2004 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, MARCH 30, 2004
Volume 23, Number 2
|Introductions by Members||9897|
|Introduction and First Reading of Bills||9897|
|Vancouver Tourism Levy Enabling Act (Bill 14)|
|Hon. J. Les|
|Motor Dealer Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 24)|
|Hon. J. Les|
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||9898|
|Salmon aquaculture review recommendations|
|Women's issues in Delta|
|Life in Cranbrook|
|B.C. Rail agreement with CN Rail|
|Hon. K. Falcon|
|Police investigation and suspension of Bob Virk|
|Hon. K. Falcon|
|Avian flu outbreak in Fraser Valley|
|Hon. J. van Dongen|
|Use of B.C. Teachers Federation funds|
|Hon. T. Christensen|
|B.C. Rail agreement with CN Rail|
|Hon. G. Campbell|
|Policy for west coast fish processing plants|
|Hon. J. van Dongen|
|Committee of Supply||9902|
|Estimates: Ministry of Children and Family Development (continued)|
|Hon. C. Clark|
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
|Committee of Supply||9930|
|Estimates: Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General (continued)|
|Hon. R. Coleman|
[ Page 9897 ]
TUESDAY, MARCH 30, 2004
The House met at 2:03 p.m.
Introductions by Members
Hon. G. Campbell: Mr. Speaker, we have with us today several members of our international Olympic family. Our special guests are from the Piemonte region of Italy where, in the city of Turin, they will host the 2006 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Yesterday we signed a memorandum of cooperation to work together in planning both of our Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The Piemonte region and the province of British Columbia share the bond of Olympism, but they also have many other common features, including strategic economic locations, burgeoning high-tech industries and a commitment to strengthening the sporting legacies which the Olympics present to both of our communities. We want to work together to maximize those and to strengthen the bonds between the 125,000 British Columbians who have Italy as their home and as part of their tradition.
There are six elected officials on the floor with us today: President Enzo Ghigo, from the region of Piemonte; Sergio Chiamparino, the mayor of Turin; President Mercedes Bresso of the province of Turin; Giuliana Manica and Pierluigi Marengo, who are both regional councillors from the Legislative Assembly of the region of Piemonte; and Renato Montabone, who is a city councillor from Turin.
In our gallery today we have Gen. Pasquale De Salvia; Giuseppe Pichetto, president of the Torino Chamber of Commerce; Enzo Carnazza, who is the director of communications for the chamber; Massimo Tesio, who is a spokesperson for President Ghigo; Renato Cigliuti, who is the head of the Turin mayor's office; and, of course, our own consul general, Giorgio Visetti, who is the consul general at Vancouver.
To all of them, I say with some trepidation: Ai membri italiana della nostra famiglia olympica, il nostro benvenuto a British Columbia!
[To the Italian members of our Olympic family, welcome to British Columbia.]
[Translation provided by Hon. G. Campbell.]
Hon. J. Les: I have a number of guests in the gallery this afternoon, mostly people associated with the organization known as Tourism Vancouver. I will name them quickly. They are Paul Tillbury, who is the vice-president of guest services with Rocky Mountain Railtours; Allan Clogg, the general manager of Century Plaza Hotel and Spa; Jim Storey, the president and CEO of the Vancouver Trolley Company; Trudy Van Dop, the president of Art Guide to B.C.; Allan Baydala, the president and CEO of West Coast Air; Al Thompson, who represents the Vancouver Board of Trade; Gary Collinge, the chair of the Vancouver Hotel Association and general manager of Hampton Inn and Suites in downtown Vancouver; and Scott Mason, the owner and manager of Land Sea Tours; along with several other staff members.
As well in the gallery is a constituent from the riding of Oak Bay–Gordon Head, Mr. Ian Stewart, QC, who, amongst many other accomplishments, is a past president of the B.C. Automobile Dealers Association. Would the House please bid all of these folks a warm welcome.
J. MacPhail: I would ask the House to please give a warm welcome to Suzanne Connell with the Georgia Strait Alliance and Lynn Hunter with the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform. Would the House please make them welcome.
J. Bray: Joining us in the gallery today is a grade 5 class from Coquitlam, from Our Lady of Fatima School. Although it's not in my riding, I have a bit of a vested interest in this class because one of the students is my goddaughter, Nicole Wilson. I'd ask the House to please welcome the students and their teachers visiting today in Victoria.
Hon. S. Santori: [The member spoke Italian.]
Hon. G. Campbell: That's what I was going to say.
Hon. T. Christensen: It's my pleasure to welcome to the precinct today a good number of grade 6 and 7 students from Okanagan Landing School in my riding, in Vernon. They're accompanied by two of their teachers, Mr. Dueck and Mr. Cecile, as well as two additional adult chaperones. Would the House please make all of them very welcome here in Victoria.
First Reading of Bills
VANCOUVER TOURISM LEVY
Hon. J. Les presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Vancouver Tourism Levy Enabling Act.
Hon. J. Les: I move that Bill 14 be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. J. Les: I am pleased to introduce Bill 14, Vancouver Tourism Levy Enabling Act. Tourism Vancouver has requested that government enact legislation to enable them to collect a levy from the Vancouver tourism industry.
The Vancouver Tourism Levy Enabling Act will allow for the generation of funds for Tourism Vancouver to develop new incremental marketing programs that will expand the tourism and convention industries
[ Page 9898 ]
in Vancouver and in the lower mainland. The funds will ensure that Vancouver maintains its position as an international visitor gateway to the rest of British Columbia and western Canada, as well as assist Tourism Vancouver in delivering on new strategic and innovative marketing activities that will result in long-term benefits to tourism.
As part of the tourism industry contribution agreement made with Tourism Vancouver on October 31, 2003, the province has a commitment to bring forward new legislation to allow Tourism Vancouver to collect levies for its promotion and marketing activities. This legislation will facilitate Vancouver's preparation for welcoming the world as soon as possible before the Olympics to fully realize economic benefits from the 2010 games.
The proposed Vancouver Tourism Levy Enabling Act is also consistent with government's new-era commitment to stimulate tourism and improve operators' ability to compete successfully for visitors from around the world.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 14 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
MOTOR DEALER AMENDMENT ACT, 2004
Hon. J. Les presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Motor Dealer Amendment Act, 2004.
Hon. J. Les: I move that Bill 24 be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. J. Les: I am pleased to introduce Bill 24, Motor Dealer Amendment Act, 2004. Motor dealer legislation is being modernized through the Motor Dealer Amendment Act. This provision will enable the delegated authority, the Motor Dealer Council of B.C., to be responsible for administering the rules and regulations governing the motor dealer industry in British Columbia.
The proposed amendments are aimed at maintaining high levels of consumer protection while stimulating a competitive market environment for the motor dealer industry. The amendments do three things. They update the definition of motor dealer, they delegate the administration of the motor dealer customer compensation fund to the Motor Dealer Council of B.C., and they update the definition of a motor vehicle under the act.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 24 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
(Standing Order 25b)
J. MacPhail: Earlier today the Georgia Strait Alliance released a report card on the B.C. government's progress in implementing the 49 recommendations made by the environmental assessment office in 1997 following an eight-month-long review.
The Salmon Aquaculture Review and subsequent report represented the most comprehensive study of its kind in B.C. The current Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries called that report in Hansard on March 27, 2002, "the most exhaustive study, bar none, that has been done on this issue."
The Salmon Aquaculture Review and the recommendations made by the environmental assessment office highlighted critical steps the government needed to take to create a balanced, safer, environmentally sound industry. It stressed consultation, sensitive habitat preservation and adaptive management within its 49 recommendations. The previous government responded by implementing a moratorium on fish farm expansion and moving poorly sited farms.
The current administration claims to have fully implemented 39 of the 49 recommendations. However, today's 75-page report card, which represents a comprehensive study on the issues, shows the government is not doing so well. In fact, only ten of the recommendations have been implemented.
Some of the problems are clear. Instead of consulting with first nations and communities, the government stripped local governments of their say in siting decisions. Instead of dealing with emerging issues like sea lice and migration routes, the government put a fish farm in the middle of a pink salmon run in the Broughton at Humphrey Rock. Instead of sending a clear message about compliance and enforcement, the government gave $1.5 million of fines back to the industry. Unfortunately, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries didn't even know about it.
Today's report card should remind all of us in this Legislature that there are issues that must still be resolved. It also reminds us that there are people within the industry and our communities working on creative solutions. We need to move towards embracing those solutions.
WOMEN'S ISSUES IN DELTA
V. Roddick: I was involved in a very special forum held recently in Delta that was sponsored to enable local women to have the chance to share their views on the key issues affecting women in our community. A diverse group of 77 women participated in a brainstorming session which included a Tsawwassen first nations chief, a Deltassist family and community service coordinator, a Boys and Girls Club youth services
[ Page 9899 ]
director, a Delta police officer and a church minister — to identify just a few.
Delta women of all ages were given the opportunity to dialogue locally and talk about issues that mattered to them. Issues such as transportation, air quality and community health are important to Delta women. But with so many of us these days juggling career and family responsibilities, it's no wonder that results highlighting issues dealing with families first and foremost topped the list. The need for long-term vision to protect and support the family unit — the development of parenting skills, marriage issues — was paramount.
The results of this forum and the list of issues have already been shared with the women's caucus here in Victoria and will be incorporated in the findings of the Premier's round table engaging B.C. families in discussions about their hopes for the future, which will be hosted throughout the province in the months to come.
Families are the foundation of our communities. We must nurture, encourage and enhance their growth and thereby the growth and development of our incredible province.
LIFE IN CRANBROOK
B. Bennett: The title of my talk today is "Life in Small-Town B.C." I was walking with my wife this past weekend in Cranbrook. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and spring was in the air. I thought of something that my colleague and roommate from the North Coast is fond of saying: "Life is good." Life really is good in small-town B.C., not just in the Kootenays and in Cranbrook where I come from but all over this province.
I wanted to give the House just a slice of what it's like to live where I live. I get off the airplane on Thursday nights, and the first thing you notice when you get off the airplane at the Cranbrook Airport is that you've got all this space and fresh air and these beautiful Rocky Mountains staring right at you. They're close enough that you can go and play in them, but they're not so close that you get a bit claustrophobic.
My wife and I took a walk on Saturday after we went to a concert at our new recreation complex in Cranbrook, which is a public-private partnership — a $23 million, beautiful facility. We had the rock band Nickelback there. It took us about five minutes to get into our seats. There were 4,500 people there. It took us about five minutes to get out at the end of the concert and to get home and sitting in our chair. We then went the next day, on Sunday, up to the ski hill at Kimberley, which takes about 25 minutes to drive from where I live. I board and my wife skis. We had some beautiful spring skiing. They're just a couple of examples of what it's like to live in a town like Cranbrook.
Cranbrook has about 20,000 people with 10,000 people surrounding it. We have six flights per day coming in from Vancouver and four flights a day coming in from Calgary, so it's easy to get to. We have access to all of the mountains and the lakes surrounding the beautiful city that I live in. If you fish or hunt or hike or just like to wander around and get some fresh air and think a little bit, it's the greatest place on the face of the earth to do that. I think sometimes as British Columbians we forget how really fortunate we all are. There's not a bad place to live in this blessed province. I guess we all should be very grateful just to be British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: That concludes members' statements.
B.C. RAIL AGREEMENT WITH CN RAIL
J. MacPhail: As the government is aware, on Thursday the courts will decide whether or not to release more information related to the warrants served on the Legislature. The information in the last summary material released showed that the B.C. Rail deal was one of the subjects of those warrants. That's caused concern and calls from many to cancel the deal with CN.
Last year the former Minister of Transportation said the deal was before the federal competition bureau and would be made available to the public once it was signed off. To the Minister of Transportation: it's months later — still no deal. We're ending the fiscal year. When are we going to see the deal to sell B.C. Rail and its terms?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, the moment the competition bureau is finished its analysis.
You know, once again, I just have to say that this member, along with all her friends that have opposed this deal from the very beginning, continues to oppose it today, to oppose a deal that is going to bring enormous benefits throughout British Columbia — $135 million northern development initiative, $17 million investment into containerization in Prince Rupert, millions of dollars in an airport expansion in Prince George. Yet on and on, day in and day out, all you hear is these members opposing what is going to be a tremendous deal for British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplementary question.
J. MacPhail: Well, let me read from an open letter to the Premier sent last week by more than a dozen mayors and councillors on the B.C. Rail line demanding the Premier suspend the B.C. Rail deal. It is up to us to bring this to the attention of the government caucus because they refuse to do so. A quote from the letter: "A broken promise and a criminal investigation betray the trust of British Columbia. The only responsible decision you and your government can make is to suspend the sale of B.C. Rail until matters related to the raid on the Legislature have been fully investigated by the police." The signatories on that letter are from Fort St. James, Quesnel, North Vancouver, Williams Lake,
[ Page 9900 ]
Prince George, Squamish. It goes on and on — and from companies.
In the absence of any concrete information about the contract of sale to CN, will the Premier assure this House that there are no renegotiation clauses extending the sale of B.C. Rail beyond the original 90-year agreement?
Hon. K. Falcon: Actually, I did hear one of the members ask where her leader stands. That would actually be interesting to know, because it appears to be — like so many other issues — a bit of a moving position. When she's up north, apparently there are benefits in this deal. When she's down south, apparently we should cancel this deal. It would actually be nice to get a straight answer out of that leader of the opposition one of these days.
You know, the fact of the matter is — I have to remind the Leader of the Opposition of something — that it was the mayors that came to the government and said: "We've got a problem with B.C. Rail." It was the mayors who identified that we needed to do this better so that we could benefit the shippers of the province and the residents of British Columbia. If that member would just stop always being negative and recognize that the private sector can run a railway a lot better than government, then perhaps she would understand why this is going to be a great deal for British Columbia.
J. MacPhail: That's all very interesting, the bravado of that minister, but it was this government that broke its promise to not sell B.C. Rail. No wonder these more than a dozen city councillors and concerned business people are writing this open letter. It's very interesting.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please. Let us hear the question.
J. MacPhail: Because….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please. Let us hear the question.
J. MacPhail: Because the final negotiations are secret, that has raised concerns that on top of the original 90-year sale, the government is granting CN the right to extend the sale for virtually an indefinite period. Given these concerns and the fact that the deal is caught up in a criminal investigation, it's time the government came clean and told the public what, in fact, is in the deal. In fact, the former Minister of Transportation said it would be done by now. Will the Premier take a stand for openness and accountability and put the proposed details of the contract of sale to CN before the public for full scrutiny and debate?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, apparently I have to go over old territory again with the Leader of the Opposition, which I'm quite happy to do.
You know, the member keeps giving out false information, so I'll remind the member what I said when I spoke. If the member would take a second to read the statement that I read to the province of British Columbia — a statement that was approved by the RCMP — which said there is no evidence whatsoever that there has been any information shared with CN and the CN–B.C. Rail freight partnership…. This member continues to try and raise doubts, to try and be negative about this.
Just for once in the life, I would contrast how we behaved over the spur line with how that member behaved with B.C. Ferries. You'll recall when the B.C. Ferries board came to them and said: "We've got problems. We have cost overruns. There's no business plan." What was the response of the Leader of the Opposition and her party? They fired the board, and they put in a new board to continue to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of the taxpayers of British Columbia. That's shameful.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please.
POLICE INVESTIGATION AND
SUSPENSION OF BOB VIRK
J. Kwan: The criminal investigation involving the sale of B.C. Rail involves top Liberal staff. When the Minister of Transportation said the Premier suspended Bob Virk and fired Dave Basi because the evidence presented to the Premier's office in each case was different, he also said that he was carrying Mr. Virk on his payroll until the end of the fiscal year. Tomorrow is the end of the fiscal year. Can the Premier tell this House what happens to Mr. Virk now that the fiscal year has ended? Is his pay suspension being carried forward indefinitely?
Hon. K. Falcon: Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition might want to listen to the question that her colleague asked, and we'll deal with that through the Premier's office in cooperation with the Premier's office and make a decision. We'll be sure to make sure the member knows.
Mr. Speaker: Member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a supplementary question.
J. Kwan: Bob Virk gets paid over $63,000 a year on suspension. Given the nature of this case involving raids on the Finance minister's office, which media reports say involve young Liberal staff, wiretaps, organized crime and drugs, it could be a very long time before this criminal mess comes to a conclusion. We
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may know more on Thursday when the courts decide whether or not to unseal more warrants.
To the Premier: can he explain again why taxpayers are being asked to pay Bob Virk's $63,000 salary when the summary of the police warrants makes no distinction between the behaviour of any of the B.C. Liberal officials involved?
Hon. K. Falcon: These members constantly try to canvass these kinds of personnel issues. I say to the member that I'm not going to discuss personnel issues with that member in this House.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
AVIAN FLU OUTBREAK IN FRASER VALLEY
B. Penner: I have a meaningful question. The recent avian flu outbreak in the Fraser Valley is a major concern for poultry producers and, indeed, for all British Columbians. Yesterday we learned that a seventh farm, this one outside of the designated hot zone, is now under quarantine. Today we learn that Lilydale, which processes 20 percent of the chicken and turkeys consumed in British Columbia, is now starting to lay off workers. Can the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries explain what is being done to mitigate the risks, both economic and in terms of potential health risks of this very serious outbreak of avian flu?
Hon. J. van Dongen: I do want to confirm this is a highly pathogenic avian flu that is an animal health issue. It is not a human health issue.
Our government continues to support and work cooperatively with the CFIA. We are examining the science around the current restriction on product flow, particularly for chicken and turkey, and we continue to believe that the science supports the movement of these finished products not just in British Columbia, not just in the control zone, but also in other parts of Canada. The economic damage right now to farmers, processors and plant workers is very severe, and we continue to work on ways to mitigate that.
Our ministry is also involved in the logistics of bird disposal and manure disposal. We do need everyone's cooperation in that regard. It's very urgent that we have the cooperation of local authorities in dealing with these issues.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
USE OF B.C. TEACHERS
R. Masi: My question is to the Minister of Education. I find it disturbing that the British Columbia Teachers Federation is using $5 million from the teachers' pockets to support a political attack on the government. The goal of this government and, I'm sure, all teachers across this province is to make B.C.'s public education system the best it can be. However, the teachers union seems intent on furthering its own political agenda and pitting teachers, students and parents against this government. To the minister: what recourse is available to teachers who do not want to see their money being used to finance political campaigns?
Hon. T. Christensen: The member is, I think, finding the same thing that I have found, and that is that many teachers are surprised that money that they paid for legitimate collective bargaining purposes has now been moved over to what is distinctly a political fund. I think it's unfortunate that the BCTF is more interested, it would appear, in fighting the next election than it is in focusing on student achievement.
I can tell you that this government is focused on student achievement. I can also tell you that as I'm out visiting school districts and schools around the province, the teachers I talk to there are excited about many of the new things happening in education, and they, most importantly, are focused on student achievement. They're showing great dedication to their students.
I will certainly continue to meet with teachers around the province and continue that discussion on how we can improve the outcomes for students in our classroom. Unfortunately, those teachers who are concerned about what their union is doing with the funds they are required to pay to their union are left to take that up with their union.
B.C. RAIL AGREEMENT WITH CN RAIL
P. Nettleton: In a community that I am fortunate enough to represent, Fort St. James, the mayors and councillors have signed on March 11 the open letter to the Premier calling upon him to halt the sale of B.C. Rail immediately. At the risk of repeating questions that have been raised earlier by the members of the opposition with respect to this letter, it reads in part: "Broken promises in a criminal investigation betray the trust of the people of B.C. The only responsible decision you and your government can make is to suspend the sale of B.C. Rail until matters related to the raid on the Legislature have been fully investigated by the police."
Will the Premier do the right thing and call a halt to the sale of B.C. Rail?
Hon. G. Campbell: The Premier and the government will do the right thing, for sure. We will move forward with the B.C. Rail investment partnership. We'll get $135 million of the northern development initiative. We'll open up the port of Prince Rupert. We'll solve problems for Peace River farmers which haven't been solved for years. We'll open up tourism and investment opportunities up and down the line
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and across the north, and we'll keep working for the people of the north, as they asked us to.
POLICY FOR WEST COAST
FISH PROCESSING PLANTS
G. Trumper: My question is to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. It's my understanding that the federal government is about to make a decision with regard to the amount of hake quota that is available to the west coast communities. For the past two years the entire catch was directed to onshore processing plants, creating good jobs and good wages. Could the minister please tell me what the situation is at this time as we work to keep these jobs in Ucluelet and Port Alberni on the west coast?
Hon. J. van Dongen: The federal and provincial policy and commitment regarding giving priority access to onshore plants, which was put in place in 1990, remains firmly in place. As the member knows, the expected run for this year is significantly greater than average, but I did meet recently with the mayor of Ucluelet and representatives of all of the processing plants. I've encouraged them to work closely with the process that has been put in place to work out this situation and all of the utilization, and I will work very closely with the federal minister to ensure that we maximize utilization of the resource and maximize the resource to our onshore plants.
[End of question period.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Collins: In Committee A, I call Committee of Supply. For the information of members, we'll be continuing the discussions of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. In this House, I call Committee of Supply. For the information of members, we'll be dealing with the estimates of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Committee of Supply
The House in Committee of Supply B; K. Stewart in the chair.
The committee met at 2:38 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF CHILDREN AND
On vote 16: ministry operations, $1,381,568,000 (continued).
J. Kwan: Just prior to the adjournment of the House yesterday, I was asking the minister about the categories in which claims of child abuse or neglect would be investigated and the procedures that the ministry follows. Specifically, I asked the minister about the notion of "assessed further" reports, and the minister claims there's no such thing. But, of course, under the process in which the government deals with these issues, there's a thing called "further assessment required."
Then under the different categories…. Investigative report, family development response, investigation after family development response, further assessment required, offer support services, no further action, refer to community agency, forward to section 16 worker, determine new support services, offer special needs day care, return to parent in B.C., return to parent out of B.C., determine eligibility for home and not coded are the various categories that the government utilizes in dealing with these issues.
I would like the minister to advise this House, first of all, how many reports or how many cases fall under the investigative report category. I would like to have the comparative numbers year over year so that we know whether or not the numbers have gone up or down. Again, for the minister to claim that cases have gone down…. It is important for us to get these numbers for the purposes of comparison beginning 2001 to date.
Hon. C. Clark: Sorry that took a minute. It took a minute to crunch the numbers on this.
The total numbers of children who are in need of protection — and this is as a percentage of the total reports, not the total investigations…. I know where the member is going with the question, if we want to just cut to the chase on this.
I think the point she's trying to illustrate is the thing that her mentor, Mr. Schreck, tries to illustrate on his website regularly, which is that somehow there are fewer children coming into care because there are fewer investigations being done based on the reports that are coming out. That is just simply not true. It is really the worst, lowest kind of…. Maybe I don't want to say that. It is really the worst kind of politics there is. To sort of play politics with those kinds of numbers is really…. Anyway, that may not be where the member is going. I suspect, though, based on the questioning yesterday, that that's where she's going with this.
In order to answer that question for her, I will give her these numbers. The total number of reports in 2001-02 was 33,522. It was 31,780 in '02-03, and it was 27,361 in…. Sorry; I'll give you an estimated year to date. That's 29,848 for '03-04. The number of children that have been determined to be in need of protection, based not on the total number of investigations but the total number of reports, has been pretty constant. That was 18.5 percent '01-02, 18.4 percent in '02-03 and 17.3 percent in '03-04.
J. Kwan: The minister would like to create questions in her own mind and rationales for why the opposition is asking questions. She's completely off base.
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Notwithstanding that, those are not the questions I asked of the minister.
Let me be clear in terms of where the issues come from. The issues actually come from front-line workers with respect to the minister's claim that somehow….
J. Kwan: The minister claims that these numbers and issues come from StrategicThoughts.com. Well, actually, I have a letter before me from the B.C. Association of Social Workers around these issues. They are the ones who raise these issues. These are the ones on the front lines dealing with these issues.
The arrogance of this minister to presume that somehow these questions are not valid, that they actually have no standing and that they are not important to front-line workers is completely incredible in terms of this minister's approach to dealing with questions from the community. Social workers want to know, the public wants to know, and the opposition wants to know. They're not asking for the spin from the minister. They're asking these basic questions which the minister should be able to answer. She should have no reason as to why she wants to give some information other than the questions put to her.
I'll ask the minister again. Investigative reports beginning '01 to today — what were the numbers?
Hon. C. Clark: I just gave the member the numbers. I just want to be clear. She's trying to put words in my mouth. I didn't say that the questions were unimportant, and I think any check of the Hansard record will demonstrate that I didn't say that they were unimportant. What I did suggest, though, is that the analysis the member is using is politically motivated. I don't think there's any question about that. Certainly, all of these questions are open to discussion on the floor of the House. That's why I'm providing her with answers.
J. Kwan: You know, members of the public will be able to determine for themselves whether or not the minister is answering the questions that I've put to her. Certainly, it is my assertion that the minister is not answering questions. She only wants to answer questions that she wants to give the spin on — the answers that I know she has perhaps rehearsed with Martyn Brown, who says, "These are the kinds of questions and the language you can put out," as opposed to what is being asked by the opposition.
She says that these questions are put to her for political reasons and political motivation purposes. Well, you know, the B.C. Association of Social Workers actually dedicate their time with front-line workers who do this important work, this critical and difficult work for the ministry. They have actually written a letter. They have issued an open statement around this. They have actually said: "When the minister claims that the number of child abuse and neglect reports to the ministry has fallen from 100 in 2001 to an average of 85 per day in 2003, the implication is that the ministry social workers have less to do and staff reductions are, therefore, acceptable. We take issue with the statement that the number of child protection calls has decreased. What has changed is that many of the reports are no longer being statistically recorded as investigations but are instead being recorded as 'assess further.'
This minister will only answer questions if the terminology is exactly right, and the terminology that is being used is "further assessment required."
"Each 'assess further' or 'further assessment required' report is received by an investigating intake social worker who has the duty to conduct a professional assessment to determine the safety of the child or children. The assessment often involves the social worker talking to the parents, teachers and possibly the child, and the time required to perform it can be variable. It is labour-intensive child protection social work and cannot be discounted because it is not classified as an 'investigation.'"
The answer the minister gave does not answer the question in that there are issues with respect to how the government does this work. The comparison that social workers, the public and the opposition want to know would be on the basis of how many cases are being investigated versus how many cases are being referred to as "further assessment required," and to compare year over year so that people can make the determination for themselves whether or not the cases and the caseload are dropping and to what degree, but not what the minister says at the end result. The end result of cases being completed through the investigation may well vary. On that basis they would vary, maybe, because investigations are not being done as often as they used to be.
Give the facts for the public for their determination, not the minister's spin on what her interpretation of what the numbers are and what they represent and her interpretation of what the questions are. Just answer the questions.
Hon. C. Clark: I did answer the question that the member asked. I'm very disappointed that suddenly she's so opposed to spin. She engages in a fair amount of that herself. I'll try not to give her any spin on this. I'll just give her the numbers that have been provided to me by our senior civil servants, who she occasionally says she thinks are doing a very, very good job.
The number of complaints — child protection reports, I should say specifically — in 2001-02 was 33,522. The number of children who were determined to be in need of protection as a result of that total volume of reports was 18.5 percent. In 2002-03 that was 31,780 reports that the ministry received. I mean, that has nothing to do with any changes in classification or any changes in behaviour. This is just total number of reports, sort of the gross volume of reports that the ministry gets.
Based on that, about 18.4 percent of those were determined to be in need of protection. In 2003-04 — and this is estimated to the end of the year based on the numbers that we have — there were 29,848 total child
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protection reports. About 17.3 percent of those children will be in need of protection by the ministry. What that demonstrates to us is that the total numbers of protection reports that are coming in are shrinking.
There's a good reason for that. The number of children in British Columbia is also shrinking. That's a well-known demographic change. That's certainly something we've seen in our education system. The number of children under six is really dropping. Just go out and look outside your living room window. You won't see as many kids playing street hockey as you used to, because the population is shrinking. Families are smaller. Women are waiting longer to have their children, so there just aren't as many children under six. That's a good reason for that trend to be there. That's completely irrespective of behaviour of front-line staff or anything like that.
Nonetheless, as a percentage of the total reports, the number of children who are deemed to be in need of protection is staying about constant. I know the member says she doesn't care about results, but I think in this ministry we need to care about results. We need to be conscious of the impact our policies are having and whether or not we're doing better or things are getting worse out there. We pay a great deal of attention to results. We make sure that the decisions we make try…. We always try and make sure that they result in better outcomes.
J. Kwan: It is not the case that the opposition doesn't care about the results. What we don't care about is the minister's spin on the results. The opposition want to judge for themselves what the numbers represent. We want to be able to determine what those numbers mean in terms of results, not the minister's spin. That's where I actually take issue with the minister's approach to things. In fact, generally the government's spin on the concluding issues that they say is one thing — how everything is wonderful and they're doing a great job. We would want to interpret that on our own, based on facts and not just the government's spin-doctoring message box.
The minister says the protection reports have actually dropped, in terms of complaints, from 33,500 or so to 31,700 and then to 29,800 or so, year over year. Those are the complaints, investigative reports. She says the drop is not because there is less work being done within the ministry to investigate; rather, there's a drop in population with children. What is the percentage as well as the reduction in number in the population amongst children in these years?
Hon. C. Clark: I don't have exact numbers on hand for population growth and shrinkage in British Columbia, but it is comparable to the numbers I've described.
J. Kwan: The minister doesn't have the information, but she claims that that is what it is. Quite frankly, I would want to see the numbers and, again, make the judgment for myself and not take the minister's word for it. As we've established time and time again, the minister's word, in my view, is oftentimes questionable. It is the opposition's job to hold the government to account.
The Chair: Member, I think you're moving onto grounds that I would consider unparliamentary. Could you please retract that comment, and we'll continue on with estimates.
J. Kwan: Mr. Chair, I'll retract the comment, but the minister's answers do not provide the answers. The minister's answers and her facts are based on her spin and the government spin. They're not based on facts as they relate to reality in terms of what's going on in the community, so I cannot take her word for it when she says: "Trust me." Quite frankly, there's been a pattern the minister has established that causes me to be concerned about her statements.
Trust me doesn't work. Trust me doesn't work with the opposition and, I dare say, with many British Columbians and, I dare say, with many of the front-line workers who have raised the issues with the opposition and to the attention of the government as well.
The Chair: Return to the estimates, please, member.
J. Kwan: Mr. Chair, the minister gave an answer. I think that as a member I have the right, within the rules of this House, to respond to those answers on what my thoughts are and to preface my questions on the basis of what the minister's answers are. That's exactly what I'm doing, Mr. Chair. That's exactly what I'm doing.
The minister claims the corresponding number of children has decreased accordingly with the number of cases that are being investigated for potential child abuse and child neglect. What are the numbers, then? Another set of numbers that would be critical in making a determination around this issue would be the cases that fall under the "further assessment required" category. How many cases were reported in the '01, '02, '03 and '04 years?
Hon. C. Clark: We don't have a "further assessment required" category. Certainly, in answer to the member's question, if she'd like me to do a little piece of research for her about the exact numbers of the youth population under six, we're endeavouring to get that for her as soon as we possibly can. She's deliberately trying to cast aspersions on my truthfulness here, and that's really not fair. The population trend for children under six is well known across the country.
J. Kwan: I will remind the minister that it is the front-line workers who raised these issues. The open statement is actually out there for the public, for the minister's attention as well as the opposition, which is why I raised these questions. The front-line workers have a direct involvement with respect to what the cases are and how they're being handled. Their inter-
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pretation of how these numbers reflect not because of need necessarily, but because of the change in the approach of how workers are to determine what cases need to be investigated and what cases fall under the "further assessment required" category…. These numbers go hand in hand.
For the minister to say now that she doesn't have that information is really a little bit much to take. In fact, these questions were asked of the minister. We began to canvass some of this area just before the House rose yesterday, and the last answer the minister put on record is this:
"Reports are made under those categories that I described to the member. The question the member asked me was what the categories for ministry action are, and that's what I gave her. Reports come in, and then there are a number of different actions the ministry takes. That's the list I described to her. I can't give her year-over-year numbers in that kind of detail right offhand. It's a long list of possible actions that the ministry could take."
The minister then goes on to talk about something else. This is just before the House adjourned. Then I said: "Well, okay. If the minister doesn't have it right offhand, estimates debate will resume today." As we have resumed, the minister should be able to get that information. Here we are. Here we are in estimates debate asking the minister the information that she said she would have, and she does not have the information.
The Chair: Members, through the Chair, please.
J. Kwan: She does not have the information.
You know what? The more the minister refuses to provide information in this House based on facts and not on her spin, the more she discredits her own government's effort in this area. Credibility is based on facts and based on answers — answers to questions put to the minister through this forum and through other forums. The more the minister tries to hide the information, the more suspicion she raises and the more concern she raises in the minds of the public and amongst social workers.
Social workers have said, Mr. Chair, that when these categories are looked into, you will find that the "assessed further" or "assessment required" category would be important to figure out relative to investigative reports. They're important because in the front-line workers' view, the numbers on claims around child abuse or neglect reports to the ministry have fallen not necessarily because there's less need in the community but because of the way in which the ministry does its work. That's what their issues are, and the opposition shares those concerns, if in fact their concerns are true. The only way to make that determination is for the minister to put forward the information so that we can judge whether or not there's any correlation between these two types of reports, what kind of correlation, and arrive at the conclusion.
The B.C. Association of Social Workers states that the assessed reports are labour-intensive processes. Social workers are required to conduct a professional assessment to determine the safety of the child. Assessments often require considerable time and effort to do, and many involve talking to parents, teachers and children.
Given that the minister won't give the answer and she's hiding the information about the "further assessment required" category — given that she won't give that information, and she claims she doesn't have it at this time — will the minister then commit to providing that information at a later time so that the community can judge on their own? Then I have further questions following that.
Hon. C. Clark: I can certainly assure the member we're living up not just to the spirit but to the letter of the statute on this. I think our government has made great progress in supporting families who are at risk and trying to make sure we try and support whole families and give families the resources they need to try and make stable, loving, caring homes for children. And I don't think there can be any argument about whether or not that is a good vision and a good direction to go in. That's certainly where we've been going.
The member, I know, makes a point of being suspicious about every piece of information she's offered — whether it is statistical information or not — but I can assure her of this. The trends that I've demonstrated for her in our jurisdiction are not unique in the world. They're trends that we see across the United States, in New Zealand and Australia. Our numbers are consistent with all of the numbers that we see in jurisdictions in similar kinds of places with similar sorts of populations that we have.
The fact that the youth population is falling is a worldwide trend — in the western world, anyway. I'm surprised the member is suspicious of those numbers.
I would like to correct the member on this as well. The B.C. Association of Social Workers is not a front-line worker organization. It is an advocacy organization. It certainly has legitimate views just like the NDP has legitimate views. Nonetheless, it isn't accurate to refer to statements that are made by the B.C. Association of Social Workers as being the same as statements of social workers who are on the front lines.
I can tell her this. There is a very big divergence of views amongst the population of social workers, just like there is amongst any population of people. I think that if she wanted to, she could find some evidence of social workers who are certainly supportive of the direction that government's taken — in particular, the direction that we've taken to allow social workers to use the broad range of skills they have, use the experience they have and apply that to try and support families.
J. Kwan: It is just the practice of this government — and we've actually just seen it earlier in question period today — and it is the practice of this minister to
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discredit organizations as though somehow organizations that raise questions of this minister and this government's actions are not legitimate organizations, as though somehow they should not be counted towards the important work and issues that we are faced with today in British Columbia, as though somehow their legitimacy is lessened in the mind of this minister. It is absolutely appalling in terms of this kind of approach.
The B.C. Association of Social Workers. Yes, some of them are social workers, and some of them are not social workers. That doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. Here, they have taken issue with the minister's statement and the government's statement about reduction of children in need of protection. They take issue with the minister's claim and the government's claim that the number of reports to the ministry has fallen from 100 per day in 2001 to an average of 85 per day in 2003. What we've seen so far — and what the minister gave the factual information on — is the number of complaints that have been made in terms of the investigation reports that have been made, and the numbers have dropped. She has not given the pertinent information that you would need to correlate with the other piece of information to draw some sort of conclusion.
The B.C. Association of Social Workers are saying that they take issue with the government's statement that the number of child protection calls has decreased. They say that what has changed is that many of the reports are no longer being statistically recorded as investigations but instead are being recorded as "assessed further" or "further assessment required." Yet, the minister won't give that piece of information.
Then she goes on to say: "Well, we know what we're doing, and we're doing our work of the legislation to a T." Well, that's the minister's own conclusion. It is her own spin from her own government that says what a great job they're doing. The public is questioning those conclusions. The questions that I put to the minister would shed some light for the members of the public to arrive at maybe the same conclusion. Who knows? Maybe they'll arrive at the same conclusion if the facts are put before them, but the minister won't do that. Then all she will say in this House is: "I don't have the information" and "I'm not going to give it to you." Then to say: "But we're doing everything just fine…." Thank you very much.
Again, I put this question to the minister, which she did not answer. If she won't give the information in this House…. She claims that she doesn't have it, although I think her very competent staff do have the information. Having said that aside, the minister claims she doesn't have the information.
Well then, let's get the information on all the different categories that apply with respect to year-over-year comparisons for the category of investigative report, family development response, investigation after family development response, further assessment required, offer support services, no further action, refer to community agency, forward to section 16 worker, determine need support services, offer special needs day care, return to parent in B.C., return to parents out of B.C., determine eligibility for home and not coded. Let's get that information, maybe not in this forum but from the minister in the next week or two weeks. That would be, I think, a reasonable time frame for the minister to put that information forward for the opposition, for the B.C. Association of Social Workers and for others who might be interested — for them to make the judgment on what is going on with the ministry around this issue.
Hon. C. Clark: I think one of the assumptions the member makes in her questions is that the ministry should be investigating every complaint that comes through the door or comes over the phone, and that's just not my view of this at all. My view is very much that we need to allow social workers to use their professional judgment to decide whether or not they want to investigate. An investigation of child protection is very, very disruptive to people's lives. It needs to be done in many cases, but not in every single case for every possible phone call. I think we could certainly be living in kind of a 1984 world if that was the approach we were to take, just to investigate every complaint and go in. We don't believe it is always justified to disrupt people's lives so significantly based on a child protection complaint without necessarily any other corroborating or supportive evidence that there may be an issue there.
I would direct the member to some comments that have been made. I know she's very suspicious of the role that all of us as politicians play in the process, so this is a quote from Community Collaboration and Differential Response: Canadian International Research and Emerging Models of Practice. It was published by the Centre for Excellence on Child Welfare. This is a piece that was written by all of the directors of child welfare who work for governments of all different stripes across the country to talk about this very issue. It says: "Child welfare workers must be allowed to use their highly tuned investigative and assessment skills in appropriate circumstances. Families with significant family child safety issues should receive a child protection response from a professional worker. Staff with the expertise in investigation, evidence-gathering and the court process must be allowed to focus their work on high-risk cases. At the same time, there is no need to bring into the adversarial child welfare system families for whom there is no immediate child protection concern. These families should be provided with non-adversarial support to assist them to deal with stress in difficult circumstances. This has a preventive component and can help ensure that these families do not return later as high-risk cases."
We have made a tremendous cultural shift in this ministry since the decade of the previous government. That's because we have tried to change the culture of child protection so that our professional, highly trained social workers can go into a situation and try and support a family instead of making as their first response always to try and take a child away from their family.
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Sometimes that is necessary. Where it is necessary, it should be done, but it isn't always necessary.
Equally, it is not always necessary that the government go into a family and disrupt their lives and investigate every single report that's come through the door. That's just not equitable, I don't think, in our society. I think it is fundamentally against the grain of what we want to stand for as a government, and I think even her government would have suggested that that wasn't a reasonable expectation. We need to try and do what we can to support families to make them healthy, loving, whole, stable places for children, because that will be at the heart of our success as a society.
J. Kwan: The minister did not answer the question. No matter how she sidesteps the issue, the fact is she did not answer the question. The minister once again has put forward spin according to her own spin-doctoring about what message she wants the public to believe is going on in this area. Once again I'm saying to the minister, no, thank you very much. I don't need your spin. I need the facts so that I can make my own determination with respect to these issues.
I don't know why it is so difficult for the minister to provide this information. She says that she doesn't have it in this House at hand. Yesterday, today, this afternoon I asked for the information. She says she still doesn't have that information. Okay. Well, I'll cut the minister some slack. She doesn't have the information, in spite of the fact that I think her very competent staff around her do have the information, but never mind that. I've asked for the information, then, in writing at a later time — a week, two weeks from now — so that we can make the judgments.
If indeed what the minister says she is doing in protecting children is working and the numbers actually correspond to what they're saying and they also further correspond to the requirement for the cuts in FTEs in social workers and in the ministry, then that's more good news from the minister, isn't it? Isn't that the ultimate test for the public to make that determination, but not for the minister to say that is the determination: "I told you so, and you just must accept it"? It doesn't make sense, the approach which the minister is taking in dealing with this issue, at all.
All the other ministers, when asked for information, readily offer the information to back up their claim. That's accountability, Mr. Chair. So where is the accountability from this minister? Why won't she commit to providing the information so people can judge on their own. The information I'm seeking is based on the categories that the minister herself has put out on how the ministry's working on determining claims of abuse and neglect that are put into the ministry.
Hon. C. Clark: I have an answer to a question the member asked earlier. She didn't believe me that the number of children under six, the population of children under six, is falling, so I can give her that now. Since 1998-99, it's fallen by 13.4 percent. Just for her information — although she didn't ask this, I'm happy to provide it — the difference in the number of protection reports that we've received has fallen by 10.95 percent.
J. Kwan: The numbers have actually come out and you know what? They don't correspond with the number of reductions in terms of percentage with respect to complaints that have come in to the minister. She first reported they were…. They actually range from 18.5 percent to 17.3 percent from '01 to '04. She said the reduction of these reports is the result of the reduction in the children population. The children population that she just reported now falls far short of what she just reported in terms of the number of reports and complaints that the ministry has registered year over year.
There you have it. It actually established my case that we can't take the minister's word for it in terms of the information that she provides through this forum. Those judgments of what she proclaims things to be at must be determined by the community on their own. Why won't the minister answer the question about providing information at a later time? Will she commit to provide that information in this House?
Hon. C. Clark: The member is, I think, very confused about the numbers I gave her. If she would just pay attention for a second, I can give those numbers to her again. Well, I can wait until the member has a minute of attention; then I can provide her with this information.
The Chair: Any further questions? Member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant.
J. Kwan: I'm waiting for the minister's answer.
Hon. C. Clark: I would be happy to provide those numbers. I want to clarify a point of confusion, though, that the member had. We have been throwing out a lot of numbers here, so I do want to clarify it for her. I can't provide that information for her if she's not going to be listening to the debate. When she wants to tune in for the debate, I would be delighted to go through that information, and we could have a further discussion about it.
J. Kwan: Unlike the minister, actually, I can multitask, and I am certainly listening to the minister's debate and answers, and I have written down the numbers that she's put forward. In fact, the numbers don't correspond. I have actually just put that information on record. Having said that, I still say that the minister's numbers don't correspond with her claim, and that's what I'm putting on record.
I have actually put another question to the minister about providing the numbers under the categories to which the minister says that they report and record neglect claims and child abuse claims. I'm waiting for an answer from the minister about whether or not
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she'll provide that information for the opposition so that we can make a determination on how she's doing as the minister responsible for this area.
Hon. C. Clark: I'm not sure how the member could make a determination about what I'm saying if she is not listening to me. Be that as it may, if the member can hear this while she's working on her BlackBerry, I can provide this to her. I said that the population of youth under six is falling, has fallen by 13.4 percent since about 1998-99. The total drop in the number of complaints the ministry's received in the last couple of years is 10.95 percent — so very comparable sort of numbers there.
I think the 18 percent number she was referring to was…. She was mistaken about what that referred to. What I was referencing when I gave her that number is 18.5 percent in '01-02, 18.4 percent in '02-03 and 17.3 percent in '03-04. That refers to the total percent of children determined to be in need of protection out of the total number of complaints that have been received through the door.
Out of the total number of complaints, that number has stayed very constant. We in British Columbia are very consistent with other jurisdictions in that respect, although I should point out that British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in the country where we started to see some real success in dropping the number of children that are coming into care. That's because we've worked really hard to expand the range of skills that social workers have available that they can apply in their jobs to try and keep families together, to try and support families in their homes, to try and make sure that children are protected and cared for before their family reaches a crisis point.
J. Kwan: The minister's numbers, the way in which she has put them on record, actually show they don't necessarily correspond. The minister claims they do. Well, that's her prerogative. I disagree; that's my prerogative. The minister says they're doing just fine, that British Columbia is a leader in terms of reducing the number of children coming into care because they're expanding a range of services and options and supports for families.
I'm asking the minister for factual information so the community, the opposition and anybody who is interested can look at the facts and arrive at a conclusion on their own and not just what the minister says we must accept. It is a democracy, last I checked. A place in which we live — a place called British Columbia, Canada — has a thing called democracy, and each of us is entitled to think on our own and arrive at conclusions on our own and not just take the minister's word on what she says the conclusion is. Part of critical analysis, in fact, for members of the public who are concerned about these issues is to do exactly that, not just take the government's word for it.
The minister won't answer the question on whether or not she will provide the information on all the categories I have listed that the minister is using within the ministry on claims of neglect and abuse in the province that come to the attention of the ministry. I don't know why she's trying to hide that information and why she won't provide that to the public and commit to provide that to the public. She says she doesn't have all the numbers year over year. Let me try this. Does the minister have the number, then, for the "further assessment required" category for 2003 and 2002? Just the last two years.
Hon. C. Clark: Yes. I have already told the member I don't know what that category is that she refers to.
J. Kwan: The category is listed by the minister herself, where she lists a range of different categories that are being done or listed in the ministry around claims of neglect and abuse. I put on the record the minister's own words — what she said the categories were: investigative report, family development response, investigation after family development response, further assessment required, offer support services, no further action, refer to community agency, forward to section 16 worker, determine new support services, offer special needs day care, return to parent in B.C., return to parent out of B.C., determine eligibility for home and not coded. These are the categories the minister herself had listed. I didn't create the categories, so the minister should know exactly what I'm talking about.
Hon. C. Clark: As I told the member, I don't have those numbers for her today.
J. Kwan: Well, then, as I've asked the minister…. She doesn't have it for last year; she doesn't have it for the year before. I asked the minister to provide that information to the opposition in the next couple of weeks under these categories. I'm asking the minister: will she commit to provide that information to the opposition in writing in the next little while?
Hon. C. Clark: I'll provide as much information as we're able to gather and is appropriate to share.
J. Kwan: That's not an answer that confirms the minister will provide the information. As we know, I asked for a briefing about these slush moneys that went out in terms of savings out of the ministry's previous budget cycles, where the dollars went and so on. The minister promised that she would actually provide for a briefing. A briefing was in fact set up with the deputy minister and the ministry's staff for Monday morning. On Monday morning the ministerial assistant to the Minister of Finance, who manages the House, actually came and told my staff that if we don't agree to wrap up estimates by yesterday evening, then there would be no briefing. We did not agree to shut down estimates debate because we still have many questions to ask of the minister. The briefing was cancelled.
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The minister says she'll provide the information on the basis of what she deems to be important and what she can garner. That's not what I asked. I asked for very specific information regarding the numbers of cases that follow with each of the categories listed by the minister herself with respect to abuse and neglect claims in British Columbia year over year, so that the community and the opposition can make a determination on the claim that the minister is doing a good job and that the reduction of FTEs is necessitated because cases are decreasing and that the ministry in fact is seeing some good results with respect to the requirement for taking children into care.
It's simple. It's not complicated to get that information. These are fact-based. I don't want the minister's opinion on what these facts are; I just want the facts, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: I just remind the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant that two of the items she just talked about were items that were fully canvassed yesterday, and a response was given by the minister. The other part of the question has been asked six times so far. It's beginning to get a bit repetitive, so I would suggest that unless the minister has some new information, we can canvass a new set of questions and move on from this as it seems to be fully canvassed to this point.
J. Kwan: Thank you, hon. Chair. As always, the rules of this House that actually help to speed things up and to get answers for the public…. That is that when an opposition member puts a question to the minister and she refuses to answer it, we actually have no way of making the minister accountable to her job. We simply cannot ask the questions anymore because it is proven to be tedious.
I must admit they are repetitive. I totally admit that. I wouldn't be asking the question over and over and over again if the minister would just get up like other ministers would, generally speaking, and say: "Yeah, I'll provide that information to you."
We did part of the estimates with the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services about child care issues in terms of the funding, and so on and so forth, year over year for comparison purposes. The minister agreed to provide that information readily. The Minister of Health Services did exactly the same thing around health funding issues. I don't know why — only with this minister, it seems to me — there is such difficulty for her to provide information, factual information, for people to judge and make a determination on how this minister is doing and how this government is doing.
The rule of the House is such that it disallows me from making the minister actually do her job. Maybe her conscience will make her do her job. Maybe the constituents in British Columbia will say, "I'm going to hold this government to account," and that they need to be providing this information to the public for their assessment. It's shameful. It's shameful that the minister simply won't commit on record to provide this information to the public.
What is the estimated amount of time required for a social worker to undertake an assessment or "further assessment required" report as compared to an investigation?
Hon. C. Clark: I can give her the number. It's 17½ hours for a child protection investigation and risk management plan assessment and those kinds of things. For that whole process, about 17½ hours is what our current workload management model defines.
J. Kwan: That time required to do that work is based on, I assume, information for this fiscal year. Has that changed from year over year?
Hon. C. Clark: No. That is based on the 1997-98 model that the previous member's government created.
J. Kwan: How many investigations and "further assessment required" reports is the average social worker responsible for?
Hon. C. Clark: We don't measure it by that method.
J. Kwan: It's not a measurement. It's just a statement of factual information for the minister to provide — that is, to say how many cases in these areas workers are responsible for. It's not a measurement. It's just to get a better understanding of what their workload is like.
Hon. C. Clark: It varies from area to area and from worker to worker. Again, as I said, we don't measure that in the kind of crude measurement the member is looking for. We don't collect the numbers in that way, so that number isn't available.
J. Kwan: The minister says they vary from area to area. Well, we're talking about a specific area here — the area around child neglect and child abuse claims. Surely the minister has a sense of what kind of workload our ministry front-line workers are faced with. If she doesn't even know that, how can she claim that social workers have the ability to do the work they do — if she doesn't even know what the average workload looks like?
Hon. C. Clark: We discussed this at length last week and, I think, yesterday too. The workload model is a very complex model. It was created by the previous government, so I had hoped that the member would be more familiar with it than she appears to be. It is a very complex model, and the number the member is seeking is a very crude interpretation that's really not a relevant interpretation. It doesn't tell us very much about the workload that social workers are carrying. That's why
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her government chose to create a model that was much more complicated and reflects, better than the measurement that the member is seeking, the actual workload that social workers have.
J. Kwan: The minister says she understands the pressures that social workers are faced with. She understands they do an incredible job — and absolutely, they are. You would think that as part of that process, the minister would take the time and bother herself with finding out what the average workload for a social worker looks like, Mr. Chair. It is fairly rudimentary. Sure, it's fair enough to say that it is not exactly 100 percent in terms of describing the role and the workload that falls under a social worker. Fair enough, and I accept that. You'd think the minister, if she has sincerity about her answers and about the values for social workers and understanding the pressures they are faced with, might bother to find out what kind of pressures they are faced with in terms of their workload.
No, she hasn't done that. She hasn't provided collaborative information. She refused to provide collaborative information on the different kinds of categories of cases that workers are faced with. She is prepared, though, to claim that a significant reduction in the number of social workers is warranted. She claims that the conclusion is because there are fewer children in need of care.
In the meantime, we actually have the Ministry of Human Resource's internal e-mail being sent, requesting information and gathering information with respect to the impact of cuts in the area of welfare on the caseload levels for the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The e-mails are factual. They just came out last week. The minister, of course, in her own spin claims that's not the case, yet staff are being asked to gather this information so that they can go to Treasury Board to ask for more money in the area of child protection and for the ministry.
Once again the information that has been gathered from the public does not collaborate with what the minister claims to be happening in her own ministry. Short of the information and the facts that the minister refuses to provide, it only further raises questions about the minister's claims and her answers, Mr. Chair. What is the minister trying to hide when she won't provide factual information?
Hon. C. Clark: The member has widely canvassed this issue of Ministry of Human Resources clients coming over to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and it is just not true. The member keeps repeating it. She keeps saying it as though if she says it enough, the fact that she says it will make it true. It is not true.
The number of children coming into care whose families require income assistance or are on the MHR caseload is decreasing. I don't know if I can tell her that any more clearly than that. I have told her that a number of times, and she keeps repeating it. I think that's the last time I will correct her on that. I suppose if she wants to spread misinformation, there isn't a whole lot more I can do about that. She appears to be quite determined to spread this kind of misinformation. I have to, I suppose — if she won't be corrected on it — live with that.
The issue of caseload. The reason we don't measure caseload in the kind of crude measure the member is proposing and the reason her government didn't do that either is because a social worker can be carrying cases that are very active and very labour-intensive and can be carrying cases that are not active at all at the moment. It is not a very good measure. The unions recognize that. Jurisdictions across the country have recognized that. In fact, her government recognized that when they came up with the model in the first place. Since then, our jurisdiction has sold the intellectual property rights — the right to be able to use this workload model — to a number of other provinces across the country. It has now become a best practice across the country.
Again, it's much more complex than the member suggests. The reason I'm pointing this out is so that she can be clear about why I don't have the information. It's not because we don't care about it. It is just simply because we don't measure it that way, because it is not a relevant piece of information. Just measuring the number of cases that a social worker is carrying — and if you use that as the only measure — does not tell you very much about the workload that the social worker is carrying. It's like any other profession. If a nurse is caring for ten critically ill patients, that can be more work than a nurse who is caring for 20 people who have very mild symptoms that don't require a lot of intervention. We need a much more complex model than that. We can't use kind of the crude, simple model that the member suggested. It won't give us very much relevant information. Ours isn't the first government to have discovered that. Her government made that same decision.
J. Kwan: The minister claims that there are no impacts from the Ministry of Human Resources in terms of their changes in policy in cuts to welfare rates and reduction in supports for people on income assistance, and she claims that there is no impact whatsoever on the caseload for the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Well, it so happens that the information received by the opposition came from an internal government e-mail from ministry staff. It wasn't made up by the opposition that this is the case. The internal e-mail actually stated it as the case. I stand by the information that the e-mail actually provides, and the minister may not like it. She may even continue to deny it, but again, those are the facts. They exist. She might say, "Blah, blah, blah," or whatever she wants, but the reality is that it doesn't change. It doesn't change what the minister would like the spin to be and what her beliefs are when the facts dispute them.
The minister says that it is far more complicated to evaluate social workers' workload. Nor was I suggest-
[ Page 9911 ]
ing that the only measure to account for the social workers' workload is to see how many cases they have under their belt; nor was I suggesting that at all at any point in time.
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
The fact is this: the Minister of Children and Family Development reports that there are 14 percent fewer children in care than when the Liberal government came to power. However, there is no real evidence that there has been a reduction in cases of child abuse. We're trying to get that evidence; the minister won't provide it. Worse yet, much of the reduction in caseloads actually means that the ministry has returned more children back to the homes they were initially removed from because of potential abuse issues.
The community. I will give one example I know of where, again, a principal actually told me they were worried about a particular student in their class because the particular student hadn't surfaced in the class for some time. Teachers had phoned, and so on and so forth, to no avail — couldn't find this particular student, no contact with the family — and then phoned the ministry's office and reported the situation out of genuine concern for the student's well-being. The person who took the call basically said: "Well, you can file a report if you want, and we can try to get to it. If we have time, we will, but if we don't, we won't. Chances are we won't, because we're stretched to the max."
That's the reality in terms of what people are saying is happening. If the case is true that the minister says that we don't need more social workers, that we can afford to actually reduce them and that FTEs are being cut within the ministry, then it doesn't ring true with what is going on in the community. The facts I'm requesting from the minister have not been provided to back up her claims.
Section 2 of the Child, Family and Community Service Act states that "the safety and well-being of children are the paramount considerations" of the ministry. Section 2(a) states that children are entitled to be protected from abuse, neglect and harm or threat of harm.
We have cuts in the staffing level. The minister won't report what the information is around what the cases look like in terms of what the ministry's faced with. The minister won't report what the workload is like for social workers. Then how are cuts to staffing reflective of the guiding principle of the Child, Family and Community Service Act?
I might remind the minister that in January 1998 while in opposition, the minister said: "I do not believe that the ministry provides adequate resources to front-line workers in British Columbia. That is why I continue to support Judge Gove's recommendation for a substantial increase in the number of front-line workers in the ministry." That's what the minister said then, and her actions completely contradict what she said when she was in opposition.
Hon. C. Clark: It's important to note that the number of social workers was increased. The previous government did increase the number of social workers after that discussion occurred in the House. That was the process by which that government came up with the workload model which we've been discussing, which tells us a little bit about how heavy the workload is on social workers.
I will enter into the record again — we've had this discussion a whole number of times — and I know the member doesn't want to move on, so I will give her the information again. The annual percentage change in the workload model indicates that there has been a reduction of 15.46 percent in the actual amount. The way the workload model determines the amount of total load for social workers — that is a reduction of 15.46 percent. The total number of funded FTEs has been reduced by 9.8 percent — so a much smaller percentage reduction than the reduction in the amount of workload that we calculate based on this member's government's model.
J. Kwan: The minister claims her argument for increase in FTEs, social workers, following the Gove report was just for then. It doesn't apply for subsequent times. How convenient, Mr. Chair, because all throughout when she was in opposition, she continuously criticized the previous government for not increasing the number of social workers. She continuously criticized, along with the Premier, cuts in budgets or lack of services in the Ministry for Children and Families. Now that she is the minister, she has actually changed the goalposts entirely for this minister. She has changed her tune altogether to say: "Well, we don't need more social workers. We can actually lay off a whole bunch of them, and we can actually reduce the budget, as well, in the area of children and family development to the tune of $175 million over three years."
How times have changed, Mr. Chair. How times have changed — when the person is in government, the tune that they now sing versus when a person is in opposition. You know what? Again, it goes to credibility. It goes to credibility to measure up on what this minister said then and what she is doing now.
A freedom-of-information inquiry reviewed that the ministry statistics on the numbers of children who have died under ministry care in the past four years have recently been changed. Could the minister please advise how many children have died in each of the past four years?
Hon. C. Clark: The death of a child is always a tragedy, whether that child is in care or not. I can give the member these numbers, and I hope that for this portion of the debate we can keep it to a discussion of the facts. This is a very serious issue and something I think that doesn't…. It needs to be handled carefully, so I will give the member the numbers.
For non-aboriginal children in the year 2000…. Sorry, I will just give her the total. In the year 2000
[ Page 9912 ]
seven children died of natural causes. These are children in care. Two were accidental, and one was a suicide. That's a total of ten. In 2001 seven children died of natural causes, one was an accident, and one was a suicide. That's a total of nine. In 2002 six children died of natural causes, two of accidents and one from a suicide. That's nine. In 2003 six children died of natural causes, four died of accidents, and two died as a result of suicide. That's 12. In 2004 three children in care died of natural causes, for a total of three.
J. Kwan: The information provided….
J. Kwan: Mr. Chair, I'm sitting here asking questions — and this is actually very serious; these are very serious matters — about the situation involving our children. Make no mistake about that. Somehow it is shameful for questions to be asked around these issues, according to the member from the coast.
Do you know what? What is shameful is if we as elected officials neglect to look at these issues with care, to review what's happened and to make sure that we have the proper information before us so that we can hopefully prevent these kinds of incidents in the future. That, in my view, would be shameful. If we do not ask these questions and let it pass, in my view that is what would be shameful. There is no doubt, absolutely no doubt, that the death of any child for any reason is more than tragic. In fact, the death of anyone for any reason is a tragic thing.
Given that we're dealing with the ministry who deals with children who need protection…. From time to time, as the numbers show, children do die, and it is incumbent on us to ask some questions around what is going on or to try and shed some light onto these matters.
The numbers that the minister has provided correspond with the government's published numbers around this issue. The original number that was published year over year starting the year 1998 was 14, and then it was later revised to 14. Then in 1999 it was 16 and later on revised and remained at 16 for the year. For the year 2000 it was eight and then later on revised to ten. In 2001 it was seven and then later on revised to nine. In 2002 it was seven and later on revised to nine. Then in 2003 it was nine and later on revised to 12.
What is the reason behind the changes in the figures in terms of the revisions?
Hon. C. Clark: I've seen these questions also posed by Mr. Schreck on his website as well. We've already, I think, answered them to him, so I can answer them to her as well. There was an error in the way the ministry calculated the number of deaths for children in care, so we went back and reassessed how we collected those numbers and whether or not we had the information right. We corrected the error as soon as we were aware there was one.
J. Kwan: It wasn't just one year where there was an error then, it appears. It is a number of years in terms of that calculation. It's interesting to note it's year over year that these numbers have changed. The error in terms of the calculation — what error is that, exactly?
Hon. C. Clark: There was a historical error that the ministry made. It goes back into even this member's history in government. It's a long historical error that was there, which our ministry discovered and moved to correct as soon as we could. It was an error related to coding the cause of death and coordinating data with the coroner's office, so we've worked very hard to try and correct that.
The numbers that I've described to the member, for example, for 2004…. It's important too. Every child's death is a terrible tragedy, and before we carry on with this debate — as I know the member is determined to do — I want to put it in context. In 2004 three children in care died of natural causes. There are 9,189 children in the care of the government, so the numbers are small but tragic nonetheless. We want to make sure the information we collect that supports our research and supports our best practices is always accurate.
J. Kwan: The number may be small, but I tell you, every death is…. Every life counts. Therefore, every death is just as meaningful, no matter what the number is — whether it's one or two or five or ten. That is not relevant to the debate that we're having here.
Hon. C. Clark: Why do you want to compare years?
J. Kwan: The minister goes: "Well, why do you want to compare the years?" I want to compare the years because the minister actually…. The government provided information that had to be updated. I want to know why there was an error in the calculation year over year. If it is a historical issue that was identified, why do we continue to have this problem? It continues right up until 2003.
We don't know what the final numbers look like for 2004. The year 2004 has not yet ended. There's still time yet to see what will happen there. Year over year, the numbers change and numbers are revised. The historical problem that was supposed to be identified, it appears, is not yet fixed because they keep on changing. That's why I'm asking for these numbers. Every death counts; every life counts. These questions are just as important as all the questions I have been canvassing with the minister in these estimates.
On April 30, 2003, the children's commissioner's office closed its door as a result of cuts. Commissioner Paul Pallan and this office were responsible for (1) reviewing all deaths and critical injuries of children in the care of the ministry; (2) ensuring that the ministry established fair and adequate processes for receiving, investigating and responding to complaints; (3) integrating complaints and review processes for children;
[ Page 9913 ]
and (4) ensuring annual reports of children with continuing care orders. It is interesting to note that while in opposition, the current minister praised the children's commissioner's work and the work that the children's commissioner's office did. How are investigations over deaths conducted now that the commissioner's office is gone?
Hon. C. Clark: The coroner's office investigates every death, as they always have. There's a children and youth officer that reports to the Attorney General as the children's commissioner did.
J. Kwan: Well, the coroner's office has always been involved in looking into deaths of anybody. That's always been the case, but there was, nonetheless, a special commissioner that was established in dealing with children's situations, the deaths of children. This government has eliminated that office since they took office in spite of the fact that this minister acclaimed, when she was in opposition, the value of the work of the former children's commissioner and his office.
Now, again, the tune has changed, because now they're no longer in opposition. They're now in government. The standards which were set, I would venture to say, have changed under this government and under this minister.
Are investigations automatically conducted following a child's death?
Hon. C. Clark: No, because most children who die in care die with an attending physician, because they die of natural causes.
J. Kwan: Is it the case that only children who die of natural causes would not be investigated and that all the others would be?
Hon. C. Clark: They would all be reviewed, and the coroner would make that decision. It's important to note that in 2004, there were no children who died in care from accident or suicide. The total number for 2004 is three. The member says there's more information coming in. I suppose she hopes the number will change. The date for the deadline for collecting this information is March 10, so we have final information for 2004. So, that number shouldn't change. There were three children who died of natural causes who were in care, and that's the total number of children in care who've died.
J. Kwan: So investigations are not done at all, except for what the coroner's recommendations are. They're just based on the coroner's recommendations. Does the B.C. children and youth officer, Jane Morley, conduct investigations related to deaths of children in care?
Hon. C. Clark: She may. Every death, though, is reviewed by the coroner.
J. Kwan: The coroner's recommendation to conduct an investigation would be based on whether or not an investigation would be undertaken. Is that correct? The government takes the recommendations by the coroner on whether or not further investigation needs to be done on the death of a child in care?
Hon. C. Clark: The coroner is independent of government. He or she decides if they want to do an investigation.
J. Kwan: Whom does the coroner make those recommendations to?
Hon. C. Clark: To him or herself.
J. Kwan: The coroner decides whether or not an investigation should be done. The minister also said that Jane Morley, the B.C. child and youth officer, also has the authority to conduct investigations related to children-in-care deaths. Under what circumstances or under what guidelines does she apply to determine whether or not an investigation is done?
Hon. C. Clark: She would make an investigation if she has a request from the Attorney General's ministry to do so. I want to correct a piece of information I gave the member just a minute ago. I misread the piece of paper I have in front of me. The 2004 number is three — I apologize — from January 1 to March 10, so the member is quite correct. She may get her wish, and that number may increase.
J. Kwan: That is absolutely outrageous and is completely offensive — what this minister just said. To suggest that I wish that there were more deaths of children in our community is sickening to the absolute tune. I can't even imagine for anyone to even think such a thing.
Maybe the minister had those thoughts when she was in opposition, when the government was trying to deal with children in care and the deaths of children. Maybe she wished every day that there would be somehow headlines with children who are dead somewhere. Maybe that was her wish. But I'll tell you this, Mr. Chair. I have never, ever, in my entire life wished anybody to die under any circumstances, much less children. My God. There is no level to which this minister will stoop. It is shocking. It is absolutely shocking for this minister to make such a suggestion.
As a young mother, I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a child, for any mother to lose a child. For this minister to suggest that I wish the number of deaths for children would go up is absolutely sickening. I have no words, and I have no ability, quite honestly, to understand what goes on in the mind of this minister and how twisted her thinking must be with such a statement and such a comment, Mr. Chair. It is absolutely outrageous. It's just beyond belief that a minister would even think such a thing and actually speak it in this House. Shame doesn't even describe
[ Page 9914 ]
what the minister just said. It is appalling. I have no wish….
The Chair: Member, you've made your point. Let's get on with the debate.
J. Kwan: I have no wish whatsoever to wish anybody ill — anybody, a child or adult, anywhere. I want to be absolutely clear on the record about that. Absolutely shocking.
The Chair: Shall vote 16 pass?
Some Hon. Members: Aye.
J. Kwan: I know that we're in a hurry to move on so that the minister won't have to answer questions, but I have many questions for the minister, Mr. Chair, and I have not finished my questions with the minister.
The Chair: Member, you have the floor to proceed.
J. Kwan: The minister says the B.C. children and youth officer only investigates deaths on the request of the Attorney General. Under what circumstances, and who makes recommendations to the Attorney General to investigate deaths of children for the B.C. children and youth officer?
The Chair: Member, you've made your point. Just drop it.
Hon. C. Clark: A request for an investigation could come from this ministry; it could come from the Attorney General; it could come from the coroner. There's a whole number of sources that those requests could come from.
J. Kwan: Under what circumstances would the ministry make a recommendation?
Hon. C. Clark: For example, it could be because our own review tells us that we need to have an external look at something.
J. Kwan: Formerly, there used to be an independent individual, the children's commissioner's office, who would look into these matters. Then that person would make the determination on whether or not an investigation should be dealt with. In fact, every death was investigated by the children's commissioner's office prior to this government cancelling and closing that office. Now it is based on the minister's recommendation, as one source, for investigation to take place.
The minister says it's up to the ministry to decide. Does the ministry have guidelines that are set that would trigger an investigation — guidelines and procedures that they would follow? Or do they simply evaluate it on a case-by-case basis perhaps to see what the pressures are — the political pressures, perhaps public pressure — and then determinations are made?
Hon. C. Clark: Things have changed in this ministry. We are no longer a ministry that makes decisions based on politics, which is the way things used to be for ten years in the Ministry for Children and Families under the NDP. We don't do that anymore. The decisions about whether these recommendations for investigations would be made would be made by the professional public servants that work in this ministry. That would be based on what they view to be potential serious flaws that they see in the system.
It is important to note, for example, that in this last year there have been three children who have died in care. All of them have been from natural causes. I can't discuss specifics of cases, as the member knows, because that would be a violation of people's privacy, and I'm not legally able to do that. Nor can I morally attempt to do that; nor would I.
But in the case of all three cases, or in the case of any child who dies of natural causes….
Hon. C. Clark: I hear the member's indignation, standing up. She's a little bit late coming to this sense of indignation, feeling wronged suddenly, when she's stood up in this House and been quite prepared to offer any kind of baseless accusation — some of the worst kinds of baseless accusations I've seen against members in my entire time of being elected to this Legislature. In answer to….
The Chair: Minister, this is really irrelevant. Let's get back to the debate.
Hon. C. Clark: In answer to the member's question, those investigations are done based on the advice of professional civil servants. It is almost always the case, that I am aware of, that when children die of natural causes, there is a qualified physician present. If that is the case, then it would be unlikely in those cases that there would be any need for a review ordered by the ministry or recommended by this ministry or by the Attorney General.
J. Kwan: Let me just be clear. The minister just accused me of wishing to see the numbers of deaths of children….
The Chair: Member, member. You know, this has gone far too long now with this discussion. I would suggest moving on to the questioning of this ministry and dropping the subject, please.
J. Kwan: The minister just made that accusation, and she just tried to do it again moments ago, Mr. Chair.
[ Page 9915 ]
The Chair: Member, it is imperative. It doesn't matter what the minister…. I want you to please move on in your questioning. You said you have lots and lots of questions. Please move on and pose your questions.
J. Kwan: I do have questions, Mr. Chair. I also want to respond to the minister's statements.
The Chair: Member, I'm asking you to move on. If you continue to challenge the Chair, I will call the question on this ministry.
J. Kwan: Mr. Chair, let me just….
The Chair: Member, move on.
J. Kwan: Let me put my statements and questions to the minister. The minister likes to claim all kinds of inappropriate, offensive and appalling claims at different venues, and she has just done so once again in this House.
The Chair: Member, take a seat, please.
Member, you were given the opportunity here to ask questions of the minister, and this line of questioning in this debate has gone far too long, in the sense that it has absolutely no regard for each other's respect in this House. I would suggest that we change the tone of this debate immediately. Let's get on with asking questions of the Minister of Children and Family Development.
Hon. C. Clark: Mr. Chair, if it would help the course of debate, I'm prepared to withdraw the statement if the member thinks it was an ill-tempered statement that I shouldn't have made. I withdraw it completely, and I am prepared to apologize to the member unconditionally immediately.
The Chair: Thank you.
Member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, now let us move on. You have this opportunity. Please pose your questions.
J. Kwan: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The minister actually said that the former administration based their decisions around children in care on politics. You know what? It was the former administration that put forward the independent children's commissioner. It was an independent authority that was put in place by the previous administration, funded by the previous administration. The purpose of that act was precisely to take the politics, especially issues that may surround deaths of children in care…. They're sensitive in nature, and they're hurtful for the families and friends who have lost their loved ones. Make no mistake about that. The purpose of the previous administration was to do exactly the opposite of what this minister claims, which is injecting politics into children and family and particularly children in care where there's a death.
That independent officer and that office have now been closed down by this government, shut down by this government irrespective of the good work of the office this minister acknowledged when she was in opposition. She acknowledged the good work of the former commissioner and his office, but when they took office, they cancelled that office. They shut it down, and they eliminated the children's commissioner's office.
I would say the opposite of what this minister is claiming is actually happening, and that is that this government is injecting politics and taking away the independent level of work that was done by the former children's commissioner in this area. That's the action of this government, and their record and action stand to that test.
The minister says it is left up to the civil servants to make that determination. Civil servants do good work under tremendously difficult circumstances. They do the best they can, in spite of budget cuts and in spite of increased pressures. But the reality, of course, is that it still leaves the opportunity for political pressure to be applied in these situations, one way or the other.
That's why there was an independent children's commissioner, so that no political pressure could be applied anywhere. The independent officer makes those decisions alone, with no one else pressuring them and no other source putting pressure on them. That has now changed. That has now all changed under this government. The standards have once again been lowered under this minister, under this government's tenure. That is indisputable.
The children's commissioner's office used to conduct annual reviews of children with continuing care orders. Last year the former minister repeated over and over again how the ministry was looking to ensure that ministry money went to the people who need it. One would think that conducting annual reviews for ongoing case reviews would be in the interests of this government. The children's commissioner's office was responsible for ensuring that exact role. Now it's gone. That has gone also. Now that the commissioner's office has been cut, how and how often will cases be reviewed, and under what criteria?
Hon. C. Clark: I've answered that question to the extent of the responsibilities of this ministry. We can request investigations based on the professional advice of the civil servants that work for us. I notice, though, the member has downgraded the staff from competent to good in her latest comments. But that aside, the professional civil servants that work in this ministry will make those recommendations. Further than that, it's the Attorney General in whose purview the children's commissioner works.
J. Kwan: What are the criteria that would apply for action to be taken?
Hon. C. Clark: The children and youth commissioner will make that determination herself, and she
[ Page 9916 ]
will…. I'm sure the Attorney General will be prepared to answer those questions in the discussion of his estimates.
J. Kwan: Is the minister suggesting that there are no criteria that apply, no guidelines that apply, and that it's just being done on a case-by-case basis?
Hon. C. Clark: No, I'm telling her that the areas she's asking about don't lie in the purview of this ministry. The place to get those answers will be in the Attorney General's estimates, which I don't think have been debated yet, so the member has the opportunity to ask them there.
This ministry can request an investigation be done by the child and youth officer, and we do that based on the professional advice of the civil servants and the front-line staff that have the experience and the expertise to make those decisions.
J. Kwan: What guidelines apply for the civil servants in this ministry?
Hon. C. Clark: Every time — every time — the ministry has questions about the conduct of a certain case, we review that case. Then, if there are serious issues that arise in the discussion of that review, those issues can be raised with the child and youth officer for her investigation.
Again, this isn't something that we do every day. The number of children who die in care is not a large number, although it's a very tragic number that any die at all. However, as a result of the fact that it's a small number of children who die in care, there aren't many requests. A request isn't made every day for the child and youth officer to investigate, just simply because there aren't that many cases to investigate.
J. Kwan: Here's what we've established. The children's commissioner's office used to investigate every death. They used to investigate and review issues regarding annual reviews around children with continuing care orders. The children's commissioner was an independent officer of the Legislature who worked completely independently of government with no possibility of political influences in terms of the decisions made in that context.
That is now all gone. The children's commissioner's office is gone; the children's commissioner is now gone. The investigations of death are potentially subject to political interference, in my view, because it's not being determined by an independent officer.
The civil servants will make and give advice, but nonetheless civil servants could be subject to political pressure. That's what the government has done now — allow for political pressure. The guidelines which the minister has actually just put forward are very vague in their nature in terms of what triggers the guidelines. I expect that the minister probably doesn't know what the criteria would be that would trigger these actions.
The children's commissioner's office used to handle complaints. Now that the office is gone, how will complaints be investigated?
Hon. C. Clark: I think I responded to that question a number of times. It's important to note the member is wrong. The children's commissioner was not independent of government under her government. The children's commissioner always reported through the Attorney General. The coroner, on the other hand, is independent of government, continues to be independent of government, has a long history in statute of being independent of government. Those reviews are done by the coroner, and the coroner remains — unlike the children's commissioner — totally independent of government.
J. Kwan: Formerly, coroners could investigate deaths — anybody's death — at any time they wished. They continue to have the right to do that, and that's not changed. Under the previous administration…. That's not changed. You know what? The children's commissioner was specifically appointed to look into the deaths of children in care. When children in care die, automatically a review is done; an investigation is done. That was done by the children's commissioner, who was independent of government. Let's be clear about that — no political influences whatsoever into the work of the children's commissioner. The minister may want to cast doubts onto the good work that the former children's commissioner has done. I would remind her that when she was in opposition, she also praised the work of the former children's commissioner in this regard.
It is only after the election that the government decided, hey, perhaps there should be less scrutiny on what the government is doing on these issues and how they handle these matters. Perhaps that's why, I think, they cancelled that office and the good work they had done in the past.
The children's commissioner's office used to handle complaints from adults, children, youth. Now that the office is gone, what avenues exist for children to file complaints?
Hon. C. Clark: Children can, as they always have, make complaints through the ministry. If they're having trouble making those complaints, they can make them through the child and youth officer.
J. Kwan: It was the recognition previously of the fact that children may well have trouble filing those complaints that the establishment of the children's commissioner was put in place. It was precisely because of some of those issues that arose. In fact, the first children's commissioner, who's done this great work in this area, had lots of experience and through the good work that was done received many complaints from children. It wasn't always easy for children to find, within the bureaucracy, the right people to file a complaint with and to get the assistance that they needed.
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With the establishment of the children's commissioner, that was to be a direct link and a direct line for children to make those complaints. That, too, is now gone, and children will have to go into the bureaucracy to find who they can file complaints with.
It's not made it easier for children, let me tell you, with this move that this government has embarked on. It has not made it easier, I think, for the interests of the public, who want to ensure that there's no political interference in dealing with children in care and the death of children in care. There is no public service, I think, in the interests of the public for this government to have made this move at all. I think they made the move because they want to minimize scrutiny on the actions of government and how they deal with these very important and very difficult matters that arise from time to time in our communities.
The areas around group homes and foster care. Some of the questions I have canvassed with the minister about how many group homes have closed over the last year…. Particularly, at that time, I was dealing with developmental disability adults and children, and the minister said she would provide a list of information to the opposition on that. I would now like to canvass on the question around group homes for children in care. How many group homes have been closed over the last year? Let me start with that.
Hon. C. Clark: I responded to this question already.
J. Kwan: No, hon. Chair, the questions I put to the minister earlier were in the areas of developmental disability for children and adults, not about children in care. I'm asking questions now in the area of children in care.
Hon. C. Clark: I did respond to this a number of times over the past week.
J. Kwan: Again, the minutes will reflect the fact that the minister did not answer these questions. The questions I asked of the minister were around community living, and they were around developmental disability adults and children. They weren't about group homes.
The minister of course is, for whatever reason, trying to hide once again in not providing the information. I can tell you that last November the ministry notified agencies to close seven group homes in Vancouver. These group homes had the capacity to house some 36 children and youth between six and 18. These closures reduced 40 percent of all the beds in the city, as one example. The minister won't provide the numbers. Let me then ask her this question: what is the rationale behind these closures?
Hon. C. Clark: I responded to this, as well, quite extensively. I can go and dig up the Hansard for the member. I think I've probably answered this question three or four times.
To help the member remember, if she needs a little bit of clarity, the answer I gave her was this. In community living, which is the adult side — which we talked about — there was a 50-home increase. On the children's side, what has happened is there has been a shift of about 10 percent from group care to family care. The philosophy that that is based on is best practice around the world, which indicates that for many children, being in a family setting is better than being in an institutional setting.
What we are trying to do is reflect the needs of the population, so that change has happened. If the member doesn't believe me, I can dig up the number of times I've answered this for her already in Hansard.
J. Kwan: Actually, no. I have the Hansard right before me, because I pulled it. I know the minister continuously likes to claim that she's answered questions three or five or 100 times before, when in fact she hasn't. In anticipation that she was going to make up some answer like that, I actually have Hansard right before me on the page on which these questions were asked.
I actually said very clearly that we were dealing with, first of all, adults with developmental disabilities, to which the minister then gave an answer that says this, and I will quote it for the record: "I think I'll be able to give her the number for adults in a few minutes. Staff is joining me…with that for the specifics, but I suspect the next question will be: what about children? We're estimating there will be about a 10 percent shift between group homes — group care — and family care in the child system."
Hon. C. Clark: Exactly.
J. Kwan: "That's an initiative that started over 18 months ago. We want to make sure that shift meets the changing needs of the population."
The minister goes: "Well, that's it exactly." I was talking about in the context of developmental disabilities, not children in care — two completely different areas in terms of group homes and residential homes. I would expect the minister would actually know that information. The information she has provided is in two separate areas, accordingly.
Hon. C. Clark: No.
J. Kwan: If not, then she wasn't listening to my question. The question I put to her was around developmental disabilities. It stated very clearly: those with developmental disabilities. I'm now asking the question around group homes and foster care.
Hon. C. Clark: Well, I suppose I could talk in a debate about whether or not we answered the question before. I think the information that the member has entered into the record makes my point for me. That is, I said in that information — and she quoted it quite accurately — that the number of beds, the number of homes for…. At the time I didn't have the answer for
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community living — that's for adults — but I provided it to her subsequently. It was 50 — an increase of 50.
Then in the quote that she repeated from Hansard, I said: "…and for children in care for that population, there was a 10 percent shift." Now, whether or not I told her that before, the fact is I told her that two…. I gave her that answer already now. If she wants to work from that new information and if she considers it new information now, perhaps she could build on that and come up with another question for it. If she wants to work from the old information I gave her, that's perfectly fine as well. It's equally accurate.
J. Kwan: I did ask the minister a question about the closure…. In Vancouver alone, as I stated, 40 percent of all the beds have been reduced in the city as the government's action in closing these group homes. Seven in Vancouver were closed. A capacity to house 36 children and youth between six and 18 has now been reduced by 40 percent as a result of these closures, Mr. Chair, and that's what I asked of the minister.
Aside from the numbers, which I actually…. The answer that the minister provided to me was in the area of developmental disability. Setting that aside, she now claims that it's for children in care as well. Setting that aside, if the answer is the same — the minister says the answer is the same — fine; there's a shift of 10 percent. But in Vancouver alone there's a 40 percent reduction in beds as a result of the closures. What was the rationale behind these closures?
Hon. C. Clark: No, it is not accurate to say that there has been a 40 percent reduction in beds. There has not. The capacity in Vancouver remains. There is a different mix of the way we provide those services, but there has not — absolutely not — been a 40 percent reduction in beds in Vancouver. The information that the member is providing is absolutely false.
J. Kwan: Well, then let's go to the facts. Let's go to the facts as the minister claims. In Vancouver, how many group homes are there? How many beds does it have in the city of Vancouver?
Hon. C. Clark: Vancouver coastal has 13 homes and 56 beds in staffed group homes.
J. Kwan: Thirteen group homes and 56 beds — that was the number as of when?
Hon. C. Clark: I'm advised that is the number as of right now.
J. Kwan: What was it last year, before November? The closure of the group homes in Vancouver took place in November, so therefore the number would have reduced. What was it before November last year?
Hon. C. Clark: Staff advise me that they don't have that information here. We can endeavour to get it for the member. The important fact, though, in this debate is certainly that the member makes a claim that there has been a 40 percent reduction in beds, and that is just a completely false claim. That isn't true. The capacity in Vancouver has not gone down by 40 percent. The number, as I told her…. Across the province there is a 10 percent shift in the mix of services that we provide between residential care and family care, but that doesn't necessarily mean a 40 percent reduction. It doesn't equal a 40 percent reduction in the number of beds that are available at all.
There are some shifts in the mix of service that we provide. We're recognizing best practices around the world which indicate that children often do better in a family setting than in an institutional setting. So that's why we're coming to this 10 percent shift in the mix of services that we provide.
J. Kwan: Well, it's convenient. The minister says she doesn't have the information about the numbers prior to that. The minister is adamant to say that there has been no reduction, certainly not 40 percent in terms of the reduction, yet she doesn't know what the numbers are in terms of this change.
She claims that it's a shift. I would suspect that once again we're into the very slippery slope that the minister likes to engage in, and that is to use words that are very slippery and slimy in this context and…
The Chair: Member, that's very unparliamentary language.
J. Kwan: …well, use language that she redefines to mean something else. The ministry calls….
The Chair: Member, can you retract that statement.
J. Kwan: I retract that statement. But you know what, Mr. Chair? The fact is this. The minister uses language that she redefines for her own purposes. The government likes to call cuts to budgets, as they term, reallocations to other areas. Nonetheless, they are cuts to budgets in the ministry. The government likes to say that they are redesigning the group homes that serve people in British Columbia, in Vancouver, for children and youth. That redesign in British Columbia, and Vancouver particularly, means cuts in group homes for children and youth in Vancouver. So you get my point.
When the minister likes to use these words that sound very flowery in their nature, the meaning on the community level and on the ground does not change. It is a slippery slope, the words that the minister uses, because in what she says — and it sounds all very nice — "redesign" has a completely different meaning to "cuts." Let's be clear. Reallocation has a complete meaning for the community when in fact budget dollars have been slashed. It's not reallocation; give me a break. It's not redesign; give me a break. That's the language the minister likes to use because her spin doctors tell her those are the words that she should use.
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It has no reflection on what really is going on in the community. I expect that the minister will backtrack by saying that, no, there were no closures; it wasn't a 40 percent closure. In fact, I believe the numbers are correct, according to our source and our research. She'll claim, though, that those cuts and closures were part of the redesign to shift group homes into another arena.
The reality is that the beds in those group homes have actually closed. That's not a disputable fact. That is factual information before us. Language is everything, the way in which we communicate. The government and this minister continuously use language to hide the facts. That's what we're establishing. When numbers are asked of the minister — for numbers do not lie — the minister refused to provide those numbers all throughout estimates, at every turn.
Let me ask the minister this question: how many former residents of group homes are now living independently under community living?
Hon. C. Clark: Is the member talking about youth agreements? I'm not exactly clear what reference she's making.
J. Kwan: I'm talking about children and youth between the ages of 18…. Some of them used to live in group homes, and some of them don't. Now the government has moved them into these other arrangements — some of them by agreement — and particularly for those who are under-age, they are definitely by agreement. But the question stands in terms of how many former residents of group homes are now living independently under community living.
Hon. C. Clark: As of February it was 371.
J. Kwan: Now 371 former residents of group homes are living independently under community living situations. What was that before, compared to last year?
Hon. C. Clark: These are kids who are from foster care and group homes, so the numbers change month to month. In March 2003 it was 396.
J. Kwan: What was the average age of the former occupants of these group homes now under community living?
Hon. C. Clark: The ministry's best estimate of that is 17- and 18-year-olds.
J. Kwan: What is the youngest age which the government has of former occupants of group homes now under community living agreements?
Hon. C. Clark: It is not our policy to place children in independent living when they're under 16. I don't know if the member has any examples of that. If she does, we'd be prepared to look at those individually.
J. Kwan: So nobody 16 and under would be put into a community living arrangement. The decisions to move from a residence of a group home to be living in community living situations independently…. What process does the ministry follow in making those decisions?
Hon. C. Clark: As I said, it's not ministry policy to do that, but let me just…. I want to give the member a quick primer, if I can, in how the ministry works, because the terminology she's using, I think, demonstrates a bit of confusion about what we do and the way we describe what we do.
There are three general areas that the ministry works in. One is community living. In general but not exclusively, community living services are provided to adults with developmental disabilities. Those can be people who are up to…. You know, they can be older — they can be senior citizens — or they can be younger, but generally those are adults that need those services. That's what we call community living. The reason I point this out is because the member is talking about moving kids from foster care, for example, or from residential group care to community living, and that's not a transfer that would normally be made. The community living system is generally for adults with developmental disabilities.
The children and family development side of the ministry is the area that deals with what we typically think of as child protection concerns, those kinds of things. That's the area where we manage foster care, adoptions, those kinds of things. Typically, not exclusively, those are services that we provide to youth.
That's sort of the basic breakdown of the ministry. For children with special needs, services are provided through the children and family development side. Early childhood development — that's kind of a subset of that. In addition to that, the other piece of information the member, I think, needs to know is that we also provide aboriginal services. Services for aboriginal people are provided under the children and family development side of the ministry.
If she thinks of it in those broad terms, perhaps that might help in kind of understanding and following the debate. It might give her a sense, too, of how the ministry works for caring for kids throughout their lives — kids that are at risk until they're adults — or caring for people with developmental disabilities who need lifelong support through the community living services side of the ministry.
J. Kwan: On June 27 the former minister outlined a 25 percent cut in the foster care area, which can be applied to help with extraordinary expenses, so foster care parents could apply for help with extraordinary expenses. I understand that about $100 per child was cut out, and this cost will be passed on to foster parents. Not all foster parents can afford this. Some children will be left — I believe, as a result of this cut — with unfulfilled needs. To make the situation worse,
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this specific cut was red flagged as a health and safety risk in the ministry's report to cabinet. What was the ministry's rationale for this cut in light of its own report to cabinet?
Hon. C. Clark: It's not accurate to say that we cut foster care by 25 percent. That's not correct. There is a line item in the budget called "Exceptional payments." What we did is the ministry capped the spending for that line item in the different regional offices. Some regions weren't spending up to the cap anyway; some were spending more than that. It was one of those. It was a very, very difficult decision that the ministry made and that the previous minister made. I don't think there's any way of getting around that — not one that anybody would have liked to have made. Nonetheless, there was a rationale for it, as I've described to the member.
We are continuing to support foster parents and foster children as well as we can and to make sure that there are…. In fact, we've actually done a pretty good job, I understand, in recruiting more foster parents into the system. In many regions we've actually made sure there is no longer a shortage of foster homes. That's a piece of good news as a result of some of the diligent work that ministry staff and front-line staff have done in the area of foster care.
J. Kwan: Let's be clear in terms of what I said. I said that the former minister outlined, on June 27, a 25 percent cut in the fund for foster parents that foster parents could apply for to help with extraordinary expenses. That's what I said. That's what the government's done. This is in spite of the fact that the specific cut for these extraordinary expenses was red flagged as a health and safety risk in a ministry report to the cabinet, which the opposition obtained through our sources.
The minister admitted that those were difficult decisions — to make these cuts. These cuts do, as the minister's own report identified, pose health and safety risks to children. Furthermore, some of the foster parents who could not afford to pay for these extraordinary expenses would simply have a situation where the child or the youth in question would be left with unfulfilled needs. That would be the reality they would be faced with. In spite of that, the government made the move anyway to make these cuts.
If the minister claims that she cares about children in care and about children in foster parents' homes, then I would assume she would be the first to advocate that this fund be reinstated to its former amount and that no cuts would be made in this area. If the minister is the advocate she likes to claim she is, well, then be the advocate and do exactly that — actually advocate for change and commit that these cuts that would impact children in foster care would not be made.
Hon. C. Clark: We no longer, in many regions, have a shortage of foster parents. That's partly as a result of the fact that the number of children, the demand — as we've talked about quite a bit during this estimates debate — has actually dropped. We have worked very, very hard at recruitment and retention for foster parents. I know there are issues that foster parents have.
I frequently am in contact with the very, very caring people that provide foster care for kids. Just amazing. So many of them are just tremendous people. It is very, very hard to imagine people who could be more giving and loving than some of the foster parents that I've met in the course of doing this work since I was first elected in 1996. We've increased the rates for foster parents by 10 percent. That has had an impact, I hope, on foster parents' ability to support their children.
What this member is talking about is the exceptional payments that come on top of the basic rate that foster parents get. I think it's important to be clear that in terms of the basic payments that foster parents receive, we have given…. In percentage terms that's a substantial increase, although I know that for many parents with one child or two children — and kids are expensive — in their homes, it may not feel like a lot of money in straight dollars, but there has been a 10 percent increase in the amount of money we provide on the base rate for foster parents.
The exceptional payments have been capped in different regions, and that has meant that in some regions they've had to spend less. In some regions it hasn't had as much of an impact.
J. Kwan: The minister again just provided spin to not what I asked of the minister in terms of questions. She can say that the number of foster parents has gone up. That, in fact, I know started under the previous administration — to actually try to recruit more foster parents to take care of children in care. The campaign continued on under this government.
But that's not the question. I asked a specific question about the 25 percent cut in the fund that foster parents can apply to, to help offset extraordinary expenses. That was the question that I put to the minister — and about her being the advocate on behalf of children and on behalf of foster parents for this cut not to be implemented. Government's internal documents indicated that these cuts would pose health and safety risks to the children and families involved. It would make sense to me that if we want to protect children and families in the area of health and minimize risk as opposed to increase risk, the government would take this action to reinstate the cut.
The minister was given an opportunity to be that advocate in this forum, in this House, to demonstrate that her words are not just hollow, that they don't just ring hollow, but that rather she's prepared to follow up what she says with action to match those words. The minister has just missed that opportunity and failed to seize on it. Instead, she just got up and defended what the government is doing in this area. I think that's unfortunate, Mr. Chair.
I'll yield the floor to the member for Burnaby-Willingdon.
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J. Nuraney: My question is to the minister regarding what I'm sure many other members have already dwelt on. That's the Community LINK programs. These are programs that have a very large impact in my community where I come from in Burnaby. We have a lot of community schools there. Again, as you know, we were struggling with that last year. The same things were being discussed as to where we were going to find the money to make sure that the programs stay as they were. We eventually did find some money to make sure that the programs stayed.
I wanted to ask the minister this time around: is there any effort being made to make sure that the programs stay as they were last year?
Hon. C. Clark: We are working very hard to make sure that the school districts do what they need to do to make sure the programs work. In some school districts it looks like they are doing a good job of that. The Vancouver school board finance committee has come up with a proposal to, for example, restructure the way they deliver school lunches so that under their proposal, if it is accepted at the political level — which is a big "if" — there will be minimum impact on the actual provision of school lunches. We've asked school districts to be more innovative in the way they provide these programs.
We are also making sure that the way the money is spent better reflects the need in different communities. We are focusing the money a little bit more rationally based on the amount of need in each of the communities and in each of the various schools, based on the number of children who live in poverty in each of those schools. That is the primary indicator of whether or not those kids will be at risk.
J. Nuraney: Thank you, minister. Still looking at that, it doesn't give me that level of satisfaction that each school district will be able to come up with the difference and make sure that the programs continue. As you know, in my riding of Burnaby-Willingdon there are schools that are catering to much less fortunate people, mostly new immigrants who have come to this country. There are schools that are providing enormous linkages and services, and I am told that if the funds are not going to be available to them to carry on with what they have been doing in the past, a lot of families would be impacted. I think it is a program that needs to be revisited and reviewed to ensure that such hardships are not there for the families to suffer.
Hon. C. Clark: I know this member has been a really tireless advocate on behalf of children in his community and very, very vocal in supporting schools, education and the needs of children who are less fortunate, perhaps, than others. I know that I've certainly appreciated his advocacy on behalf of his community, and I've appreciated the value of his advice on this too.
Burnaby is a district that has been fairly innovative in trying to find ways to continue to support Community LINK programs, whether that's for at-risk kids or community schools or school lunches. They are finding ways to deliver some of those programs a little bit more cheaply so they can provide more service at less cost, if possible. That means, actually, that they've been able to manage some of these funding shortfalls.
There has been in Burnaby, though…. Burnaby was traditionally one of those places that received a lot of money compared to other districts that received nothing and also had at-risk kids. What we tried to do in previous budget years was distribute the money based on the need of the children across the province. That certainly meant there were some districts that gained money — 24 districts got more money — some districts lost money, and some districts stayed the same. It was a redistribution, in large part, of money that was there — but again, a redistribution of money based on where the need was most acute.
J. Nuraney: While this redistribution is, I think, a noble idea and a noble thing to do, because everybody else needs the help that is offered by the government, it still does not redeem the fact that the need that is there in the community will be reduced, I believe, from the funding that is going to come out from the ministry. Could the minister tell me how much in terms of percentage those funds will be reduced by?
Hon. C. Clark: They used to get 4.4 percent in Burnaby, and now it is 3.8 percent based on a redistribution across the province.
J. Nuraney: Is it 3.8 percent of the total budget?
Hon. C. Clark: Yes, of the total budget for Community LINK.
J. Nuraney: My second question is in regards to the adoption services. I believe there are parents who have been able to identify children overseas that they would like to adopt, and when they get back, there is this process they have to go through. The information I have is that the process concerning the letter of approval that needs to come out of the ministry is taking an unduly long time. Is there any reason why this is happening?
Hon. C. Clark: There is a letter of no objection that is required under the Hague convention on intercountry adoption, as I'm sure the member knows, because I know he's been working on this issue diligently for the last little while. There are parents, particularly from cultural communities, who want to be able to adopt children who are at risk in other countries and bring them to this incredible place we call Canada to raise them somewhere safe and caring and loving, and in a culturally appropriate atmosphere as well. I know there are cultural communities in Canada that are reaching out to children of their own cultural background around the world to try and bring them to this safe haven that we are so blessed to live in.
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We do abide by the Hague convention. It's the federal government — and Canadian embassies abroad, I understand, play a role in this — that needs to confirm that they, the Canadian government, have no objection to these children coming into Canada. The agencies act on that approval when it's granted from the Canadian government. Again, it's agencies, not the ministry that does this. International adoptions are not done by this ministry; we do adoptions within British Columbia. It's agencies we depend on to do that.
If there are undue delays, what we need to do as a ministry is find…. We can look at specific cases, I think, and go and enter into a discussion with agencies about exactly why those delays exist. We shouldn't make any child, who deserves and is able to have a family in a better place for them, wait any longer than they have to. If ultimately they are going to find a way into Canada, and they're going to find their way into a loving, stable home that they wouldn't otherwise have, we should be doing everything we can to try and speed that process up.
J. Kwan: Questions for the minister in the area of consultation with service providers. The opposition has received overwhelming feedback from service providers, including family centres, neighbourhood houses, family associations. They're all very concerned about the ministry's cuts. We have heard directly from a number of organizations — at least ten of them. However, a number of them have asked not to be specifically identified, because they fear repercussions from the government. These service providers are concerned about the effects of these cuts. They are afraid to be identified, and they also feel, in that process, unable to speak up. I'd like to ask the minister this question: how much consultation has actually gone on with service providers with respect to budget cuts in the ministry?
Hon. C. Clark: If the member is talking about the transformation of service — what we call service redesign in our kind of lingo at the ministry, where we're changing the mix of services — there has been extensive consultation that has gone on in communities with respect to that process.
J. Kwan: The minister likes to call them service redesigns. She likes to pick off one area that says we engage in discussions. I'm talking about the budget cuts that took place in the ministry year over year. We're talking about three years' worth of budget cuts to the tune of $170 million in the Ministry of Children and Family Development organizations.
Providers have said they are concerned about these cuts. As I mentioned, a number of them don't feel they can even ask questions about these cuts. They are worried about what repercussions there might be, but they do want questions asked, which they've asked the opposition to do. I'm doing that in this forum.
In terms of consultation on the cuts within the ministry, what kind of consultation has the ministry done with service providers? What has been done to facilitate open discussions, so that they don't feel they cannot forward their opinions and thoughts to the ministry?
Hon. C. Clark: I've answered that question a number of times for the member — actually, quite a number of times — so I will provide this answer to her, I hope, for the last time in the course of this debate. If she wants me to answer it again, I would refer her to the Hansard, because I have talked about this quite extensively.
In addition to all the information I've already given to her, I can tell her that our senior staff are continuing to meet with representatives from the community to talk about the changes in service and the kinds of services that we need and to make sure that the services we provide meet the needs of the community as much as possible. Is it a perfect process? It isn't, no. Will we ever be invulnerable to criticism at this ministry? I don't think so. I'm not sure that's a realistic expectation, if that's the expectation that the member has. But we certainly are working very, very hard to try and communicate with members of the community. I know there is a sense of anxiousness out there from some service providers. Change is always unsettling for people. There is no question about that. We are engaged in a process of very, very necessary change.
As this change unfolds, we are doing our best to try and make sure that we continue to communicate with people. That's an ongoing process. As I said, senior staff in the ministry are continuing to make sure that those meetings and discussions happen. We will stay focused on trying to communicate, trying to listen, trying to make sure we act on concerns that are raised but also trying to continue to move forward with this process of change that we've embarked on, because I think there is a broad consensus that we can't just continue to do things the way we've always done them just because change is difficult.
We have to sometimes say that even though it is unsettling and even though it is difficult, change is often necessary. Certainly, this ministry is due for some of the changes that we've implemented. The changes, as I've said to the member a number of times, are based on best practices from around the world. We want to continue to make these changes happen, and we want to continue to try to do that in a constructive debate with the service provider community.
J. Kwan: The minister claims that they continue to do consultation, but yet we've received correspondence and concerns from community organizations who say they don't feel that they can actually even raise their concerns with the ministry around the cuts within the ministry over the last three years. They do fear repercussion with that, noting, of course, that the minister likes to claim the cuts that she's made to some organizations, which were discussed earlier around what she calls voluntary cuts, $15 million of it…. I've already dealt with that issue, particularly with the community
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rising and coming forward to say: "No, they weren't voluntary at all." There are ample examples which I've put on record to dispute this minister's claim.
Having said that, we're now dealing with the overall cuts within the ministry which service providers are concerned about — not just in their own organizations, in terms of cuts that they were faced with, but all throughout the ministry. Over the three years, there were reductions in the budgets of the ministry to the tune of $175 million, and service providers are concerned about that.
Now the minister claims that they talked to them. Let the minister tell this House, then, what examples she can provide in which service providers have had a direct effect on the direction and depth of the ministry cuts.
Hon. C. Clark: We have talked about that extensively in this debate. I have responded to that question with, I think, very fulsome and factual answers. I'm hoping, Mr. Chair, that we don't continue to just go over areas that the member has already extensively canvassed. I'm very much hoping that if she has no new questions on these areas — although I'm happy to entertain new ones if she has any — we could move on to a topic on which she does have new questions, where information hasn't already been provided.
The Chair: Member, I believe this area has been well canvassed. Certainly, the questions are sounding very, very repetitive to the Chair, and I'd ask you to move on.
J. Kwan: The questions I put to the minister with regards to volunteer cuts — the minister calls them volunteer cuts — have been canvassed. I have put on record the community's response since the minister has made that comment. Make no mistake about it. Generally, around cuts that I have, and that have been raised around the ministry, have been raised as well…. The minister likes to claim…. I would venture to say this. The minister has no evidence whatsoever that she could use to back up the concept or the claim that service providers have had direct opportunities for consultation around their thoughts and concerns with respect to cuts to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which is why the minister is evading this question once again. She claims that she's answered them. No, she hasn't, Mr. Chair. Once again, as it is the rule of this House, it operates in such a way that the opposition cannot make the minister answer questions. She continues to pretend that questions have been put to her and that she's answered them, and the record will show that she did not.
The record will show that she did not answer them. In fact, this is a new question to the minister, and she's still claiming that answers have been provided on this question, when in fact it simply is not true.
The front-line youth workers the minister praised…. If there's sincerity to her words, let me put this question to the minister. Front-line youth workers are bound by confidentiality clauses in their workplace which inhibit them from publicizing their concerns. What avenues exist for front-line workers in the ministry to have their concerns heard and addressed by authorities without fear of reprimand?
Hon. C. Clark: Perhaps the member could clarify for me what issues there are that inhibit staff members. That might help me answer her question.
J. Kwan: The fear of the government coming down like a ton of bricks on them when they raise criticisms and concerns with the minister in their direction. As we know, the minister — never mind staff whose job is on the line here — would have that fear…. As I've just outlined, community organizations that receive funding from the government — maybe not even directly in this area in terms of funding from this ministry; it may well be from another area — fear and have concerns about raising concerns about cuts in the budget with the ministry and with the government. Organizations have these fears, let alone front-line workers.
This minister said earlier that she welcomed front-line workers' points of view and she invites them to the table. Well, then what provision is available to protect front-line workers for them to offer dissenting opinions to the government in an environment where their jobs are on the line?
Hon. C. Clark: The collective agreement provides all kinds of protections for workers. My experience in this job so far has certainly been that social workers have no compunction about making sure that I know when they have issues and concerns that they want to raise. I'm not suggesting they do that unconstructively. In my experience they've almost always been constructive. When I've talked to social workers, when they've had concerns, I certainly haven't had a sense that any of them are holding anything back. I think that in consulting with my senior staff, that's equally true of their experience as well.
I think it is easy for the member to stand up and suggest that somehow people have been inhibited or have somehow been threatened, because she knows that if asked to provide specifics, she will be able to say: "Well, I can't do that, because it will mean that I put those people in jeopardy."
I think it's a pretty cheap shot to take. I think it's an easy shot for her to take. She knows it would be impossible for the minister or the ministry to stand up and be able to defend against that kind of accusation. She can make it. She will refuse to prove it, because she'll say — I think, quite legitimately, quite understandably — that in order to prove it, she would have to put people in jeopardy. She can just say it. She can stand up and say anything, which seems to be typical of her debating style and certainly the NDP's approach to this session of the Legislature.
J. Kwan: The reality is this. I do have correspondence, and it's true. The folks who have raised alarm
[ Page 9924 ]
bells…. As I said, some of them are from community organizations who have been threatened, in their view, by the government that if they don't produce the cuts that the government wants to see, they were going to lose their contracts. People have identified that. Organizations have these concerns about not just their own funding but the overall ministry budget cuts. They have raised concerns, but they are afraid. That reality doesn't change just because the minister says: "Oh yeah, we're open, we're accountable, and we will welcome everyone to come forward and tell us what they really think." Not so.
The litmus test is not on the basis of what this minister says is the case. The test is on the recipients of what the minister says — what they say. That's the test that you've got to go with. The test of how the community really feels — and therefore, in this case, how social workers or front-line workers or staff members within the ministry feel about whether or not it's a safe enough environment for them to raise concerns about budget cuts. They have said to us that they don't feel safe.
The question that I'm asking of the minister: what specific strategies or approaches has the minister undertaken to ensure that concerns from front-line workers could be brought to the ministry and to the minister and to these authorities within the ministry without the fear of reprimand? The minister's only answer was: "Collective agreement." Well, I'll tell you, it's not very comforting when the minister says that and provides this answer, and it certainly does not ring true in her pretence of inviting front-line workers to offer their thoughts and true thoughts and concerns with the ministry. She could not provide an example of how that has occurred or even what measures of protection are in place for these front-line workers.
Let me ask the minister this question around issues on safe houses. We canvassed a little bit earlier around concerns with respect to children and youth between the ages of 16 and 18 being moved from group homes to foster care situations and the like, or to live independently with an agreement with the ministry, and so on. There are, in fact, community organizations who have concerns with that approach — that is, moving children and youth from group homes into independent living environments. The course of action that the ministry has taken over the last three years…. What we have seen is that the ministry has pushed, particularly, youth 16 or over away from foster cares and group homes towards independent living. Of course, the community concern that has been raised — and some in my own riding — is that it puts kids on a form of social assistance, also known as kiddie welfare.
I canvassed earlier in terms of what process…. I tried to get a sense from the minister what kind of process the minister follows in making that determination. Let me try this question: what is the ministry's policy surrounding the care of 16-to-19-year-olds?
Hon. C. Clark: They're actually called youth agreements. It depends very much on the circumstances of the individual child. Are their parents able and willing to contribute to their care, or looking after them in some way? Are they prepared and willing and mature enough to comply with an agreement? That agreement can include agreeing to go to school — an agreement to stay off drugs and alcohol. There's a whole number of different factors that would be considered in terms of making these agreements, and those very much depend on the circumstances of each individual child.
J. Kwan: The minister earlier gave numbers with respect to those former residents of group homes who are now living independently: February, 376; and then March of last year, 396. Are those the same numbers that apply for young people over the age of 16 who are living independently now? Are those the same numbers that the minister provided earlier?
Hon. C. Clark: Yes, and it's important to note that we make these changes for kids when we believe it's appropriate for them. Those are decisions that are made on individual circumstances. When a child turns 19, we are no longer their parent under the law, so we work very hard, in the years before that, to try and prepare kids for independent living after they turn 19.
J. Kwan: One example I can put on the record, for it's known publicly. There was a situation last fall involving a 16-year-old, and it was reported in the media. A fellow by the name of Jimmy Reynolds was killed while speeding in a stolen car. Jimmy tried unsuccessfully to get into foster care but was unable to get care in his home community of Surrey. The closest home placement for Jimmy was off in Abbotsford. Rather than getting appropriate foster care, Jimmy lived off under-age welfare and crime to support himself. Linda Korbin, of the B.C. Association of Social Workers, notes how hard….
The Chair: Minister, on a point of order.
Hon. C. Clark: It is not appropriate to discuss individual cases on the floor of this Legislature. The member may be perfectly willing to violate people's privacy, but I am not, under statute, allowed to violate people's privacy. I cannot discuss individual cases. I will not discuss the case that she's raised. I would advise the House that it is not appropriate for her to violate individuals' privacy with or without their permission on the floor of this Legislature.
The Chair: Minister, it is not a point of order. But in light of what the minister has said, I would suggest that we not discuss private cases.
J. Kwan: Actually, I wasn't going to discuss this particular case. All that I'm putting on record about this case is what has already been reported in the newspaper, and I wasn't going to ask questions about
[ Page 9925 ]
this particular case but rather generally about policies within the government.
I know that the minister has the inability to actually listen. Questions haven't been put to her, and she's already jumped to the conclusion — once again, in her own mind fabricating questions that the opposition would ask. I haven't even asked the questions yet. There is no privacy question here, in terms of this case. What I'm putting on the record was reported in the newspaper, and I'm putting on record the information that's already publicly circulated.
The minister hasn't even listened to my questions that I have for her. It would do her some good if she actually listened for a change. It would do this government some good if they stopped and just listened to people for a moment instead of just prejudging what she thinks the right answers are and what questions ought to be asked.
Linda Korbin, of the B.C. Association of Social Workers, knows how hard it is for social workers to get foster care for those who need it most. Welfare and independence are not the answer for some individuals, and certainly in this case it highlights the issue. She states: "These are kids that need more services, not fewer."
This case is an example which exemplifies the potentially disastrous results of the ministry's goal of taking teens out of foster care, out of group homes and onto social assistance. The same kind of warning has been raised by community organizations who work with youth, youth who are at risk. They have said it over and over again. My question to the minister is this: what is the ministry doing to avoid cases such as this and to improve access to foster care in urban areas where there is a clear need for foster care or group home support for these individuals?
Hon. C. Clark: Mr. Chair, after saying that she wasn't going to talk about the case, she then stands up and asks what I am going to do to make sure this case doesn't happen again. I mean, it's really wrong for the member to ask me to comment on a particular case, because she knows that I can't. I don't think it is appropriate for her to do that either. All she knows about this individual case is what she's gleaned from newspaper clippings. I am not able to correct her if the information she has is wrong. I'm not even able to say if the information she has is wrong. I am not allowed, under the law — and the law is absolutely right in making this requirement of me and, I would suggest, morally of her as well — to comment on any of those details.
You know, this member can stand up — I mean, it's the easiest thing in the world for her to do in the estimates process — to talk about individual cases when she knows I am not able to comment on those individual cases.
What I can talk about, if she'd like to do that, are the general principles we follow in applying the judgment we use to support kids that are 16, 17, 18, 19. I can give her a sense of what we do to try and support kids who are preparing to move out of the MCFD system into being adults, where the government's no longer their guardian. I can give her some information about that, if that's what she'd like.
Again, I cannot violate — even if I'm given permission — the privacy of the individuals by commenting on any individual cases. I suppose it is up to her discretion, ultimately, to choose whether or not she wants to raise individual cases on the floor of the House, but I need to advise her again that I will not be able to comment on those individual cases. When she stands up after apologizing and then says, "Can the minister tell me about this specific case?" the answer to that is no, I can't.
I can give her some general sense of our policies and the way we manage those policies. We can have a discussion about whether she thinks the policies are appropriate or whether we should change them. Again, that's certainly a more appropriate way for her to frame these questions. If she'd like to be able to pursue this debate, I'm delighted to do that, but again, I cannot do it in the context of a discussion about individual cases.
Now, it's certainly true that we assess the circumstances for every child, and different children will have different circumstances. We don't apply an across-the-board policy because we recognize that children are different. We look at their individual circumstances, including some of the criteria and some of the considerations that I've already mentioned, to make a decision about what kind of course of care, what kind of plan of care, would be appropriate for individual children.
J. Kwan: Spare me the lecture. There was no question that I put to the minister about the individual case at all. All I said was: what was the ministry doing to avoid situations like this — cases like this that I've highlighted, as an example — in urban areas, where there's a critical need for foster care beds and group homes and the like, to allow for these options to be available for children and youth at risk? That was my question. It has nothing to do with the case I highlighted. I used the case as an example. That was a publicly reported case in the media about a situation like that where someone was not able to get into foster care, and as a result, tragedy took place. So spare me the lecture, please.
The Chair: Member, I believe the minister's made it very, very clear that she's not allowed to respond to specific cases. You have brought up a specific case, so I would suggest you should move on to a different line of questioning.
J. Kwan: Well, the question put to the minister has nothing to do with the specific case. It has nothing to do with it.
The Chair: Member, please take your seat. You referred to a specific case in this particular line of question-
[ Page 9926 ]
ing, and I am saying it is not appropriate. The minister has made that very, very clear. Now, I would suggest you move on with no suggestions at all to the specific case.
J. Kwan: I tell you, the way in which questions are to be put to the minister in this House in the estimates process and the approach which this minister chooses to conduct herself are beyond belief. It's absolutely beyond belief.
The question I'm putting to the minister is about foster care in urban areas, where there's a clear need for foster care, where there's a clear need because there's a shortage. Where there's a shortage and in cases where people cannot access foster care or group homes, tragedies take place. That is what's happened, and the question I put to the minister has nothing to do with any particular individual case, although she likes to hide under that notion so she doesn't have to answer questions put to her that may be difficult for her or for her government. That's no excuse at all. The question that I put to the minister has very much nothing to do with any individual case.
Tragedies happen when the government services are cut, when the government's budgets are cut in critical areas that impact the community. In this instance, we have a situation where that's happened. What kind of protocol does the minister follow in dealing with at-risk youth situations with respect to them accessing foster care? When they can't access foster care in their own community, what happens to them? When they have to be referred outside of their community, what happens? Does the minister consider options around safe houses or shelters as an option in the interim?
These are all legitimate questions, Mr. Chair. I would expect the minister to answer the questions and not hide under some notion that somehow it is to do with an individual case.
Hon. C. Clark: There is no shortage of foster care, I'm advised, in Vancouver. There is no shortage of foster care across British Columbia either. The member says that her question is specifically about Surrey but not specifically about this specific case. I'm advised by staff that there is not a shortage of foster care. In answer to her second question, yes, we do consider safe houses and safe beds as an alternative for kids if that's what is appropriate for their specific circumstances.
J. Kwan: Well, isn't that interesting? The minister says no, there's no shortage. Once again, her pat answer is that everything is fine. "There's no shortage. We're meeting all of the needs." You can have a situation where, in fact, someone tried to get foster care and was not able to in their own community, yet there is no shortage. "Really, there isn't."
Quite frankly, the facts actually refute the minister's answer. Once again, I'll let the facts determine whether or not what the minister is saying is reality. The facts will put the test in the community, who know what is going on and how they're being impacted with these budget cuts that are taking place in the ministry.
Currently, there are eight safe houses in British Columbia providing 41 beds. That's the information that I have. Will the minister confirm whether or not that is accurate? If that's not the accurate number, then how many safe houses are there in British Columbia, where are they located, and how many beds are there?
Hon. C. Clark: In Vancouver, Family Services of Greater Vancouver has a seven-bed, 24-hour staffed residence. The Urban Native Youth Association has a seven-bed, 24-hour staffed residence. The Vancouver Native Health Society has a two-bed small residence, the Vancouver Native Health Society has a three-bed small residence, and the Vancouver Native Health Society has a three-bed small residence. Victoria Boys and Girls Club — five individual care beds for sexually exploited youth; Kiwanis Youth Shelter, eight beds; Kamloops, four beds; Prince George, ten beds. I understand that there are also some in Vernon and Kelowna.
J. Kwan: The number that the minister gave — ten beds — in her answer…. She didn't refer to which community those ten beds are in.
Hon. C. Clark: Prince George, I think I said.
J. Kwan: The minister actually said: "Prince George, four." There are four beds in Prince George. Then she said ten, and then she said there are some in Kelowna, and she didn't actually refer to how many in Kelowna.
Hon. C. Clark: No, that's not what I said. I said in Prince George there are ten beds, and in Vernon and Kelowna there are also some beds. Those are funded in partnership with the federal government. Those are mostly federally funded beds, but they're there.
J. Kwan: How many beds are there in total across the province?
Hon. C. Clark: That number adds up to 46, and that doesn't include the Vernon and Kelowna numbers.
J. Kwan: The number adds up to 46, and that's as of today. How does that compare to last year?
Hon. C. Clark: It's three less than last year.
J. Kwan: Where were the closures, then, of the three?
Hon. C. Clark: They were in Vancouver in response to changing demands.
J. Kwan: In Vancouver in response to changing demands. Is that under the auspices of the UNN or the other organization?
[ Page 9927 ]
Hon. C. Clark: It's the urban native health, not the UNN. The UNN is the United Native Nations. That's an organization that's a political organization. They don't, as far as I know, provide any services directly to kids through the Ministry of Children and Family Development. I don't think the UNN provides any safe houses either, for the member's clarification.
The Vancouver Native Health Society operated one safe house, I understand. It was 62 percent occupancy. The Vancouver professional staff determined there were better ways to reinvest the money or spend the money that was going into some of those services. Obviously, there are great demands out there that we need to make sure we meet. What we've done is reinvested some of the savings. That money has gone into other services as a result of changes. Again, we're making the mix of services that we provide better reflect the needs of the community.
J. Kwan: The urban native health that closed three. The closure of those three — I think that's separate and apart from earlier this month, in March, when there was an under-age safe house that announced it would be closing its doors as of March 31, 2004, and that they will cease to take in new cases as of March 18 in anticipation of the closure.
The safe house is a program designed to take youth off the street. The safe house provides youth with a safe and constructive environment where they can feel safe, get counselling, develop self-improvement and find long-term placements. The program is aimed at youth who are street-involved homeless, sexually exploited, at risk or in crisis. Where will former clients of that safe house now be directed to go?
Hon. C. Clark: As I said, we're continuing to provide 19 safe-house beds in Vancouver, so clients will be able to avail themselves of services at those safe houses. Again, one of the safe houses that I've talked about was almost 40 percent empty, so there was an overcapacity in the system. It will be quite possible for clients to be able to use services at other safe houses.
In addition to that, though, the ministry also provides safe beds for kids, not necessarily in a house with a whole bunch of other kids, but it is often in a family setting, which I think for many kids — particularly for 13-year-olds — is probably often more appropriate. We certainly need safe-house beds. That's why we have them. But I think as a preference, as a matter of public policy, it is preferable for a 13-year-old to be able to connect with a family in a setting where they aren't subject to other peer pressure and that's a safe bed. Those are emergency care beds that kids can access in the middle of the night if need be, if that's what they're looking for.
This decision was the result of a community-wide consultation that we did, particularly with the first nations community in Vancouver, and so the reduction of three beds in Vancouver down to 19 beds has meant that there will be money freed up that will be spent on other things in Vancouver to support kids who are in need, which better reflect the larger need of the community — that more accurately reflect the needs.
K. Manhas: I'd like to seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
K. Manhas: I'd like to introduce to our exciting proceedings and the House today Derek Fisk, who is here from Ontario. Derek was a peer and a colleague and companion on a recent Outward Bound course in recreational safety training that we did in the wilderness of British Columbia. He's here from Ontario. He works for Molson in Ontario. I'd like the House to please make him very welcome on his trip here to Victoria and to British Columbia.
J. Kwan: The safe house that is closing in Vancouver. The minister says it was because it was underutilized. We also have a list of communities in which safe houses exist: Vancouver, Victoria, Prince George, Vernon and Kelowna, I think the minister said. Those are the other communities. Are there any plans for the ministry to reallocate these dollars from safe houses to other locations in which safe houses are required?
Hon. C. Clark: Yes. As I've told the member a couple of times, the money that we are saving or the savings we are realizing as a result of the changes to safe-house services in Vancouver are being reinvested in services for children in Vancouver. If the member is advocating that the ministry perhaps reinvest that money in other communities, I suppose she can make that point and make that argument, and we can have a debate about that in the House. Personally, my view is that that money should stay in Vancouver.
J. Kwan: Where is the so-called reinvestment of the dollars taken from the safe house in Vancouver? Where is it going?
Hon. C. Clark: It's moving to aboriginal services in the city of Vancouver.
J. Kwan: Aboriginal services? More details around that?
Hon. C. Clark: The Urban Native Youth is the lead agency on this. That money is going to family preservation programs and those kinds of programs for first nations and aboriginal youth.
J. Kwan: Is all of the money going to the Urban Native Youth? How much is it?
[ Page 9928 ]
Hon. C. Clark: Investment in Urban Native Youth is $1.5 million.
J. Kwan: Is that the same amount that was saved, so-called, from the closure of this safe house?
Hon. C. Clark: No. It's more.
J. Kwan: How much was saved from the closure of the safe house?
Hon. C. Clark: About $400,000.
J. Kwan: About $400,000. So all $400,000 has been reallocated to the Urban Native Youth for aboriginal services? I just want to be clear that is the amount the minister has reallocated. The minister says they've saved $400,000, so all of the dollars that have been saved under the closure of the safe house has been reallocated to Urban Native Youth?
Hon. C. Clark: Yes.
J. Kwan: I would like to know from the ministry…. Does the minister have information on how many clients or individuals who go to safe houses are referred from other organizations and how many are actually self-referred, as an example?
Hon. C. Clark: Sorry. We don't have that information here in that level of specificity. We do know that about a quarter of the kids who go and use the safe-house services are children who are already in the care of the ministry.
J. Kwan: The information that I have is about 40 percent of the youth who go to safe houses are in the care of the ministry, and about 60 percent are not in the care of the ministry. That's the general number that I have.
Trying to get a sense of what the picture looks like in terms of this need in the broader community, according to the information I have, about 37 percent of the safe-house clients were from Vancouver, 83 percent of the clients were in the ages of 13 to 15, and about 47 percent were 15-year-olds. If you break it down further in terms of trying to get a profile on what the youth that go to these safe houses look like, 46 percent were Caucasian, 43 percent were native, 59 percent were female, and 41 percent were male.
Going into the details around the youth who go to these safe houses, 28 percent of them were returned to families, and then 17 percent were put into foster care. And 32 percent were referred in Vancouver after hours, and 17 percent were self-referrals — 10 percent by adolescent service units and 7 percent by the Vancouver police department.
This is the information I have, and at some point in time, actually, I would like to get the profile of what it looks like in terms of the utilization of safe houses across the province. If the percentages are correct, I would like that confirmation. If they are not, I would like the information, so I get a better sense of that from the minister.
I would assume the minister didn't get up to answer the question to put it on record to say what she would do, but I see her nodding now to say that she will provide that information.
J. Kwan: I'm sorry; I didn't catch that.
The minister's nodding and confirming that she will provide the information to the opposition, and that would be appreciated.
As far as we know, based on the information I have and without other information — I'll just go with these figures for the time being — 17 percent of the safe-house clientele refer themselves, and that means that about 83 percent of the clients in safe houses were referred from other places. Where are these children going to be referred to in the communities where they don't have safe houses? What happens in those situations?
Hon. C. Clark: They would be referred to us for assessment and placement, and they would go to safe beds.
J. Kwan: How does a child…? Because 17 percent of the safe-house referrals are self-referrals, in that instance is the minister suggesting, then, that youth could self-refer within the ministry? What kinds of steps do they have to go through in order to access some sort of support?
Hon. C. Clark: Yeah, it's important that they don't have to go through any bureaucratic steps. They phone the ministry and make a request, and the ministry will assess their need and make an appropriate arrangement for them, based on their request. That happens in communities across the province, large and small. It's not possible to provide a safe house in every single community across the province, just as it's not possible to provide a full-service hospital in every single community across the province. What we do is make sure there are safe beds available for kids, so if they have an emergency need, we can accommodate them. If kids are in trouble, they phone the ministry and ask for help, and we do our level best to make sure we meet their needs.
J. Kwan: The minister says there are safe beds available. What is the turnaround time? Is it the case that when a youth phones the ministry for assistance or someone refers a youth to the ministry, immediately the assessment will be done that day? What is the turnaround time?
Hon. C. Clark: The policy hasn't changed from when the member was in government. We proceed
[ Page 9929 ]
based on the level of risk that the social worker assesses. If it's an emergency situation, we provide those emergency care beds.
J. Kwan: In terms of assessing risk — and that is the issue about the assessment itself — when is it done, and how does one determine that it is an emergency in its nature? Does the youth phone and say: "I have nowhere to go, and so therefore I need a bed somewhere"? Is that how one determines an emergency? I'm trying to get a better sense here in terms of that assessment level and how it is done and how rapidly it is done for youth who might be in at-risk situations.
Hon. C. Clark: The assessment is done by social workers who have a broad skill and bring wisdom, experience and training to the table. They make that assessment based on the initial call that would be made, the initial contact they have. They would assess the risk to the individual, and then we would proceed accordingly.
This policy hasn't changed from when the member was previously in government. I'm happy to familiarize her with it, but she may also want to call on some of her memory from when she was in government to think about how it was done before, because it is not being done significantly differently.
J. Kwan: I remember, certainly when we were in government and actually even when I was not part of government and was in the community as an advocate, that there were concerns with respect to that, which is why I'm canvassing the questions. Certainly, the previous administration has not done everything perfectly — I'll be the first to admit that — in terms of areas that need to be improved, and concerns continue. In this instance around turnaround time, I think it's very critical for youth who are at risk. It's very critical.
Is the minister then saying that when a youth or an agency phones up a social worker, right then and there the assessment is done to determine what the risk level is?
Hon. C. Clark: That is part of the assessment process.
J. Kwan: In the case of after-hours referrals, is it still the case that those who are seeking support will automatically get support because it's after hours?
Hon. C. Clark: They will get an assessment, and that policy hasn't changed.
J. Kwan: The assessment will be done on the telephone after hours by the social worker?
Hon. C. Clark: That's perfectly possible.
J. Kwan: It's not that I'm just looking to determine whether or not that's possible; I'm looking to determine whether or not that is being done. That's a critical difference in terms of the minister's answer. Where it is possible is fine, but where it is done is another thing. I would hope that the answer is that it is being done, not whether or not it's possible.
Hon. C. Clark: Yeah, it really depends on the circumstance. Sometimes it's done on the phone; sometimes it's done in person. But as I've said, my answer stands.
J. Kwan: So assessment is done immediately, no matter what, 24 hours around the clock. That's what I want to establish and have on record so that it is, in fact, the case.
I'll tell you, in another situation involving income assistance recipients where they may not have a home to get to or they can't access emergency beds because they're all full up…. In those instances there's a 24-hour line that people can phone up, and they are offered some sort of support. If the ministry cannot get them into an emergency bed somewhere, they will actually provide for the costs to put the person up in a hotel room or whatever the case may be.
The point I want to make here is this, and it's not for the minister to be cavalier with her answers — that is, to make sure that around the clock, 24 hours a day, self-referrals as well as referrals by agencies of youth at risk will get assessed immediately, and determinations are made and supports are offered. That's the point I would want to make.
I have questions on the aboriginal fronts in terms of this area here and then of course other areas I would like to canvass with the minister in the estimates debate. But noting the time, Mr. Chair, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:55 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. C. Clark moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: The House is adjourned until 2 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:56 p.m.
[ Page 9930 ]
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
The House in Committee of Supply A; G. Trumper in the chair.
The committee met at 2:44 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
PUBLIC SAFETY AND SOLICITOR GENERAL
On vote 31: ministry operations, $478,891,000 (continued).
J. MacPhail: Before we rose for lunch, we were talking about the Organized Crime Agency being changed as of April 1, 2004, into the Integrated Organized Crime Unit. The Solicitor General said it's still a provincial agency. Will this newly morphed Integrated Organized Crime Unit be subject to scrutiny in the estimates process in this B.C. Legislature?
Hon. R. Coleman: Yes.
J. MacPhail: Okay. What is the budget for '04-05 — the provincial budget for the Integrated Organized Crime Unit?
Hon. R. Coleman: It's $9.82 million.
J. MacPhail: I believe that's what the budget was for the Organized Crime Agency for the last three years. Is that correct? So the budget remains frozen?
Hon. R. Coleman: Yes. The $9.3 million has been the base. We also gave them $3.8 million out of proceeds of crime for a separate fund to draw on with regards to complex investigations. They also received funds from the provincial force in a cooperative manner as and when needed with regards to the investigation. It's $9.83 million rounded off. That was the cost.
J. MacPhail: I'm looking at page 8 of the service plan '04-05 through to '06-07. Can the minister tell me under which line in the resource summary outlined on that page the funding for the Organized Crime Agency for '03-04 and the funding for the Integrated Organized Crime Unit can be located?
Hon. R. Coleman: It is under the line for "policing and community safety."
J. MacPhail: Is there in that line, policing and community safety…? There's $9.3 million in the '03-04 restated estimates, and then there's $9.3 million in the '04-05 estimates. Am I assuming that correctly?
Hon. R. Coleman: Yeah, that's correct. But the number is $9.83 million.
J. MacPhail: Okay. So we have that funding. The funding is remaining frozen. It's remaining subject to provincial review in these estimates. Other than it being a method by which the provincial government gets a greater portion of that money from the federal government, what else is changing?
I'm sure the minister will be well aware that he did make comments that there's the cancer of organized crime which has been identified over the course of the last couple of years. What else is changing there?
Hon. R. Coleman: I don't think I said it's happened in the last two years. Organized crime has been out there a long time in British Columbia and Canada. It's not just in the last two years that we've had to deal with it in our society.
A number of things have happened here by doing this. First of all, as I explained earlier, we actually get some money from the federal government because of the 70-30 split with regard to having more money for the whole operation. We gain admin savings as a result of doing this, because we're taking the administration and putting it with the RCMP. We don't need two sets of admin.
We get intelligence-sharing. We get federal relationships with the unit. We get asset-sharing and technical equipment, technical integration, monitoring, surveillance equipment and wiretaps. We also get several operational units, which are specialized in things like surveillance and other investigational techniques, combining so they're working together in single units. Those units would be combined to target specific investigations. Law enforcement feels this is a good move to increase the efficiencies on the investigations and to use the technical aspects of what the organized crime unit brings to the table and what the federal and provincial forces bring to the table.
J. MacPhail: I know the Solicitor General answered…. Well, I'm not sure he did answer it in question period, so I'm going to ask it again. In March of 2003 the Solicitor General told the annual Premiers' conference, which I attended, that he would be holding a forum of "enforcement agencies, the judiciary, prosecutors and the public to examine the problem of organized crime." What's the progress on holding that forum?
Hon. R. Coleman: We referred to it as a dialogue on crime. I took two approaches to it. One was to be a dialogue involving the people that were there, similar to what we've done at the Wosk Centre. We've had some scheduling difficulties with that. The first was with regard to the first ministers' conference being
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called on a day we were anticipating doing it. We wanted the Premier there because of the importance of the dialogue. We are working on trying to reschedule that portion of it.
At the same time, I started with the B.C. Chamber of Commerce last May. I've now been to 20-plus chambers of commerce, boards of trade and what have you. I'm bringing the dialogue relative to them with regard to the fact that there's got to be some reflection in the community and support for our efforts on organized crime and the judiciary.
I think that's been more of a public discussion that we've been encouraging with groups. Some of our MLAs have actually been holding local dialogues in their communities with regard to that. I've attended a few of those. The main dialogue — which was in the throne speech, I believe…. We had scheduling difficulties with it. We still intend to do it. We just haven't got a date yet.
J. MacPhail: Will I be invited?
Hon. R. Coleman: Absolutely.
J. MacPhail: Thank you. And I will attend, as long as the Legislature isn't sitting.
I just want to refer to the service plan again for both the Solicitor General and the Attorney General. In neither of those service plans is crime reduction identified as a goal for the government. Neither plan reveals that crime reduction is a goal for this government. Nor are crime rates used as a measure of success or failure of their policies.
I must say that the performance plans of the previous government had as their two top goals in the Attorney General: (1) strengthen the ability of communities to reduce crime; (2) reduce the level of crime, and in particular, serious and violent crime. Why is none of this referred to in the Solicitor General's service plan? Or am I just missing it?
Hon. R. Coleman: I guess the way I would answer the question for the member is that on page 21 of the service plan we say we'll support the RCMP in its efforts to expand current initiatives aimed at addressing violent, organized and cross-jurisdictional crime, provide information and assistance for quick response, etc. I guess my description to the member would be that we set out to try and create a five-year plan to look at how we could modernize policing in British Columbia, pick the technology for the future, bring forward initiatives that would help us to address some of the visible issues with regard to how we can do crime prevention and also enhance policing in B.C. We've taken a number of initiatives in that regard and would hope that the results of those initiatives would be that the national crime statistics would change.
We also do find at times, though, with crime statistics that they're somewhat fluid. As a result, the measurement is a little difficult, whereas if we have PRIME-BC, which is a system we're putting in place, we'll actually be able to target our enforcement to patterns of crime. Where we have, for instance, high levels of auto theft or B and Es or traffic issues, we'll target our resources towards that.
Our goal as we moved forward was trying to build that modern infrastructure for policing in British Columbia, long term, in an integrative relationship with all our forces. We think by doing that we'll achieve the second part of what the member describes, which is the reduction in crime statistics.
We've seen a reduction in crime statistics in certain areas, and others have gone up. I'm not sure even today whether what people report and what they used to report hasn't changed because the ability to respond to calls has changed from what it was ten or 15 years ago to what it is today, given the pressures and the time that law enforcement officers have to deal with certain issues. It's certainly a more complex job today than it was ten or 15 years ago, or 20-some-odd years ago when I left the field.
We sort of set out with the goal in mind to build a modern and efficient policing structure so that it would work for our citizens. That's the goal we're working on.
J. MacPhail: Well, I must confess it would be far more believable if the government would actually state very clearly that its goal is to reduce crime or strengthen the ability of communities to reduce crime.
Manitoba recently brought in legislation to go after the proceeds of crime. This minister has talked about that. Their legislation redirects profits to victims of crime. This government has cut the funding for victim services. What legislation is in place currently about proceeds of crime, and what is the minister planning to do about his commitment to go after the proceeds of crime?
Hon. R. Coleman: There's a federal proceeds-of-crime issue that is very complex and very difficult. In discussion with my other justice ministers across the country, a number of us feel there are ways we could target proceeds of crime differently.
Last year I went to the Minister of Revenue at the time, because I'd heard a presentation with regard to tax law, to sales tax, where you can go and audit the sales tax, and if you find somebody hasn't been reporting correctly, you can give them a bill going back as far as, I think, six years, and the reverse onus is on them to prove to us that they don't owe us the money. My approach was: why can't we take that and apply it to the civil forfeiture of the proceeds of crime?
We started a process to look at different jurisdictions and how they had looked at legislation. Ontario had done something. Manitoba was working on something. I'd had some conversations with the minister there. We are working on legislation here in British Columbia that we're basically, at this point, calling the civil forfeiture of the proceeds of crime.
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What we'd like to be able to do as we work through this process…. We're actually in the hopper with the leg. counsel and all the processes going on to get it done, hopefully, by this fall — that is, legislation where we would be able to say…. When a grow op or an asset is being used for crime, we could put the onus in reverse on the people using it and say: "You prove to us that you bought this with legal money, that this asset wasn't bought with the proceeds of crime. If you can't prove it, then it's ours."
We have taken that approach along the tax side. A couple of the other jurisdictions are doing civil forfeiture, and they haven't gone in quite that direction. We're all sort of sharing information back and forth as we do it.
Yes, I've talked about it. I think it's an important tool we could get, if we do it properly, for our law enforcement community and our communities as a whole. The challenge is to make sure we get it, stay within the Charter and have an effective piece of legislation that will work for us.
We think, given the work we've done so far, that we can accomplish that. We're going to try and get it. We're actually down now into the drafting stage, so we will be bringing it forward to the Legislature for its consideration once it goes through all the normal processes.
J. MacPhail: Is this government going to redirect the profits to victims of crime?
Hon. R. Coleman: That discussion hasn't taken place yet with regards to it. I think it would be the process as we get the next stage through — as we go through committee and bring it to the Legislature for that discussion.
If this was successful, I would hope there would be enough money for everybody — some for the victims of crime and certainly some to enhance our ability to investigate organized crime and push back on it with additional resources. Heaven knows, the people we're dealing with are multimillion-dollar operations worldwide that are operating cross-jurisdictionally and around the world, and we need to be able to push back at them in any way we can on behalf of our communities.
J. MacPhail: Communities are very concerned about cuts to community policing, and there has been a $13.5 million cut to policing generally in this budget, as I read it. We received correspondence from people in Vancouver, for example, that there's great concern over the loss of 140 police officers and that there is strain being put on neighbourhoods as a result of that. How is the Solicitor General responding to these concerns?
Hon. R. Coleman: There were two questions there. I'll deal with the last one first, and that was the policing in Vancouver.
Just so the member understands, Vancouver pays 100 percent of its policing costs. They have their own city police force. They actually set the complement of police officers they want. I believe their ratio is about 1 to 450 population. If you compare it to Surrey, there is about 1 to 800, so they have a pretty high ratio compared to some other communities.
The request for additional officers was made. I understand it's being considered by council. Council will make that decision within their budget and what they think in conjunction with their discussions with the police and, I guess, the police board as to what that is.
We do have the ability under the Police Act, if there was a concern that policing was inadequate, to actually step in and make complements go up in communities where the inadequacy is at such a level that there's a concern for public safety. I'm not aware of any time in history that that section's ever been used by any minister with regards to local government. They set the priorities for policing, and they hire with regards to it.
The same holds true for municipalities that are under RCMP contracts. They actually request additional members from myself as they go through their budget process, and we request the federal government to fill those positions. They're effectively like the municipal police force for Burnaby, Richmond, Surrey and those places.
With regard to the police budget itself, I know the member is saying it's being cut, but I want her to understand a couple of things. First of all, Project Evenhanded, which is the missing women's case, is expected to not cost as much next year, so that budget has been reduced in this year's budget. We've spent $10 million of the $14 million with regards to PRIME this year; we won't be spending it next year. In fact, the actual operational budget of policing hasn't gone down. I wanted to be clear on that.
The last question was with regards to community policing. I don't know if the member is referring to the community policing office in her community or not. Maybe she could give me some clarification on that.
J. MacPhail: Yes, I'd be happy to. I'll read a letter out on that.
Perhaps the minister could just walk me through the resource summary that shows…. Perhaps he could isolate out, in the "policing and community safety" line, what is operational policing and how much it was in '03-04 and how much it will continue to be over the years — and how much it was in '01-02. Has there been any change?
J. MacPhail: We'll work on these two matters at the same time, if that's okay. Here's the letter about the Vancouver Association of Community Policing Centres and why I raised it in the context of the level of the workforce for police officers in Vancouver. This is from the Vancouver Association of Community Policing Centres. It's signed by Elaine Barber, who's the acting secretary of that association. It's dated March 16, 2004.
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"Dear Mr. Coleman:
"On reviewing the attached letters and the New Era documents issued by the Liberal Party, we note that your government promised a 'return of 75 percent of all revenue from traffic fines to the municipalities that collect money to support community-based policing, crime prevention and community youth programs.' Premier Gordon Campbell" — sorry, I'm just quoting the letter, Madam Chair — "further stated on the Bill Good program on Thursday, December 13, 2001, at 11:40 a.m.: 'We are committed to doing that. That was one of the commitments we made in the election.' This commitment was made over two years ago, and to date, you have not fulfilled this promise.
"The importance of community policing is greater today than ever. The loss of over 140 Vancouver police officers has placed a difficult strain on the demands for effective policing in this vast metropolis that faces the challenges of increased criminal activity and serious drug problems. The mandate of our eight community policing centres is to address the safety concerns of our neighbourhoods through engaging the residents and businesses within our communities and by working in partnership with our neighbourhood police officers.
"The community policing centres support a variety of safety programs that with the aid of hundreds of volunteers play a critical role in building the public's conscious responsibility for the safety of their neighbourhoods. Without these centres and work performed by our dedicated volunteers, the Vancouver police department would be inundated with additional public demands. The community policing centres are an extremely economical way of stretching our limited financial resources while building safer communities throughout Vancouver and the rest of the province.
"Needless to say, it takes money to keep these centres functioning in an effective manner. We are asking you to act on your election promise and deliver the promised funds to our municipality for immediate distribution to the eight community policing centres. Please provide us with a time line as to when we can expect the funds."
The reason why I brought up the loss of 140 police officers…. I understand that's strictly within the mandate of the city of Vancouver, except that with that loss, these associations of community policing centres say that their work, which is volunteer-based, becomes even more important.
Hon. R. Coleman: There are a number of things there. Volunteers and their relationship in communities and their relationship to policing is very critical to policing, no matter what community it is in. The individual identifies one of the pressures that a number of our municipal forces are experiencing right now as they try to ramp up and hire additional people because of some early retirements that took place at the end of the year.
The municipal pension fund decided to remove supplementary benefits, I think it was, to police officers — and I think firemen, actually, as well — a year ago. If you didn't take your pension by the end of the fiscal year, you lost those supplementary benefits to your pension in the future. We had a large number of people leave early, or leave, actually — not so much leave early but decide to take their retirement as a result. We've ramped up the Justice Institute to train more police officers. They are hiring cross-jurisdictional as well. That's always happened within police forces.
Talking to the chiefs recently, a number of the chiefs actually feel they're handling the pressure quite well and getting the officers they want. On a different side of it, they're getting a new breed of officer who's coming through with education levels that are pretty high. They're getting people that know computer systems and those sorts of things and modern technology.
It may be a pressure in Vancouver for the next year, as it is in some other jurisdictions, but they feel they're handling that risk pretty well, and they think they're attracting some very high-quality people to fill that void with regard to law enforcement.
The community policing letter that the individual writes…. The member's right: we did promise to give 75 percent of traffic fines back to communities. That money…. If it was back to the communities, we would say that we want it to go to community policing. I'm sure the local government would be the ones that would direct it to whatever community policing offices they saw fit. My understanding is that that's going to happen in the next fiscal year with regard to traffic fines. It's actually in the Ministry of Attorney General for implementation, not in this ministry, as I understand. That's where that sits.
We do have $5,000 startup grants for all communities in the province with regard to those that want to set up community policing offices. Then we have an annual $2,500 grant that's available to them to apply for, for individual offices on an annual basis.
J. MacPhail: We've seen recent polls that reveal crime is the top concern for Vancouver residents. The Vancouver Board of Trade confirms this. We also know that the government is reaching out to the business community, as the minister just identified in his tour of chambers of commerce. What policies is the government pursuing with the business community or with anyone to allay the concerns and fears?
Hon. R. Coleman: There are a number of processes underway. The Attorney General launched a Safe Streets Task Force a few weeks ago in Vancouver. There's a thing that I think is called the Safe Streets Coalition, which is made up of chambers of commerce, boards of trade, community groups, non-profit organizations and communities from all across the province that have been working to come up with solutions.
We are presently going through a safe streets sort of process along with what their recommendations have been going with the Caucus Committee on Communities and Safety…. At the same time, we're doing a review of the Trespass Act and some of the pieces of legislation that may be able to assist some of the issues that are glaring for particular communities. We've been asked by communities like Vancouver, people like the board of trade…. Their big issue really has been street-level crime and the whole aspect around the ability to…. Aggressive panhandling and that sort of thing.
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I think it's critical that they understand — I've told them this — that it's not just a matter of taking a piece of legislation or an act and saying we're going to take people off the streets. We as a society also have to recognize that the people we're dealing with at the street level in Vancouver and other communities often have multiple barriers that we need to address with regard to issues around health. They oftentimes have some addiction difficulties, and we need to have solutions for them, as well, so we give them the options to go forward as an individual to get their life back on track. You can't just isolate this into a sort of "arrest them and take them off the street" attitude, because in actual fact that doesn't accomplish the long-term end goal.
When working with these groups, we've been identifying, basically, some tools that we could find for communities. We're trying to look at those as we go forward legislatively and regulatory-wise. At the same time, though, I've engaged in conversations with the Minister of Health and the Minister of Mental Health with regards to those issues. I've made it clear to the deputy in that ministry that it is something that I really think we need to concentrate on in this fiscal year — some of those solutions, as well, for those folks — because if we don't have the continuum of a package that works for people that are disenfranchised in society, we're letting them down. We're actually just kidding ourselves with the fact that the solution is just to arrest people.
J. MacPhail: Yeah, I was interested in that street crime working group that the Attorney General set up. Did the Solicitor General have any input into that?
Hon. R. Coleman: I have staff involved in that, both from corrections and some of the other areas of the ministry, and some of the law enforcement community is involved in it. It is an initiative of the Attorney General's office.
J. MacPhail: Well, I'm sure the Solicitor General saw some of the reaction to the working group. Some criticized it quite a bit, actually. They said that the money should just be put into more policing. That's why I wondered whether the Solicitor General had any input into it.
In fact, what's his take on that? Shouldn't the money just be put into more policing? Don't we know what the problems are?
Hon. R. Coleman: I don't know what the budget is. I don't think it's actually very significant, as far as what's being spent on it. Like I said, it's an initiative of the Attorney General. We've been working with the Safe Streets Coalition to try and find solutions to do things.
Again, even to say, "Just put all the money into police officers," is, actually, also shortsighted with regards to crime on our streets. In actual fact, when a police officer picks up somebody on the streets of Vancouver who's involved in petty crime, who has an addiction problem or a mental health issue or whatever, you have to tie in health care. You have to tie in other issues of counselling and assistance to those folks, or you are just going to continue the cycle.
I have one institution in the province where the cycle that we measure our recidivism…. Because we have a lot of mental health issues with regards to people coming into one area of corrections, we measure our recidivism in weeks versus years, because the services for those folks need to be back in the community when they leave our custody — when they go out on probation or parole or whatever the case may be. Some of them are significantly challenged. I think law enforcement would agree.
Frankly, I know that I've had discussions with the chief about the whole mental health issue and addiction issues relative to the crime package in Vancouver and how we need to get these groups together. We are actually moving forward with the chief and members of the law enforcement community and others, with health, to try and come up with some of those solutions — not involving this Safe Streets thing, because the Safe Streets thing is mainly the judiciary and court side. That's taking a look at their end.
J. MacPhail: I've got the '01-02 annual report of the Organized Crime Agency. Does the minister have more recent ones?
J. MacPhail: Okay. I actually couldn't find it, but that doesn't mean anything. So I'm requesting any annual reports that the minister may have beyond the '01-02 report of the Organized Crime Agency. Has he got the numbers about policing and community safety?
Hon. R. Coleman: I'll read the member some information, but I'm going to request that somebody on my staff get the spreadsheet. We don't have the years going backward.
We've in fact basically increased the base budget for the provincial police force by approximately $35 million since taking office. We also took over funding for the missing women's investigation, which is another $25 million annually. That will reduce next year, as I noted earlier, with regards to the base budget. That money is now being moved into the base budget versus contingencies. We know it's an ongoing investigation, and it has been given as an increase to the budget.
The base budget for the provincial police force is approximately $180 million this fiscal year. The base for the Organized Crime Agency is approximately $9.8 million in direct provincial dollars, plus in-kind resources, personnel secondment from other forces, etc., in excess of $17 million annually.
The member asked me what it was, year over year. My assistant deputy minister has some numbers that
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he's doing from memory, but I've said let's get the spreadsheet for you. We'll get you the actuals.
J. MacPhail: I accept what the minister is saying there. What I really want to know is: how much went into policing in '01-02 — like, separate and apart from all of those other issues — and how much is going into policing this year and last year? So thank you. The minister is going to get that for me.
The issue of victim services. What line in the budget is victim services contained in, in the resource summary which I'm looking at on page 8 of the service plan?
Hon. R. Coleman: The victims programs are contained in policing and community safety under the programs we have — crime prevention and what have you — in that line item. My recollection, and I will confirm the numbers for the member, is that we spend $9.3 million a year on victims programs. That's not counting the Crime Victim Assistance Act, which is a separate line item with regards to things like counselling and loss of wages and what have you. That's a number that's fluid, depending on how many people make claims in any given year.
The $9.3 million has not been cut by this ministry. That has been the number since the beginning. There were no cuts to victims programs in this ministry. The $9.3 million has been structured better in our relationship with communities in such a way that we put in the VictimLink line last year. We went 24 hours a day with the VictimLink line, so people could call into one line for victims services. That has actually proved to be a pretty good exercise, and I can get the member the stats on that.
In addition to that, we are able to have police-based victims programs in every community with four police officers or fewer in the province. Before, rural communities and smaller communities didn't actually have victims programs within their communities, and some of them were targeted improperly.
For instance, in one community, we had no police-based victims program, but we had a specialized victims program. We didn't have a lot of call for the specialized victims program because it was a small community, but it was on a major highway. It had a number of fatal accidents on the highway on an annual basis on one of the worst stretches of the road. The police and the community basically told us that a police-based victims program, because of what they were dealing with regularly, would be better.
We retargeted that. What we did is when we restructured, we also found funding for an additional seven or eight specialized victims programs in larger communities like Langley, for instance, where there was one that was awarded by RFP. Our restructuring of victims programs and how we've run it saw no financial cuts from us. When the member is referring to the changes in victims programs, I think she's referring to the court-based victims programs.
J. MacPhail: I take it that I'll direct my questions around that to the Attorney General.
What about Block Watch questions? I think ICBC or the Insurance Bureau used to fund Block Watch programs in conjunction with the government. There was a very interesting news story this morning about Block Watch programs having their funding cut and them starting up, re-energizing, but through volunteer donations. What's the status? Does this minister have any involvement over the years with Block Watch program funding?
Hon. R. Coleman: We actually doubled the funding to Block Watch and Block Parents that we were putting into it through our community programs. Basically, what we did is we restructured a couple of years ago. We targeted additional money to the B.C. Crime Prevention Association, who have a crime prevention centre in New Westminster. Block Watch actually shares facilities there now, as I believe Block Parents do.
Block Parents did have a concern the last time I met with them that they were having trouble getting volunteers, that the volunteer segment was sort of lagging, which has been an experience in a lot of areas, whether it be in a non-profit organization, service club or whatever. They're experiencing some of the same challenges volunteerwise.
I remember, and I'm pretty sure on these numbers. I think when we became government, Block Watch was getting $15,000 annually. We gave them $30,000. Block Parents was getting $30,000 annually. We gave them $60,000. I'm going by memory, and I'm pretty sure I'm correct here.
The provincial organizations like the B.C. Crime Prevention are actually coordinating with all of these programs now. I'd actually like to have a copy of the article so I could verify the information for the member to make sure it's not the government that's done that, because my understanding is that's how we continue to do our programs.
J. MacPhail: Yes. It was a news story on the radio this morning on CBC that I heard. It was an interview. I'll try and get the site of that off TNO, Today's News Online..
Just to confirm. The minister is saying that provincial government funding for Block Watch and Block Parents continues as it has over the last several years?
Hon. R. Coleman: Yes, at the same level as last year but higher than a few years back. This may be a local Block Watch organization. We fund the provincial relationship and the coordination, I guess it is. I'll get the information for the member. It may be a local Block Watch organization which, if they're actually a society, is eligible to apply for grants under direct access, I believe. If there is a difficulty, we'd be more than happy to look at it.
J. MacPhail: Thank you.
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On local issues relating to crime, I have three questions, and then I'll turn it over to my colleague from Surrey-Tynehead. The Solicitor General said — at least I read it in a news article — that he's planning to compel municipal police forces in the capital region to integrate. What kind of progress is the Solicitor General making in this? What specific measures does he plan to take to compel integration?
Hon. R. Coleman: The question that was asked of me was: how is it going? Frankly, we did have a process last year that was less than successful with regards to putting the people in the room that had interests in this area and some independent people. One of the independent people basically told us that this was a dysfunctional group as far as being able to come together in agreement on how integration should take place on the lower Island.
I believe strongly, and so does most of the law enforcement community, that integration is an important aspect of policing. If you integrate all your major crime people on the lower Island, you're going to be sharing intelligence and having more success with regards to major crime across the borders.
One of the fears of some of the local governments is that this is going to take away the ability for them to have a police force. It's not a fair fear on their part, because if you do integration, the patrol, community liaison, police and school liaison and all of that stuff don't change. They can wear the same uniform. They can do the same job. But you can take the higher, more expertise-required areas of policing — whether it be forensic ident, dog teams, people that are doing such things as major crime investigations and collecting that intelligence…. That group of people should be integrated.
My concern is that it's not moving along on the South Island. I understand that there is now some movement that it take place. The question was asked of me yesterday. They asked: "Are you able to compel it if it can't happen?" I said that if it isn't going to happen, we may have to make the decision by order-in-council to identify one integrated unit so we can prove to the capital region that this can work, because we know it does work with the integrated homicide team and the other integrated units we're doing on the lower mainland.
We do have the ability under the Police Act to do that, to make that move. My preference, of course — and I've said this all along to the communities — is that they put aside their own personal biases and barriers and accept integration as being an integrated unit that they all second into and make an arrangement with, with regards to how we're going to handle crime on the lower Island. That doesn't just include the four municipal police departments but also the RCMP.
I think, frankly, that it is one of the critical aspects of the long-term planning for policing in our country, in our province. I believe we're leading the way in this province, and the rest of the country should recognize what we've done with PRIME and everything else. It is so critical. If you look at even the issues around 9/11 and other files that have taken place internationally, the sharing of intelligence and the inability to know what's going on across a region, cross-borders.… If we don't have all the guys that are viewing one aspect of crime in a single room or in single unit working together, integrated, I think we'd let down our communities.
I am hopeful that they will get there. I understand there's been some movement with regards to a couple of units just recently. If that happens, great, but if not, later this year we may have to make the decision to do a unit and then say: "This is an integrated unit, and once you've seen the experience, you can understand where we're going to go from here."
J. MacPhail: Does the Solicitor General have a deadline? He mentions at the end of this year. Does he have a deadline for allowing this to be done voluntarily and then for him to proceed after that?
Hon. R. Coleman: Not yet. I think at the end of the year we want to see an integrated unit on the lower Island, at the minimum. We have seen better discussions between some local governments and police on the lower Island recently, and we are encouraged by that. We think we may be moving towards where this is going to get the break it needs to go forward.
J. MacPhail: Two local issues. One is: was there an investigation into a review of the West Vancouver police department, and has there been a report given to the Solicitor General on a review of the West Vancouver police department?
Hon. R. Coleman: I think what the member is referring to is what we call an audit of a police department. We did an audit of the West Vancouver police department. That report has not come to me yet. It's in final draft. There are some discussions going on with the board as it moves to final draft. It would then come to me. I would read it, and we would also forward it to the board of West Vancouver. It can be released publicly subject to the FOI rules, as I understand it.
J. MacPhail: Okay. So the minister has not received this report yet is what I understand, and he's directing us to make an FOI request. Well, we will…. Oh, sorry.
Hon. R. Coleman: No, there's no need for an FOI request. It's just when the report is final, it will come to me. Then it goes to the police board. That's where the report goes. The release of the report after it's final is subject to FOI. That's what I meant.
J. MacPhail: Oh, I've got it. Sorry.
My last issue. Is this minister responsible for probation services? The minister is nodding yes.
We had an e-mail from a person in Revelstoke suggesting that the Revelstoke probation officer position is going to be terminated. Is that the case, and why?
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Hon. R. Coleman: We'll get you the date as to when that's happening. The reason for it is that there's not sufficient caseload in Revelstoke to justify a probation officer there. That, I guess, is probably good news in one way for Revelstoke, because evidently their crime rate isn't at the level…. They don't have as many people requiring supervision in their community. What will happen, as has happened in this situation before…. In this case, the Salmon Arm client base, in conjunction with working with the local RCMP detachment, will be serviced out of Salmon Arm.
J. MacPhail: Just let me read this e-mail into the record for the minister's consideration, then, as the decision proceeds. I do want the minister to have this information. Actually, it's a copy of an e-mail sent to the Solicitor General dated March 4, 2004. It's from Patricia Sieber.
"I am disturbed at the decision to terminate the position of probation officer in Revelstoke. It has come to my attention that your office" — the Solicitor General's office — "is making decisions based on incorrect information. You informed Ms. Marla Manson that the Revelstoke probation officer has an average caseload of 50 offenders, about half of whom live in Sicamous. In fact, the present caseload is 63 cases that live in Revelstoke.
"No doubt the number of cases varies, but I do not think it is wise to base your decisions on what may be the lowest case scenario. Even if there are, at times, low caseloads, the assumption that this responsibility can be successfully handled from Salmon Arm is questionable. Surely you are aware of the distance between Salmon Arm and Revelstoke. Do you consider that paying a probation officer's salary plus travel expenses for a round trip of at least three hours a day — in good weather, with no road closures or highway work that occurs every summer — is a wise use of those scant resources you cite as the reason for terminating the position?
"Over and beyond the idea of paying for travel time and expenses, this is not a job done well by remote control. One of the positive aspects of having a probation officer live in the community is that he" — I thought it was a female — "is known by and knows the individuals on probation. A resident officer has eyes and ears that are on duty even when not 'at work.' In a community our size, this is a powerful asset, one which will be lost with an officer who 'visits' Revelstoke one or two days a week.
"Perhaps this restructuring will look good on your books, but in the real day-to-day world, it may prove more costly in the long run. Perhaps, if in fact there are lower caseloads in Revelstoke, it may have to do with the fact that the local probation officer and watchful eyes from many people…. There is a great deterrent to crime. It is hard to prove this, but you may prove it by terminating the position.
"Your decision seems false economy and is one more insult to smaller communities. We are being forced to live with many frustrating examples of being 'controlled' from afar. Please reconsider your decision for the sake of our community."
It's signed Patricia Sieber. I ask the minister, if he hasn't a chance to read that e-mail, to take that into consideration thoroughly before proceeding with any decisions.
I'm going to turn it over to my colleague from Surrey-Tynehead, and when I return I will be proceeding with ICBC questions, so the day will go on, I hope.
D. Hayer: First of all, I want to thank the minister and his staff for allowing us the time when we are not in the House or we are not in estimates and for giving us all the information on the issues that our constituents have asked, providing us with that information so we can provide it to them. We normally don't have to wait for the estimates or to ask questions in the House.
Second, I want to thank the minister for keeping the funds from gaming flowing to our community organizations, such as the Surrey Rotary Club, Lions Club, Surrey Crime Prevention Society, Options, PICS and many other organizations in Surrey and other parts that do great work for the community. I appreciate the keeping of the funds for them. Please keep on giving them more money as they need it, and keep sharing your resources with them as you get more money.
I have four questions, and I will ask you one at a time. If you can help me out, I would really appreciate it. The first one is that Surrey was recently named the car theft capital of North America. Can the minister please tell me what plans are in place to combat this problem?
Hon. R. Coleman: First of all, let's start out by saying this. I don't particularly like it when public publications decide to define an entire community by something. A while back, because there had been a spike in property crime in Vancouver, somebody tried to characterize Vancouver as Miami north. Lately they've tried to characterize Surrey as the car theft capital of Canada or North America or whatever stat they wanted to use on any given day.
I don't actually like that because, frankly, let's be clear. Crime is not something that stops at the borders of an individual community. Crime is fluid. It works across borders. When you have success in one area, you'll oftentimes see a blip in another area where there's an increase. As recently as a week or two after that comment was made, somebody was referring to my community of Langley as the new auto theft capital after Surrey. Evidently, there had been a blip in stats in that community.
What I want to do is tell the member this: auto theft is a problem. It was about $160 million a year in 2002 — the cost of auto theft and theft from auto to the Insurance Corporation of B.C. That's a cost that every single person that buys basic insurance in British Columbia pays, and everybody has to buy the basic insurance. Most of the optional coverage is with ICBC as well. That's your comprehensive claims and all of that stuff. That's a huge cost. We've seen a huge increase in that.
[K. Stewart in the chair.]
What do we do about that? We have an integrated auto theft task force going across jurisdictions and
[ Page 9938 ]
communities with police. We have increased our prevention initiatives with regard to auto theft. We did an experiment in Vancouver a year and a half ago with bait cars. We found that when we put a bait car program into that community, we saw a 6 percent reduction in auto theft. It was about that time that Surrey saw about a 7 percent increase in auto theft. It's pretty understandable that if you're going to have a bait car program, you can't isolate it singularly to Vancouver.
What we've done is said we're now going to expand the bait car program across the region to 16 communities. The lower mainland will now be covered by the bait car program. As we get success there, we may actually find other communities elsewhere in the province where that program can be of benefit as well.
Having said all that, we are going to go after auto theft. We're going to have success, and frankly, it still comes down to the fact that at some point in time the criminal justice side of this equation has to come to the dance and understand the pressure that these types of crimes are having on our communities. When law enforcement in Surrey picks up somebody that has been charged or before them at least 30 previous times for auto theft and when they come in and go to the electronic justice of the peace program and that person is released that evening and a couple of hours later is involved in a high-speed chase — that individual again — something in the system isn't working.
There is not something on a continuum relative to the justice system that's actually working for that individual if they're at their thirtieth or fortieth time of doing this, so we need some assistance from our criminal justice branch. That's why, in the street crime initiative that the Attorney General started, we're trying to engage our provincial court judges and the other people in our judiciary and in our courts to understand that we need some other solutions rather than what is there if they're not working. We need to get to those solutions together.
We're doing bait car. We're doing the integrated auto theft team, and that's enhancing on top of what your local municipal police force is already doing — in your case, the RCMP in Surrey. We're going to work it in a coordinated manner, target our enforcement to statistics and push back on this thing.
D. Hayer: I know that our RCMP does a great job, and then ICBC. I know Nick Geer is here. They're doing a great job of giving us some extra funding to provide some of the programs, and I meet with many people from ICBC, who always help us out.
The second part of my question has to do with the grow ops. Grow operations and organized crime are becoming more and more of a problem in all parts of British Columbia, and they're also having an effect in my constituency. Can the minister tell me what is being done to deal with the problem of the grow ops?
Hon. R. Coleman: Again, grow ops, and I've said this before…. I actually had a discussion with a gentleman yesterday who was a marijuana advocate and who told me that I was wrong about the fact that marijuana is the basis of organized crime in British Columbia, that it's the cash flow for organized crime, that it trades kilo for kilo for cocaine in value across the border and that it is actually destroying communities because of the theft of power and all the rest of it. He actually told me I was wrong. Actually, he was more blunt than that.
He's wrong. Marijuana is a big problem. Marijuana grow ops are a big problem. For example, in the Fraser Valley this year, we'll do 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 grow ops. South of the border, right across the border in Whatcom County, they might do ten. Why is that? In British Columbia, with seven times with a grow op, you still may not get incarcerated. In Washington State on your first offence you're going to jail for three months, and they're seizing your assets. But if you have over a hundred plants, it's now five years in jail.
If you talk to state's Attorneys General down in Washington State, they'll tell you this. They'll say: "We know we can't stop everything to do with the grow op business and organized crime in our jurisdiction, but if we make our penalties so high, as high as we're doing, what they're going to do is go do business in British Columbia. And that's just okay with us." Well, it's not okay with me.
The bottom line on grow ops is that we have green teams. We have targeted enforcement. We are going after the assets of the people involved. We have a relationship with Hydro now that's better for police with regard to the theft of power. In addition to that, we're looking at the legislation for the civil forfeiture of the proceeds of crime, because when we start to find grow ops and we get this legislation in place and working, we intend to take those houses. We intend to take those assets, and we intend to go after the money of the people involved in crime in British Columbia. We are going to continue to give our police forces all the tools they need to do the job.
As we do that, the other initiative that's taking place is at the Provincial Court level, where the judges are actually having a dialogue with regard to how communities view their job. As the judges do that, we hope we'll also get some cooperation from the federal government at the federal prosecutor level to see some penalties that are reflective of the pressures that are on our communities.
D. Hayer: This is my last question. Actually, with some of the questions, the minister has answered them with his other answers.
My last part is when you talk about a revolving door. You have talked about how somehow these persons who have broken the law or have been in a grow op operation have been there ten times before they end up going to jail or before they get fined very seriously. These people who break into cars and steal cars are of all ages, and sometimes there's 15, 20 or 25 times that they've been charged. But at the same time, they're still doing the same things over and over again.
[ Page 9939 ]
You said part of the problem with the judiciary…. My constituents feel that some of the problems are with the judiciary in not sentencing long enough or hard enough so the sentence fits the crime. Do you have any suggestions on what my constituents can do or what the ministry is doing to send a message to the judiciary so they can help us with this problem and make it easier for all my constituents?
Hon. R. Coleman: Let's be clear, first of all. This isn't about the judiciary. It's about a criminal justice system that has to work. It's about the fact that maybe the federal drug prosecutor isn't presenting to the court the previous convictions and asking for stiffer penalties from a judge or putting the information in front of a judge with regard to the circumstances around a particular case. That may be the case. It may be that there is an agreement made between the two counsels with regards to sentencing and that kind of thing. I don't think you can lay this at the doorstep of anybody in particular.
We know that aggressive incarceration isn't in and of itself the long-term solution for a criminal justice system. We actually need to have some solutions. For instance, in the provincial jails today, about 90 percent of the people don't have a grade 12 education. Maybe you should start to look at some different solutions with regard to young offenders. Maybe a young offender that's a repetitive offender — 20 or 30 times, in examples we've had with auto theft — needs to go to a youth custody situation but have a measurement that determines when they leave — for instance, when you get your grade 12 education.
Maybe we have to look at the alternatives. I don't think our system of justice is serving our communities the way it should when we have these types of difficulties. We have to be able to actually step outside the box. Incarceration in some cases is important. Seizing of assets and going after the money is important with regard to organized crime. With regard to street crime, there are a number of things. It can be mental illness; it can be addiction issues. It can be combined with that. It could be an education problem. We have to start to do a better analysis of how we can get a package for an individual offender to actually get them rehabilitated and get them out of the cycle they're in with regard to crime. In some cases, that is incarceration. It's not just incarcerating and warehousing people. It's when you incarcerate and make sure you've got the services for them with regard to rehabilitation.
V. Roddick: I'd like to thank the minister for those comments. I think that's a really positive idea.
My question today is on port policing in Delta South. The initial upgrade of Roberts Bank…. I know that the federal port police have been discontinued. When the first upgrade happened with the Vancouver Port Corporation in Roberts Bank, they contributed towards having extra policemen, for so many years, on the Delta police force. The funding has now ceased.
Plans are afoot for at least tripling the size of Delta Port. Knowing the minister's outlook on drugs and organized crime, what measures are being looked at to assist the Delta police force to deal with this added responsibility and the overall safety of the community at large?
Hon. R. Coleman: Actually, the member has identified a concern that we've had for a while — that is, with regard to not just the security but also the policing of our ports. In the most recent federal budget — because ports services are a federal responsibility — they have announced funding for increasing the security in our ports. They're starting a section of RCMP officers that will be concentrating on some port security and investigation sites. They're going to, as I understand, increase the technology to actually track some of the things coming into it. The ports do actually contribute some to law enforcement. That particular port does. It goes to our Organized Crime Agency, which is our integrated unit now — or will be. That actually funds intelligence-gathering, which is used to target the patterns of organized crime in and out of our ports. Then we enhance that with our own investigative abilities with our group.
We don't know when the funding is coming, how it's going to be structured or how soon. We know some of it has come already with regard to starting the section. We look forward to the minister following through with regard to her commitment to ports.
Having said that, we also have to start to get some real answers with regard to the security fee being collected from airline passengers. A recent report came out and identified that criminal records and activities are still a problem with regard to people who are working in our airports as far as the security checks are concerned.
There are number of issues there that are on the table that I will certainly be discussing with the minister at the next justice ministers' meeting, and I will be communicating with her to make sure there's a follow-through on the port security site.
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, we're moving to ICBC, but I do have other questions. We can't pass this vote because I have other questions for the Solicitor General on his vote, but we can move to ICBC now.
Hon. R. Coleman: Oh, sure.
J. MacPhail: Yeah. Thanks.
Hon. R. Coleman: Just because we've had a change of staff again, I have with me here Nick Geer, the president and CEO of ICBC; Anwar Chaudhry, corporate comptroller; and Lindsay Matthew, corporate manager of policy from ICBC.
J. MacPhail: Welcome to the ICBC people.
[ Page 9940 ]
I want to start today with the report released, I think it was this morning or earlier this week, from the office of the auditor general. It's called Building Better Reports. It's a review of the '02-03 annual service plan reports of government. The reason why I want to start with this is not to catch anybody out, but it is the basis on which we, those of us who ask questions…. The service plans are the basis upon which we ask questions.
This was the auditor general trying to get all of us to move on to build good reports that we can actually use. I went immediately to the Insurance Corporation of B.C. in preparation for today. I have not had a chance to look at the other reports, so I'm not in any way suggesting that ICBC is better or worse than anybody else. I just want to deal with the report as it talks about ICBC.
In terms of the performance reporting principles, there are three levels that the auditor general has set up under "Stage of Development." I'll read what he says: "Our assessment of each of the reports is summarized by reporting principles. The comments we provide are intended to simply highlight some of the positive aspects of reporting and some of the areas where improvement could be made."
For ICBC the four stages of development are: fully incorporated, fundamentals in place, in process and startup. The first one is sort of the best rank and then on down. For ICBC, under "Public purpose served," their report is listed as in process. "Linking goals and results" is in process. Again, this is the '02-03 service plan. "A few critical aspects" is in process. "Risk and capacity" is in process. "Linking resources, strategy and results" is in process. "Comparative information" is fundamentals are in place. "Disclosed key reporting judgments" is in process.
I'm wondering: based on this, what changes, if any, can the Insurance Corporation identify for us about changes they have made since '02-03 in their service plan?
Hon. R. Coleman: The corporation has taken them very seriously. They've met with Crown agencies secretariat. They've also sat down with the auditor general and have incorporated the changes into this year's service plan and made changes as recommended, because it was one of the concerns relative to benchmarks in the service plan.
J. MacPhail: Okay, good.
One of the things I was interested in, in terms of this auditor general's report, was around "Linking resources, strategies and results." I'm just reading from the auditor general's report at page 78: "The report presented summary financial performance information, including a description of ICBC's revenue sources. Variances from expected financial ratios are also explained in the report." Then the auditor general goes on to say: "To improve in this area of reporting, the corporation needs to include more budget information to help the reader interpret financial variances. As well, ICBC needs to explain how its resources link to its goals, objectives, strategies and the results it has achieved."
I'm interested in this because my next questions are going to be on rate increases.
Hon. R. Coleman: There have been a number of things the corporation has done with regard to that. They've put more budget info into the annual report, which is going to be released shortly. The benchmarking they've done actually ties back to the resources and goals strategy and results that the member mentions. They're before the B.C. Utilities Commission as we speak with regard to how benchmarking and…. Those resources, etc., that the member has identified, as I understand it, are being discussed now with the BCUC.
J. MacPhail: Okay. That's good. I'll be interested to see the changes that the auditor general reports on at the next assessment, because he is going to continue along this path. We at the Public Accounts Committee, on which I sit, take this seriously. We appreciate the efforts by the auditor general. For those of us who are exploring issues but are not part of the government, we rely on this kind of information. I appreciate the commitment of ICBC to take them just as seriously.
My initial questions are for background leading up to talking about the submission to the B.C. Utilities Commission about a rate increase, so that's where they come from. Can the minister outline for me what rate increases there have been in ICBC since his government came into office?
Hon. R. Coleman: As the member will remember, in 2002 there was a 7.4 percent increase after a number of years of a rate freeze. In 2003 the basic rates for private cars went up by 1.4 percent, which was less than inflation. In 2003 the overall rate increase of 4.8 percent was mainly for commercial rates, which were underpriced in the optional and competitive market. There was an increase of 0.4 percent to cover the increase in premium tax, basically, on January 1, 2004. Neither basic nor optional rates from ICBC are going up otherwise.
J. MacPhail: For '04. That premium tax increase, the 0.4 percent, is a tax the provincial government puts on insurance. Am I correct? ICBC is passing that tax, which is imposed by the provincial government, through to the consumer?
Hon. R. Coleman: For years there has been a 4 percent premium tax that's been remitted by insurance companies, including ICBC, to government on a premium tax. That went up by 0.4 percent on January 1, and that's the 0.4 percent. Yes, it gets remitted to government by all insurers.
J. MacPhail: Okay, but this corporation is passing the tax through to the consumer. It is a tax that's di-
[ Page 9941 ]
rectly passed through, and it is a tax increase by the Liberal government that affects not only this area but the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia rates.
If my memory serves me correctly, the fiscal year for the Insurance Corporation of B.C. is the calendar year. Everybody's nodding. I hoped my memory hadn't failed me. The profit or the net income for ICBC in 2002 was $45 million. The net income for 2003 is $225 million. As I recall, it had been several years with a net income to report prior to that as well.
I was always taken aback when the current Minister of Finance used to just berate me for our previous government's giving back…. The shareholders — the ratepayers — of ICBC got the dividend back from net income from ICBC surplus. I never understood why he berated us for that. I guess he… Oh, I know what it was. He accused us of it being an election ploy. However, with us doing that — returning that money to the ratepayers — it didn't result in ICBC ever going into a deficit position, so it did seem to me the right thing to do.
If you get a lot of money and have big profits, you perhaps should return it to those people who actually contributed to those profits. And it's not a matter of all British Columbians being in that situation, because not all British Columbians are ratepayers under ICBC. I've never understood the current Minister of Finance's point of view on that.
We have three profitable years — '01, '02 and '03. What is ICBC going to the BCUC for in terms of a rate increase? I understand they're asking for a 3 percent rate increase.
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm not going to get into the politics of this. I'm almost tempted to say that I have two Crown corporations that seem to be doing very well. I wish my own businesses did that well when I was in private practice.
In 2001, not including the dividend that was given back to taxpayers, there was a loss of $250 million by ICBC. There are four main reasons for the improvement of the bottom line over what was anticipated in the original forecast. Revenues are up by $51 million due to increased coverage purchased and no loss of market share. There was a concern with regard to the market share as other people came into the market.
The number of claims reported was down over the prior year, which was not anticipated, resulting in a saving of over $44 million. That was good news. Frankly, one of the by-products of last summer — we had dry weather, and we had fires — was that we paid it on one side, and on the other side we didn't have as many accident claims, so our insurance company did better.
Costs were kept under control and came in at $60 million less than anticipated. Costs in 2003 were $160 million less than the costs in the year 2000. Deferred acquisition costs produced a positive adjustment due to the positive results of the company, resulting in a net improvement of $27 million.
Our concern for ICBC is…. What we're trying to achieve are ICBC reserves for future claims and costs. They are in good shape, and they have been for some time. We're happy with that. ICBC needs to build its retained earnings and capital reserves to a level similar to the insurance industry's to withstand fluctuations in the insurance market and unexpected events and to make sure it is there for its customers when they need it without having to call on government. The reserves had been depleted in the past as a result of some of the issues with regard to the corporation. I don't want to get into those.
That's the outline as to where they are today. Moving forward, I think they need to…. Once they get past where they build their reserves and what have you, then there could be a discussion about whether there is a dividend to taxpayers after that, but at this point, they need to build their reserves for fluctuations and changes in the insurance market.
J. MacPhail: How many customers does ICBC have today? And how has that changed over the last two years?
Hon. R. Coleman: The company today has on the basic insurance, which is the…. Everybody buys their basic insurance from ICBC. In 1999 there were 2.572 million customers, and in 2003 there were 2.75 million. It has been a graduated increase over a five-year span, from 2.572 million to 2.614 million to 2.661 million to 2.705 million and 2.75 million. We anticipate about a 1.6 percent increase in automobiles next year.
ICBC has stayed pretty constant as to its market share of the optional market, which is around 85 percent of the market. About 85 percent of those customers would buy their optional insurance from ICBC.
J. MacPhail: The reason why I ask that question is that I was just reading about Canadian Direct selling to Canadian Western Bank. They announced that earlier this month. Of course, Canadian Direct Insurance is one of the big optional insurance providers in British Columbia. It was owned by HSBC Bank Canada.
They, of course, say their sale had nothing to do with ICBC's continuing monopoly of compulsory auto liability insurance, but they were a big seller of optional insurance. I'm wondering what discussions are going on with ICBC and the minister about government meeting its promise to make the industry more competitive.
[G. Trumper in the chair.]
Hon. R. Coleman: Canadian Direct had 65,000 policies. Just for comparison for the member, ICBC has 2.3 million policies with regard to the optional insurance. Canadian Direct was not the largest competitor in the optional field. That is ING. We don't know their numbers — we know these numbers because it was sold — but we suspect it's still under 100,000 policies that they
[ Page 9942 ]
would have out of the marketplace. So ING would be the larger of the two. It would be the largest other optional insurer in B.C.
With regard to the second part of the member's question, as she knows, there has been some legislation passed, and we're working through a regulatory process with regard to ICBC and some discussions. Those haven't been completed. There are some discussions still to take place with the B.C. Utilities Commission and the regulator, as we go through it, and those aren't complete as yet.
J. MacPhail: Do the private insurers that provide optional automobile coverage have to go to the B.C. Utilities Commission for rate changes?
Hon. R. Coleman: No, they don't. That has been one of the issues as we sort of whack through this issue with regard to the optional insurance. Everybody buys their basic from ICBC in B.C., but the optional insurance market is not regulated for the other insurers that would be in the marketplace.
J. MacPhail: Does ICBC have to go to BCUC for optional insurance coverage rate increases?
Hon. R. Coleman: The corporation doesn't go on the optional to BCUC with regard to rates either. They go with regard to how they're basically dealing in the marketplace and those regulatory processes relative to the corporation, as I understand it.
J. MacPhail: Let me just get the timing of this straight. When does ICBC make its first submission to BCUC, and what will be the range of submission? Is it just about rate increases, or is it about the regulatory regime on how those rates are applied?
Hon. R. Coleman: On February 27 the corporation made a presentation to BCUC with regard to benchmark performance measures and a proposal on what they're prepared to share on the basic information to BCUC, which they would then share with the industry and with the public. If there was a discussion about a rate increase in 2005, that submission would not go until July.
J. MacPhail: I take it from the minister's comments earlier that there is no rate increase for '04 being asked for, other than what he has just put on record.
How did that hearing go? It is a new process. What was the hearing like? Or was it just a submission? Sorry. The benchmarks were a submission. Here's the reason why I ask that question. ICBC is a competitive commercial corporation. Are there restrictions on who can attend and hear?
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm going to try to read my chicken-scratch and get through this cycle correctly.
You make a submission on February 27. Anybody can register as an intervener with the B.C. Utilities Commission, and they're provided with a copy of the submission. There is then an oral hearing held, which was held about two weeks ago, and all of those interveners can attend. The interveners and BCUC then make written requests with regard to what information they would like from ICBC, and ICBC has two weeks to respond. They have just received that request.
J. MacPhail: Were there many interveners? Can the minister give me an example of who may have intervened?
Hon. R. Coleman: There were more than eight interveners. One was the OPEIU, which is the union that represents the employees of ICBC; the IBC; CDI; ING; Pemberton Insurance and two other insurance companies that would be competitors of ICBC in the optional; the BCF; a public advocacy group; and — I don't know whether I've got the organization right — the Chiropractic Association.
J. MacPhail: In the submission of performance measures…. I must say that the website for ICBC has all of this information on it, so I do know about this information, but I'm putting it on record for the debate. I also would say that the information is easily found on the website for ICBC.
One of the things I have trouble understanding is…. The legislative changes that were introduced and passed in the fall of 2003 have what effect on performance measures for ICBC? Was any of that legislative change part of the submission made to the B.C. Utilities Commission?
Hon. R. Coleman: The legislation last fall has not yet been proclaimed, so it has had no impact on any of this process to date. Previous legislation did, though, empower the BCUC to look at the basic insurance.
J. MacPhail: Okay.
But the legislation affects more than just…. The B.C. Utilities Commission's first rulings will be on performance measures, without regard to the legislation that has not yet been proclaimed. I think it's Bill 33. Is that the bill number?
J. MacPhail: Bill 93. My apologies. Bill 93 was introduced and passed but not proclaimed in November of this past year, November 2003.
Once Bill 93 is proclaimed, will the corporation have to make further submissions to the BCUC?
Hon. R. Coleman: We're working on the regulations for that legislation to get it proclaimed. At this time, we're not sure…. We're in discussions with regard to how those regulations should look and how
[ Page 9943 ]
they should work with regard to discussions between the ministry responsible for the legislation and my ministry and ICBC. We're not there yet. We're not at the point where we could bring forward the regulations that fit in with a practical business model and the BCUC. That's what we're working on now.
J. MacPhail: Okay. On the basis of the minister's answer, I'm not going to ask any questions, then, around the effect of Bill 93. Can I just confirm, though, that there has been no change in ICBC as a result of any of the intentions of Bill 93?
Hon. R. Coleman: That's correct.
J. MacPhail: Just to finish on the issue of rate increases. Is the corporation planning on proceeding in July to ask for a rate increase?
Hon. R. Coleman: We don't know that yet. They've been working through the claims procedure information they have, and they won't have that information until May. At that point, they would make that determination.
J. MacPhail: Let me just read from the website of the corporation, the ICBC website. I'll read it. This we pulled off today — wow. "Background information. 2004 basic rate application." This is under the header "BCUC Submissions." It says: "As a result of the provincial government's core services review decision regarding ICBC, basic insurance rates will now be approved by the B.C. Utilities Commission. This application represents the first application before the commission by ICBC for approval of 2004 basic rates and will ensure the goals of openness and transparency are met."
Then at the bottom there's a message from the president and chair. It says: "This application proposes a minimal rate increase of 1.3 percent to ICBC's basic rates, comprised of 0.4 percent to cover the rate of premium taxes, which comes into effect on January 1, 2004, and a further 0.9 percent to cover increases in net new external costs. The commission will not set rates for ICBC operational coverage…."
So the '04 application to the commission is for a 2.1 percent rate increase.
Hon. R. Coleman: That information off the Net refers to the submission that was made in the summer of '03 coming into effect on January 1, '04. The member is correct: the request that was made was for a 1.3 percent increase. The B.C. Utilities Commission did not give the corporation the 0.9; hence, only the 0.4 is on January 1.
J. MacPhail: All right. My apologies. We're all just going through this for the first time, so I'm just trying to figure it out.
The corporation has not yet made a determination whether to ask for a further rate increase, and that decision will be made later. But if the decision is made for the corporation to go for a rate increase, those submissions and hearings will be held — in July of '04?
Hon. R. Coleman: My understanding is that the submission would go in July and that the hearings would be in August, September, October and, possibly, into November.
J. MacPhail: There was some alarm raised in the summer, the past summer — and I'm raising this issue because we haven't had estimates since then — that Bill 58, introduced by the Liberal government, would force ICBC to charge more to seniors. The government was proposing amendments that would allow for age-based premiums, but it's my understanding that's no longer the case. Could the minister bring us up to speed on whether there are proposals, either through Bill 93 or Bill 58, that would allow for age-based premiums?
Hon. R. Coleman: Obviously, the basic stays the same. There are no proposed changes with regard to seniors or age-based on the insurance side. Technically, there has always been that ability, but the corporation has always had this relationship with its customer. BCUC also, because sometimes we get challenged on some of this stuff, actually allows the corporation to have a discount for seniors and disabled people, so if somebody wanted to challenge the competitive advantage, I guess you could say, BCUC has allowed that. There's no proposal to make any changes to that.
J. MacPhail: Will a new driver — and I'm sorry, I'm not using these terms in relation to the graduated licensing program — who is buying her insurance for the first time, because she has no driving record, have higher or lower insurance rates than if she had purchased that insurance in the year 2000 as a new driver?
Hon. R. Coleman: Just so the member knows, age is irrelevant in this discussion. A new driver could be whatever age.
If they have a clean driving record, they would start out at a zero percent discount. Each year they have a clean driving record going forward, they receive a 5 percent discount for each year until they reach the maximum discount of 40 percent. If they go the other way — which is, have accidents and bad driving records, particularly claims ratios, because it's all related to claims experience — they would go down; their discount would become a negative. Based on driving record, it can go up or down. Everybody starts at the same.
About five to seven years ago it used to be that you could get 10 percent a year for a clean driving record. That was changed five to seven years ago to 5 percent.
J. MacPhail: Yes, I was party to that change.
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Okay. I guess what I'm going to accept is that there is no discrimination based on age in setting insurance rates in this province.
Hon. R. Coleman: That's on age, sex or marital status.
J. MacPhail: Yes, fine. Thanks.
Graduated licence changes. I have to divide myself in half here, because I wholly support the graduated licence changes. I'm getting a lot of feedback about it at home, but nevertheless, I support it.
Hon. R. Coleman: How old is Jack now?
J. MacPhail: He's 15½; my son is 15½. Of course, there were the other reasons why he wouldn't be getting his driver's licence as well — without change. I'm sure he'll correct those problems.
There is the issue that I have heard from driving instructors. Bear with me on this. We have heard from some driver instructors that the recent change in the graduated licensing program that increases the learner stage from the current six months to one year has actually had an impact on driver training. As I understand it, under the old graduated licence rules one could actually get credit, as a learner driver, for three months' reprieve on moving to the N stage from the L stage, but now one has to wait for an additional six months to get your N stage. In other words, it takes a year now to get your N designation, with or without driver training, and in the past it would take nine months to get your driver training N stage — or maybe this is both with driver training. Maybe the minister would like to clarify what exactly the changes are.
Hon. R. Coleman: There were some issues with regard to the driver training companies. We met with them, and we did fix a number of things that they had concerns about, one of them being the time frame in which the course had to take place. They wanted to extend the 120-day maximum course length because we had extended the learner period. We've allowed that to happen.
The other issue the member mentions is that if you get a learner's today and you take driver training, you still get the three-month credit. They would like to see that as a six-month credit — half the period of time for driver training.
The research on driver training and its effectiveness is inconclusive. In some of the studies that have been done in some jurisdictions, it actually shows that those who take driver training have a worse driving record than those who don't. In some of the younger drivers we attribute that to maybe getting confidence too soon and then getting the freedom too soon.
What we said to the industry is that we are doing an assessment of the courses ICBC has approved in driver training over the period of time we've had them in place to see whether those numbers are different. If that actually shows us that the driver training approved by us does improve driver performance, then we would review that three-month number.
J. MacPhail: How recently did those discussions occur with driver trainers?
Hon. R. Coleman: Two to three months ago. We made those changes after having some discussions with the different driving schools, which ICBC conducted.
J. MacPhail: Yesterday we had discussions about the people in the car accompanying a novice driver having to be sober. I'm wondering whether ICBC has done any studies around that and the effect it has.
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm confirming what I said to the member yesterday. ICBC has done no studies with regard to a person who has a driver's licence but has an N, which basically means they have a driver's licence and a passenger restriction. Today, on the new graduated licence side, in most studies with regard to the passengers being impaired, the N stage is geared to the driver having zero tolerance on alcohol. If a parent were to phone up somebody with an N on their licence, which means they do have a driver's licence, and have them pick them up because they didn't want to drive home, that would probably be a good thing. However, I did confirm that in the L stage — the learner's stage — the person giving the instruction or supervision cannot be intoxicated, because they're in care and control, and there would be charges relative to that.
J. MacPhail: Can the minister tell me the role ICBC plays in CounterAttack in terms of funding participation? What other programs does ICBC currently have in place to discourage and stop people driving while drunk?
Hon. R. Coleman: CounterAttack. The road checks that you see and will continue to see — and actually see enhanced because of the MOU between ICBC, which transfers the money for the policing side of it, and the enforcement side to the ministry — will continue to be conducted. It will be backed up by the education advertising and the broker program that ICBC presently has and will continue to do that and to enhance that, along with the law enforcement activity.
They've also launched a music video for young people and are looking at other tools for young people with regard to alcohol and drinking and driving for an education aspect of this. They still do about $9 million in engineering with municipalities based on accident statistics for improvements in certain intersections and roads with regard to that.
J. MacPhail: I've seen those videos. I think one of them was actually produced by a school in my riding, and they're excellent.
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ICBC remains committed to CounterAttack, I take it, which is good news. What about targeted traffic enforcement? The minister just mentioned it. There was a story printed in October of last year saying that government is looking at hiring as many as 100 new police officers who will form a provincewide traffic enforcement unit and, at the same time, is considering boosting speed limits. Can the minister comment on that?
Hon. R. Coleman: Yes, I can. That's the memorandum of understanding, and I don't know if the member was here when I described it yesterday. The memorandum of understanding allows for the funding, the $13 million to $15 million a year that ICBC spends on the targeted enforcement and CounterAttack, to be transferred to the ministry for direct policing into an integrated traffic unit, which will do targeted enforcement, CounterAttack and other traffic issues with regard to how the traffic stats are identified — for us to do certain targeted enforcement.
The reason for that is we had been paying overtime to police officers on their days off to come in and do these functions in addition to their duties to municipalities. What we want to do, obviously, is get the best value for the dollar. By moving it to the ministry and making that part of the provincial force, we can have an integrated traffic unit that does this type of thing with 70- cent dollars. We'll get the same amount of money that ICBC's spending, but for that we will get a number of additional police officers who we'll put on the street full time. We will also do the targeted enforcement using provincial dollars — the provincial traffic side of it — because we'll get a better effect for that.
We actually started this process, the discussion with ICBC, about a year ago, prior to ICBC moving to the ministry. We think the best way to target the target enforcement is use our provincial traffic unit and its stats, use the municipal traffic units and their stats, enhance them with additional personnel to do targeted enforcement and CounterAttack, and do it in such a way that we're getting a lot more results for the dollars we're spending.
J. MacPhail: Has there been any change in speed limits? Is there any discussion going on about changing speed limits?
Hon. R. Coleman: There was a report done by a consultant for the Minister of Transportation. I have read the report. The previous minister and I did not get a chance to sit down. The present minister and I have not sat down with regard to the report. The report reviews traffic speeds in British Columbia. It does make some recommendations with regard to some — not very many — corridors where speed limits could be increased and some where they might need to be considerably reduced. There has been no discussion or decision on that.
We will eventually get to where we will sit down and discuss that report. It's not a high priority. Obviously, speed is a concern. Whatever happened, even with the report and after the discussion with the minister, I would want to sit down with the provincial traffic unit and the law enforcement community prior to us ever considering any changes.
J. MacPhail: There has been quite a bit of reporting on a recent crackdown on driver licensing fraud. I'm wondering whether the minister could update us on its origin, and what is happening in that area. What has it meant for the ordinary British Columbian?
Hon. R. Coleman: It doesn't have any effect on the average person with regard to a driver's licence in British Columbia. What it is, is that the SI unit, the special investigation unit of ICBC, received some information — I'm not sure what the source was — with regard to a driving school in Richmond. That twigged something with the investigators, who started to conduct an investigation and also engaged the RCMP in the investigation.
What appears to have been happening is that a particular driving school, in a relationship with somebody working in the motor vehicle branch — without drivers' tests and without testing at all — was actually managing to get people driver's licences by paying a substantial fee to the driving school, and then some money was perhaps going to the individual.
It's all under investigation. A report will go to Crown with regard to any criminal charges. ICBC will also vigorously pursue the issue civilly, because it's not acceptable to us that there would be any opportunity for a driving school, or anybody else, to think they could buy a driver's licence in British Columbia without going through the proper testing.
J. MacPhail: The SIU has an ongoing investigation; the minister says that. Is there a time line for conclusion? Is there an anticipated change in the rules? Is there any requirement for a change in rules?
Hon. R. Coleman: No, none on the change of rules. This really goes to the honesty of an employee that may have a fraudulent relationship with a company.
We are going to pursue this investigation in every direction it takes us. If it takes us to other situations…. We will basically be reviewing all the people that have had a driver's licence issued to them by the particular driver examiner in question. We will be reviewing those with regard to whether they actually did take driving tests or whether they're part of this situation.
Anybody that is part of the situation is having their driver's licence revoked and is having to start back at the basic learner's stage with regard to their driver's licence. They will have to go through the normal process that any other person that's a new driver in B.C. would go through.
The investigation is by ICBC's special investigation unit, and it also led to an undercover operation involving the Richmond RCMP and E division. It has uncov-
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ered some evidence with regard to this. There were some arrests made, and there are some cancellations with regard to the licence of the driving school. We will be pursuing it to the absolute fullest extent on all ends of this with regard to this type of activity.
J. MacPhail: Did the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia receive any payment from the government as a result of its recent occupation of the Surrey centre to establish the Simon Fraser University campus in Surrey?
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm familiar with this situation, so I'm going to walk it back to the member. I know where her next question might lead, so I might as well answer both at the same time.
Simon Fraser paid $34 million for 280,000 square feet at the Surrey centre for the campus. When ICBC wrote down the building and the Tech B.C. lease was cancelled, Tech B.C., which was government, paid $41 million to ICBC for the cancellation of the lease and the costs that went into it. If they hadn't done that and written down the building, we wouldn't have been in an economic situation to actually offer the space for $34 million to Simon Fraser.
The actual construction cost of the space that Simon Fraser has bought — and that's just the construction cost alone — was $82 million, so the $41 million and the $34 million that they purchased the space for still doesn't cover what the actual construction costs of the space were. The $82 million that was the actual construction cost of that space…. ICBC took another $41 million write-off on that.
To cover it the best way I can, yes, $41 million went back to ICBC on the Tech B.C. cancellation of the lease. Then the building was written down. It was brought into a marketable state, because the type of space built and the cost of the building it didn't fit the marketplace.
Then it was stratified, and Simon Fraser had an interest in purchasing the 280,000 square feet. They bought that for $34 million, to put the university there. By stratifying, we've actually now made the building…. The way we've structured the building itself, it's still not great-performing real estate, but it's not costing us the money that it was before.
J. MacPhail: What's the assessed value of the real estate — the latest, the '03, assessed value of the building — of which ICBC is the owner?
Hon. R. Coleman: I don't have the appraised value here today. The assessed value of the entire building for the municipality is $85 million. The budget for construction, including the mall, on this project was $256 million. They came in $28 million under that budget, so it cost $228 million to build the building. The assessed value is at $85 million. The write-downs — the $100 million write-down and the $41 million write-down — were both provided by external appraisals as to the amount of write-down that had to take place on the building. We had a very expensive building that didn't have the market value of the construction costs put into it.
J. MacPhail: Are the people who are actually of the real estate arm at ICBC and who planned that building still with ICBC?
Hon. R. Coleman: No, they're not.
J. MacPhail: When did they depart?
Hon. R. Coleman: I understand the president of that company was let go last summer. There is still a subsidiary company that owns the building. The development arm was wound down last year, as was the real estate arm.
J. MacPhail: Was any severance paid?
Hon. R. Coleman: That is actually a matter of a civil dispute right now, and it's before the courts.
J. MacPhail: I'm sorry; the firings or the departure took place in '03, and there's now a lawsuit filed around severance.
Hon. R. Coleman: I misspoke. It's not a matter of a suit right now; it's under debate between the lawyers. It hasn't gone to a civil suit yet.
J. MacPhail: The separation, the parting of ways, occurred in the summer of 2003 — is that correct? — two years after this government took over.
Hon. R. Coleman: Correct.
J. MacPhail: How much of the Surrey centre is now…. How many square metres, or whatever the correct quantitative measure is, of the building is now owned by ICBC, and how much of that space is rented — with ICBC as the landlord, I assume?
Hon. R. Coleman: The tower and the galleria, which is one part of the project, is 60 percent either sold or leased. The mall is about 70 percent leased.
J. MacPhail: How does that compare to occupancy rates in Surrey, generally, of the equivalent kind of space?
Hon. R. Coleman: Not well. It's actually below the norm for that marketplace. We have an aggressive lease-up program going. We have J.P. Morgan who, as the member knows, has now gone in there. We have some other potential tenants, which are always potential tenants. This is approximately one million square
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feet — actually 862,000 square feet of space — in the class A office tower in a marketplace that would traditionally use about 50,000 square feet a year. It's going to take a pretty aggressive marketing scheme to lease up the balance of this building.
J. MacPhail: What is the commercial vacancy rate in Surrey?
Hon. R. Coleman: There was a day when I actually could have given you that answer, but no longer. I will get you the number on what the commercial vacancy rate is in Surrey, but I'll get you the number exclusive of this space. I would suspect this space would skew the number for the commercial vacancy space. We'll get someone like Colliers or somebody to give us that number, and we'll get it to you.
J. MacPhail: That's fine, Madam Chair. I'm just interested in the facts. That's all.
When do the collective agreements of ICBC expire?
Hon. R. Coleman: It's just one union contract with ICBC. It's the OPEIU, and it expired on June 30 last year.
J. MacPhail: What's the status of negotiations?
Hon. R. Coleman: Neither party is presently at the table.
J. MacPhail: Does anyone have a strike or lockout mandate?
Hon. R. Coleman: The union has a strike mandate, and the company has a lockout mandate.
J. MacPhail: I assume both of those mandates are current and haven't expired. I assume, given the answer that both have a mandate, that that's the situation.
Hon. R. Coleman: That is correct.
J. MacPhail: I don't in any way expect the minister to show his hand in negotiations, but is anyone at the LRB involved? Is there a conciliation process — a mediation process that is contemplated or has failed or is on hold?
That's it. I'm done. That's it for me.
Hon. R. Coleman: First of all, I won't show my hand, because I don't have a hand to show. I don't have any involvement at all in any of the negotiations with the labour agreement. Obviously, that's up to the Crown. This went to mediation twice and failed both times, and at this point in time, there is no process in place.
D. Jarvis: I'd like to ask a few questions with regard to ICBC, just a couple that I have here. One is on the recently tabled service plan projecting to lose money in 2005 and 2006. I was wondering how they arrived at these projections, knowing also that there was increased competition. Their plan really wasn't clear as to how they expected to arrive at and protect themselves with these projections. I was wondering if he could give us an answer on that aspect.
Hon. R. Coleman: This is as a result of trying to define the marketplace as we go through the new regulatory process with regard to the optional insurance. To be conservative, the company projected a 5 percent market loss in each of those years to the private marketplace, to their competitors. Our experience this past year shows us that that's probably not going to happen, because we actually didn't, even with increased competition, lose any significant market share, which will affect those numbers going forward.
The other part of the equation is that we base our projections on historical claims ratios. We've seen a significant improvement in claim ratio last year. We don't know if that's a blip or whether it's an improvement. Those numbers could change quite easily over the next year, but we've actually done the projections based on a longer period of time of claim ratio, to be conservative.
D. Jarvis: I'm not quite sure whether the minister has said there will not be a deficit or a projected loss in those years or not, but I assume that it's unacceptable for our Crown corporations to run deficits. At the same time you project the deficits. I wondered how you can do that.
Hon. R. Coleman: The member is correct, except we can't adjust that until we actually get a couple years and some statistics that are ongoing out toward '05-06. Obviously, the Crown does not want to lose money, but if we have a year like we did last year and we're seeing an improvement in the claims ratio, that will affect the '05-06 numbers. When we do this, we actually do it based on no rate increases because we're actually basing it on the fact that market share and all of that would then be brought into the equation with regard to the B.C. Utilities Commission's submission that may be made in the spring of '05, '06 or '07. The corporation is going to adjust accordingly.
As the member knows, in insurance you have your costs in line on your operations side, you have your revenues, and then the thing you don't necessarily have control over is your claims. If we actually get the success in the claims that we have, we will not have a problem in '05-06. If we get a blip in our claims or that was a blip this past year, then we are looking at having difficulty in that year with regard to claims, and we would probably have to go to the B.C. Utilities Commission. Actually, if it's optional, we don't have to go to the Utilities Commission; if it's basic, we have to go to the Utilities Commission.
D. Jarvis: The member for Vancouver-Hastings brought up the question of Bill 93. That legislation
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hasn't been proclaimed yet, and this, ostensibly, stemmed from, I believe, the core review. I would assume that the Crown corporation is supportive of that bill and all its aims. ICBC is on record as saying to the B.C. Utilities Commission that due to the fact that the bill hasn't been proclaimed, the corporation's under no legal obligation to follow the provisions set out in it.
My question is double-barrelled: does ICBC support the aims and objectives of Bill 93, and if so, are they committed to the spirit of the legislation in the sense that they are…? You've got to note that the legislation…. The prohibition of age, sex and marital status rating has never been proclaimed. But ICBC has no trouble adopting this as a corporate policy. I was wondering if you could give me some reasoning for that.
Hon. R. Coleman: We will, as a corporation, abide by the law and the regulations when they become law. Obviously, there is nothing to bind them to Bill 93 at this point in time, because it hasn't been proclaimed. But there is some work to be done here, and we're doing that work. The Ministry of Finance, I believe, has the legislation, and the Crown corporation needs to have a level playing field if they're going to be able to deal with the issues of members outlying with regard to market share. If the rules are going to be one way for the corporation and a different way for the rest of the industry, we have a concern about that. If the rules are the same on optional for both the industry and for the corporation, we think, frankly, that regime would work fine. Obviously, the basic is staying in the hands of the corporation, so that basic insurance is provided by ICBC.
There are some things that this regulatory process could change, and that is, instead of a customer as they come in today getting a policy that's got the optional and the basic in it, the broker network would have to have two contracts — one which would be an optional contract and another which would be the basic contract.
Those are issues we're working through with the people in the Ministry of Finance to make sure that the regulations are actually workable for the industry and for the corporation. That hasn't been finalized. I think we're close to getting where we need to get to, to make this fair to the parties involved and would allow this thing to move forward. At that point in time I would support the regulations and the proclamation of the act — the regulations to cabinet. At this stage we're still in the working phase between my ministry, the corporation, the board of the corporation and the Ministry of Finance staff.
D. Jarvis: Maybe the last question here. The service plan also noted that the cost of BI, or bodily injury, claims was up more than 10 percent over the year before — somewhat higher than the cost of living. The trend towards high costs on bodily injury has been prevalent in both the private sector and ICBC.
This is going to put tremendous pressure on premiums. What specific measures does ICBC plan to take to cut down on the escalating — you know, everything's going up — costs of bodily injury claims?
Hon. R. Coleman: I guess there's no secret that the North American insurance market is having some significant difficulties. We actually live in the only tort environment in this country, in Canada, where there is not legislation limiting claims or things like no-fault or whatever. We don't actually see that changing. The good news is that the number of claims have actually gone down, which has actually balanced off the 10 percent increase in injury claims.
I jokingly said: "Don't drive and don't have accidents would help us a lot," but that's still going to happen in any environment we're in. We have made some adjustments that will actually affect that going forward. We used to write third-party liability up to $15 million for private insurance; now we only write up to $5 million. On the commercial side, we have reduced it to: we won't go past a maximum of $10 million on the liability side. So, we're actually reducing our risk on the out by reducing the amount of liability coverage we'll actually write.
D. Jarvis: My last question to the Solicitor General was spawned by your answer. That was the question of tort.
There are rumours going around that the Attorney General is contemplating some changes to the law of civil liability and so on. I'm in a position where I should be asking you: have the Solicitor General and/or the Attorney General in combination with the Minister of Finance given any consideration to reviving the no-fault insurance aspect in this province?
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm not involved in the civil liability review. I think it's an interesting topic for the Attorney General's ministry. If he wishes to engage the Finance ministry in that, too, that's an interesting discussion for them to have. We — as the Crown corporation, when I say we — will adjust to the marketplace whatever rules are put in place, whatever changes are put in place, but we are not part of that process, and given the variety of issues within this ministry, I would rather not engage myself in a civil liability review either.
D. Jarvis: Oh, yes. This will be my last question.
I appreciate that the minister is not thinking about it himself, but is ICBC perhaps giving any consideration to it?
Hon. R. Coleman: No, they are not. The company has to operate within whatever regulatory and legal envelopes exist for them at any given time today. It would be, frankly, a waste of their energy to try and predict what future legislation might do to the insurance industry. When legislation comes down the pipe, the company will adjust.
R. Sultan: About a week ago, I had the privilege of attending a blitz that the Solicitor General organized on
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the Trans-Canada Highway in my riding, whereby members of the RCMP, the West Vancouver police department and, I believe, inspectors from the motor vehicle branch pulled over dumptrucks and inspected them for safety and safety violations in view, particularly, of the strong history of tragedies and near tragedies we've had on the steep hills of the North Shore.
I wonder if the Solicitor General would care to give us the benefit of some of the observations he made to the media that day concerning the condition of dumptruck safety in this part of the world.
Hon. R. Coleman: Yes, we did launch an initiative. It's an eight-month initiative through our commercial vehicle enforcement branch. That branch is in the ministry. It used to be with the motor vehicle branch. It was transferred to the ministry on April 1 of last year. When we did that, we actually gave some additional powers to the director so that he could take vehicles off the road quicker, particularly companies that weren't going to comply, or demand inspection of entire fleets.
We saw that that worked very quickly after the actual transfer and changeover, because about four or five days later there was a tragic accident in West Vancouver — I believe in the member's riding. A vehicle lost its brakes going down Taylor Way and wiped out hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of vehicles. Fortunately, nobody was hurt in that particular incident. One of the individuals in one of the vehicles was parked on the side of the road, and they actually got out of their vehicle because they were having lousy cell range and went to the sidewalk and stood on the sidewalk. As they were on the telephone, they saw their vehicle obliterated by this gravel truck coming down the hill.
At that point in time we made a decision that what we do in the commercial vehicle inspection side, on the enforcement side, is that we target segments of industries to do a month-long check. The month of May last year was actually going to be for hazardous materials, but we changed that to gravel trucks, because we'd had some real concerns after this accident and others. Just so the member knows, we took that company off the road shortly thereafter because of the powers we'd given the director.
That inspection month plus the ensuing inspections over a period of months that we were doing with the trucking industry told us a couple of things. It told us, first of all, that the commercial vehicle side of the industry on the compliance side was improving from a 30 percent non-compliance to a 20 percent non-compliance — and on the serious non-compliance, even better on all commercial aspects of trucking, with the exception of one. That exception was the gravel truck industry.
The gravel truck industry was actually at a 40 percent non-compliance, so four out of every six trucks on the road were non-compliant as we did our inspections. We decided that we needed to actually concentrate on this problem. What we've done is we've put in place an additional effort on inspections with regard to gravel trucks on a project that we put together for the next eight months. We will be pushing back at the gravel industry — that portion of the trucking industry — to get them to wake up and understand the fact that they can't be on the road with faulty brakes. They can't be on the road with tires that have holes in them and are missing part of their tread. They can't be on the road with lights that don't work and other things like that in this aspect.
We need to educate — not only enforce but educate. The day we were at that particular site, there were a number of trucks that were towed away off the road because they were non-compliant on the safety issues. They were only at the entrance to go up a ramp to go down a significantly steep hill. Any one of those vehicles could have had a reproduction of the event that happened in April of last year.
Frankly, I would think that the branch and police, because this is a joint relationship between the law enforcement community, both municipal and RCMP and our staff to do this…. There are two benefits that will come out of it. One will be that I think we'll get improved compliance from that industry, because when people don't have trucks on the road, they're not making any money. Maybe they'll wake up and decide to maintain them.
Secondly, though, we're also going to see the opportunity to educate a number of additional law enforcement officers — police officers who normally do mainly just traffic — on issues in and around trucking, which will allow us, when they're out on the road, to also have another set of eyes and ears in enforcement activity with regard to these incidents. We hope we get the results. We hope the industry does wake up and understand that, really, the people they're putting at risk are people on our streets and their children.
A few weeks before we launched this initiative, a trucker actually parked his gravel truck in the Westwood Plateau area and set his brakes, which evidently weren't very good. The brakes let loose, and this truck went out of control, careening down a street in a community. We can't have that, so we have to have…. When we identify these things, I think it's very important.
It's a credit, frankly, to the commercial inspection branch and to law enforcement that we're doing this, because they will identify the issue. It's a pretty easy decision by the time it gets to the ministry, because they give me the information that backs it up. I think it's a well worthwhile project.
I think it's important, given the level of construction we're going to be seeing on the North Shore and, again, in Westwood Plateau, and maybe as we see expansion into the areas like Burke Mountain and other areas out in the valley, and as we see developments that are out in the Mission Hill area, where there's going to be a lot of gravel-trucking. Let's face it. Gravel is what builds roads, and it does pavement, and it brings in issues with regard to backfill and cement. All of those things are all part of this side of the industry. They're carrying heavy loads, so we need to make sure that we have an
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enforcement regime and a package that we can push back and get better compliance from the industry.
R. Sultan: I confess that I don't understand completely the organizational relationships between the people who are inspecting these vehicles and your ministry and ICBC, but I assume, since ICBC is in the business of risk assessment and risk management, that there might be some interconnection. Just for my education, could the Solicitor General explain what the interconnection might be?
Hon. R. Coleman: There is none now. The commercial vehicle side and then the enforcement side were with ICBC. It was moved over to the Ministry of Solicitor General directly last April. We now call it the commercial vehicle safety and enforcement branch.
That branch is a branch of the ministry now. The people that work in the enforcement side are special constables. They have powers under certain acts to enforce laws. They're the ones that do the enforcement on the commercial vehicle side.
If there's a relationship…. Sometimes there's a statistical relationship on issues with regard to these that we can sometimes glean from a relationship with an insurance corporation. It really is simply that it came to the ministry. We've restructured it and, more than anything else, managed to retarget it on the enforcement side.
When we made that move, there was a memorandum of understanding with regard to the weigh scales personnel, which we gave to the Ministry of Transportation. We will assess, after the year is up, whether that MOU is worthwhile or whether those employees should be within the branch.
When we did that, the concern of Transportation was that they still wanted to make sure goods and services were moving. They didn't want the enforcement getting in the way of that side of the inspection at the weigh scale. I think you're going to see that how trucks move…. Weigh scales electronically are going to change dramatically as we do some of the special projects we're initiating now with regard to that.
The commercial branch is now with the ministry. It's responsible directly to the minister. We have a director who has some statutory authority there, so he can make decisions — and make the decisions with regard to demanding inspection of particular chains of trucks or vehicles or whatever the case may be.
R. Sultan: Could I, as a last question, ask whether, since Mr. Geer and the other capable management of ICBC are in the risk management business, they can play a supplementary role in helping get these dangerous dumptrucks off the road through risk rating and through the insurance premiums or, in fact, through the refusal to grant insurance totally and put these more dangerous operators out of business and help in that regard?
Hon. R. Coleman: It's great when you do estimates. Sometimes you actually learn something.
Our commercial vehicle safety and enforcement branch does risk ratings now with regard to different trucking firms and what have you. That also can affect their ability to operate from our discipline side. ICBC is meeting with the B.C. trucking industry right now with regard to looking at risk ratings by industry sectors and how they can deal with the people who are, for lack of a better description, the careless, bad, unprofessional portion of the industry versus those that are the good and professional portion of the industry.
R. Hawes: I have just one quick question. I'm glad to see ICBC is here. That's what my question is. It's with respect to the closure of some of the motor vehicle offices in some parts of the province. I get it that sometimes, you know, you have to consolidate and that sort of thing. Where I live in my riding, in Mission, the motor vehicle branch closed. It has caused some inconvenience for my constituents who need to renew their driver's licences and have to drive out of town to another place.
I'm just wondering: is there not some way that we could talk to, or you could talk to, some of the insurance agencies that are active in Mission? I'm sure there would be some that would be interested in picking up just the straight renewal of driver's licences. I think there's only a picture taken. It's all computerized. They have the information. Surely, that's something that could be considered that would convenience the public and would not, I think, cause great hardship for ICBC.
Hon. R. Coleman: As part of ICBC's deal with how they handle this, they did close some motor vehicle branches, and one of them was in the member's area. There is some thought to looking at this, but there hasn't been any major work done on it, mainly because we've just had the more recent experience with the driving school and the fraud. As we move forward to look at that sort of thing, our security issues are our biggest concern — how we would manage that with regard to it.
In this jurisdiction, though, overall, people have pretty good access to the driver's licence. They can go across the river to Abbotsford or into Maple Ridge. I know that's not the answer the member is particularly looking for. We do serve market areas with regard to this. There's no motor vehicle branch in my community either. They have to go into Langley to do that, and it hasn't been an issue in my area. I think we'll probably look at that. I know we've had some talk about it, but it hasn't been, frankly, an issue that's been way up at the top of the list.
Madam Chair, noting the time, I would move we rise, report progress and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:44 p.m.
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