. The last minister, the former Minister of State for Women's Equality, actually answered the questions. She didn't say: "Go ask my colleague; don't ask me." She didn't say: "I'm just getting paid for nothing." She actually answered the questions and took her responsibility seriously. Maybe this minister will do the same. She might actually learn a page from her colleague by not deferring questions that are directly her responsibility, and that is women's issues. Women's issues are intrinsically linked with the issues around pay equity. They impact women directly.
It's not for me to make any assumptions I want. I asked the minister a direct question. All she has to say is yes or no. Did she or did she not talk with the Attor-
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ney General around the government's pay equity policy since she's been appointed — yes or no? Don't let me make the assumptions. Answer the question.
Hon. I. Chong: As I've indicated to this member, I do speak to my colleagues on issues that affect us on cross-ministerial responsibilities, and I will continue to do so. I understand that this member has canvassed this in the past with the former minister. I believe the former minister also referred her to the Attorney General on this report, for him to take those questions as to when he's going to prepare a response for her.
J. Kwan: Does the minister consider that pay equity issues and the government's pay equity policy impact women?
Hon. I. Chong: As I stated at the beginning, in terms of equity section 12 of our B.C. Human Rights Code does protect women against discrimination in relation to employment, including recruitment and job assignment, termination pay, etc. She would have to acknowledge that when it comes to equity in the sense of section 12 of our B.C. Human Rights Code, women are in fact protected.
J. Kwan: No, I don't have to accept that. That's not my question. My question is a simple one for this minister. As the Women's Services minister, does she consider that pay equity and the government's pay equity policy impact women? It's a very clean and easy question for the minister.
Hon. I. Chong: As I have indicated to the member, because of section 12 of our B.C. Human Rights Code, we do have protection for women against discrimination in relation to employment. It's quite clear. She's aware of that. I think she should understand that we have section 12 for that.
J. Kwan: That is not my question. It's not a question about the Human Rights Code. I'm not asking about that at all. I'm asking the minister what she considers to be women's services issues. Does she consider pay equity issues to be women's services issues?
Hon. I. Chong: I think everyone is concerned about women's issues and issues of British Columbians in general. We're concerned about the economy. We're concerned about health care. We're concerned about education. Our government is committed to ensuring our economy is revitalized so that there will be jobs — jobs not just for men but for women and for their children.
When it comes to ensuring that women's issues are dealt with, this minister is going to be looking at all those issues that impact and affect women. It includes ensuring that section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code is upheld. It means that women will be protected from discrimination.
J. Kwan: Does the minister think the only thing involving advancing women's rights with respect to pay equity involves the Human Rights Code? Does she think this is the only thing of relevance for her consideration as the Minister of State for Women's Services?
Hon. I. Chong: Women care about a lot of things. They care about jobs. They care about education. They care about quality health care. Those are the things this government is committed to providing, and we will do that.
J. Kwan: Women also care about the Iyer report with respect to her recommendations, which are: equal pay for equal work, the repealing of section 12 of the Human Rights Code and enacting an equal-pay-for-equal-work provision in the Employment Standards Act. Women care about that.
Let me just stop here. Does the minister agree that women actually care about equal pay for equal work and repealing section 12 of the Human Rights Code to enact an equal-pay-for-equal-work provision in the Employment Standards Act?
Hon. I. Chong: As I have indicated, section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code, where there is protection for women against discrimination, therein also ensures that the protection applies to pay rates and conditions of work.
J. Kwan: Does the minister know what equal pay for equal work means? If she does, could she tell this House?
Hon. I. Chong: I want to again state for the member that on the area of pay equity, it is covered in full by section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code.
J. Kwan: The minister can't keep falling back on the same answer to questions I did not ask. My question is a very simply one: does the minister know what equal pay for equal work means? If she does, can she tell this House what it means?
Hon. I. Chong: That would mean section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code.
J. Kwan: That's interesting, and it is revealing as well. That is this minister's interpretation of what equal pay for equal work means. Has the minister even read the Iyer report, Madam Chair?
Hon. I. Chong: I wanted to say to the member that firstly, pay equity is important for women and for this government. As I've indicated to her in a number of responses, it is covered under section 12 of the British Columbia Human Rights Code. In fact, the Attorney General is the minister responsible for reporting out on the pay equity task force report and will do so, or she can canvass him during his estimates.
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I have to say, Chair, that the member has asked a number of questions in this area, and I indicated to her that because it is in the Attorney General's area of responsibility, she should ask those questions there. I would ask that she move on to questions that fall within the direct responsibilities of this ministry.
J. Kwan: Yes, pay equity issues are important issues that impact women. Pay equity issues are important issues for this minister of state who is responsible for women's services. Pay equity is an issue that I think impacts women even today, especially as the government had repealed legislation that directly impacts women in this area, especially when the government had commissioned a report two years ago, and we have never heard what the government's actions were following that report. The former Minister of State for Women's Equality said the government was preparing a response. It's now been two years since that time. How's it going? What's happening?
The minister says: "Don't ask me; ask somebody else." She has the title and the responsibility for women's services. Given that women's services and the impact for women include issues around pay equity, I would have hoped that the minister would have responded in the affirmative — that, yes, in fact, she had read the Iyer report.
Let me ask the minister that question again: did she or did she not read the Iyer report and her recommendations?
Hon. I. Chong: The member states that she has canvassed this area in the past and that she is aware that government is preparing a response. I would have to conclude that she's aware the Attorney General is the minister who is responsible and who is going to be preparing this response — which is, again, why I direct her to ask the questions she has directly to the Attorney General when his estimates are up.
J. Kwan: The former Minister of State for Women's Equality answered the question. In fact, she said that a response would be forthcoming. Let me just quote her directly. She said that the government would be making announcements over the next little while. That's what she said.
Maybe the minister can then, at a minimum, say that the government will be making an announcement in the next little while. She hasn't said that. All she's done so far is pass the buck and said: "Ask somebody else." She won't even answer a basic question about whether or not she's read the report. Given that she's the minister responsible for women's services, given that she claims she cares about pay equity issues, given that she claims she knows pay equity issues impact women…. If she makes these claims, as she has in this House, then she could come clean and tell this House whether or not she's read the report. It's a report that was commissioned by her own government, impacting women directly, and that falls into the realm of women's services. Has she read the report?
Hon. I. Chong: As the member has stated in her questioning, she is prepared to have the response come back from government and is aware that the Attorney General is the minister responsible for that. That being the case, then she would need to ask the minister responsible — the Attorney General — exactly when she can expect that response, and she can do so when his estimates are up.
J. Kwan: First of all, that was two years ago, but never mind that. My question wasn't even about when the government is going to make a response or what response will be forthcoming. I simply asked a simple question of this minister, given her new role as the new minister responsible for women's services. She claims that she cares about pay equity issues and knows they impact women. Has she read the report? Has she seen the recommendations? Does she know what is contained in that report?
Hon. I. Chong: I'll try it for the member once again. I have spoken to my colleagues, and that includes the Attorney General, on a number of matters that have cross-ministerial responsibilities. Knowing that the Attorney General is the minister responsible for this, he will be the one who will be responding to her questions when she chooses to raise that during his estimates.
J. Kwan: I don't know how else to put this to this minister that makes it even simpler for her. I'm not asking for the government's response on this issue, although one would think that the Minister of State for Women's Services would have a role to play with respect to the government's response and would want to contribute to the government's direction on that.
I'll tell you, Madam Chair, when I was the Minister of Women's Equality — when there was a Minister of Women's Equality — the then Attorney General was, in fact, contemplating some policy changes that would have direct impact on women. When that was being debated with the Attorney General, I picked up the phone and explicitly said to the Attorney General that this policy impacts women directly, and whatever direction the Attorney General might be considering in wanting to go with this, that decision can not be made without the input of the Ministry of Women's Equality. There was ongoing dialogue with respect to that. Some of the changes, I might add, the former Attorney General was considering did not proceed, precisely because of the input from the Ministry of Women's Equality.
It is completely legitimate for me to ask these questions of this minister, who is responsible for women's services.
Setting that aside for a moment, I'm asking the minister whether or not she's read the report. I don't know why she's being so evasive about this. It's not that complicated a question. She need not consult with her staff on whether or not she's actually read this report or seen the recommendations or knows what the recommendations are. I'll grant that she might not remember
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all of the recommendations, and I'll grant that she might not have read the entire report. Maybe she's only read a summary of the report. I'll grant her that as well.
I'll simply ask this question of the minister: has she read the summary, at least, of the Iyer report and the recommendations contained within it?
Hon. I. Chong: I do hope the member will move on, but specifically in terms of this report, yes, I have received this report, and yes, I have seen the recommendations.
J. Kwan: Then the minister would be aware of the recommendation contained in it — the issue around the recommendation to repeal section 12 of the Human Rights Code and enact an equal-pay-for-equal-work provision in the Employment Standards Act. Does the minister agree with that recommendation?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, because the Attorney General is the one responsible for responding to the report, she would need to direct her questions to the Attorney General.
J. Kwan: Let me set aside the report for one moment. What is the minister's general view about the notion of repealing section 12 of the Human Rights Code and enacting something towards equal pay for equal work in the provisions of the Employment Standards Act — her general view? I'm not talking specifically about the report, just her view as the minister responsible for women's services.
Hon. I. Chong: I've indicated to the member on several occasions now that section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code provides the protection for women against discrimination in the workplace. She should move on to additional questions that affect this ministry directly.
J. Kwan: Then let me put this question to the minister: is she satisfied with the language in the Human Rights Code with respect to pay equity issues? Is she satisfied as the Minister of State for Women's Equality — sorry; there is no longer the Minister of Women's Equality — Women's Services?
Hon. I. Chong: Section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code provides the protection for women against discrimination, as I've stated. Section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code has the mechanisms to provide the protection for women against discrimination in the workplace.
J. Kwan: Is the minister satisfied with that language?
Hon. I. Chong: I've answered this question on a number of occasions. I would ask the member to ask questions that affect this ministry in direct responsibilities.
J. Kwan: No, the minister has not answered the question. I'm asking for her opinion. As the Minister of State for Women's Services, is she satisfied with the language contained in section 12 of the Human Rights Code?
Hon. I. Chong: As the member should know, section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code does protect women against discrimination in relation to a number of areas in terms of employment, which includes recruitment, job assignment, termination, pay rates or conditions of work.
J. Kwan: I know what section 12 of the Human Rights Code contains. I know how I feel about that. I know where I stand on the issue of pay equity for work of equal value. I know where the former government stood on those issues, so I don't need to tell the minister how I feel about these things. Those things are on record. I don't shy away from telling the public how I feel about those things. I'm on record to tell the people how I feel about those things.
[H. Long in the chair.]
I'm now asking the minister — who happens to be in government, who has a responsibility to answer questions in her new role as the Minister of State for Women's Services — to own up to her responsibility and be accountable to British Columbians. Let us in the minimum know what she thinks around the notion of equal pay for work of equal value. Let us know in the minimum where she stands with section 12 of the Human Rights Code. Is she just satisfied with it?
From the way it sounds, she is satisfied. Is she? In her new role as the Minister of State for Women's Services, is she satisfied with that language?
Hon. I. Chong: Pay equity for women is covered under section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code, which, as I've indicated, protects women against discrimination in relation to employment, in recruitment, job assignment, termination, pay rates and conditions of work. If she wishes to ask for more information regarding the task force report, then I would again direct her to raise those matters with the Attorney General.
J. Kwan: I'm asking general questions of the minister in terms of where she stands on the issue around pay equity and equal pay for work of equal value. I want to know where the minister stands and what she thinks. What role does she think she has in terms of advocating for women, or does she think she has a role at all? Or is she satisfied with what is there now and therefore is saying: "I don't need to do any more on this. Let my colleagues deal with it. I'm not concerned about it. I'm going to move on to other areas"? Is that what she's saying? Or is she advocating for women on this particular front? Simple questions for the minister, and I would hope she can give a simple answer.
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She can say, "Yes I am; I'm working on it," and then tell this House what she's doing, or she can say: "No, I'm satisfied." She doesn't have to be evasive. She doesn't have to keep on passing the buck to the Attorney General. I hope that is not the case — that this minister is waiting for the Attorney General to tell her what she should think. I hope it is the case that the minister knows what she thinks. That's where I'm going, what I'm trying to drive at: what does the minister think around the issues of pay equity for women? Is she advocating for change at the cabinet table or elsewhere?
Hon. I. Chong: Our Premier and our government recognize that women do have unique social and economic needs, and our government is committed to meeting them. The task force report which will be addressing our report will be the responsibility of the Attorney General. Again, I know the member will at that time ask the Attorney General all these questions, which he will be able to respond to.
I just want to inform this member that the role I will be playing in this particular ministry…. I will be focusing on how we can make programs and initiatives in government work for women and seniors. That is the role I have.
Our government has worked to revitalize this economy. British Columbia leads the country in job creation, and that means that women are also faring better in terms of jobs. I will be looking at ways we can profile and promote women's role in the economy, because our economy is the opportunity for women to succeed and have their families taken care of.
I would hope that this member is able to move on to more direct questions and, if she wishes to continue in this area, that she refer them to the minister responsible, and that is the Attorney General.
J. Kwan: The minister says she'll be working on programs for women and seniors — how to make them better, how to address, presumably, the needs of women and seniors better. She says that. Does the minister include the issue of pay equity — as part of government's policies and therefore government's programming for women — as part of her responsibility?
Hon. I. Chong: As I indicated, I will be focusing on how we can make programs and initiatives that are in government work for women and seniors. To that end I will, as the result of that focus, be able to develop recommendations which…. I will, as I say, work across ministries to ensure that the areas and programs we have across government can in fact work better for women and seniors.
J. Kwan: Key words. The minister said she'll be working to improve programs for women and seniors — "programs and initiatives," she said — and that she'll be developing recommendations in that regard. Okay, in that set of initiatives, the programs for women, the development of recommendations that the minister will be working on or the ones that she has already worked on…. Does any of that include the issue of pay equity?
Hon. I. Chong: The issue of pay equity was dealt with in terms of a task force that was established. That was a new-era commitment that we had. That task force has reported out, and as the member is well aware, it is now in the hands of the Attorney General, who will be the minister responsible for that. Again, as I stated several times, she can ask the Attorney General the questions that she is posing now. That is where they are more appropriately directed.
J. Kwan: Actually, I will be asking the Attorney General direct questions around the Iyer report, but I don't think the Attorney General will be in a position to answer questions about what this Minister of State for Women's Services thinks about pay equity. I'm sure he is going to direct me to this minister for those answers. That's what I'm asking of this minister — her opinion.
I don't think the Attorney General will be able to answer the question on whether or not the Minister of State for Women's Services considers pay equity as part of the component of the work program she has with respect to trying to improve programs and initiatives for women and develop recommendations in that regard. I don't think the Attorney General will be able to answer that. Only the Minister of State for Women's Services will able to answer that question.
The question to the minister is: does she consider pay equity issues as part of her…? Let me put it this way. Is it included in the areas that she calls programs for women, initiatives for women and development recommendations for women? Has she included pay equity as a component of that work program?
Hon. I. Chong: The member is again not listening to the answer that I provided to her. The matter of pay equity was a new-era commitment we made in terms of a task force that was commissioned. The task force has now reported out on that. Again, the Attorney General will be responding to that task force report.
The member states that she is concerned about women. Well, you know, our government is concerned about the unique needs of women. We are in fact building a province that is going to improve the quality of life for women and have a prosperous economic climate for them to be able to provide for their families. Women are significant players in our economy, and when our economy is strengthened, so are the women in this province.
I would hope this member appreciates that women can succeed in this province when we have a strong, vital and vibrant economy.
The Chair: I would like to recognize the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and indicate that this subject has been well canvassed by the minister and yourself. If you have a new question, I would appreciate it.
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J. Kwan: Unfortunately, as is always the case with the government MLAs, the government ministers — even new ones — never actually answer the questions. Maybe they have been brainwashed, as the member for Surrey-Whalley has identified, so that all they're able to do is spin what the government wants them to spin. They have no independent thinking. They have no independent speech opportunities. They have no independence whatsoever to offer and advocate for their community and their constituents. Maybe that's what we're seeing here with this minister of state.
Mr. Chair, we will turn to the issues around the economy in ample time. Don't you worry about it. We will get there.
You know, a simple question to the Minister of State for Women's Services about whether or not she includes in her work program issues around pay equity that impact women directly in British Columbia…. She would not answer a simple question like that. She would not answer that question. She would not offer what her thoughts are with respect to that. One has to wonder: how come? One has to wonder: where's the muscle? Where's the choke chain? Or is it the case that the minister of state has been brainwashed already by this government and every thought she might have has already been shut down by this government?
Pay equity directly impacts women. I wasn't even asking about the Iyer report. The minister says: "Don't ask me; go ask the Attorney General." I will go and ask the Attorney General. All I'm asking the minister is in terms of what her program entails outside of generalities around programs for women, initiatives for women and developing recommendations for women. What exactly does it contain? Specifically within that, is pay equity part of that work program? It's not that difficult a question, and it's directly in the area of the minister's responsibility: women's services. Why won't she answer that question? What's the difficulty here? I'm not sure if I understand.
Hon. I. Chong: The member asks about my workplan. I've already indicated to her what that is. Although she may choose not to listen, I did indicate that part of my task and this new position is to focus on how we can make programs and initiatives in government work for women and for seniors. In focusing on that, I will be looking across government and then developing recommendations should they need to have these programs and initiatives work better.
I also indicated to the member that I would be looking at ways we can profile and promote women's role in the economy. Women play an important role in our economy. With our economy being revitalized, they can continue to contribute. That's what they would like to do. I would hope that the member can hear my answer, for the third or fourth time, and move on to further questions.
The Chair: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant on a new question.
J. Kwan: Let me just correct the record on the minister's non-answer to my questions. She did not answer the questions on the specific issue around pay equity. She moved on to generalities. She continued to do so. At the minimum, though, the minister has recognized that women have a role to play in our economy and that in fact her work program includes the promotion of women's role in the economy.
Does the minister consider pay equity for women impacting our economy?
Hon. I. Chong: Perhaps it would be best if I read into the record for the member the accountabilities that I have in this new role.
First of all, I will be developing a strategy outlining activities and initiatives that profile and promote women's role in the provincial economy. I will also be developing a cross-ministry strategy to reduce violence against girls and women by focusing on prevention activities. As well, I will be reviewing government programs and services for seniors and will make recommendations on how government can focus its planning for an aging population, in cooperation with municipalities across British Columbia, in order to address the needs of today's seniors.
The member continues to ask about the pay equity matter. Again, I've indicated to her that our new-era commitment was to commission a task force. That has been done. The task force has a report, and the Attorney General is the minister responsible for that report.
The Chair: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant on a new question.
J. Kwan: It was a new question.
The minister says she's working on promoting women's role in the economy. My question with respect to pay equity, on many fronts…. Aside from the fact that it is a social justice issue, it is also an economic issue impacting women. If her role is to promote women's role in the economy, my question to her was: does she consider that pay equity impacts the economy for women? It's not that complicated.
She wouldn't answer the questions about what's going on with pay equity in terms of the Iyer report. She wouldn't answer the questions on what the definition is, in her mind, of pay equity. She wouldn't answer the questions on whether or not she would include in her bailiwick of things the pay equity issues under the programs and initiatives for women and develop recommendations around that.
She was the one that brought up the economy as it relates to women. Let me just cite for the minister what Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value: Employees' Guide says about what, in the economy component of it, impacts women: "In Canada today, women working full-time still make an average of only 72 cents for every dollar earned by men, and this wage gap has narrowed by just 8 percentage points since the late 1960s. The persistence of the wage gap is more than an interesting statis-
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tical footnote. The underpayment of women workers has a direct and tangible effect on the financial well-being of many Canadian women and their families."
Even this report, the Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value: Employees' Guide, makes a direct linkage in recognition of issues around pay equity as it impacts the financial well-being of women and, therefore, the economy.
If the minister says that's what she's working on — promoting women's role in the economy — part of that role, one would assume, includes issues around pay equity. I don't think I'm out to lunch on that. It's a simple question for the minister. Is that part of her workplan under this notion of promoting women's role in the economy: addressing pay equity issues?
Hon. I. Chong: As I've indicated to the member, part of my workplan will be to develop a strategy, and the strategy is obviously not completed. That's part of my workplan over the course of the next year. I would want her to understand that because the pay equity and the matter have been dealt with through a task force report that the Attorney General is reviewing, it would be premature to suggest or to state how that is going to affect the strategy I will be developing.
Certainly, in developing my strategy, I will be looking across ministries, and the Attorney General will of course be one of the ministries I will be working with, along with several other ministries. I want to stress that women are already succeeding in today's economy, which is one of the reasons we are able to celebrate women, particularly today. Women are in fact creating their own small businesses at twice the rate of men. Our province also leads the country with the highest percentage of small businesses that are owned by women.
I hope the member can appreciate that over the course of the next few months, I will develop a strategy. I will be looking across ministries to ensure that a strategy that allows for women to be profiled and promoted in the economy will be considered in all aspects.
The Chair: Member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, this is on a new subject.
J. Kwan: It's a new question for the minister.
I find what the minister has just put on record troubling. She's been made a minister, the new Minister for Women's and Seniors' Services. She says she's got a work program. She knows, she says, what her mandate is. It's in the service plans and so on and so forth, which we'll turn to. But the minister says: "I don't exactly know what that workplan looks like yet. In fact, it will take up to a year for that to be developed." That's what she said. We'll check Hansard to see what the minister said exactly if she claims that isn't what she said. That's exactly what the minister said.
Here we have a government quite frankly in chaos — in complete chaos. New ministers don't know what they're going to do. They don't know who they're going to talk to and what programs and recommendations they're going to put forward to advance women's services, women's issues. Yet the minister can stand in this House and claim that she's doing a fantastic job and that this government is doing a fantastic job, keeping in mind that the budget for Women's Services has been cut by this government. It used to be $52 million in '01-02. It's now been slashed to $32 million. It's a significant cut impacting women. We'll get to the details of these cuts at some point in this estimates debate — at some point. We can't say when, for we do not know whether or not the minister will own up to her responsibilities and answer the questions.
The minister says the economy is important for women. I don't disagree with that. Financial independence is key for women — absolutely. I don't dispute that for one second. But within that bailiwick of financial independence for women, a critical component contained within it is pay equity.
The Chair: Member, this subject has been well canvassed and is getting tedious and repetitious. I ask that you go on to a different line of questioning, please.
J. Kwan: I have new questions around pay equity for the minister. Maybe the minister might not like the words "pay equity." God knows that the former Minister of Women's Equality told her staff they weren't allowed to use the words "equality for women." God knows that's happened, and maybe this minister doesn't like the words "pay equity." Maybe there's an edict out there that says we're not allowed to use those words.
These are new questions related to pay equity, new questions as it pertains to the economy. The minister says she doesn't want to answer questions relating to the Iyer report. This is not about the Iyer report. It's about women in general, around their standing in our economy and their financial position. That's what these questions are about. It's a new line of questions.
Let me go and ask the minister this question, because it was not clear to me in her response earlier if she knew the distinction of what the definition of pay equity is. Given that these are new lines of questioning, it is important for me to clear up this cloud: whether or not the minister knows what pay equity means. Maybe she can put on the record here what the definition of pay equity is, and I'll ask my new line of questions around pay equity to the minister.
Hon. I. Chong: The member made a number of statements and allegations. Firstly, I want to say my response to her was that I was going to be developing a strategy over the course of the next year. That doesn't mean I was going to take the entire year, but it certainly means that having just been appointed the minister, I will be developing a strategy and I will be focusing on a number of things, which include having a cross-ministerial discussion.
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Secondly, she has also made some statements about the former minister, about comments she may or may not have had with staff. I find it troubling that she should make those allegations, because that former minister is not here to rebut any of the comments she has made. I want to say that for the record.
I indicated, and I will again reiterate it, I will be listening to women and seniors, and in so doing, I will be focusing on what programs and initiatives we have in government that can work better for them.
J. Kwan: The issue around the notion of what words can or cannot be used under the leadership of the former Minister of State for Women's Equality is a matter of public record that I'm citing, and the minister then, as far as I remember, did not actually refute those issues. So I'm not making this up.
Setting that aside, because we now have a new minister, she says she's working on a workplan up to a year. I want to ask a specific question about that. But the minister did not answer my question of what the definition of women's equality is in her mind. Does the minister know?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I would state for the record and for this member that I appreciate she has withdrawn or retracted some of the comments she's made about the former minister…
J. Kwan: No, I haven't. They're a matter of public record.
Hon. I. Chong: …in that she's not here.
The Chair: Order, member. Let the minister finish.
Hon. I. Chong: Mr. Chair, I'm not going to engage in those comments she made, because I do believe that's not for us to discuss here currently during these estimates debates.
I also want to be clear, because she continuously states that I said I will be taking up to a year, that I never said I would be taking up to a year. I never gave her any time frame. I said that over the course of the year, in fact, I would be developing a strategy.
I would hope that she knows, having been a former minister, that when you listen to people and when you go out and seek their input, it does take some time. I'm going to take the time that's required to develop that strategy, to make sure that the programs and initiatives in government that we have for women and seniors work for them. I cannot give her the definitive time because, as she well knows, it does mean spending the time to meet with people and to get that input. I will be doing that over the course of the year.
J. Kwan: No, actually. I didn't retract my words about what the former Minister of State said around what words could be used or could not used. What I said was that that information was a matter of public record. That's what I said. Let's be clear.
Thank God for Hansard, actually. They're recording every single word, and I'm sure that the Hansard will reflect that the minister said she will take up to a year to develop the workplan. Maybe it'll only take a couple of months, but she did say that it was going to take up to a year, that it could take up to a year. The minister said exactly that, and the Hansard record will reflect that. I'll check that when we actually get to a break.
But that wasn't even my question. I asked the minister a very simple question, which I don't know why she wouldn't answer: if she knew what the definition was for pay equity. One could only assume that…. I've asked this question so many times now, and she has not answered the question….
The Chair: Member, that's exactly the point.
J. Kwan: Then let me put on the record…
The Chair: A new line of questioning.
J. Kwan: …what the definition is, Mr. Chair.
The definition has everything to do with the new set of questions I'm going to ask this minister, as it pertains, by her own admission, to issues that she will be working on related to women's role in the economy. The economy impacting women has a direct relationship with the issues around pay equity. We can't skate around that and pretend that it doesn't exist. You can't do that if you are going to take up your responsibilities seriously.
The minister won't answer the question of what that definition is. Well, let me give it to her on record so that she will know exactly what it means. It's troubling to me that the minister may not know this. If she knows it, I don't know why she won't put it on record. One can then only assume that she won't put it on record because she doesn't know it. Then let me put it on record for the minister's information. I know she's learning on the job.
Equal value means equal pay. Here's the definition. Pay equity builds on earlier laws which require equal pay for people performing the same work. Comparisons could only be made between jobs that were identical or largely similar. Those laws solved some problems, but they did not help people working in female-dominated sectors who had no one with whom to compare themselves. Under pay equity it is no longer necessary to compare a job with another that is exactly the same. Jobs that appear to be different can still be compared if they can be shown to be equal in their overall value, and according to the law, jobs that are equal in total value must receive equal pay. Fairness means that pay must be based on the worth of work, not on the sex of the people who do it.
That is the definition of pay equity under the federal government, and that is the language being used and accepted by others in terms of what pay equity is. How is this related to the economy? As I had men-
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tioned earlier when I talked about the wage gap, let me put this on the record.
"Equal pay was introduced because of the large differences between the earnings of men and women. The salaries paid to employees in areas dominated by women, such as clerical work, nursing and retail sales, are often low. In Canada today women working full-time still make an average of only 72 cents for every dollar earned by men, and this wage gap has narrowed by just 8 percentage points since the late 1960s. The persistence of the wage gap is more than an interesting statistical footnote. The underpayment of women workers has a direct and tangible effect on the financial well-being of many Canadian women and their families."
Let me stop there, Mr. Chair. Does the minister agree with this definition of pay equity?
Hon. I. Chong: It's troubling to me, as the member started out saying it was troubling to her on a number of issues, that this member, when she was in government, allowed thousands of jobs to be lost. It's troubling to me that when she was in government, she allowed families to be ripped apart when she allowed our economy to slip from the first place to the last place. So it's troubling to me, as well, that this member continues to persist that I indicated I would take a year to develop a strategy when I indicated to her that over the year is what is I would be doing. She continues to put in Hansard something that is incorrect.
J. Kwan: I'll be happy to talk about the economy under this government's record, and as I mentioned earlier, I will turn to that. So the minister…. I don't know why she's being evasive. I don't know what she's nervous about. Maybe she has been completely brainwashed out of any ability to answer questions without the government spin.
It's a simple question to the minister who is responsible for women's services. Does she agree with the definition that I put on record of what pay equity is? Let her consult with her staff to make sure she understands what pay equity is, and I'll await her answer.
Hon. I. Chong: I'll say for the member once again that pay equity for women is covered under section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code, and I support section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code.
The Chair: Member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant. This will be on a new subject.
J. Kwan: It's on pay equity, but it is a new line of questions, Mr. Chair, if that's okay with you.
The Chair: Carry on.
J. Kwan: The question that I asked of the minister…. She won't even confirm the definition of pay equity. I don't know why. I mean, it's general knowledge, so at least the public knows where she stands on this issue. At least then the public knows that she won't advocate for women on this issue. Maybe the minister doesn't know how it is linked to your economy. Maybe she does. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.
Let me ask the minister this new question. Does the minister know that pay equity impacts women's lives with respect to the economy? If she knows that it impacts women's lives and the economy, can she tell this House how so?
Hon. I. Chong: Well, a poor economy or a last-place economy affects every British Columbian's life. By that statement, then, a poor-performing economy — which is what the previous government that this member was a part of did — affects all British Columbians, including women.
J. Kwan: As I said, I'll get to the economy issues momentarily. Let me just say that under this government a British Columbian's take-home pay is actually down — by this government. It's the only province across the country where that is the case — under this government. Let's just examine…. Well, actually, no. I don't want to be distracted on this issue, because I will get to the economy. Make no mistake about it.
I know that the minister is trying to evade questions around pay equity. She, I think, is failing already as the Minister of Women's Services to be the advocate that I think many women hoped she would be for women.
She won't acknowledge the definition or what the definition is for women's equality. She keeps referring to the Human Rights Code. Already established and recommended by the Iyer commission, the commission that has been appointed by this government, is that section 12 of the Human Rights Code needs to be repealed and replaced with new language. The government's own commission has already identified that, and the minister won't acknowledge that issue. The minister won't acknowledge the situation.
As pay equity impacts women's financial situations and therefore the economy, let me put this information on the record and let's see what the minister thinks about this. Why is there a wage gap between men and women?
"Low wages for female-dominated jobs are due to several factors. Partly they reflect differences in education, physical effort, hours of work, time spent in the labour market and so on. They also reflect discriminatory attitudes toward women and the jobs they have traditionally held. Canadian economists have estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the wage gap is due to this kind of discrimination. It is this portion of the gap that the pay equity program seeks to redress."
What is the minister's opinion on this paragraph, this information?
Hon. I. Chong: Firstly, I think we all do acknowledge that there is in fact a gender pay gap that existed certainly well before this government took office. It's been prevalent before, and I believe I even raised it when I was in opposition. However, where discrimination
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exists, there is a mechanism to address it, and that would be section 12 of the B.C. Human Rights Code.
More importantly, a healthy economy, a revitalized economy is the best solution for us in order to ensure that this does not occur — a good economy with jobs, jobs for everyone. That is what our government is working towards.
J. Kwan: That answer from the minister just verified that the minister does not know the difference between pay equity, in terms of equal pay for work of equal value, and equal pay for the same work — equal work. There is a fundamental difference. The Human Rights Code only prohibits the violation of equal pay for equal work. It does not address the issue of equal pay for work of equal value. It does not address pay equity at all.
The minister's answer…. She keeps on referring to the Human Rights Code as the panacea to deal with women's issues and inequities in the workforce in terms of pay. The minister is so flawed in her understanding, or lack thereof, that it is shocking. The minister is so flawed in her advocacy for women in this area that it is shocking. The minister doesn't even know there's a difference. By her answer she has already indicated that she's not going to be advocating for women for advancement in this area.
The historical issue that I have put on record with respect to the wage gap that needs to be redressed has been longstanding — absolutely. And you know what? The previous government introduced legislation to amend the Human Rights Code to address the issue of pay equity.
This government, when they took office, repealed it. Then they put this commission in place. The commission came back and said: "You should repeal section 12 of the Human Rights Code and address the issue of pay equity." It has now been two years since the government has done nothing on this file.
It should be a no-brainer for this Minister of Women's Services to immediately put this issue on her list of things to do. You don't need to go out and consult with people whether or not pay equity should exist in British Columbia. As a Canadian society, the federal government has recognized that this needs to be rectified as a basic human rights issue. It should be a no-brainer. The minister doesn't have to say: "I need to take months and months and months to go and consult to see what people think about it."
If this minister says that when she was in opposition, she raised this issue, well then — what's changed since? If she was concerned about the issue when she was in opposition, what's changed? She's now in a position to make a difference as a minister. Why isn't she doing it and seizing that opportunity to do so? It is shocking, what this minister is saying; it is shocking, what this government is doing; and it is shocking — this minister's lack of conviction to stand behind women for economic justice.
That's what this issue is about. It is social justice, yes. It is also economic justice for women making 72 cents on the dollar — 72 cents on the dollar for work of equal value is not acceptable. We as a society and the minister as part of her government can do something about that. She has failed in that regard because she will not advocate for women. It is clear from this estimates debate.
The historical background that I put on the record…. Let me just put this information on the record:
"Some of the wage gap is a result of deliberate policies…. Wage laws passed in the first decades of this century effectively set women's base salaries about a third lower than men's. As a matter of fact, the legal minimum wage in some parts of Canada was lower for women until the early 1970s.
"Why was this so? Partly because of prevailing perceptions about family responsibilities. Since men were seen as the breadwinners who supported the family, it was thought that they should be paid better than women. Wages earned by women were regarded as little more than pocket money for secondary expenses.
"A more general tendency to undervalue women's work also played a role. Lower pay rates for female-dominated occupations have become an accepted part of compensation systems. Secretaries may be paid less than warehouse workers and nurses less than electricians not because their jobs are worth less but because these jobs were traditionally performed by women. Although attitudes toward women and women's roles have changed dramatically, undervaluing of work performed by women persists. In many workplaces men and women doing work of equal value are still paid differently."
That is the situation right now. The Human Rights Code that the minister keeps on wanting to fall back on does not address the issue. It does not address the issue. The Human Rights Code only addresses equal pay for the same work. It does not address the issue of equal pay for equal value. That's what we're talking about.
The historical context I've just put for the minister's information…. On this day, none other than International Women's Day, this minister stood up in the House and talked about advances that have been gained by women. I acknowledge that there are advances gained by women, but there is still a huge gap, a 72-cents-on-the-dollar gap, for women in equal pay for equal value. That gap exists and impacts women's financial independence and our economy.
Let me give the minister a second chance here for her to take up her responsibility as the Minister of Women's Services. Will she advocate for women for equal pay for work of equal value and advocate for change in government policies and legislation?
Hon. I. Chong: What I will be doing is advocating for more jobs for everyone, and that includes women. Our government is creating opportunities for women by building a strong economy. Our government is committed to employability programs for women that teach life skills and job training to teach women to enter the workforce and become independent.
In today's economy there are new opportunities emerging in labour pools every day, and women are
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well poised to take advantage of those opportunities — opportunities in the high-tech sector, in trades and in construction. We need to encourage women to enter these fields. I would be encouraging them to do so.
J. Kwan: The minister has just refused to commit to advocating for women in the area of equal pay for work of equal value. She falls back into this government spin over and over and over again. Let me tell you, having been in government, the spin the government gives you will sometimes lead you to a place you do not want to be. It would serve this minister well early in her career to learn that and understand that well. Obviously, the minister is failing that right off the top.
The Human Rights Code addresses only this issue: it requires employers to pay men and women the same pay for doing the same or substantially the same work. That's all it does. In this document it also provides you with information on how equal value is to be determined. It takes into consideration issues around skill sets. It takes into consideration the effort that's required for the job. It takes into consideration the working conditions, the responsibilities. Then there is a score point associated with it. That's how that evaluation is done to determine work of equal value and how it is to be rated.
It is substantively different — what the Human Rights Code does and what it addresses — from the whole issue of pay equity and the understanding of what pay equity is and how it needs to be addressed. How it needs to be addressed is that the government needs to bring in legislation to change that. Government will only do that — having been in government — if there are enough people in the caucus advocating for it and if there is a lead within the government — like on pay equity issues, which happen to fall into the area of Women's Services, formerly Women's Equality. If there's a lead to pursue that, then there is a hope that those policies will change and a hope that the next generation and the generation after will once and for all be finished with having to fight that longstanding fight of 72 cents on the dollar for women for work of equal value — for equal pay.
The former government actually did this. The former government — the then Attorney General, Graeme Bowbrick — actually introduced Bill 17, the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2001. Let me put its purpose on the record here to see what the minister thinks about this.
"Its purpose is to enshrine the principle of pay equity in the Human Rights Code of British Columbia. Pay equity means equal pay for work of equal value. It is achieved when employers pay their male and female employees the same for work of equal value, even if the work is different.
"On average, women in British Columbia earn only 73 cents for every dollar men earn. That means there is a gap of 27 cents between men's and women's wages. Eight cents of this 27 percent wage gap is due to the historic undervaluing of work traditionally done by women. Pay equity closes this portion of that gap.
"The Human Rights Code already prohibits employers from paying their male and female employees differently for similar work. However, this does not assist employees working in predominantly female occupations that have been traditionally undervalued. Low wages for women and for men working in jobs traditionally done by women have, in effect, been subsidizing employers and other employees for years. Wage adjustments are the right of these employees who have not been fairly paid in the past.
"The bill contains changes that address this inequity by prohibiting employers in both the private and the public sectors from discriminating by paying male and female employees differently for work of equal value."
Bill 17 was introduced, then read a first time and ordered to be placed on the orders of the day for second reading for the next sitting of the House.
When the government came in, they repealed that bill. They repealed that section of the bill and left it to deal only with equal pay for the same work. No pay equity was addressed. That's what the former government has done. They've been on record, and I'm on record in supporting that.
This minister claims that when she was in opposition, she raised this issue, this historical undervaluing of the work performed by women. If she did recognize those issues then, when she was in opposition, what's changed now that she's minister?
Hon. I. Chong: It's interesting, as I was listening to the member, how she was reading off from her BlackBerry all this information as if it were data she had at the tip of her fingers. It's interesting, as well, to note that in the last decade — the decade of decline, as has been noted, when this member was a part of government — they took our economy from the first place to the worst place. They had ten years to address pay equity issues, and it was really at the last moment, as they were…
The Chair: Would the member let the minister finish.
Hon. I. Chong: …walking out the door that they brought in legislation. I find that this member's comments ring a little hollow.
I've answered this question on several occasions already in the last hour or hour and a half. I indicated to the member that the pay equity issue was dealt with by way of the commissioning of a report, that that report was in the hands of the Attorney General and that he would be reviewing that and that he would be responding to it as the lead minister.
The Chair: Member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant on a new issue. We have canvassed the issue of pay equity quite extensively. The minister has answered on many occasions. You have asked the question many times. I think it's time we moved on to a new subject.
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J. Kwan: As I mentioned, pay equity — perhaps the two words that the minister fears. But there are many issues within the notion of pay equity that I have not yet canvassed, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: Do you have a…? On a new question, please.
J. Kwan: I have many new questions. I'm just clarifying….
The Chair: Then we should get on with the new questions.
J. Kwan: I'm clarifying for you, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: Away from pay equity.
J. Kwan: No, Mr. Chair….
The Chair: Member, this is getting tedious and repetitious. I ask that you go on to a new line of questioning. The minister has asked on many occasions, and I've given you extensive opportunity to ask the question. You have, extensively. Therefore, I'd ask that you get on to a new line of questioning.
J. Kwan: On the issues around pay equity, Mr. Chair, just for clarification and in terms of your guidance, in terms of the questions that I'm asking here, there are many avenues in which pay equity issues arise impacting women and our economy. The lines of questions that I've asked, the minister refuses to answer the questions. But I have new areas with respect to pay equity impacting women. I would like to canvass those questions. They are new questions.
The Chair: Away from the pay equity issue, I will allow the question.
J. Kwan: Well, it's tied to the pay equity issues, Mr. Chair, so I seek your guidance in this. They're tied to the pay equity issues. Pay equity issues are not just the two aspects of things that I've talked about to date. There are many aspects related to it, and I would like to canvass those questions with the minister.
The Chair: Carry on.
J. Kwan: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Yes, I have my BlackBerry, as do all of the other MLAs. We're able to use that, as I see another MLA from the government side using his BlackBerry right at the moment, the MLA for the Cariboo. It's completely legitimate.
And yes, I did ask my staff for information to be put on record, exactly word for word what the previous government has done on the issue around pay equity so that I won't be accused of providing wrong information in this House. I wanted to be dead-on with respect to that information.
So, my staff e-mailed me the issues around Bill 17, exactly the language and what was contained within it. The government had put that through legislative changes. This government and this minister so far have refused to acknowledge that there is even a difference between pay equity versus equal pay for the same or similar work, that she will be the advocate for women in this area, that pay equity impacts the financial situation of women or that it impacts our economy. She refuses to acknowledge the historical patterns of undervaluing women in the workforce and refuses to look into the difference of when she was in opposition versus now, when she's in government. That does not bode well for the minister.
I have other questions relating to issues relating to Women's Services around this, and I'll come back to it, Mr. Chair. Noting the time, I move that committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The Chair: Member, we just recess.
J. Kwan: I move that we recess until 6:35.
The Chair: The committee will recess until 6:35 tonight.
The committee recessed from 5:49 p.m. to 6:38 p.m.
[H. Long in the chair.]
On vote 17 (continued).
V. Anderson: Following up on the housing today and the plan to bring up the Building Code, is there some plan within that Building Code to make provisions for green buildings?
I was at a conference on the weekend, and they were presenting a number of opportunities in both housing and commercial buildings on green buildings. I'm wondering whether there is a study going on. The comment was that the opportunity to build these was limited by the code at the present time, so I wondered if there is something in that regard.
Hon. M. Coell: There are a couple of issues that might be of interest to the member. Our ministry with the Ministry of Energy and Mines is co-sponsoring an interagency-interministry committee to make some recommendations on initiatives that could address the energy conservation goal. That will be making recommendations regarding the B.C. Building Code based on the National Building Code.
The other area that would probably be of some interest is that the capital regional district has approached the ministry with plans for a pilot project on low-flush toilets. Those are the two initiatives that we're working with at this point.
V. Anderson: The particular condo developer that we're talking to, a fairly young fellow, actually — I was
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talking to him after the presentation the other day — was anxious to discuss with the ministry and some people in it some of the things that he's doing in water conservation, energy conservation and building opportunities. If the minister is interested, I'd be happy to give him his name, and he can follow up, because he would like very much to do that. He's working both in Vancouver and Victoria at the present time as well as in other places.
Another one along the same line, while I think of it, is SAFER — not the SAFER seniors program but the SAFER program for the construction of a house so that it's easily adaptable for persons with different kinds of disabilities. There's the opportunity that if you build these things in the construction phase, it might cost you $500, whereas if you tried to do them later, it would be $10,000 — wiring, ledges and a whole host of activities. I wondered also if somebody is working on that, because I'd like you to follow up with that. I can give you a name there as well who'd be able to help you. I think all of these things could be built into a very modern, effective code, which would be very useful.
Hon. M. Coell: I'm not sure of the person's name that the member raises, but we've been working with a person named Patrick Simpson on the development of a book and guidelines. We've also taken some of those guidelines and put them as part of social housing through B.C. Housing. So we are working on some of those concepts. Actually, I believe B.C. Housing has contributed to the development of that book as well.
V. Anderson: Moving from that to another area. Following up on a discussion which was held earlier about child care, I know the minister has…. Well, let me give context to my question, because it's hard to formulate the question itself. Over the last year families on low income…. As the minister is aware — and getting the feedback from the child care people in my community — many of their families had to withdraw from child care because they no longer had the income in order to meet the quality of child care, so there was whatever supplement — when that was lowered…. On the other hand, the opportunities for the child care spaces, to be able to be sure of having, particularly in the city area where you have a lot of fluid people…. If you get paid by the person, and then these people leave for a month, you don't get it filled in again right away. There's a real problem with the turnover of people and not being able to operate at capacity. Well, in one of our schools, for instance, they had 100-percent turnover in a year. Every child had turned over in a year. So child care places had a problem.
The third problem, at the same time, is that with some of the new regulations, at one point at least, they were spending almost more time on doing regulations than they were on child care. The forms with which you were trying to evaluate them were very complicated and very time-consuming. That was another major concern that they had.
What I'm wondering is whether we are meeting the needs of people financially and whether we're meeting the needs financially of those who are the providers, who are running on very narrow margins to begin with.
Hon. M. Coell: A number of questions. Just to give some context, we're currently providing approximately 27,000 children in the province with the subsidy. It's available to parents who are working or seeking work, parents participating in training or education, parents who have child care prescribed as part of their risk-reduction plan or parents with a medical condition that interferes with their ability to care for their children.
The program threshold was also increased by $100 in May, and that should assist some people. We have also gone to an on-line system for providers and also for individuals applying, and that should help the regulation process. Those, I think, will go some distance to alleviating the problems that the member has brought forward.
V. Anderson: I remember the $100 increase, but was there not a decrease prior to that which was larger than the increase? Is that not true? So at the moment we aren't filling that gap yet — for a while. That's down the road. That's what I was trying to get at, when we say we had the increase and whether we had more spaces — whether it reaches some of the people who really have the greatest need. People in the greatest need are still the ones that are being handicapped at this point.
I know in my own particular area one of the child care places said she could fill her space, but she wanted to try and provide priority to those with the lowest income, and those were the ones that she had to let go because she just couldn't afford to follow through. I hope there will be some plan and opportunity for them.
Are all the child care needs, in both spaces and subsidies, coordinated now through this ministry, or is it still divided amongst other ministries?
Hon. M. Coell: Yes. It has been consolidated in this ministry. I would add that the federal government has flowing money to the provinces this year and for the next few years for child care, so we will be looking carefully at how that fits into our child care programs within the province as well.
V. Anderson: Is there a time frame on that at all? When might that be looked at — in the fall or sometime? And, if so, two questions: is there a time frame, and can priority be given to those that are in most financial need in that process?
Hon. M. Coell: We're hoping to resolve that this spring, and we will be focusing our money on those most in need.
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V. Anderson: Another area, which is quite different, is that we've grown up in a culture in the last number of years of central government providing many of the services that we provide in the community along with non-profit societies, and providing grants directly to non-profit societies from the central government. And so they have built up resources that involve volunteers to help them to provide these services. The shift to regionalization and moneys being fed into these groups now through regionalization has caused a very difficult shift in the life of these organizations.
Has there been a plan developed yet to help the transition from one to the other? That has been very difficult and is part of the uncertainty that's in the community with organizations being closed down. The previous government had closed people down by unionizing them. We, in effect, have been closing down by changing the structure so that they're no longer able to fit into it. I'm wondering if there has been a study of that transition, because it's extremely important.
Hon. M. Coell: I think the member may possibly be referring to Children and Family Development and their regionalization. We haven't heard any negative comments back from the non-profits that we deal with in this ministry. You could also be talking about initiatives that they're undertaking. Maybe you could ask in those estimates as well.
V. Anderson: Certainly, there would be a lot of comments in the women's area through this ministry. That's happened to a lot of women's and service groups in this ministry. That shift from central to local control has been a problem.
The last question I wanted to raise briefly with the minister is the comment about understanding the shift from regulation to objective-based standards. I think that's something that has confused the community. If one could explain what effect this has in previous practices, as again it's a fundamental shift at this point.
Hon. M. Coell: In the previous question that the member asked me, I was commenting on regionalization. We haven't had any feedback from our non-profits regarding regionalization, but I will look into that and get back to the member if we have had.
With regard to the move from a prescriptive regulation to objective-based codes and standards, it affects a number of things. It affects the Safety Standards Act, which was passed last spring and replaces four separate acts, and also part of the Railway Act, and it should have some positive effects, I believe, on building codes as well. There are those three basic areas that we would see: objective-based building codes, one for the Safety Standards Act and then having some effects on the Railway Act and railway functions as well.
V. Anderson: Might I ask: does safety and drinking water come under this ministry? If so, what is happening to help that to develop?
Hon. M. Coell: That would be Health Services.
V. Roddick: To the Minister for Women's and Seniors' Services…. Is this a possibility where I can direct it?
V. Roddick: Good.
Recently I attended, with the minister, the opening of Augustine House, a gorgeous facility that is providing housing and health care services to seniors. Places like Augustine House in Ladner and The Waterford in Tsawwassen provide seniors with a safe and supportive environment so that they can live to the fullest and enjoy comfortable surroundings. To the minister: what is being done in today's current budget to encourage the development of more facilities like Augustine House, not only in my constituency but across the province?
Hon. I. Chong: This would be under Independent Living B.C., a program that assists by providing rent supplements to seniors. The units that are provided for are done in conjunction with health authorities within specific regions to make a determination as to where these units should be and how many units should be provided for with these rent supplements. There is very good cooperation that's occurring. The development community works with government and partners to provide more options for seniors, and it's a very successful way of encouraging more options for seniors.
I thank the member for having invited me to join her at the opening of Augustine House. I spoke to many seniors, and they were very pleased with the opportunity to continue there and to maintain their independence at the same time as being involved in their community. Again, it would certainly depend on the health authority, with Independent Living B.C. through B.C. Housing, to determine what other units are going to be provided for throughout her particular constituency.
G. Trumper: I'm not sure who to direct this question to. On the east side of my constituency, we have an umbrella organization that is able to give a lot of programs and support to a lot of people, whether they be seniors, whether they be women, and they're looking at some children's programs. They do it under the umbrella of what's called the SOS in Parksville, and it covers the whole of the Oceanside area. This organization is able to do a lot of things with the money that they raise, etc. If you move over to Port Alberni, we've got various agencies that are delivering services, including the women's centre, which received a program they are delivering to do with assistance to a certain segment of the society.
The question I have…. I'm not sure who wants to answer this. There are some areas in the province, some isolated areas, that have absolutely no govern-
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ment services at all. Particularly in my case, in one area right on the coast, there is nothing there. It's an area where there are a lot of people who possibly are on assistance. They're isolated, and they cannot make the journey because they don't have the vehicles, etc., to make the two-hour drive into Port Alberni.
I would ask: how do you see your ministry maybe delivering some of the programs you'll be looking at to assist certain sections? The organization on the west coast certainly did deliver a program from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and the ministry chose to give it to another group to deliver it. Through this organization have gone a lot of programs that are dealing not just with women's centres issues, so I'm wondering how you're going to address those issues of how we can deliver programs or assistance out on the west coast.
Hon. I. Chong: First of all, I want to just say that the matters she was talking about may refer to a number of ministries in terms of contract services. It could be the Ministry of Children and Family Development that provides some services to her area as well as the Ministry of Human Resources and then, of course, this Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services.
As the member knows, this government is committed to continuing to provide and maintain direct essential services to women. That means there will be continued funding for things like the transition houses, the Stopping the Violence program and the Children Who Witness Abuse program. I know that in Ucluelet, those programs, those direct essential services, exist. Those will continue.
I know we will continue to take a look at the direct essential services that are being provided in each region and will attempt to address where they can best be located so that they can serve the region as a whole. To provide assurance to the member, those direct essential services will still be made available in the region. If there were specific community needs and services, I know the member is a strong advocate for her area and that she certainly will be speaking to me or my colleagues. Again, to assure her, direct essential services to women will be continuing for those specific items that I've mentioned.
Hon. M. Coell: Just an adjunct for B.C. Housing. I realize we have to be very innovative when we're looking at rural B.C. for social housing. Last year we did ten supportive beds in Port Hardy in the member's riding. This year we're looking at Independent Living B.C. in Ucluelet, either rent supplement or direct units. We're looking through B.C. Housing now at some pretty innovative ways of providing services in rural B.C.
J. Kwan: I have a few more questions for the minister around pay equity issues, and then I'm going to be moving on to the women's centre services.
We canvassed earlier, and…. Just out of interest, for the record, I went during the break to look for the estimates debate last year with respect to what went on in terms of this area and the debate that took place. Interestingly, it wasn't just the opposition who asked questions about pay equity issues. Certainly, my colleague, the member for Vancouver-Hastings canvassed questions around that. But do you know what, Mr. Chair? Lo and behold, I found that the member for West Vancouver–Capilano actually asked the Minister of State for Women's Equality about the Iyer report.
Let me just put this information on the record in terms of what went on in the past and what the response was. April 1, 2003. The member for West Vancouver–Capilano:
"This is a question for the Minister of State for Women's Equality. Minister, as a result of the new-era commitments of this government, the Attorney General in 2001 established a task force on pay equity. Professor Nitya Iyer of the University of British Columbia law school chaired the task force. She's a graduate of the University of Toronto and Harvard and specializes in constitutional and human rights laws, family law and feminist analysis of law.
"In February of last year the report of the task force, entitled Working Through the Wage Gap, was released. It makes for interesting reading, all 154 pages. That's clearly no lack of material evidence, and I found it comprehensive, balanced and thought-provoking.
"The executive summary of this report states in part: 'There is no dispute that substantial sex-based wage disparities — also referred to as gender pay gaps — exist in British Columbia and across Canada, or that they adversely affect women in a number of ways. Aside from reflecting and reinforcing gender-based inequality in our society, sex-based wage disparities contribute to women's poverty both in the short term and long term as lower incomes lead to lower pensions.'
"My question is: what is the ministry of women's equality doing to bring about equal economic opportunity for women and to increase the contributions women can make to their pensions?"
The then Minister of State for Women's Equality's response:
"I thought Nitya Iyer's report was a very comprehensive one — certainly very thoughtful — and one that laid out a good view of where we need to go in terms of pay equity and making sure that women in fact have the ability to access that equal opportunity I think we all want to see. The problem is persistent and pervasive, and we need to develop a good strategy to deal with it.
"We're currently doing that. The Attorney General and the Minister of Skills Development and Labour and myself are developing a response to the report. As you know, we've put it through the government caucus committee, and we're now making some presentations to cabinet. Aside from that, we're getting a strategy together."
She goes on to talk about some other issues. This is a direct response, then, from the former Minister of State for Women's Equality to a question put to the minister by a government Liberal MLA.
Earlier, when the question was put to the former Minister of State for Women's Equality about the status
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of this report — the report at that time when it was brought to estimates debate was 14 months since — the former Minister of State for Women's Equality said:
"We have been diligently working, as I said, over these last number of months to develop that strategy. It's now complete, and the member opposite just needs to stay tuned. We'll be making announcements over the next little while."
The point I want to make and why I read this information onto the record is that it is clear on the record that the former Minister of State for Women's Equality had no trouble whatsoever answering the questions I put to the minister today. She had no trouble whatsoever putting on the record that she supported the recommendations from the Iyer report. She had no trouble recognizing the need to do that, as it impacts women and their economic situation.
The minister then said to stay tuned, that something would be forthcoming. It has now been two years since, and nothing has happened. This minister won't even acknowledge the differences in pay equity in terms of the ramifications for women, economically and socially. The minister won't commit that she supports the recommendations in the Iyer report, and the minister would not commit that she would actually take this up as her work agenda.
Let me turn to other aspects of issues relating to pay equity. Allocating staff and funds to build awareness of the issue around pay equity ensures, I think, the measures and aims of the government in trying to address the inequities that exist amongst women. Particularly, that would target what I would say others would — fairly enough — term vulnerable communities, including addressing issues around publicity, telephone access pamphlets, on-line information and the like.
What is the minister's view around action in terms of directing staff and funds to build awareness of pay equity for women in our society?
Hon. I. Chong: Firstly, I just want to say for the record, as well, that when the member earlier today spoke about her government having moved forward and passed pay equity legislation…. Again, a reminder that their government was in power for ten years, and it took ten years to bring forward that legislation. They sat for ten years before dealing with the issue. I think it's a bit much to suggest that immediately in coming into power, this government acted on pay equity legislation.
They did bring in pay equity legislation more or less on the heels of their leaving office. An election was called shortly after they passed the legislation, but it was not proclaimed to be commenced until June 1, 2002, a whole year after the election date. For the record, I think that needs to be stated as well.
In addition, I do want to say — and I've said this before — that the Attorney General has been reviewing this task force report and has been looking at preparing a response. I still believe this member should canvass that matter thoroughly with the Attorney General. This ministry is focused on spending its budget on direct essential services to women, on prevention services. That's where our focus in this particular ministry is. If she would like to canvass this and other areas with the Attorney General, again, I would suggest she do so.
J. Kwan: Well, how interesting that is. The only defence is to say that the previous government was late on the file in terms of bringing forward pay equity legislation. Then their defence now is to say: "Oh well, because they were late, maybe we won't need to do anything about it." The new-era commitment was that there would be an independent commission on the issue and then that the government would, in fact, act on it. It has now been two years since the commission report has been tabled, and there has been no action.
The minister has no idea what's going on. The minister is not even going to go to the table to advocate for these changes. It appears to me, from the earlier discussion, that she doesn't even know the difference in terms of what pay equity is exactly, versus what is in the Human Rights Code right now. Those are major differences, and those are major, major challenges for women who are faced with inequality in the workforce right now in the area of pay. The minister knows that very, very well. The government has gapped this file, quite frankly.
The former Minister of State for Women's Equality actually was on record as saying that the recommendations — at least she had the gumption to do that — from the Iyer report were good, thoughtful recommendations and that the government was going to move forward on those. It has now been two years, and no action has been taken.
On other issues relating to pay equity and advancing women's rights in terms of women's services in this ministry under this minister's leadership, around ensuring that there are staff allocated to it to advance those rights and to do public education around that, the minister has not answered that question. It was a new question put to the minister around that issue, and no answer at all.
Setting aside funds to build this awareness in addition to the staff issue in terms of what's happening…. Is there a commitment from the government? What does the minister think about setting aside funds to build awareness to ensure that measures are aimed at vulnerable communities, including publicity, telephone access pamphlets and on-line information to promote and advance pay equity? The minister wouldn't even touch those issues and just relied on political rhetoric.
This is the record we have with this minister on the issues around pay equity. She stands nowhere in advancing women's rights on this. Even her own colleagues have advocated for a change. Her own colleagues have admitted that these are the right recommendations and that we should be moving forward on them. This minister does not want to be identified as supporting recommendations of the government's own commission on women's rights in the area of pay equity, the recommendations from the Iyer report.
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Let me ask the minister this question. The suggestion to implement systems to ensure prompt responses to inquiries, mediation and settlement of complaints and other mechanisms for expedited dispute resolutions also advances the issue of pay equity for women. What is the minister's position on that?
Hon. I. Chong: Let me be clear that as I stated earlier, this ministry's and my role is to focus on prevention programs and activities on direct essential services to women. That's what my role will be involved with — the Stopping the Violence program, Children Who Witness Abuse program and to ensure that we maintain sustainable funding for the transition houses, second-stage housing and safe houses.
J. Kwan: In the course of just one day, the minister herself has reduced her areas of responsibility. Prior to the dinner break she talked about promoting women with government initiative programs in the economy. That's what she said. Those were her words. That's what she said she's doing. All of a sudden that has now disappeared from her list of responsibilities. Included in that, and as has been established throughout this entire debate, is pay equity and its relevance to people's — women in particular — economic position.
The minister just decides to put blinders on, I guess. Here's what has happened. The minister decides to put blinders on. She doesn't want to acknowledge that pay equity impacts women's financial situations and our economy overall, which she said she was going to do some work around, and now that thing has disappeared from her list of things to do.
She won't answer the question about ensuring that the government puts forward prompt responses to inquiries, mediation and settlement of complaints and other mechanisms for expedited dispute resolutions. I have to wonder why not. I mean, it's bizarre that here you have the minister responsible for women's services, where there is a direct link with pay equity into women's financial situation and our economy, and she won't have any comments whatsoever on the concept of pay equity and advancing that in the Human Rights Code.
She won't have anything to do with advocating for staff and funds to do public education and awareness around this issue. She won't talk about and advocate for a system that ensures prompt responses to inquiries, mediations, settlements of complaints and other mechanisms to expedite dispute resolutions. Well, what about this: to clarify the scope of the right with appropriate definitions, shift the onus to employers to justify any gender-based wage differences for similar or substantially similar work? Would the minister commit to advocating on behalf of women on that front?
Hon. I. Chong: This member would do well to stop misreading the statements I have made. I said I was going to be focusing on government programs and initiatives and be developing a strategy. That is still the case. I said that before supper, and I'm saying that again. When she asked about specific dollars, I indicated to her that I would also be focusing on direct essential services. She prefers to confuse it and say that one is happening and then that one is not happening. I just want to say for the record that she is confused on this matter. Perhaps she needs to read her BlackBerry again. I don't know.
I also want to say for the final time that the minister responsible for pay equity is the Attorney General. If she has questions on this, she should refer those questions to the Attorney General when his estimates are up for debate.
J. Kwan: The minister's stab at cheekiness when referring to my using my BlackBerry….
J. Kwan: Do you know what? Yes, I was. The minister heckles me and says: "Well, you were." Yes, I was, and I admit it on the record.
I wanted to put on record explicitly the exact wording regarding Bill 17 on the issue around pay equity so that there's no mistake about it, so that there's no accusation by this minister that I'm somehow misleading the House, as she had just alleged, in an unparliamentary way. That is completely untrue in terms of what I'm doing in this estimates debate. I want to be exact and clear about what I put on record. Yes, I read off the BlackBerry in terms of Bill 17. I'm not ashamed of that. I'm not ashamed to do exactly that to ensure that the wording is not misplaced and so that the minister cannot shirk her responsibilities.
The minister refuses to answer the questions. She refused to answer the questions on pay equity on this very day, International Women's Day. The minister claims we're celebrating advances for women, where women are only making….
Hon. I. Chong: We are, and we are.
J. Kwan: She goes: "We are." The minister goes: "And we are." Maybe she's proud of this record — that the government has taken two years to do nothing to advance pay equity, and that women she knows are making 72 cents on the dollar for work of equal value. She knows that's happening, and she is proud of the record this government is doing nothing about.
You know what? I have to say, if I were the Minister of State for Women's Equality…. Oh, actually, no. There is no such ministry. I keep lapsing back into the notion of equality — that the Ministry of Women's Equality exists with this Liberal government. It is completely untrue, because their first act was to cancel and eliminate that ministry. Now the word "equality" doesn't
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even exist anywhere in this government's terminology when it comes to women's issues.
If I were this Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services, I would be ashamed. On this very day of International Women's Day, 37 women's centres will lose their funding by April 1 and will have their doors closed. There are women who are making only 72 cents on the dollar, where the government and the new-era commitment committed that they would do a commission on this issue and then make the changes. It has now been three years and the government has done nothing. No news announcement, even though the former Minister of State for Women's Equality has said that an announcement is pending, that it was coming shortly.
It has now been two years, and nothing has been done. You know what? This minister of state for women's equality keeps on hiding under the notion that it's not her responsibility, with the exception — and there's a big difference — that she is the newly appointed Minister of State for Women's Services. Within that bailiwick are issues impacting women in the area of pay equity. She has done nothing to date with respect to that. She has done nothing to advance women.
She won't even commit on record that she would advocate for women in this regard. She won't commit on record that she supports the government's own commissioned report, the Iyer report, and the recommendations on this front. So much for the Minister of Women's Services earning her pay, representing women. So much for the minister recognizing poverty amongst women and the inequities that exist amongst women because of the lack of pay equity.
Let me now turn to the issues around women's services, specifically within the arena of women's centres. As of March 31 this government is ending all funding to women's centres, a decision that will have a very negative effect, especially on rural communities of this province where women's centres provide extremely valuable services and programs. The provincial government funding amounts to $1.7 million, or an average of $47,000 per centre for the 37 women's centres across this province. For such a valuable service, it is excellent value for the dollar, especially when you consider the millions this government is spending on partisan advertising.
The government has been roundly criticized from all corners for this decision to cut funding to women's centres — including, most recently, by the retired Supreme Court Judge, Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, who called this government's cutbacks a tragedy for B.C. women. This was just last Friday at the west coast LEAF breakfast — at which, quite incidentally, there happened to be no Liberal MLAs. I've just noted that, interestingly.
Even more telling, of course, is that in the October UBCM convention, UBCM passed a motion calling on this government to reverse its decisions to cut core funding to women's centres. Mayors and councils across this province understand the valuable services provided by women's centres. They passed a resolution. The minister should be well aware of that action. Under her watch, where this decision is being made, what action is she taking to ensure that women's centres are funded by this government?
I don't need to hear the rhetoric from this minister about what a great job they're doing in providing for transition houses and so on and so forth. The reality remains that 37 women's centres across the province will be shut down because of the cuts in their funding from this provincial government. What is this minister doing about it?
Hon. I. Chong: I think she is the one who should get off her high horse and stop with the rhetoric she's been going on about for the last while since she returned from the supper break.
I'm just going to conclude on one last matter on the pay equity issue. I really don't want to dwell on it because it is the responsibility of the Attorney General. She continues to say that we've done nothing for two years, and I want to continually remind her that her government did nothing for ten years. I think it's about time they acknowledge where they were deficient as opposed to pointing fingers.
Hon. I. Chong: The legislation she talks about took ten years. I wonder why it took ten years — probably because they themselves didn't know what they were doing.
The Chair: Order. The minister has the floor.
Hon. I. Chong: We made a commitment that we would have a task force look into the matter. We commissioned that; they've looked into it. The Attorney General is in fact looking at that task force and will be reporting out. Again, this member has the fullest of opportunities to ask the Attorney General at that time what is happening.
I also want to say that the member continues to say that we are closing the women's centres. We are not closing the women's centres. The 37 women's centres were advised more than two years ago that the funding they were receiving would not continue. They were given one-time funding to assist them to look for alternate sources of funding.
This government will not be funding advocacy. This government will be providing dollars that focus on maintaining direct essential services to women. As she knows, those are transition houses, safe homes, second-stage housing and the counselling programs. She knows full well that we provide over $33 million across the province to do this. Those programs will be sustainable, and those programs will continue under this government.
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J. Kwan: You know, seeing as the minister brought up pay equity, let me just be very clear….
The Chair: No. I'm afraid, member, we should stay off pay equity. It's been well canvassed. Therefore, we will carry on with the line of questioning you started.
J. Kwan: Let me just then put this statement on the record, seeing as the minister prompted this question and prompted this response. She keeps on saying that the previous minister took ten years to bring in legislation. Let me just say this: we brought in legislation. We brought in legislation for pay equity. You know what? It was this government that repealed that piece of legislation. It was this Liberal government and this member which voted to repeal that piece of legislation. Since that time nothing has been done.
You know what? To suggest that somehow she is right because they have done nothing to date is inexcusable. It's laughable. To suggest that somehow, she says, this is not her responsibility because it's the Attorney General's responsibility is laughable. After all, women's services, as identified earlier, have clear links and direct relationships with pay equity provisions.
The minister keeps on going to the Human Rights Code, as though somehow that actually answers all of the questions on pay equity, when in fact it doesn't. As pointed out to her, because she was not able to identify it herself, there is a difference between pay equity — that is, equal pay for work of equal value — and equal pay for the same or similar work. The minister doesn't even know the difference, and she's doing nothing about it. For her to sit here and chastise me for lack of action is, quite frankly, laughable.
Women's centres. The minister says that women's centres are not her responsibility, are not sustainable. "We can't keep them open. We're not shutting them down." She says that I should get off my high horse on this issue.
Well, how about this? It wasn't me at the UBCM that passed a resolution asking this government to back off cutting core funding for women's centres. It wasn't me. It was the UBCM, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, who passed that resolution. Are they on a high horse when they passed that resolution, when they asked for the government to back off on this?
Let me put it on the record, and let me get the minister's response on the UBCM motion and their point of view on this issue. Here's their motion: "Therefore be it resolved that the provincial government reverse its decision to cut core funding for the province's women's centres."
[G. Trumper in the chair.]
Here's the background associated with it.
"The Union of British Columbia Municipalities held its 100th annual general meeting in September in Vancouver. During this convention, the UBCM passed a motion calling on the B.C. provincial government to reverse its decision to cut core funding to B.C.'s women's centres. A number of women's centres spoke with their municipal councils regarding the issue of core funding. Although the resolutions for the 2003 convention had already been printed and distributed, a message of support was brought forward as a late resolution and was endorsed by the UBCM."
The text was what I put forward. Later it was also distributed via an information circular on October 3, 2003.
"The UBCM was formed to provide a common voice for local government. The UBCM convention continues to be the main forum for policy-making. It provides an opportunity for local governments of all sizes and from all areas of the province to come together, share their experiences and take a united position. Every municipality and regional district in B.C. is connected through UBCM.
"Other resolutions were passed at the UBCM convention."
Then it lists all the others.
UBCM — when they put forward this motion, were they on a high horse? Are they wrong? Is this what the minister is saying?
Hon. I. Chong: Clearly, the member is not thinking clearly in relationship to the response I'm giving to her, because when I indicated that she should stop the rhetoric, it was in response to how she was speaking about her government's record on what they had done in that particular legislation. I did not say — and so I want the record to be clear — that I referred to the UBCM being on a high horse. I said that she was the one who was suggesting that their government did so much in so many ways when in fact that's not the case.
I just want to, again, say to this member that we will be continuing to maintain our funding for direct essential services for women. We had inherited a structural deficit from the previous government. We had to make decisions to ensure that we could get our fiscal house in order so that we would have an economy that could be revitalized so that jobs could be created. We have the best job creation record in the country as of last year. We continue to show strong economic growth. That translates into jobs for all British Columbians; that translates into jobs for women as well.
The member should acknowledge that a strong economy is going to provide more opportunities for women.
J. Kwan: You know, the minister is true. She accused me of being on a high horse, so I asked her…. The resolution that I put on the table was not a resolution passed by me. It was passed by the UBCM. Given that the resolution is passed by the UBCM and I put the resolution on the record…. It reads: "Therefore be it resolved that the provincial government reverse its decision to cut core funding for the province's women's centres." Is this just rhetoric then? Is this just high horse — that the UBCM is calling on this government to reverse its decision to cut funding for the province's women's centres?
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The opposition is calling for the same thing. I'm calling for the same thing: for this government to back off cutting women's centres' core funding — $1.7 million worth of it for the women's centres across the province. Thirty-seven women's centres would be impacted, and as a result of it, because of this cut in the core funding, many of them — in fact, I believe all of them — would have to close their doors because of the lack of funding. Is the government going to reverse its decision, or is she just going to continue on with her spin from the government spin doctors about what a great job they're doing?
By the way, Madam Chair, I actually never said all the great things that the previous administration was doing. All I said in this estimates debate was that we were committed to pay equity and that we funded transition houses and women's centres. We never cut women's centres' core funding as this government is now doing.
Hon. I. Chong: I'm not going to continue to engage the member in some of her comments, because it's obviously going nowhere fast. I want to be clear though, again, that I did not state that the UBCM resolution was anything more than a resolution. The member would like to say that because UBCM proposes a resolution to government, government has to automatically adhere to that or accept that.
Well, how many times was it when she was in government that UBCM passed resolutions that her government ignored? I seem to recall a number of times and one in particular where the municipal grants — and she was the Minister of Municipal Affairs at one time — were being cut. Cut, cut, cut. And what did the municipalities say? "Don't do this," yet their government did this.
UBCM will act on behalf of its members. Some of them will pass resolutions, and some of the resolutions will not pass, but that's all it is. It's a resolution that is provided to government. They have to make decisions at local government levels; we have to make decisions at provincial government levels.
We had a structural deficit to deal with, and we dealt with that because that's what we inherited from the member. I know she's going to get up and say that, oh, they had balanced their books, but we all know how true those figures were. I don't really want to engage her in that, because I know the Finance minister was here and she had ample opportunity to talk to him. At the end of the day, we had to deal with a structural deficit. We made some decisions, and our decisions were such that we would maintain funding for direct essential services and that we would not be funding advocacy.
J. Kwan: Just a couple of things that I want to put on record here. What is now clear from this minister is this: she doesn't care what the UBCM says. She doesn't care about the resolution. A resolution is just a resolution. It makes not one iota of difference in terms of her responsibility or her advocacy around the cabinet table. That's clear from her comments today.
The minister says: "Well, you know, all these resolutions mean is just that they were passed." Well, they were passed unanimously at the UBCM by the UBCM as a late resolution raising grave concerns from the UBCM. This minister says: "Well, I don't care. I don't care what they say. They can make resolutions all they want. It makes not one iota of difference to me." Interesting, interesting. I can't wait for UBCM to actually get her response with respect to that.
The other thing that's interesting is this: she keeps on talking about this structural deficit. Guess what. The structural deficit was created by this government. When they formed government, they decided before they even looked at the books to actually give tax breaks to the highest-income British Columbians and corporations — the largest portions of the tax breaks to the wealthiest British Columbians. They decided to do that without even looking at the books. That's exactly what happened.
Now we have a situation where British Columbians are being made to pay for that tax break. And who is paying for it? Women's centres. Because she keeps on talking about how they have to address the fiscal situation they created by giving these tax breaks away, women's centres are now suffering for it without their core funding. That's what's happening.
Then the minister says: "Well, the balanced budgets by the previous administration." She wants to laugh at those because they weren't real. Well guess what. They were actually approved by the auditor general — an independent auditor — unlike this government where the auditor general pointed out how flawed they were in putting forward the harassment of people on disabilities. With respect to the disability review, what a colossal waste of money — $5 million worth of wasted money.
The now Minister of Human Resources says that the auditor general is wrong. The independent auditor general is wrong, the now Minister of Human Resources says, albeit that coincidentally it happens to be the now Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services who was the former Minister of Human Resources and who headed that review — that waste of $5 million that scared the heck out of people with disabilities.
Set that aside for a moment, because I do want to get back to women's centres. Here's what the women's centres coalition has to say. They are the direct service providers of women's centres in British Columbia. Here's what they had to say on February 10, 2004.
"The B.C. Coalition Of Women's Centres has written to the new Minister of State for Women's Equality" — and names the minister — "for emergency funding to prevent the closure of women's centres across the province. All 37 centres have had their only core funding cut by 100 percent, effective March 31, 2004."
Then it goes on to read, according to this press release, and it names the minister:
"The Minister of State for Women's Services has already gone on record as saying funding will not be re-
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stored to women's centres but instead will go to counselling and shelter programs. This is unacceptable, shortsighted and irresponsible. Women's centres are often a woman's first contact for referral to other services in the community. Many women who access women's centres need more than counselling and shelter or need other services altogether.
"This decision will do nothing but fragment services and leave thousands of women abandoned. The B.C. Coalition has asked for a meeting with the minister…." — which I understand has been set for Friday.
"Previous reductions in gaming funding and other provincial cuts, combined with the elimination of core funding, have forced women's centres to begin the process of closing their doors. The majority of centres have cut essential staff and/or programs and are bracing for closure. Centres will close without provincial government funding.
"Women's centres provide a range of services to hundreds of thousands of women each year. In some communities women's centres are the only service available to women. Women's centres provide a critical role in B.C. and are the lifeline for thousands of women.
"The B.C. Coalition of Women's Centres is asking for the support of British Columbians in calling on the minister and the B.C. Liberals to continue funding to the 37 women's centres in this province."
It goes on to say:
"To join the fight, please go to the www.bcwomen.cjb.net or www.SaveWomensCentres.ca."
That was a press release dated February 10, 2004.
The minister accused me of providing misleading information when I said that women's centres will close as a result of this cut in core funding and that women's centres are shutting down because of this government policy. Well, it's not just me who's saying that. The Coalition for Women's Centres, representing all 37 women's centres across the province, is saying that. They are saying that.
I'd like to have the minister's response to the B.C. Coalition of Women's Centres' press release.
Hon. I. Chong: It's certainly been a very interesting evening so far. The member has touched on a whole range of issues that don't necessarily relate to this ministry. In any event, I'm not going to continue to engage her in some of that. Suffice it to say that she, as I say, continues to pick and choose the words that I've given her to fit where she's most comfortable.
I'm just going to say that we made a decision two years ago that government would not be providing funding for women's centres for advocacy, that we would ensure that our programs for direct essential services to women would be maintained and that they would be sustainable in that regard. I have also indicated to her that the women's centres were provided with more than two years' notice that this would be happening and that they should seek alternate sources of funding for the services they wanted to continue to provide.
I acknowledge that women's centres do provide a different range of services. For that reason, they are able to request funding from a variety of alternate sources. I know that in some cases they are able to receive project money from the federal government. Some women's centres have also worked with community organizations in their area to find ways to reduce overlap and duplication. I also will acknowledge that the B.C. Coalition of Women has indeed asked for a meeting with me. They have asked for that meeting, and I will be accommodating them.
J. Kwan: The minister keeps relying on and falling back on this notion that the government told them two years ago: "We are going to cut your funding, so go and find funding elsewhere." Actually, the women's centres have responded to that. The federal government money was one-time funding only. As the minister acknowledged, it was project funding. It was not ongoing core funding, and that makes a substantive difference in terms of the survival of women's centres.
Without core funding they've said clearly that they cannot keep their doors open, so the federal moneys…. Uploading to the federal government doesn't help. The federal government did not come through with core funding for women's centres on an ongoing basis. Downloading to the municipalities doesn't help either, because local governments don't have the resources to do that. In fact, again, it's not just me who's saying that. The women's centres themselves that are dealing with these issues are saying that.
In fact, here's what they have to say in response to the minister saying: "We told them two years ago to go find some funding elsewhere." They say: "We're trying to find other ways of getting funding, but it's pretty hard to find operational funding in grants." Then it goes on to state the challenges and the crisis that women are faced with, with respect to the cuts in the core funding.
The issue I take with this minister is that yes, transition houses were funded. Safe homes were funded, and other programs were funded by the previous government. The now government is saying they're funding some of those programs too. The big difference is that the government is cutting some $20 million from the Women's Services budget. That's what the government is doing. Comparing to the 2001-02 budget, it used to be $52 million, and it is now $32 million. Some $20 million is being cut from Women's Services, and included in that is $1.7 million for women's centres, which are saying they can't find moneys anywhere.
They are saying, particularly in rural communities where everybody knows everybody, that women's centres are the only anonymous way to find help. They are saying that they provide more services than the minister thinks and that these services are pretty essential to women in British Columbia. The B.C. Coalition has said that this action by government, the cutting of women's centres funds, is unacceptable, shortsighted and irresponsible. They're saying that women will hurt as a result of this, and they would not be able to get the resources they need.
Let me ask the minister this question. She says that the decision has been made, and that's just the way it
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is. "They have to go find funding elsewhere. We warned them two years ago, so buck up. Get your money elsewhere, and don't come complaining to me." Basically, that's what the minister is indicating. Has the minister even brought this issue to the cabinet table, advocating for women?
Hon. I. Chong: I'll say it for the record one more time. A decision was made two years ago that women's centres would not be receiving the funding they had previously been receiving, that we would be providing funding for direct essential services to women. This member knows that means transition houses, safe homes, second-stage housing, counselling services, counselling programs for the Stopping the Violence program and for the Children Who Witness Abuse program.
J. Kwan: Interesting, because it so happens that Councillor Ellen Woodsworth, who is a Vancouver city councillor, was this weekend at a fundraising gala for SUCCESS. At this fundraising gala on Saturday, she happened to see the Premier at the SUCCESS benefit. She asked the Premier if he would change his mind about cutting all the funding to B.C. women's centres on March 31, 2004. Here's the Premier's response regarding that decision: "It was not my responsibility, contrary to what people might think. It is the responsibility of the minister." The Premier used the name.
Let me direct this question, then, to the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services. The Premier is saying he didn't make the decision. He's saying it's up to you, minister. What's your response?
Hon. M. Coell: I'd simply say that this was a decision made by core review, and it's being followed through.
J. Kwan: Well, here we have the Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services saying: "Well, not me. I didn't do it. That decision was made two years ago." The former Minister of State for Women's Equality has been fired from her job. We now have a new minister who has taken over. One would think that she'd think it's her responsibility to do that advocacy role for women around the cabinet table. Then the question is put to the minister himself.
That question was put to the Premier as recently as this Saturday by a very concerned councillor in the city of Vancouver who has almost built her entire career on advocating for women's rights and women's issues. She works tirelessly for our community. I know that. Prior to her election as one of the councillors for Vancouver, she took the opportunity…. Even though I know sometimes when you go to these events and you see other politicians there, it's not particularly welcomed when you talk about work-related issues, she has the courage to do that anyway because she cares so very much, deeply, about the closure of women's centres and its impact on women in our community.
She went up and asked the Premier, and the Premier said: "Hey, don't ask me." It was not his responsibility, he says. Contrary to what everybody thinks, it's the responsibility of the minister, who is the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services. The minister says: "Well, that decision was made two years ago by the core review."
No. The government has to accept the core review. The core review didn't just appear out of thin air. People didn't just all of a sudden go, "Here's the core review," and it just popped up. The core review came from somewhere, from political direction.
The Premier claims it was not his political direction to cut women's centres funding. The Premier says it's the minister who has decided to do that. Given that the minister has taken on this responsibility — and I recognize that he's the new minister who's taken on this responsibility — he has to assume the accountability that goes with it. It goes with the title and the pay, quite frankly. He has to assume that responsibility. You can't just say: "It wasn't me; it was the core review." That's not acceptable. That's not accountability.
Let me ask the minister again. Would the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services revoke that decision on funding cuts to the core funding for women's centres in British Columbia and reinstate the $1.7 million that is needed to keep the women's centres open across B.C.? The Premier says it's your responsibility and it's your decision — as recently as this Saturday.
Hon. M. Coell: As part of the core review this ministry went through a number of initiatives. The program that the member is talking about was seen as not core to this ministry and is not going to be funded in our service plan this year.
J. Kwan: The minister says that women's centre services are not core to his ministry and therefore are not funded. Am I right to understand then that this Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services accepts the funding cut and that he's responsible for putting forward the funding cuts to 37 women's centres across B.C.? Am I right to understand that? Then am I right to understand that the Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services supports this decision and that she has done no advocacy whatsoever to try and save the 37 women's centres' core funding in British Columbia?
I ask both of you.
Hon. M. Coell: I think the member needs to know that our government is having the direct services for transition houses, safe houses, programs for stopping the violence…. Those will be funded. The women's centres are seen as non-core to the budget and will not be funded this year.
J. Kwan: I know what the government is funding, and I know what the government is cutting. From that
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budget the government is cutting $20 million approximately from women's services programming. That's compared to the '01-02 budget that was tabled. I have the documentation here. I know transition houses and so on and so forth are being funded. What I also know is that the government is not funding women's centres.
Am I right to take from the minister's answer that he supports this funding? The Premier said it's his decision. He didn't say the core review decided that under the government's initiative. He didn't say the core review dictated that. He said: "It was not his responsibility. Contrary to what people might think, it is the responsibility of the minister." In this case, he names the minister. It happens to be the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services.
Given that this is what the Premier is saying directly, in a quote as recently as Saturday, is the minister saying that he will not reverse the core review decision of cutting women's centres' core funding in British Columbia? He supports the cut. Is that what he is saying? He has to own up to that responsibility if that is what he's saying.
Hon. M. Coell: As the member would know from being a minister, you are responsible for your budget. When your budget is produced, you support your budget, and that funding for women's centres advocacy is not in the budget for this year.
J. Kwan: With the exception, though, from time to time that when programs come up and budgets are tabled and ministers are sitting there thinking back: "Hey, you know, this program is cut." It could well be a previous minister who initiated that. Because you've been newly appointed to that role, you do take the responsibility for what the previous minister was doing. If you really don't like it, you'll say: "Hey, you know what? I don't like it. I'm going to find the funding somewhere else to fund this program."
I'll give you a case in point from when I was a minister. In fact, my former colleague cut a program called the…. Oh God, it just escaped me. It was the recording of books for people who are blind. There were stories and readings of books onto tapes and onto the record so that people can access that information — these stories and books. That's what it was. That program was to be cut by a former colleague of mine. I then was later appointed as minister, and that was ongoing. It was, in fact, my first controversy, if you will, around cuts. I sat down and I thought: "Good grief." Never mind history. At the end of the day, as the new minister appointed to the portfolio, that funding was restored.
I think it was called the audio…. God, it's on the tip of my tongue. Anyway, it will come to me if I don't think about it.
The Chair: Audio books.
J. Kwan: Audio books. That's it. Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Audio books. That's exactly what it was called. That program was funded. Budget decisions that were made by former ministers and that were tabled, were reversed by a new minister because a new minister said: "No, I cannot live with that, and this just cannot happen." Changes were made, and that funding was restored for that program.
So here we are — new chance, new opportunity. I'm saying to the minister that I will be the first to congratulate the minister if he will stand today and say: "You are right; $1.7 million from women's centres' core funding is a stupid decision, and I do not support it because it is too valuable for women." I will be the first to congratulate this minister personally, as well as on behalf of my constituents and on behalf of the opposition caucus. I will be public about it and say: "Good on the minister for making the right decision, because he knows the difference, and he knows better than cutting funding for women's centres."
I'm not talking about transition homes and other services. I know those are being funded. I'm talking about core funding for women's centres. Will the minister commit today that he'll reverse that decision as the new minister appointed to this? I was hoping to count on the Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services, and that is not to be. She will not be the advocate for women. I'm hoping that this new minister will be the advocate. Will he commit today?
Hon. M. Coell: I don't want to disappoint the member, but government has made a decision that we're going to fund direct services for women and children in this province. We're going to do a good job of it. We're not going to fund advocacy.
J. Kwan: Okay. Well, I gave the minister a chance, and he won't take it up. Too bad — really, honestly. Too bad, because I think that if the minister did, he'd be the hero on this very day of International Women's Day. I'd be able to retract what I said in the House in my statement around the cuts to women's centres.
I would go into the House immediately if the minister would stand up and say: "Yes, we'll fund it." I'll go into the House immediately and interrupt proceedings to retract my statement around women's centres and say: "No. The minister has actually recognized the importance of women's centres and will now fund it, and I'll retract the comments that I made earlier today."
It really is too bad, because I was hopeful that somewhere in the hearts of the cabinet, that somewhere in there they will stand up for women's centres in this province. The minister won't do it. Will the Minister of State for Women's Services do it? Will she be the advocate?
Hon. I. Chong: The member has received the answer to this, I think, several times this evening. She has heard my answer and the minister's answer as well — the fact that we are funding direct essential services to women.
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She also continues to suggest that the only way to serve women is to advocate in this area, and that is simply not true. We are advocating for women to have a place in B.C.'s economy. We're advocating for women to have jobs and to continue to succeed so that they can take care of their families and so that women can have their children return home to have jobs here.
We are restoring our economy. We're ensuring that we have continued fiscal management in our provincial budget so that all dollars saved — where we do not have to spend them on interest — can go back into direct services to protect health care, to protect education and to continue to have a strong and vibrant economy.
J. Kwan: No, I never said that advocating for women's centres around one area, the area of funding women's centres. Earlier I advocated for women in the area of pay equity, to which this government — this minister particularly, the Minister of State for Women's Services — did not stand up to say she will advocate for women in the area of pay equity.
Now we turn to women's centres. I just gave this minister another chance to change her mind, perhaps, upon reflection — to say that she will be the advocate for women's centres for B.C. and that she will ensure the core funding is there for the women's centres across British Columbia. She didn't take up that opportunity, which is most unfortunate. What is now clear is that a pattern is now setting, where these new ministers — the Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services and the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services — are establishing a trend that they would not be advocates for women. That is clear, because they're accepting funding cuts, $20 million worth of funding cuts that this government has brought in under their administration.
The Minister of State for Women's Services keeps on saying: "Oh, well we've got to do it because we've got to put the economy back on track. We've got to do it because we've got to fund health care. We've got to do it because we've got to fund education." Guess what. The previous administration put those other priorities on the table and still funded women's centres, hence the difference. By those words the minister is admitting they are balancing the budget on the backs of women who need women's centre services.
The Minister of State for Women's Services may be shaking her head and rolling her eyes and all that stuff. That doesn't refute the facts. The facts are the facts, and they're before you.
Let me ask the minister this question. Let me just put this on record, because I think it's worthwhile. Obviously, the answer is not going to change. This is a recent article — March 6, just a couple of days ago — in the Vancouver Sun: "Former Supreme Court Judge Calls Government Cutbacks a Tragedy."
"Former Supreme Court of Canada judge Claire L'Heureux-Dubé said Friday that government cutbacks to women's programs, including elimination of B.C. government grants to 37 women's centres next month, are a tragedy. L'Heureux-Dubé spoke in Vancouver about the cutbacks while addressing a mostly female audience of 700 people at a breakfast that celebrates International Women's Day Monday. The annual event is organized by West Coast LEAF, the B.C. branch of the national Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, which has used litigation and advocacy to help women win legal victories in areas such violence against women, sexual harassment and reproductive freedom.
"In the middle of a historical overview of the evolution of equality rights in Canada that began in 1929 with the conclusion of the Persons Case, L'Heureux-Dubé noted that publicly funded women's groups helped ensure equality rights were enshrined in the Canadian constitution. The first woman from Quebec appointed to Canada's highest court, she spoke of the tragedy of cutting funds for those actions that are so needed, particularly in the field of violence against women. 'Violence against women everywhere in the world is a tragedy, and I think that cutting funds for those institutions while women are going through terrible, terrible times is sincerely a tragedy,' said L'Heureux-Dubé, now a judge-in-residence at Laval University in Quebec.
"On April 1 the B.C. government will eliminate all provincial funding, about $1.7 million, or an average of $47,000 per centre, for 37 women's centres. However, the Liberal government has promised to continue providing more than $33 million a year for violence programs for women and will also fund transition and safe houses for women."
That's the article. It acknowledges, in fact, the funding for transition houses. I'm not disputing that. What I am disputing is the cuts for core funding for women's centres. That is what is at issue here. Here we have a former Supreme Court judge saying the government's action policy around women's centres is a tragedy. The two ministers know that. They read the article, I presume, and they're not doing anything about it.
Let me now turn to the input from other people with respect to this. That is the presentation, in fact, to the Finance Committee, which the Minister of State for Women's Services served on before she was appointed as minister.
I'd like to first ask the minister this question. This is a presentation from a woman named Susan Dumontet, who is the acting executive director for the Penticton and Area Women's Centre. She made a presentation to the Finance Committee. Does the minister recall this presentation? If she doesn't, I'll put it on the record; if she does, I don't need to. That's why I'm first asking this question.
J. Kwan: The minister asked me to put it on the record, so here's the presentation. It reads:
"Good afternoon. My name is Susan Dumontet, and I am the acting executive director for the Penticton and Area Women's Centre.
"Our centre is part of the B.C. Coalition of Women's Centres, and we share the same concerns. However, I'm not speaking on behalf of the coalition this afternoon. In
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my presentation I'll discuss the purpose of women's centres, services that are provided, some stats about women's centres and finish up with the effects of governmental cuts.
"Women's centres were founded by women in many towns and cities across B.C. and around the world as early as the 1970s in order to fill two key purposes: to provide direct service to women locally and to improve the status of women at the local, regional, provincial and national levels. Today 37 non-profit women's centres exist in 33 rural and urban communities in B.C., serving women from all backgrounds.
"Services provided by women's centres differ from community to community. Women's centres respond directly to the needs of women at the grass-roots level, tailoring services and programs around the specific, current and real demand for help within our communities.
"According to the government of B.C.'s own website, women's centres are 'the first place to go in your community when you need help in times of crisis.' Women's centres provide a variety of services, including information and referrals, support groups, counselling services, crisis counselling, job entry programs, child care services and housing registries.
"Two main focuses of women's centres work in general are: (1) improving the status of women through political, social, economic and legal actions on a local, provincial, national and global scale; and (2) providing direct services to women in the community as determined by local needs.
"In 2001 women's centres answered requests for help from 139,000 women by telephone and 161,099 women in person, equalling a total of 300,569 women accessing community women's centres. The 2001 statistics represent one out of every six women and girls in the province accessing women's centres for services. The majority of those requests were from women experiencing violence and/or poverty.
"Women's centres receive $47,184.72 per year in operating funding from the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services, or $1.7 million for the entire province. This totals a cost to the province of $5.65 for each woman helped by women's centres in B.C., or 91 cents for every woman and girl in the province.
"According to the province's own statistics, in their lifetimes approximately one in two B.C. women are victims of sexual assault; one in three of wife assault; and one in five of other types of physical assault. Violence against women in British Columbia, as estimated by the former Minister of Women's Equality, costs taxpayers approximately $385 million per year, including direct policing costs and transition houses. This does not include the cost of items such as health costs, legal costs or the cost of the intergenerational effects of violence. Funding all women's centres in B.C., which provide the advocacy necessary to prevent and end violence against women, in addition to providing intervention in individual cases, represents less than 0.05 percent, or 1/20 of 1 percent, of $385 million.
"This report concludes that there are very few options available to women's centres and, more importantly, that it is government's obligation to fund equality-seeking organizations. Women's centres are looking ahead to when our own provincial funding will be cut by 100 percent on March 31, 2004. This will devastate B.C.'s women's centres, which in some cases may be providing the only services available to women in some of B.C.'s rural and northern communities.
"Some centres depend entirely on the $47,184 they receive annually from the B.C. Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services, an amount that barely covers such basic expenses as a single staff person, rent and a telephone. At the same time, women's centres in this province are seeing a large increase in demand for services. Massive provincial cutbacks are disproportionately hurting B.C.'s women, as indicated by the United Nations. As more and more women in British Columbia are adversely affected, demand increases for women's services to provide services which fill the gaps created by cuts."
I'm almost to the end here.
"What does this mean for B.C.'s women's centres? No other form of operational funding exists for women's centres, and many centres will find their communities already economically devastated by cuts. Nineteen centres are at risk of closing their doors altogether after provincial funding ends.
"What are the options for B.C.'s women's centres? In The Herstory, Risk and Survival of B.C's Women's Centres, eight options are discussed and analyzed by the steering committee. As the discussion paper shows, these options range from finding new sources of funding to changing priorities of women's centres to shutting the doors of centres. Each option was examined in terms of how it would affect the quality of services offered by women's centres, the range of services that could be done by women's centres, the demand on staff and board members, the ability to connect with women in the community and the capacity to advocate for women. However, of all these options examined, there were none that did not require significant loss of services to women.
"In January 2003 the B.C. Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, a coalition of women's non-governmental organizations committed to advancing the equality interests of women and girls, came together to prepare a submission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women on the occasion of the committee's review of Canada's fifth report. The B.C. CEDAW group's report, which included The Herstory, Risk and Survival of B.C. Women's Centres, said: 'Funding that is being removed from women's centres has been critical in making it possible for women in the province to associate and organize in order to have a voice in the decision-making processes that affect their lives. The withdrawal of the core funding to women's centres will silence British Columbian women.'
"After reviewing Canada's compliance with the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women, the UN committee singled out British Columbia for special criticism. The committee's recommendations, which are appended to The Herstory, Risk and Survival of B.C. Women's Centres, urges the government of British Columbia 'to analyze its recent legal and other measures as to their negative impact on women and to amend the measures where necessary.'
"Thank you for your time."
A number of questions come up in this presentation to the Finance Committee. First, the notion that women's centres only provide for advocacy. It is being refuted in several places, actually, but in this presentation as well.
So let me ask the Minister of State for Women's Services — and the minister, as well, for that matter.
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They say the government won't fund advocacy, yet women's centres provide more than advocacy services. The other services being cut are the referral programs, the counselling programs, the information programs, the support groups, the job entry groups, the child care services, the housing registries, etc.
Given that's the case, why would the government cut all of the core funding for women's centres when their work is not just on advocacy? In fact, it's only one component of many tasks that women's centres take on.
Hon. I. Chong: I did say earlier to the member, and I think she also repeated, that I know women's centres are not all alike. Some of them provide a range of services, and she knows that as well, which is one of the reasons why, when we advised them two years ago that we would not be providing funding and we provided them with some one-time dollars, that they explore other ways of funding to provide for those range of services they wanted to continue.
Again, the decision has been made as a result of a core review a number of years ago as to what services government would continue to provide funding for, and direct essential services for women — as I've indicated, for transition houses, second-stage housing, safe homes and counselling programs — would continue. That is what we will be funding.
J. Kwan: The reality is this: women's centres provide for direct services to women as well, as I've outlined here, yet across the board, every women's centre across British Columbia is getting their core funding cut. Where's the equity in that?
Hon. I. Chong: I say to the member that I acknowledge women's centres do have a range of services. Each and every one of them are not identical, and where they are offering programs, they are encouraged to seek funding that would provide the dollars to take care of those programs. Again I say that this government is committed to maintaining direct essential services, and that is what those provincial dollars will be focused on.
J. Kwan: Would the minister consider crisis counselling as direct essential services for women?
Hon. I. Chong: We do provide contracts for counselling, and the counselling programs that we do provide for are the Stopping the Violence program and the Children Who Witness Abuse program. Where women's centres are administering or providing for these contracts, those contracts — those programs — will in fact continue to be funded.
J. Kwan: Crisis counselling is deemed to be direct essential services for women, I take it from the minister's answer. Yes or no?
Hon. I. Chong: The direct essential services that this government is providing funding for are transition houses, safe shelters or safe homes, second-stage housing, counselling programs under the Stopping the Violence program for women who have experienced abuse and the children's counselling program for the Children Who Witness Abuse program.
J. Kwan: Yes, I know what the ministry keeps on saying this government is funding. I'm asking her a different question: what she deems to be direct essential services for women — or what this government deems to be direct essential services for women, seeing as this minister won't actually own up to her accountability and responsibility, as her title requires her to in the cabinet. I'm asking her a simple question. Crisis counselling. Is that direct essential services to women? I take it from her answer that it is to the affirmative — that yes, it is. Correct me if I'm wrong. I ask the minister to correct me if I'm wrong.
Let's move on from crisis counselling. Safe homes. Are those direct essential services for women?
Hon. I. Chong: I did indicate that safe homes are in fact direct essential services that this government will continue to fund.
J. Kwan: How about emergency shelters? Are those direct essential services for women?
Hon. I. Chong: We have nine contracts for second-stage houses, if that's what the member is referring to.
J. Kwan: No, I'm just asking a general question. Are emergency shelters deemed to be direct essential services for women?
Hon. I. Chong: The transition houses and safe homes do provide for emergency shelter.
J. Kwan: So emergency shelters are direct essential services for women — is that not right?
Hon. I. Chong: As I've indicated, we fund the transition houses, the second-stage housing and the safe homes. If the member is referring to other forms of emergency shelters that may be funded through other ministries, then those would be funded through other ministries.
[H. Long in the chair.]
J. Kwan: I know that the minister would like to get ahead of herself. I only wish that she would like to actually demonstrate her willingness to get ahead of herself on issues around advocating for women and not second-guessing what my questions are. My questions are quite simple. I'm just putting them to the minister about whether or not the minister considers emergency shelters as direct essential services for women. That is all.
[ Page 9250 ]
Hon. I. Chong: We do not have a specific program that is considered as emergency shelters. By funding transition houses and safe homes…. They, as well, provide emergency shelters.
J. Kwan: The questions I put to the minister and her answers are interesting. She won't answer directly the question about whether or not emergency shelters are direct essential services for the government, although she says that they're being funded through other programs and that other programs do provide for emergency shelters. She cites funding for transition homes and so on, and then, in citing that in conjunction with her answers elsewhere, she says the government has made a decision through its core review that they would only fund direct essential services for women. One could then only assume, following that logic — if there's logic to it — that emergency shelters are indeed direct essential services for women. That's the conclusion I've arrived at following the minister's answers and, therefore, the logic in which I come to this conclusion.
We've established that crisis counselling is essential services — direct essential services for women; safe homes are direct essential services for women; emergency shelters are direct emergency services for women.
Let me ask the minister this question. Public education: would the minister say that is direct essential services for women?
Hon. I. Chong: The member is fully aware of the answers I have given her this evening. I have indicated on many occasions what this ministry provides for in terms of direct essential services to women. Those are the programs I have listed and stated time and time again this evening. They are transition houses; they are safe homes; they are second-stage housing. They are counselling programs under the Stopping the Violence program, and they are the Children Who Witness Abuse program. Those are the direct essential services that this ministry provides for.
J. Kwan: The minister keeps on saying what she wants to say. The problem is that she's not answering the question. That's the problem here. She can keep saying what she wants to say until the cows come home. It does not address the issue that she's not answering my questions.
We would do way better if the minister just answered the questions, which is her responsibility, by the way, in estimates. I may venture so far as to say that that might be the minister's responsibility — all ministers' responsibility — during question period. We all know that question period is not the place to get answers. So often what members actually do is rely on the estimates process for the ministers to bring forward answers. I think this is a new record for this government where you have a minister not answering questions, and it's not question period. Estimates debate — that's what we're doing, just so we're clear.
I asked the questions around those services. Is the government funding public education anywhere in her ministry around issues related to women?
Hon. I. Chong: First of all, this member knows well, because she has been here for a number of years — as I have been — that estimates debates are about answering questions for matters that relate to the particular ministry. If she wanders off into other areas and other ministries, then she would need to ask those questions in those other ministries.
I want to say that the Stopping the Violence program to prevent violence against women is within this ministry. In fact, one of the program objectives of this is to educate the public about the root causes of violence. That is what is being funded through this ministry.
J. Kwan: The minister likes to accuse me of asking questions that fall outside the scope of her ministry, except that her ministry has a title, which is the Ministry of State for Women's and Seniors Services. Women's services incorporate all the questions I've asked of this minister that impact women directly. For her to accuse me of asking her questions that fall outside of her scope is laughable. It's laughable.
The minister just admitted that public education is part of the direct essential services which are being funded by this government. She says that under the core review that's the only thing they're funding for women's services.
Let me ask the minister this question. I have a long list of services that I expect, for all except one aspect of them — that is, the advocacy aspect…. This government is on record as saying they are not funding them. Can the minister tell me what other services women's centres provide outside of advocacy?
Hon. I. Chong: For the benefit of the member, the women's centres, as I indicated before, provide a variety of services. They can include such things as information and referral. They can provide support groups, crisis counselling, job entry programs and housing registries, depending on the local needs.
J. Kwan: Would the minister say some of those items she has listed go above and beyond advocacy?
Hon. I. Chong: I think the member knows that some of these are programs funded through a variety of means. For example, for job entry programs there is funding available through the Ministry of Human Resources. As well, the crisis counselling that she referred to earlier can be part of the Stopping the Violence program, so depending on how women's centres structured their services they're providing, they may have received funding from a number of other sources, from other ministries within government.
J. Kwan: The minister then acknowledges that women's centres provide far more than advocacy.
[ Page 9251 ]
Here's a full list of what they do: drop in and referral; crisis counselling; free telephone, fax, photocopy or computer use; support groups; resource library and information; advocacy; public education; clothing exchanges; hot lunches; job re-entry programs; self-help groups; an umbrella for all other groups to meet and become established; meeting space for women's groups; women's events, including Take Back the Night, IWD and December 6; community coordination, especially on the issues of VAWIR; community leadership on issues that affect women; housing registries; newsletters; volunteer opportunities; volunteer training; free legal clinics or workshops; social opportunities; parenting support; community kitchens; safe homes; emergency shelters.
These are some of the services that women's centres provide across British Columbia. True, some of the funding comes from different pots within government or even other government or foundation dollars. Absolutely true. Core funding, however, is the lifeline, I would say, for women's centres, to keep them open. Some of these programs are funded. Some of the women's centres are not funded for these programs, and without the core funding, they're at risk.
The individual who made a presentation to the Finance committee, Susan Dumontet, said that without this core funding, substantively, women's centres would not be able to continue to remain open. This is what the individual from the community has to say about that. Given that acknowledgment, given that women's centres without core funding can't keep their doors open, then that means the provincial government really…. British Columbians are at risk of losing the services, other services, that women's centres provide to women in British Columbia. Those services are now in jeopardy, as well, as a result of this government direction and this government policy. You can't dispute that fact, Mr. Chair. The facts are before you.
The community at large, as recently as February 25…. The Invermere Valley Echo newspaper, February 25, has an article entitled "Government to Cut Women's Services." In it, they quote a woman named Heidi Wurmann from the Golden Women's Resources Centre. The MLA for Columbia River–Revelstoke is, of course, saying that there's still plenty of funding going to women's services. Here's what Ms. Wurmann has to say: "Wurmann disagrees with the statement that they provide the same services and said that one is as important as the next in helping women seek safety and support." This is, of course, in the context of safe homes, crisis line services — other services that the minister says they're continuing funding for.
She said that while safe homes are available, it is only the women's centres that are drop-in facilities. Wurmann is afraid that women will have nowhere to go once the money runs out. She says: "I think women in this province are already feeling pretty desperate, because they have been hardest hit by the series of cuts and changes. It's surprising how many women we have had walk in and say, 'I have nowhere else to go except here.' So if these doors close, then what? questioned Wurmann."
Will the minister answer this question?
The Chair: I want to instruct the minister that, noting the time, we must go before the House very shortly, so this will be the last answer.
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I would say to the member that we had advised women's centres over two years ago that they needed to develop alternative plans for funding and for service delivery, that we do not provide core funding, that we provide the direct essential services I indicated earlier and that women's centres are encouraged to apply for project and program funding as it becomes available.
J. Kwan: I must say those words are not comforting, I'm sure, for people — for Ms. Wurmann and others — who are out there doing the front-line work and seeing women and families faced with impossible situations, where the first access for women who need supports, women who are escaping violence and need an opportunity to seek the kind of assistance, is the drop-in centre that exists in their community. When these doors close, those words will not be comforting for those women across British Columbia.
I will have a lot more to say around this issue in terms of questions to the minister. We'll get to that tomorrow, I'm sure.
Noting the time, Mr. Chair, I move that committee rise, report progress — actually, lack thereof — and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 8:48 p.m.
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